Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

Platform: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami
Rating: PEGI 18

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Gamers of a certain age will remember just how big Metal Gear Solid was when it hit the market so many years back: while the older entries in the series certainly had their fans, this title served as many gamers’ introduction to the world of Solid Snake. MGS became an instant classic, and is still viewed as one of the most important games for Sony’s original PlayStation – aside from perhaps ninja-sim Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, stealth was an underused mechanic,with most action games focused on balls-to-the-wall blasting.

90s-era gamers lapped up Solid Snake’s ability to creep in shadows, crawl through ventilation shafts, hide under cardboard boxes, and snap necks with enough panache to make James Bond sweat – so much so that multiple successful sequels & spin-offs have followed, across various consoles.

Now, series-creator Hideo Kojima brings us his final MGS adventure – does he go out on a high note, or miss the mark?

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Show the World who’s Boss

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes protagonist Big Boss out of the more linear, contained environments the series is known for, and lets him loose in sprawling, gorgeous locations: players can enjoy unparalleled freedom as they scour the expansive landscapes of Afghanistan and Zaire, completing missions however they wish.

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Set in the 1980s, The Phantom Pain sees Big Boss in charge of a private military squad – The Diamond Dogs – and responsible for undertaking various missions behind enemy lines: recon, base-infiltration, rescue, and assassination contracts are all par for the course. This being an MGS game, the story is somewhat complex (though actually more sparse than in other instalments, where cut-scenes were too long and too many!), yet this is definitely the strongest narrative the series has offered so far: mixing historical events with Bond-esque super-villainy and sci-fi touches, this goes into some unexpected, taboo areas. We won’t spoil anything for you, but seeing Big Boss become the man fans of the series expect to see is compelling stuff.

Big Boss and his group operate out of Mother Base, an off-shore structure which expands as players progress. While killing guards has always been essential in previous games, there’s a real incentive here to keep them alive: by attaching a ‘fulton’ balloon to them, players can order enemies to be airlifted back to Mother Base – where they’ll undergo brainwashing to join your cause. As troops have their own skills, they can develop their abilities and build new equipment for Big Boss to use in the field. This is a great device, and eventually, you’ll be able to fulton weapons, vehicles, and more to aid you in your campaign.

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Mother Base gives Big Boss a safe zone to recuperate in between missions, but once players are ready to take on another operation, he’s choppered out to the next zone. Once you touchdown, you’re then free to complete most missions however you like: directions are typically vague enough to encourage experimentation & creative thinking. For example, when tasked with rescuing a prisoner, you can choose to sneak your way into a stronghold or go in all-guns blazing; vocal decoys can be used to distract guards, as can tossing bullet cartridges – there’s even a balloon version of Big Boss that fools nearby guards long enough for you to make your move. Mother Base, and your growing research team, offers hundreds of such items, weapons, and pieces of equipment – including a selection of cardboard boxes!

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Go Your Own Way

With environments being so huge, Big Boss needs a bit of help to get around. Sure, he can travel on foot, but why run when you can choose from horses, vehicles, and even a robotic walker to take the weight off? Traversing the richly-textured locations by horse is an amazing experience: wildlife behaves in strikingly realistic ways, and the day/night cycle makes impressive changes to tactical thinking. Weather effects – such as sandstorms – affect the way you play too, dampening vision-range and sounds. All of this helps to create a world which feels genuinely organic, as if it would carry on like this even if Big Boss were somewhere else.

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As well as the main story missions, players can take on many side-ops, and also send troops out on their own contracts to keep money flowing into Mother Base. Sidekicks can also be enlisted to help Big Boss, including Quiet (a bafflingly-under-dressed warrior who kicks ass and looks incredible at the same time) and a loyal dog. This buddy system adds a distinctive element to the game, and helps it to stand our from some other open-world titles in which controlling a lone wanderer can often become a little bit dull.

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Hideo Kojima’s public falling-out with Konami means this is likely to be the last MGS game he’s involved with – but, if this is the case, he leaves the series at its peak. The Phantom Pain offers players a fun, exciting, deep, rewarding, immersive, witty, narratively-brave, free-form experience they’re unlikely to forget – while we’re sure to see more MGS games in the future, this entry has set a very, very high bar.

What do you think of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain? Is it the best MGS game yet, or were you hoping for more? Let us know!