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Holy shit Metal Gear Solid V is big. Seriously, this is a big game. I’m not joking. This game is huge and when you compare it to the older Metal Gear games it seems like it is 100 times bigger than any of those games. But is a bigger more open Metal Gear a better Metal Gear? After 70+ hours of playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain I left both satisfied and disappointed. My feelings on Metal Gear Solid V, like the Metal Gear storyline, are complicated.
The biggest and most important difference between Metal Gear Solid V and the past games in the series is that this new MGS is an open world adventure. No more linear levels that you explore in a certain order. Instead you are given two large open areas and can explore them as much as you want. You can even sometimes choose which mission you want to do next. There are even side missions, which are optional.
Setting Metal Gear Solid in an open world could’ve been disastrous. Or just boring. But Metal Gear Solid V takes great advantage of its open world. Being able to use the day/night cycle against enemies is great. You can plan to attack when the guards are asleep or when they are having a morning meeting. And the ability to approach a base or checkpoint from any direction allows you even more opportunities to play as you want. And that idea has always been a core part of the Metal Gear games. Playing how you want. Metal Gear Solid V takes this to a whole new level.
Do you want to ride a horse into a base and shoot everyone with a shotgun? You can totally do that. You can also sneak into a place, killing no one and getting out without setting off an alarm. Or maybe you just ride in your helicopter that is playing Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” while using a turret to annihilate the enemies below.
All of this looks amazing. The Fox Engine, the engine which Metal Gear Solid V runs on, is incredible. The game stays at a solid 60fps on PS4 even when giant crazy things are happening. The lighting is also phenomenal. Looking out my helicopter at the large, sprawling world below, I would sometimes take a photo because it just looked so good. The amount of detail in MGSV is impressive. From little decals on the side of a tank or some dirt on a radio, all of it looks great. Some animations are bit stiff looking, like when you hit an animal with your car or when an enemy tries to get up and slides awkwardly off a ledge. But it was never often enough to make the game look less polished or impressive.
But while the world beautiful and huge and you have many options on how to take down bases or finish missions, these worlds also feel empty. A lot of my time in Metal Gear Solid V was spent running or driving from place to place. And yes, there is a fast travel system, but it isn’t that great and many won’t even know it’s there. I’m not sure what the point of making it so easy to miss was. But even if you know about the fast travel system it still can feel like a chore getting around the map. Luckily you have all sorts of ways to get around. Helicopter ride, fast travel, horses, car or even a tank.
The options, like the game itself, feel endless.
Many of these options, like vehicles, weapons, attachments and more are unlocked via your Mother Base. What is Mother Base? It is another large part of this giant game.
Mother Base is your… base. You build it up as you play the game. But you aren’t following some predetermined path. Instead you have full control over how your base is built. You can focus on medicine and get better medical facilities and pills. Or you can focus on research and try to make better weapons or gear.
Early on in the game you get access to a fulton device. This device allows you to attach large balloons to people, objects and more. You can then send these back to your Mother Base and use them yourself or sell them for profit. Fultoning is one of the best parts of Metal Gear Solid V. It is one thing to take out an enemy base. But it is even more satisfying to take everything they have. Take all their tanks, trucks, resources, personnel and turrets. Take all of it. It is easy to do and feels great.
Some missions would ask me to eliminate a tank. And you could shoot it with a missile, but the way I did it was sneak up to the tank and just fulton that thing. Now it is your tank. And the dude inside? Now he is a part of your army.
You also have to manage Mother Base and all the people who work there. And this can be a bit tedious and the menus aren’t the best. Towards the end of the game I had over 300 people in my Mother Base. Scrolling through and finding someone or firing the lower ranking members started to get tricky. There are some filtering options and sorting options which help, but it still wasn’t very fun. If you ignore your base too much fighting will break out and facilities will lose their effectiveness.
Manage your base correctly and you will level up your different facilities and unlock new equipment, weapons and support options. If you just want to call in an airstrike on a enemy base, you can totally do that. And it is fun to watch.
As you build up and manager your Mother Base you can explore it and watch it grow. It really does make it feel like you’re building up an army and when bad stuff happens at Mother Base, no spoilers, I found myself actually upset or worried. It was my base. My men and women and I wasn’t going to sit back and let bad stuff happen.
Another part of Metal Gear Solid V is FOB Missions. This part of the game is all about invading other players’ Mother Bases. Not their single player Mother Base, but one of their extra forward operating bases, hence the name FOB. The idea behind this mode is cool and invading another player’s FOB was exciting at first. But after a few invasions I found that most bases were identical and used the same heavy armor guards and drones. Eventually I was bored and didn’t really want to mess with the FOB part of MGSV. Even if it was fun it would be hard to use. I had numerous issues getting FOB to work and on the PC version it sounds like tons of players are cheating. I like the idea of FOB missions, but in execution I think it fails.
Your men and women along with your guns, tools and more are part of a large toolbox that you have. Some of the most fun I had in Metal Gear Solid V was mixing different tools and items with different situation and playstyles. Watching all the different systems interact with each other, sometimes in surprising ways, was something that never got old.
