The Metal Gear series has long been famous for its complex storylines, stealth-based gameplay, and innovation – and the latest instalment, The Phantom Pain, looks set to be the biggest & best instalment yet. Players take on the role of Big Boss, a character with a rich history in the series – this time, however, the gameplay is based in a remarkably open world (featuring areas of Afghanistan and Africa), allowing for deep exploration and huge variety in missions.
Secret Origins: The Story of Big Boss
Playing as Big Boss, gamers will need to build a private army, using cunning, technology, and stealth to recruit enemy soldiers & expand resources. The storyline takes place in the 1980s, and shows us how Big Boss went on to become the character fans of the series will know him as: the plot is still fairly well-guarded at this point, but is known to take on a darker tone, with a more serious exploration of war than previous games have provided. However, the series’ familiar use of incredible weaponry and futuristic technology still appears, and almost supervillain-esque characters fit in as well as ever.
Whereas previous Metal Gear games have taken place in tight locations, with a somewhat linear playing style, The Phantom Pain is much more open: the amount of things to see and do in the massive environments is staggering, with more than 100 side-missions to take on alongside the sprawling main storyline. Players can expect to find their attention veering away from the central plot time and again – mainly thanks to Mother Base.
This is an off-shore location where Big Boss, and his Diamond Dogs army, set-up camp. While this begins as a small operation, as you progress during the game, you’ll find additional parts added, until you need to drive from one area to another. While at Mother Base, Big Boss can enjoy some safety and peace away from the battlefield, with stunning views of the ocean to enjoy all around. However, Mother Base is also an integral part of the gameplay itself.
Need Allies? Brainwashing is the Answer!
Soldiers you’ve captured and recruited (via some handy brainwashing) bring their own skills to your operations, and, by assigning them to research specific areas, you can use them to unlock new weapons & technology. The more research your team undertakes, the better your ability points increase, and the more equipment you can develop & use. Troops can also be sent out on missions, fulfilling contracts and gathering resources, while you play through other areas of the game.
With such a huge open world to explore, crossing large areas can take time – while running is fun, you can later unlock the ability to use various methods of transportation: a horse, a truck, and even a walker (a robotic piece of kit). This brings a great new dimension to the series, and having so much scenery to enjoy, and locations to scour, brings much more freedom & incentive to replay than other Metal Gear games.
Your horse and walker are classed as Buddies – and this is a system that works in combat as well as travel. For example, a dog can be taken into battle to sniff out and distract enemy soldiers, and, eventually, a human sidekick can be called upon: the AI looks impressive, bringing a new layer of depth to the series’ well-worn solo-based gameplay.
The ability to recruit enemy soldiers (which is done by attaching a balloon to their belt, so they can float out of the level to undergo brainwashing) makes getting through missions with a zero body-count a real thrill: whereas killing enemies in previous games was generally par for the course, relying on stealth has more of an incentive than just avoiding trouble. Once Big Boss is spotted, however, players can take advantage of the Reflex system: this slows time down momentarily, giving you enough space to take down a guard before they can raise the alarm – hardcore fans may want to disable this for extra challenge, but newcomers will probably find it a big help.
Play it your Way
Players can enjoy impressive freedom when choosing how they complete missions: when required to infiltrate a base to rescue a prisoner, for example, you can make your own decisions. Sneaking in by day or night; creeping from one niche to the next or all-guns-blazing; using explosives to disable armaments or taking your chances – this ensures there’s plenty of diversity and variety between missions. In some cases, Big Boss can call in an airstrike for maximum impact, though this will affect your ranking and is only available at certain times.
Big Boss is much more agile than previous playable characters, and controls feel more fluid & responsive: scaling cliff faces is possible, bringing some impressive verticality to areas and boosting the feel of immersion. The length of cut-scenes have also been reduced, and the CODEC system has been replaced by cassette tapes (these feature exposition, but listening to them is optional) – this means the storytelling is much less intrusive than in previous Metal Gear games, which is sure to please many fans.
The Phantom Pain looks set to revolutionise the series and bring plenty of exciting new features to the familiar gameplay. Will it live up to the promise? We’ll have to wait and see when it hits the stands!