Konami has certainly been under a ton of scrutiny lately with the cancellation of Silent Hills, its plan to go mobile first and the confusion surrounding their relations with Hideo Kojima, but the worst part would have to be how they’ve apparently been treating their employees (although they’re not the worst we’ve seen, it’s bad). It seems that working for the once great publisher has become a tumultuous experience, and Kojima Productions, in particular, has been stressing out pretty hard. It’s difficult to imagine that a title produced under such conditions would be able to live up to the standards of Kojima and his fans, yet Metal Gear Solid V has arrived (to hosted reviews nonetheless!) and here we are, asking how the team did. Is The Phantom Pain a proper send off for the series?
To say that MGSV is a good looking game would be selling the technical accomplishment of this title short. The open battlefields of Afghanistan and Central Africa are rendered with impressive levels of detail, seamlessly transitioning from vast landscapes to cluttered interiors. The draw distance for most entities in the game is actually pretty staggering with nearly imperceptible levels of pop in. Additionally, every environment has fully dynamic lighting and weather effects which actively affect the player’s ability to sneak through any given location, and this is all achieved at a near flawless 60 frames per second. The only compromises that seem to have been made are that the game renders internally at 900p, and the draw distance remains a little short for lighting and vegetation.
A less noticeable aspect of this installment in the incredibly cinematic Metal Gear series is, ironically, the story. Perhaps in response to criticisms of MGS 4, the fifth main iteration appears to feature fewer cutscenes than any of the previous console titles, especially when compared to the amount of game time needed to reach them. Instead, much of the story is explained through radio communication and audio files, which you’re allowed to ignore. That isn’t to say that this title is less thoughtful. MGSV is laden with symbolic structures, metaphors and references. One major benefit to this is that players can pick at the story at their own pace, with truly dedicated fans getting a richer experience. For newer Metal Gear fans (especially anyone who hasn’t played Peace Walker), another huge plus to this is that nearly all of the extraneous lore that would normally be forced upon players to make sure that they understood what was happening can be put into the game in a non-intrusive way.
Of course, when the player isn’t listening to audio files, they’ll be treated to the clamor of their surroundings. The sound design serves the gameplay almost exclusively; footsteps are easily heard for quite some range, musical cues help to keep the player alive and the sound track tends to stay in the background. However, it is possible to find and obtain some classic tunes playing on various boomboxes, including Kids in America and The Final Countdown. The original compositions aren’t too shabby either, but they don’t really stand out much except in two instances (at least up to the point I’ve reached). There is actually a fair amount of neat things done with the audio and the sound track, but they’d probably be a lot more fun for you to personally discover. As for how Kiefer Sutherland performs as the English version of Snake… he does a decent job, but I’ve been a fan of the series since it landed on the PlayStation. Forgive me for preferring David Hayter.
I’m struggling to articulate my feelings about the gameplay of this title, but I’ll do my best with the limited space I have. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is easily the best stealth game I have ever played, and there’s a huge list of reasons why that is. Kojima Productions has taken the open world, dedicated stealth game concept and created a consistently wonderful example of excellence in game design. Not a moment of my 70+ hours spent on this title so far has felt like fluff. In spite of never feeling completely overwhelmed and having access to so many tools and strategies, I always felt like one wrong decision could cost me my life. Players decide on the fly how much challenge they want by choosing how lethally they want to play, and the game rewards players well for taking the harder path. Since building up Mother Base with the people you extract is such a vital component of the game, no strategy feels dominant (you can’t expect dead soldiers to work for you after all), and honestly, there are few feelings as great as sneaking through an overly guarded fortress in the middle of the day, on your belly and extracting multiple prisoners, all without anyone getting killed. Sometimes though, stealthing over rough terrain can be a bit of a challenge for Snake, which can result in trouble with guards (a toggle option for the binoculars would’ve been appreciated too).
Kojima Productions truly had their work cut out for them, creating the Fox Engine and developing this title for five different platforms simultaneously, but they nailed it. They absolutely nailed it. This game, like every other Metal Gear, was made as if it is the final one. Because of that, every single one of these works of art has been something special. Except… this time it really is the end. Nothing is perfect, but I couldn’t think of a better way to truly begin the new generation of gaming. Games are art, and art is flawed. There are things in MGSV that will bother some people, and they have every right to be bothered. But this series has always demonstrated the potential for its medium to evolve. The Phantom Pain cannot be forgotten; just as the dearly departed live through our memories, so too will this series’ impact on its fans and the industry. It’s definitely worth a buy.
Disclosure: Although I’ve put over 70 hours into Metal Gear Solid V (mostly playing main missions), I haven’t truly “finished” the game. Secondly, if you’re already worried that how the character Quiet is portrayed will bother you, you’re probably right in worrying about that. Also, apparently using her as a Buddy on missions 29 or 42 has the potential to corrupt your save file on all platforms. Speaking about bugs, I would also like to report a rare stutter that seems to happen at random and has no clear cause. I suspect the stutter can be reduced by not using instant on mode on your Xbox One, but I can’t easily confirm this. Finally, I didn’t get very much time with the FOB feature (due to server maintenance), but I can at least state that the micro-transactions aren’t particularly demanding or intrusive.