One time I was driving through a open desert area and wasn’t paying attention. Suddenly I was flying off a cliff and I crashed through a wooden sniper tower and killed the man posted in it. I looked around and saw three men running at me. I had jumped out of the vehicle and quickly slipped behind a rock. Out of desperation I got into my cardboard box and hid. Two enemies came around and saw the box. They were suspicious but before they realized where I was hiding I jumped out and shot them both in the head. The third enemy stayed back. To get him I threw an inflatable decoy of myself at him. But instead of distracting him I missed and actually hit him with it, knocking him out.
This type of stuff happened all the time. I would have a great plan and I would try to pull it off. Sometimes I would do it perfectly and feel like the ultimate spy. Other times I would fail miserably and have to improvise my way out of a giant firefight.
In previous Metal Gear Solid games I always felt like the combat and controls were hard to use and clunky. I would actively avoid any combat and if I set off an alarm I would die or restart. In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain the gameplay feels smooth and responsive. Shooting your way out of situation is not only doable, it’s fun. I felt more in control and mobile than I had in any previous MGS game. This meant that I never got too frustrated when I failed. Setting off an alarm just meant I had to change up how I was going to do my mission.
It is not just the combat that gets an improvement. The stealth gameplay in Metal Gear Solid V is great. This is because of two additions. One is a Far Cry style marking system, which lets you mark enemies and know where they are no matter where they go. It lets you plan ahead and makes stealth easier. Another great addition is reflex mode. Reflex mode is so smart that I am surprised more games haven’t used it before. If you get spotted you get a few seconds in slow motion to react. Reflex mode allows you to move at a faster pace and not be worried about instantly being caught.
Of course the game rewards you if you don’t use these new features and if you want a more challenging experience you can avoid using these new features. And some later missions even turn them off.
And it’s not just the controls and combat that feel better. The menus, UI, inventory and map all feel more modern and more useful. I was really happy that the gameplay was so much fun and exciting, especially as I discovered how disappointing the narrative elements in MGSV are.
It is really weird to have written this much about Metal Gear Solid V and yet not even mention the story. But I honestly didn’t find it to be that important or interesting. Cutscenes don’t happen as often as in the older games and the story feels sort of meandering. I spent most of the game hoping that the story would grow or become something more. But it never does. I won’t spoil it, just know that the story is not the reason to play MGSV. It just didn’t seem well written or thought out. It was disappointing.
Kiefer Sutherland does a decent job as Big Boss. But he barely speaks, though you can hear more of his voice acting in the tapes that are found in the game. These tapes have bits of backstory and character information and Kiefer actually does a surprising amount of talking in these tapes. And that is a real shame. Those tapes are cool but a really cumbersome way to deliver story. They might not be as intrusive as the codec conversations, but at least those were heard in a certain order. Being able to listen to these whenever makes it hard to understand what is going on.
I didn’t hate the story until I reached the ending. The end of MGSV is awful. The “twist” is strange and actually makes no sense. It also makes the game and the small amount of story it has feel unnecessary. The end of MGSV almost made me think I wasted my time. That isn’t a great feeling to have when you’ve sunk 70 hours into a game.
While I’m on the subject of disappointing things, let’s discuss the sniper Quiet.
Quiet was criticized almost immediately after her appearance in an early trailer for MGSV. She is a woman who is wearing almost nothing. Just a very revealing black bikini and she doesn’t talk. And in the trailer we see her being tortured. It wasn’t a great first impression. And if you thought getting the full context would help, honestly I don’t think it does.
There were three things I sadly expected after seeing Quiet. First, the camera will constantly focus on her body and make her move in a erotic fashion. Second, the reason she is wearing only a bikini will be terrible and feel forced. And finally she will be raped or almost raped. And guess what, I was right on all three. I won’t spoil anything, but Quiet just feels like a gross part of this game. Which really sucks. She is the best support character in the game, in my opinion and is genuinely badass. But the way she is treated and the fact that she is the only woman in the game makes it hard to not be disappointed.
After finishing the story you can continue to play the game and even go back to older missions and play them again, just for fun or maybe to get a higher rank. And I went back and did some more side-ops after beating Metal Gear Solid V. And even though I found the ending to be terrible and Quiet was disappointing, none of that was bad enough to make me sour on the rest of the game.
Parts of Metal Gear Solid V can feel really good. Sneaking and combat feel great. The ability to choose from hundreds of tools, weapons and support items allows you to have total freedom in how you play. And all the different systems interact in a way that means you never know how a mission will end. But the open world can feel to empty, the story is lacking and disappointing. And some of Metal Gear Solid’s oldest problems remain. The way women are treated, long speeches and awkward writing are all here, sadly.
But even with these issues I feel like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is something special. This is a big and strange and crazy game. They don’t make many games like this anymore and even fewer will be made in the future. Hideo Kojima, series creator and director, has left Konami and the future of the Metal Gear series is unknown. Whatever happens in the future doesn’t matter. Metal Gear Solid V is a fantastic game and a worthy end to the franchise.
Assuming you can even reach the end. Like I said, holy shit Metal Gear Solid V is big.