Through history, remarkable artists have come and gone, leaving behind them timeless masterpieces that can inspire and impress for ages to come. Hideo Kojima is one such man and his Metal Gear legacy, and his grand Finale, the Phantom Pain, are evidence of this mastery.
The Phantom Pain marks the last Metal Gear game to be published and completes one of the most complex storylines in the history of video games. With over 20 years under its belt, the MGS franchise is full of suspenseful ,tears, laughs and breathtaking moments.
Picking up where Ground Zeroes left off, Snake wakes up from a coma nine years after his mother base had been wiped out. It doesn’t take too long for him to become hunted again, and soon he is on his way to seek revenge from everyone who took everything from him.
I don’t want to dive more into the intricacies of the story out of fear that I may reveal some spoilers to those, like me, who want to play the game and enjoy every moment of it. What I will say, however, is that the story aims to close the gap between Peace Walker and the very first Metal Gear. You will encounter memorable characters like Kaz and Ocelot, and will meet new ones as well like Quiet, one of the most interesting characters in the history of the Metal Gear franchise.
Unlike previous Metal Gear games, the story isn’t unfolded in countless, extended, and expository cut scenes. Instead, it is mostly revealed through your actual gameplay and through intel cassettes that you either obtain at the end of every mission, or find scattered around waiting to be collected. This does make it tougher to connect the dots, but since when was the Metal Gear storyline easy to digest?
Phantom Pain is bigger and better than previous titles, incorporating open world gameplay elements, spanning two huge maps in Afghanistan and Angola. Each location has its unique dynamic weather and terrain, and vast spaces of land to cover. But don’t worry, you won’t be needing to cover all that on foot, just select one of the numerous drop points closest to your mission objective and a helicopter will drop you there. At worst, and if you’re up for a little exploration, you can call in your D-horse buddy that can gallop you wherever you want.
There are tons to do and tons of items to collect. Asides from the main story missions, there are side ops that act as mini-missions requiring you to perform any of a multitude tasks like reaching a certain camp or location, extracting a prisoner, collecting blue prints or eliminating a target. I know a lot of gamers have complained about the repetition element that those mission bear, but what I did to break the monotony is attempt a different approach for each of these missions.
Attempting a mission with nothing but a water gun that could blind your enemies, thereby taking the stealthy approach, is quite challenging but rewarding to some, I’m sure. For me, I constantly had the urge to destroy everything in my path and had a blast gunning through a mission with a grenade launcher in my hand. I also kept my airstrikes on standby to shower the terrain with bombs as my backup helicopter hovered behind me, raining death on whomever is left alive. When everyone is wiped out, I simply salvage the base for material that can help in developing Mother Base.
Speaking of Mother Base, it has evolved since its introduction in Peace Walker. Now you can literally roam your hideout and move from platform to platform via jeep. You can expand it to host more soldiers and fire power, as well as develop new items and weapons for you to use in the battlefield.
By using a device called “Fulton,” you can literally extract anything to your mother base from soldiers, vehicles, mortars, AA guns, heck even a massive tank. The more you extract, the more powerful your base will be, and this will be important if you plan to compete against other players in the online FOB mode that will have players invade each other’s Mother Base.
I loved the level of freedom in tackling missions. Before each mission you can choose whether you want to go to the battlefield alone or with a buddy, ranging from your loyal D-Horse, D-Dog, Quiet (my favorite), or a massive D-walker that you can equip with weapons of death.
After selecting your loadout, you will get to select the time of day in which you would want them to be deployed. You may think you’re smart by attempting all your missions at night to benefit from the darkness, but Metal Gear’s Fox engine won’t make this last forever. Enemies will quickly learn your tactics and counter them the next time you target their base: they’ll start by wearing night vision goggles, and evolve to adorn themselves with helmets should your tactic involve sniping them from a distance. These additions to the game do much to push you to approach missions in a different manner, thereby offering a solution to the potential redundancy of your objectives.
The graphics in Phantom Pain are jaw dropping and the level of details is incredible, especially with the dynamic weather intact. A sandstorm in Kabul, or a rainy day in Angola, never felt this real in a game, be they during the day or night.
Character animations and the attention to details are also phenomenal. Take a lot of hits and snake will be covered in blood. Stay too long on the battlefield and snake will start to stink, attracting flies to him that will avert enemy attention to your hiding spot.
To accompany this orchestra of awesomeness is the talented voice acting, especially in regards to Kiefer Sutherland who played the role of Big Boss perfectly. But it’s not only the voice acting that carry the weight of the game in the audio department, the sound division at all levels delivered incredibly, from the realistic sound effects of the weapons and vehicles, to the wild life and the sounds during a sandstorm or a rainy day. All these details increase the level of realism and immersion of the final game.
Attention to the sounds also comes into play when you are planning a way to sneak into a base. You will have to keep an ear out for enemy footsteps, backup trucks with enemy reinforcements, and gunships that patrol some areas, to name a few. Add to all that the beautiful score composed by Harry Gregson Williams, which, though I can not impress more upon you to listen to it, you have the liberty of replacing with pre-installed 80’s hits to accompany you on your missions.
I can go on and on talking about Phantom Pain, and I know a lot of gamers are already considering it the best Metal Gear game ever. Though the ending is a bit sudden and will leave you with more questions than it can answer–this is still MGS and Kojima ultimately–but I personally enjoyed every single bit of this game. The way the story unfolds, the level of freedom given to me at the outset of each mission, the insane amount of weapons and tools under my disposal, whether I am going solo or with a buddy, Phantom Pain has so much to offer under its hood. The only downside, that elusive bonus mission that was turned into a cutscene not withstanding? Wanting more Metal Gear when I know I probably won’t be getting it. Not this way, not under Kojima’s watchful eye.
It always has been hard for me to part with Snake every time I finish a Metal Gear game, but this time it is different knowing that it is the last time I will ever meet Kojima’s Metal Gear. There is no doubt that Kojima has succeeded in leaving a grand master piece as his final, MGS swansong. It is said that there is one and only one Big Boss, but by the end of Phantom Pain, each player will become his/her own Big Boss, at least that is how I felt, and that is what I wish all players feel.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is available on PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC.