“No Angles In Heaven”
Since its debut back in 1987, Metal Gear has gone on to deliver some of the most memorable, thought-provoking, and pivotal moments in all of video games. As the series has evolved, its complex plots, clever revelations, outlandish writing style and characters have defined multiple generations. Therefore, a lot rests on The Phantom Pain to deliver, as the enormous amount of expectations have only grown stronger as the years have passed. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes on the challenge headstrong, delivering an experience above and beyond its lofty expected value. The Phantom Pain is ripe with hair-raising narrative beats, impeccable gameplay immersion, and one of the most thoughtfully flexible sandboxes ever created. If Metal Gear Solid V is truly creator Hideo Kojima’s last game, than rest assured The Phantom Pain escorts him out with a bang. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain opens nine years after the events of Ground Zeros, last year’s competent, overpriced prequel. You assume the role of Big Boss, a super soldier war veteran who’s just awoke from a coma lasting the gap between Ground Zeros and Phantom Pain. As Big Boss, you lead the private military group known as The Diamond Dogs, heading into battle behind enemy lines while the Soviet-Afghan war rages on. While in the field, Boss is assigned with completing various missions, ranging from tactical espionage, to prisoner extraction, to assassination contracts and much more. The Metal Gear series has always been closely associated with its complex style of storytelling, for delivering twists and proposing perception altering revelations have been at the forefront of the franchise since its debut. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain follows in those footsteps to a certain degree, though has its own ways of tackling the narrative juggernaut that flows through its core.
The Phantom Pain is more focused and straightforward in the way it presents its central story than its predecessors. It cleverly melds historical events from the 1980s with the wild, mind-boggling nature of Kojima’s approach to stylistic storytelling. The balance of gritty drama and off-the-wall material have been a challenge each entry in the series has undergone, and The Phantom Pain is no exception. One moment I was chuckling from the game’s bizarre interjection of comedic relief, then finding myself rendered speechless mere hours later when playing through a particularly harrowing scene. The Phantom Pain embraces many traits from prior entries in the series, while simultaneously finding room to build up ones of its own. The captivating cinematography and fantastic voice acting help Phantom Pain’s interesting characters and ambitious plot threads work, even through the more tedious twists. Unlike some of the series’ other installments, The Phantom Pain surprisingly has more important tasks to focus on than the story, as its sound narrative is largely overshadowed by its impeccable focus on gameplay.Ground Zeros introduced the new mechanics and capabilities of the Fox Engine, and The Phantom Pain sees them both to their full potential. The preview Ground Zeroes offered into what gameplay possibilities lay afoot was promising, as sneaking through the small base made for plenty of memorable moments. The Phantom Pain exponentially expands upon what its prequel introduced, taking the fight to a large, open world fit with opportunity and immersion. As you depart on missions you’ll be dropped by chopper, equipped with the gear you see fit for most efficiently getting the job done, based off the mission briefing. Before its even boots down, The Phantom Pain requires a lot of thought and planing. Once in the field, it takes on a whole new level of complexity offering a seemingly endless amount of enthralling encounters, both scripted and not. Traversing the The Phantom Pain’s meticulously crafted environments are a joy, as the sheer breath of variety for players to experiment with is astounding. The same can be said for controlling Big Boss himself, thanks to the immaculate and responsive controls. Weather you are crawling into a base undetected or sprinting through waves of gunfire, there’s nothing that feels underdeveloped or unexciting about how Big Boss reacts to his surroundings.
The freedom The Phantom Pain bestows on the player from the moment they’re let off their leash into the Afghan countryside, is daunting. Where as most games slowly drip-feed its players tutorials in anticipation for the moment when it would eventually send them on their own, The Phantom Pain forgoes such trivial instruction. It expects player intelligence from the jump, demanding they retain multiple concepts and grasp complex systems at a moments’ notice. For a game any less flexible and open to player experimentation, this level of complexity and variety could manifest into an issue. Though just like many of The Phantom Pain’s other ambitious goals, what at first may feel overwhelming, eventually reveals itself as meaningful and deeply layered. Once comfortable with its superb gameplay, the possibilities are endless. If taking on an enemy base from the shadows with a more nonlethal approach is your style, or laying to waste dozens of soldiers is your preferred method, The Phantom Pain accounts for and encourages both techniques. Failure looms above each scheme, for one slip up or miscalculation could lead to discouraging defeat. Though even through some of the game’s more challenging sections, The Phantom Pain always sees to it that the player has another approach ahead of them, regardless of how many times they fail. Gameplay is king in many cases, and very few titles execute upon it so well as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. In many ways, The Phantom Pain feels like everything the Metal Gear Solid series has been building towards. From the unusual plot, to evolution of controls, this installment has refined much of what the series has attempted, thus far. At the forefront of The Phantom Pain is what it presents and excels at on its own. One addition to Snake’s arsenal is a Fulton balloon device that allows him to extract resources out of the combat zone. Attaching balloons to enemies, animals, vehicles, shipping containers, and essentially everything else that isn’t tied down, will lift them into the air and send them back to The Diamond Dogs’ new headquarters, known as Mother Base. Not only is Fultoning enemies and equipment a useful combat tactic, but one that also acts as a tactical recruitment and resource gathering device. Everything that makes it back to Mother Base in one piece, whether it’s a goat or skilled translator, gets put to use furthering the capabilities of Mother Base. Extracting highly skilled soldiers with proficient ranks will boost the level of Mother Base’s different facilities, depending on where their best suited. The perks of showing mercy in the field are wide-spreading, as personnel may join the ranks of The Diamond Dogs. Their contribution to Mother Base may vary from working on new equipment for Boss to develop, to directing medical attention to those in need, all of which play integral parts in strengthening Snake’s private military.
