Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is Overly Ambitious

It still feels weird to me that this is the last true Metal Gear Solid game we’re ever gonna get. Luckily, it’s a worthy send-off to the series. For the most part, at least. I have an extensive list of problems with this game.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is… weird. The core gameplay is incredibly fun, using its open-world setting and refined stealth mechanics to create a game where the only correct solution is whatever the player can come up with. But as it goes on, it starts to feel more and more repetitive, until it feels less like a thrilling stealth action game and more like a series of chores. On top of that, we have a story that is very clearly unfinished, messy, and unsatisfying. Speaking of which:

Several years after the events of Ground Zeroes, Big Boss finally wakes up from his coma. Unfortunately, his enemies know where he is and they’re eager to see that he doesn’t get out of that bed. After a thrilling escape, aided by good ol’ Revolver Ocelot, the newly named Punished ‘Venom’ Snake goes out to rescue his old friend and partner, Kazuhira Miller, in order to build up a new Mother Base and claim their revenge against those who destroyed the old.

This is a solid premise for a revenge story. It should have been an easy slam-dunk! Unfortunately, it quickly loses steam. Between story missions that are basically filler and extremely slow pacing, it is super easy to lose interest. Especially since it doesn’t have that goofy charm the other games in this series have.

Not to mention the ending. Never before has it been so clear that a game ran out of budget and development time. After a second half of even more filler, the game ends on an abrupt twist that essentially means nothing to the plot. Hell, it doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of the Metal Gear storyline.

Also, this game is weird. Not in the fun way, like MGS 1, 2, 3, or Revengeance. More like a, “What the fuck?” kind of way. Like Quiet. Why does Quiet need to drink and breath through her skin? Give me a more convincing reason than, “Kojima is a pervert.”

Despite my gripes, the story isn’t entirely terrible. There’s plenty of stuff I really like! Venom, Ocelot, and Miller make for a pretty badass trio. All of the Codec conversations are optional, just like in Peace Walker, so they don’t interrupt the flow of gameplay like they did before. Not to mention that it can get genuinely creepy at times!

Also, DD. That dog makes the whole game worth it.

Presentation wise, this game is very impressive. It doesn’t have the most interesting art style; it’s just photo-realism, but with more lens flares than the average game. Still, it does hold up fairly well. Many of the models are still very technically impressive. Plus, it runs at a smooth framerate from start to end, even when things get crazy.

My only real gripe is with the environments. Now, this is an entirely personal point, not a critical one. I just don’t think deserts make for the most interesting levels to explore. And between Afghanistan and Africa, deserts are just about all you’re gonna get. Which gets real old real quick.

Music wise, this game doesn’t have much for its original score. Some tracks come up every now and then, and those are nice. But for the most part, it’s just the ambient sounds of the environment and Snake’s movements. Aside from that, you’ve got the radio, where you can play various real-life songs that you can collect across the battlefield from radios.

That seems like a good point to move onto the gameplay with.

Like Peace Walker, this game is divided up into missions, each taking place in a large section of the open world. Whether you need to steal important documents or rescue a captive or just straight-up kill a dude, you’ll need to put together the perfect arsenal of gear and weapons in order to sneak your way through whatever obstacles might stand in your path to complete your objective. Between that, you need to build up your own Mother Base and develop new items and tech to help you out.

Of all the games in the series, this is the one with the most creative freedom in how you approach the objective. Do you bust out a tank and the big guns to blast everything out of your way? Do you go pacifist, not killing a single person? Do you try and distract the guards with the inflatable Big Boss decoy or do you hit him with the rocket-propelled prosthetic arm? How you approach the mission is entirely up to you, as each option has an equal chance to succeed or fail depending on how you do it.

But you don’t need to go at it alone. This time, Boss has a slew of companions to help out! D-Horse is your trusty steed, DD is your assassin doggo, Quiet is an expert sniper, and you’ve got your own Walker Gear. Each three have their strengths, and they only grow more capable as they grow closer with Boss. Unfortunately, the only one I found consistently useful was D-Horse; the other two were helpful and cool to have around, but having an escape mount that the enemy couldn’t permanently disable was just too useful in a pinch.

I have two major gripes with the stealth gameplay. The first is the missions. These get real repetitive feeling real quick. Each one falls into a category. These are:

  • Rescue
  • Item extraction
  • Assassination
  • Vehicular destruction

The most spice there is in these missions are the occasional boss battles, like the deadly Skulls or Quiet or the man on fire. Unfortunately, the only boss that I actually liked was Quiet, and she was just a worse version of The End from MGS3. Most of the early ‘bosses’ are just you running away from a deadly enemy. Then, when you actually do fight them, they’re super underwhelming.

Aside from sneaking, you’ve got base building. This has a little more depth than it did in Peace Walker. You’ve actually got to explore the world to collect resources in order to build up and expand your Mother Base and populate it. You can even walk around the platform this time!

Is there any reason to beyond the occasional cutscene? No. In fact, walking around the base is actually really boring. But at least you can beat up the guards and they’ll thank you for it. So that’s cool.

Phantom Pain is a fun game. When you manage to execute on a plan flawlessly, you feel like a ghost! But the game gets real repetitive real quickly. Blasting through it as quickly as possible is definitely a mistake. This is a game you want to take your time with. Otherwise, it’ll get old real quick.

Is Phantom Pain the worst Metal Gear game? Absolutely not. But is it the best? No. I’d say it’s better than Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes, but it pales in comparison to Snake Eater.

There’s just so much dragging it down. The story is incomplete. The missions get repetitive. The boss fights are more frustrating than fun. It feels like Kojima and his team stretched themselves too far in order to achieve a vision they simply didn’t have the resources to reach. As a result, we got a game that, while fun and exciting, distinctly feels unfinished and a bit messy.

To be clear, I’m not blaming Kojima and his team for that. I’m blaming everyone’s favorite horse to beat: Konami. #FucKonami.

And with that, we’re officially done with all the Big Boss games. The early days of the timeline are complete. Now, it is time to move on to the first missions of the true protagonist of the series: Solid Snake.

Who is a clone of Big Boss, who was Naked Snake. But not the Big Boss we played in this game, who was Venom Snake. That’s a different Snake. And don’t even get me started about Liquid and Solidus. Oh, and Raiden, who was also code-named Snake for a little while at the start of MGS2.

Where the fuck is Gaseous Snake? Or Plasma Snake?

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