METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
By Ferry "Sadhonker" Adams on September 15, 2015
I am reminded of a time, some years ago, when I was thrilled to see a game that finally took a different approach to action/adventure games than handing the player a really big gun with lots of ammo and just letting him run around, spraying lead all over the place. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't mind the all guns blazing approach, I'm even known to be huge fan of this approach. But in some games, staying under the radar is the far superior way of getting things done. The year was 1999 and the game was Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation. Now, almost 17 years later, it's time to see how the series that spawned the game I loved to play over and over again, has stood the test of time.
First, I have a confession to make. I haven't liked a single Metal Gear game since Sons of Liberty. I kept comparing them to Metal Gear Solid, and I just couldn't get myself to liking any one of them (apart from Revengeance, but that's an entirely different game) as much as the first one I ever played. Sons of Liberty was all right, I guess. Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriot lost me completely by unnecessarily over-complicating things and generally being too tedious and drawn-out. I gave up on the series after that, so I've actually never played Ground Zeroes. So, does this make me incapable of reviewing the latest installment in the legendary Metal Gear series? I like to think it's actually the other way around. I know what I originally liked about the series and what I disliked about more recent installments, so I personally think I'm perfectly capable of reviewing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and that's exactly what I'm going to do!
As we begin our journey, we wake up in a hospital, unsure of what's going on. I did actually noticed the cleavage of the nurse as she bent over me, so I know I'm not a total write-off. Then, just as I'm getting comfy, the doctor walks in and tells me I have been in a coma for the last... oh, say... NINE YEARS! Better yet, he then tells me to calm down. Calm down?! I just heard that nine years of my life have vanished into thin air. You try to calm down when someone tells you that! So, you get sedated once more and sleep for another day. When you wake for a second time, the good doctor has some more fantastic news: Oh yes, remember how you had two arms... tadaaa! WHAT?! so in the span of 24 hours (give or take) I discover I've not only lost nine years of my life, I've also managed to lose one of my two arms in the process. Damn, I really loved that arm! Then, as things just keep getting better and better, the hospital comes under attack from enough soldiers to take over a small country, all hell-bent on your death. I know It's supposed to feel good to be wanted, but this is ridiculous!
This is where our game begins; you and another patient (who turns out to have been watching over you for the past nine years) try to escape the besieged hospital by sneaking past the patrolling guards. If these guards weren't enough, you also encounter a couple of seemingly supernatural flaming maniacs that set everything on fire. Damn, I should have stayed in bed! For those of you who haven't played the game just yet, don't worry, this is where my description of the intro stops. Just trust me, it's awesome! It immediately sets the tone and gives you incentive to carry on. Another thing it immediately does is show me the stealth mechanics I used to love so much as well as the tension that the game builds through cutscenes and clever use of camera angles. I've been playing for about 20 minutes, and I'm already in love. This is going to be so much fun!
In The Phantom Pain, you play as the former Big Boss, now known as Punished 'Venom' Snake. You, , after waking up from said coma, are coaxed into returning to the very thing you were doing before thing went horribly pear-shaped: building a private army named Diamond Dogs and decimating Cipher forces in order to save the planet. You meet up with a few old 'friends' and are transported to your new headquarters, the Mother Base. Once there, it is your task to further develop and upgrade this base of command. And that's where things begin to get even more interesting. In order to expand your forces, you can transport knocked out enemies from anywhere in your mission zone to your own HQ by way of a fancy, self-propelled parachute-like system. These enemies will then be coaxed into joining your cause and reinforce one of the teams, needed to further expand your weapons, items and ultimately make your life in the field a bit easier. Through research and investing in upgrades, you increase your options and hone your skills. The transport system will however only work on living enemies, so it's no use shooting a guy to pieces and then expecting him to magically come back to life if you try to transport him to your base. Only live and unharmed characters can be transported this way.
Once you learn all the basics, you will board a chopper, select a mission, select your loadout and AI companions and travel to a dropzone near your mission target. As in previous MSG installments, you are encouraged to sneak past or use non-lethal force on enemies, rather than eliminating them. This enables you to faster accumulate enough soldiers to expand your base. Because the main story of the game is set in Afghanistan, you will want to have a different mode of transport than walking all the miles you need to cover. To this end, Snake can make use of a horse or cars and even tanks. The horse also serves as a companion that can also be upgraded to maximize its use in the field. Other companions are D-Dog, a trained wolf pup and D-Walker, a highly versatile weapons platform. These companions make life a bit easier and are all fully upgradeable.
Each mission you complete rewards you with a certain amount of credits, which you can spend on upgrades and such, back on your base. Because the developers have designed extensive game mechanics and intertwining systems, there's no singular approach to a certain obstacle, granting the player much more freedom to decide how to tackle the problem at hand than ever before. This makes The Phantom Pain both challenging as well as more personal adaptable to different player's needs and tactics. If you want to use force, that's your choice. But think about your actions and don't forget to recon the place before you go storming in. Trust me, you won't last long if you don't.
Snake uses his trusty binoculars for recon. If you spot an enemy, it is tagged and added to your map. This is an excellent way to map out enemy movement and plan your route accordingly. As always, Snake can choose between an array of weapons, lethal and non-lethal. Some of these weapons are silenced, but beware: your silencer degrades and eventually stops being useful. My favorite weapon is still the silenced tranquilizer gun. When you hit an enemy in the head with one of the darts from this gun, he immediately falls asleep and is ready for transportation to your Mother Base. If you are spotted, you may need something with a bit more punch than your pistol, so you reach for your machine gun. This gun will make light work of any enemy that is dumb enough to step in front of it.
That leads me to another cool feature of The Phantom Pain; the actually being spotted by an enemy. This is something you'll want to prevent from happening at all times, but even the best slip up once in a while. If you are spotted, the on-screen action will slow down, giving you the chance to subdue the enemy who spotted you before he can raise the alarm. If you succeed in doing this, you're safe once more and are free to creep through the shadows towards your goal. If you are not successful in subduing the enemy, he will trigger the alarm, causing more troops to close in on your position. When this happens, running away is always a viable option. Get away from your current position as fast as you can and hide, giving yourself the opportunity to regroup and rethink your strategy.
Visually, The Phantom Pain looks absolutely stunning; the environments are vast and beautiful and the characters detailed and really cool. The cutscenes are once again of the highest quality and tell the story really well. The soundtrack changes according to the current threat level and enhances the overall feel of needing to be stealthy. audible cues tip you off when enemies are close by. A visual cue let's you know when you are about to be discovered, giving you the much needed time to hide or get out of the area. The sheer amount of possibilities presented by the game, make for a superb stealth experience that let's every player play the game his or her own way. References to previous games are also present, as is your trusty cardboard box. The introduction of this iconic piece of camouflage was one of the things that made me laugh out loud.
So, what to make of this latest installment in the Metal Gear series? Well, the short answer would be: It's an awesome game!. But, seeing as how this hardly does it any justice, let's elaborate a bit more. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain contains amazing art, cool characters, fantastically designed levels and a great story. Combine this with the voice-talents of Kiefer Sutherland, Troy Baker and Robin Atkins Down, just to name a few, and you have the recipe for a legendary game! I , for one, am very impressed with the results and it makes me glad I didn't totally give up on the series, because The Phantom Pain is one game I would've hated to have missed out on.
So, as our good friend Ocelot says, and as he says it very well: "Now go! Let the legend come back to life!"
METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
Kojima Productions & Konami
September 1, 2015