The final Metal Gear Solid game by Hideo Kojima, The Phantom Pain. Big gaming news outlets showered it in praise while notable youtubers and less visible critics were understandably disappointed. So is this such a polarizing title that one can only like or dislike it, or is there a view that’s more balanced?
It’s been long enough after release that the game has probably been spoiled for you, so this review will be no different. Click this annotation if you want to skip past the story bits.
Without mincing too many words Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a fun but deeply flawed game. It’s biggest flaw is that it’s missing the final chapter. It’s not finished! Then again that seems to be the standard for triple A development these days.
The story is ridiculous but has some tasteful moments that focus mainly on character development, most notably Quiet. I can’t really fault the story for it’s absurd sci-fi angle that explains people having super powers as this is a Hideo Kojima game. It’s like going to a Tarantino Film and complaining about how excessive the violence is. What did you think you were going to get from the story? Another Metal Gear Solid 3? Not in this lifetime and not on purpose.
When it comes to the story it feels those who were most critical of it was a result of the ending, which is bizarre as Metal Gear Solid 2 also pulled a bait and switch and there was several hints in MGSV that Venom wasn’t the real Big Boss. While Raiden in MGS2 was put in, in an effort to attract female players some fans will defend this move as some sort of meta commentary, whereas in the case of Venom Snake being a double people felt cheated. The reveal works perfectly with the series story and explains how Solid Snake was able to defeat Big Boss twice, once in the original Metal Gear and a second time in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
This final message from Big Boss to Venom Snake made the entire experience feel very personal. If we are as bold as to engage in hypothetical meta commentary, the ending scene where we listen to the tape from “The Man Who Sold the World”, could be likened to a message from Kojima himself to the player.
it easily sounds like a game designer saying good bye to his loyal fanbase.
One of the other more common gripes with the story I saw was that “This means Big Boss was a false legacy.”
That’s a moot point though isn’t it? Even if Big Boss built notoriety in the course of Peace Walker, his foundation as Big Boss was all a lie. The Boss, aka his mentor, The Joy, made the ultimate sacrifice and as a result, Naked Snake went on to build a name for himself. It was already a false legacy, and we found later that the price of The Boss’s sacrifice was all too much for him to bare. Between being given credit for something he didn’t actually do alone and losing someone he loved that mentored him, a pattern emerges that gives us a lot more insight into Big Boss’s actions.
Kojima gets lost in big picture ideas but the smaller character stuff he produces is ultimately his strength as a writer. If you’re a die hard fan or just at all familiar with the caliber of Kojima’s writing then some of the more absurd plot points should not have been a surprise. The story’s biggest downfall is that it was left open with a cliffhanger in Chapter 2. It’s simply not done. Maybe this is the real Phantom Pain.
The game is different from past games in that there’s less of an emphasis on stealth and some of the story missions completely abandon the idea. Was this bad though? While I love the past games there were times where waiting for alert cool downs became a drag and Phantom Pain subverts this easily. I’m a sucker for games that give me a variety of options in how to play and have a robust system to manipulate. The Metal Gear Solid series has always done this and Phantom Pain does not fail the trend. For many of the missions stealth is still an option and the best way to get high mission grades. The player can go in guns a blazing as well but that always complicates things.The chicken hat and reflex time are obvious features that dilute the experience but can thankfully be turned off.
Some of the missions feel like filler but it wasn’t toward the end of Chapter 2 did it feel obvious. I anticipate Kojima Productions was low on dev time by this point. Purists might decry a lessened focus on stealth but even that works thematically with the idea of a “Punished Snake” who’s acting less like the real Big Boss. Besides it’s not like you could be stealth fighting a Hind D in MGS1.
Building your base is another touch that makes playing Phantom Pain feel personal, but late in the game and after the main story has been completed, it’s mostly there just to rake in some micro-transactions for Konami. Beyond that the game looks and runs great. The music is era appropriate and works nicely, except for that one scene.
Metal Gear Solid Online was a mess though. Only thing that feels worth playing is the Bounty Hunter mode.
Overall Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a very enjoyable albeit an incomplete game. With Kojima Productions closed by Konami, the third and final chapter won’t even be DLC. If a player goes back to try and complete all side objectives for missions the player can easily clock in over sixty hours of gameplay. Given how polarizing it seems to be it’s probably best just to get the game on sell. If you care a lot about the story you might be disappointed. If you don’t mind somewhat uneven design concepts like a sandbox stealth game that lets you act like Rambo you’ll probably like it.
Until next time.