At times, managing Mother Base is just as important to progression as completing main story missions. Much of its resource management and staff rearranging feel like a game itself, despite how tedious it may seem from an outside perspective. While firing personnel and sending development requests might not sound as compelling as what lies in the battlefield, there are tangible results that reflect the hard work done at Mother Base in the field. It’s a rewarding tradeoff that goes far deeper than necessary, but with big payoffs. The cycle of bringing resources back to Mother Base, to then put them to use developing new gadgets and weapons is an addictive and thoughtful pattern full of player decision. Another solid inclusion which is closely tied to Mother Base is dispatch missions. By assembling combat units from the new recruits especially skilled in the field, Snake can send them to complete their own list of missions which adds to the growth of The Diamond Dogs. Everything is also customizable as well, from guns to the extraction chopper. My favorite of the customizable options is the ability to create your own personal emblem, which is then displayed all over Mother Base and Snake’s various outfits throughout the game. Keeping the player in mind at all times, The Phantom Pain never ceases to provide something new and innovative, from the little things like customization, to complete tactical freedom. Back in the field, Snake has the ability to bring a buddy with him to provide additional support, sporting their own set of unique skills. The first you’ll be introduced to is D-Horse, Snake’s trusty steed that gets him from point to point in a timely matter. Another helpful animal at Boss’s command is D-Dog, a lovable canine with a knack for spotting useful materials and enemies. Also heading up the robust roster is the small robot known as D-Walker and the controversially, scantily-clad sniper, Quiet. Each buddy you bring into battle has something useful to offer, which makes switching back and forth between them a pleasure. My favorite to bring along on missions alternated between Quiet and D-Dog, both of which extended useful contributions I continually depended upon. While Metal Gear has always kept the staple of fighting alone, The Phantom Pain benefits from broadening its horizons. The buddy system beautifully complements the new open world formula, adding a whole new layer of depth and diversity that the Metal Gear series has never seen before.
When not on mission or tending to Mother Base, The Phantom Pain encourages players to take to the vast, open world to do as they please. What’s to be discovered, extracted, and destroyed in the games two separate areas is simply staggering. In this freedom, The Phantom Pain encapsulates what so many other big budget titles try and fail to be these days. Unlike its competitors, none of its secondary content grows excessively repetitive or shallow. From the stories that arise of the varied Side-Ops, to the valuable information gained from interrogating a soldier, venturing from the main path is a highly rewarding experience. Even through the trials and tribulations of repeated objectives, The Phantom Pain’s push to experiment allows them to never feel like chores. There’s always a burning desire to get back in the field and try something new, as The Phantom Pain never stops begging to be explored. With all that the The Phantom Pain so magnificently brings to the table, some of its triumphs come at a cost. The most notable tradeoff being the less robust narrative than its predecessors. It’s sparse level of story involvement is quite possibly intentional, with hopes of opening up the door for newcomers. For the series’ signature approach to storytelling and character development that made past installments so memorable, is much less evident here. That’s not to say The Phantom Pain isn’t without brushes of masterfully handed story beats, as there are a collection of scenes that rank amongst the best the medium has ever encapsulated. The tight structure that has so expertly kept the pacing of Kojima’s past work coherent, aren’t to be found within the somewhat underdeveloped nature of The Phantom Pain’s. Part of this is due to the fact cutscenes and dialogue have been substantially reduced. Perhaps more so that questions are promised to be answered, accompanied by shattering revelations and confrontations, with very little delivery or conclusion to show for. Additionally, the absence of boss battles is a glaring absence from a series known for them. It’s a mixed narrative, consisting of extraordinary highs and unsatisfying lows, some of which connect long, pondered dots in the Metal Gear universe, while others shuffle around, whereby lacking any relevance.
In terms of online features, The Phantom Pain feebly presents Forward Operating Missions, a mode that pits players against each other as either the defender or attacker of one’s Mother Base. FOB feels like an insignificant addition to something much grander; not to mention the atrocious state of its servers and petty inclusion of microtransactions. Worse yet, even being connected online caused slow down to menu handling and noticeably added to the loading times. The FOB is simply included to fill the role of Metal Gear Solid V multiplayer offerings until the proper online component arrives later next month. Luckily this section of the game is take it or leave it, and fortunately restrains from shoving any of it down players’ throats. Thankfully, the whole experience is at enough of a distance that it does little to nothing to hurt the actual game. When all is said and done, The Phantom Pain is best kept offline, for now.Conclusion: While The Phantom Pain may not come with as many story revelations as past Metal Gear games, its twists are still effective and move the narrative along at a captivating enough pace. Surprisingly, the most memorable stories I walked away with were, in fact, my own. The Phantom Pain constantly puts the player first, and in turn, ends up sacrificing a lot to maintain such a challenging vision, considering everything that has come before it. However, its lack of story focus is an easy tradeoff to swallow, considering all The Phantom Pain knocks out of the park. The true achievement is the fantastic gameplay, and how it flawlessly integrates with the flexible sandbox around it. Refusing to grow dull, The Phantom Pain makes the most of what its got, ensuring each moment is packed with memorable detail and meaningful purpose. There have certainly been bigger, bolder action games, with more boxes to check, but few place such an emphasis on the freedom of player approach. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain demands a lot from the player, but the payoff is heightened by the daring barriers of entry.
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