Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is out now. We take a look at how the game has been received and reviewed by the press.
The reputation of Konami has taken battering in recent weeks. From tales of developers being asked to mop out toilets, to the publisher’s decision to pursue a mobile strategy despite building a nifty a new platform in the shape of the Fox Engine, it’s been a controversial few months.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has not been immune either, with Hideo Kojima whitewashed from the promotional materials of the series he’s spent his life nurturing, and eyebrows raised at the game’s intense review events.
Still, outrage around the working conditions, business strategy, review boot-camps and authorial credit can take a running jump once an actual game comes out, right? Especially if it’s a good one.
And by most accounts Metal Gear Solid V is an excellent one.
Much attention in the run up to the game’s release has focused on the franchise’s convoluted fiction, with many asking if the The Phantom Pain would be at all comprehensible for players not intimately familiar with the series.
Matthew Figueira, writing at Lazygamer, said the game was not as dense as expected but novices might care to undertake a little light reading in advance.
To newcomers, the plot of The Phantom Pain may come across as a little tangled and confusing. All I can say is that some of the finer story details may have been lost on me, but I know long time fans will have several “a-ha” moments as pieces of the Metal Gear puzzle slowly fall into place.
Meanwhile, IGN’s Vince Ingenito was not as impressed, saying the game’s story was underdeveloped.
It opens confidently, with Director Hideo Kojima ready to fully embrace the techno-fantasy, live-action military anime identity that Metal Gear has been courting for the better part of two decades. This spectacular opening establishes a mood and a bundle of plot-related questions that are more or less abandoned until the time comes, some 30-60 hours later (depending on which answers you’re seeking and how you play). Generally those answers are rushed and unsatisfying, lacking any real build-up or thematic relevance.
In contrast, Peter Brown, writing at Gamespot, was far more complimentary about the way the game pulls long-standing narrative threads together.
Though The Phantom Pain’s story is impressive enough to enjoy on its own, when linked to other games in the series its importance is elevated for fans who have followed the journey for the last three decades. It delivers on its promise, revealing how Big Boss came to be the man many people know him to be, but the path is one nobody could have seen coming.
And as for the series’ famously long cutscenes? Well, they are not such an issue this time round, as Time’s Matt Peckham explains.
So it feels a little weird to declare The Phantom Pain comparably cutscene-free. Oh they’re still here, as fascinating, offbeat and abstruse as ever, but restricted to momentary exposition instead of Homeric interruption. It’s like some other mirror-verse version of Kojima helmed production, suddenly obsessed with play-driven storytelling, while most of the grim narrative about the descent of a Melvillian mercenary trickles in through cassette tapes you can listen to at leisure, or ignore completely.
Choice and emergent gameplay are part and parcel of the Metal Gear series and The Phantom Pain is no exception. Kojima’s name may be scrubbed from the box, but it still bears the hall marks of his design philosophy. Something appreciated by IGN’s Vince Ingenito.
The transition between careful stealth and going loud is a lot more organic than in any previous MGS, and getting aggressive never feels “wrong” the way it often does in stealth games. If someone spots you, you get a few seconds of slow motion (called Reflex Time) to take them down silently and prevent a full combat alert. Not only does this create a lot of tense, sweet-looking movie moments, but it gives you the freedom to take calculated risks with room for exciting mistakes.
The game’s Fulton Recovery System, in which everything from potential recruits to animals can be extracted from the field of play by means of a balloon, also pays testament to Kojima’s imaginative approach says Polygon’s Mike McWhertor.
Using the Fulton system to its fullest is one of The Phantom Pain’s most enjoyable challenges: Successfully extracting, rather than killing, high-ranking commanders and recruiting them into your army are some of the game’s best moments. It’s gratifying to completely clear out an enemy outpost and transport everything safely back to Mother Base, thereby increasing the power of your own private military force.
Let’s hope they like livestock back at Mother Base.
Chris Carter at Destructoid did find some problems with the structure of the game however, particularly in it’s later stages.
As satisfied as I was with the story, there are a few inherent issues with the way the missions are structured. For starters, a number of levels are uninspired, and force a degree of backtracking, usually for a menial task you’ve already completed multiple times. This is especially evident later in the game, as it’s required to redo some missions with either the “Subsistence,” “Extreme,” or “Full Stealth” modifiers in tow. The former drops you in with no items or assistance, Extreme ups the amount of damage you take considerably, and the latter ends a mission automatically if you’re spotted.
Much praise was also directed toward the game’s controls, with Lazygamer’s Matthew Figueira again impressed.
Anyone that played Ground Zeroes will be instantly familiar with the control scheme, and it works just as well here. For perhaps the first time ever in a stealth game, I never felt like the controls were the reason I was spotted, and even navigating the fairly detailed menus is a breeze. Being able to choose between aiming a weapon in third or first-person by simply pressing R1 (on PS4) is an incredibly useful feature, especially when you start to develop better weapons that have custom sights.
One element of The Phantom Pain has proved universally controversial. The design and directoral approach to the character of Quiet. Vince Ingenito at IGN finds a conflict between the characters personality and her design.
The only real exception to this is the sniper Quiet, whose warm, childlike sincerity and battlefield ferocity cause her to steal every scene she’s in. Her preposterous lack of clothing undercuts those qualities a fair bit though: one particular moment later in the game comes off a bit creepy instead of endearing solely because of her outfit. You seriously could have put her in generic army fatigues and she would still have been the most interesting character here – the fact that she’s also required to be a lust-object is disappointing.
And Kirk McKeand, writing in the Telegraph, was similarly unimpressed, particularly with the attempt to explain Quiet’s appearance in narrative terms.
The justification for her dress sense is so stupid I’m sure a bit of brain fluid leaked from my ear, which is disappointing when the game’s creator, Hideo Kojima, made some bold claims about the reasoning. What makes it worse is the fact she makes up a large portion of the game’s women.
Quiet’s appearance appears to be an unfortunate and ill-advised design choice in an otherwise exemplary game. Gamespot’s Peter Brown certainly rates the it as the pinnacle of Kojima’s work.
The Phantom Pain may be a contender for one of the best action games ever made, but is undoubtedly the best Metal Gear game there is.
For John Robertson at Ars Technica the game balances the demands of multiple audiences, and remarkably, satisfies them all.
People expect their sequels to be bigger, better, and more complex than what has come before, while also demanding they stay true to what they know and love. Metal Gear Solid V is one of those rare occasions where a game threads the needle between those two somewhat contradictory expectations, to great effect.
If this really is the end of the Metal Gear Solid franchise under Kojima’s guidance The Phantom Pain ensures the series bows out on a high. And no one really seems to miss David Hayter either.
An achievement indeed.