Review: Metal Gear Solid V – The Phantom Pain (X360, PS3, XONE, PS4, PC)
‘All your base are belong to us’
Hideo Kojima’s most famed and recognisable series; Metal Gear, has invariably procured both critical and emotional investment for me. I remember it as if it was yesterday, playing Metal Gear Solid for the first time from beginning to end, in one sitting. It sends a chill down my spine just thinking about it, that first encounter with Revolver Ocelot, the crazy controller ‘switcharoo’ solution for ending Psycho Mantis. Of course as the series has matured, I’ve grown to love Kojima’s highly cinematic and narrative driven series, however convoluted and disjointed they’ve often felt. I’ve admired how Kojima has addressed his audience with quirky and innovative methods of breaking the ‘fourth wall’ between spectator and developer.
That said, it seems impossible for me to discuss Metal Gear Solid V [MGS V] in a completely objective manner, so I’ll try my best here. It really is beautiful and plays like a dream, oh and it has balloons, lots of balloons. Despite this, I’ve never felt so unfulfilled with any MGS title, I’ve currently clocked a total of fifty hours and really don’t feel compelled to return. Kojima’s influence is obviously well pronounced throughout the game, heck I spent some time forcing D-Horse to defecate over the many fallen victims of my tranq darts. Yet, my expectations were high, not for gameplay…but for sweet sweet ludicrous cut-scenes.
Am I alone here? Do I actually yearn for Kojima’s ridiculously long cut-scenes? I remember looking forward to being able to settle down with a drink, controller set down on a table, awaiting a completely overindulgent and exaggerated spectacle of cinematography. This was something I had never associated with gaming before (maybe it was the film student in me at the time) but it is certainly something I’ve been craving for the last seven years. Had it not been for the fact that MGS V feels narratively diluted and rushed, it wouldn’t be as much of a concern. I really wanted the series to come full circle, but it seems this omission has been compensated largely with gameplay, which although is superb and most certainly an improvement, leaves me with a feeling of disgruntlement at the lack of excessive story sequences.
To get things straight, I’ve never enjoyed stealth games, particularly the ‘metal gear’ approach to stealth, which was often a clunky and frustrating experience at best. Despite this I’ve managed to persevere to the end of every MGS title released (call it an obsession but damn…I really love those hour long cut-scenes). MGS V manages to create an environment with almost unlimited possibilities, it maintains the synonymous ‘tactical stealth espionage’, but also allows me to ungrudgingly enjoy one of the most well-conceived and malleable open sandbox games I’ve played in years. I was constantly inspired to engage in alternative methods (other than the stealthy light footed approach) of carrying out objectives, experimenting with the surroundings and utilising every tool at my disposal. Every mission I embarked convinced me that no guard should be safe from my tranquilizer rifle (of course I employed a no kill policy), I needed to expand, ‘Outer Heaven’ would be a dream no more.
MGS V also serves to facilitate a very compulsive desire of mine, the hoarding and collecting of ‘things’. There’s nothing quite as satisfactory as infiltrating a base, with the sole desire of attaching a balloon to every single item and watching them rapidly ascend into the sky (fultoning), returning safely back to mother base. Every soldier, every weapon, every vehicle and even the animals (my zoo still has space), they all will be retrieved via balloons and it’s thoroughly enjoyable. Of course, there is a point to all this, you’ll be able to utilise each soldier within your own base, each with their own unique abilities, deciding on how they should be organised and which department they will be best suited. This serves to improve the development of your own mother base, proving beneficial particularly should you want to achieve a higher level within departments (R&D for example), unlocking upgrades as you progress.
The satisfaction of remaining undetected whilst wiping out an entire enemy encampment is thrilling, something I never thought I would hear myself say (though a good rocket launcher now and again never hurts). Me and my trusty companion D-Dog could not be touched, we were a great team, although I highly advise sending him back to base when disarming mines, bless him. Yet I still came up against some challenges throughout, as I adapted and learned to manipulate what seemed to be exceptional enemy AI, they would also adapt to my tactics, upgrading their own equipment as I progressed. I’ll never forget the first time this happened, it had become so natural for me to simply enter enemy territory, whip my tranq pistol out and induce a rapid anaesthetic to anyone who got in my way. Enemies had grown smarter, equipping helmets impervious to the first shot of my dart gun, equipping flashlights due to my frequent visits under the cover of night. It would only be later that I realised I would be able to disrupt the flow of enemy supplies via particular deployment missions.
I admit my major gripes with the game remain deeply personal and almost unfair (I’ve not had an eye test for a while and my rose-tinted spectacles may need a few adjustments) it’s more that Kojima had really won me over, and even changed how I interpreted video games, I obsessed and dissected his work, spending hours on wiki pages. Despite this, I can’t dispute the hours I’ve sunk into the game, they were really spectacular, and almost impossible to replicate again due to the inimitable nature of each experience. I just wish things were wrapped up a little neater. Farewell Mr Kojima, I can’t imagine what your next project will be, but you’ve left me with decades of memories and enjoyment and this is one hell of a final instalment to end any series with.