So…those of you who are fans of the Metal Gear Solid series most likely picked up the thirty dollar playable demo Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. When I say the game plays almost identically, I’m not kidding. But by NO MEANS do I want you to think that Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is in the same league as Ground Zeroes.
The latest entry into the series is leaps and bounds beyond any of the previous installments. Combining the gameplay, graphics, and Fox Engine of Ground Zeroes with the base building and support mechanic that started in Portable Ops and really found it’s stride in Peacewalker, Phantom Pain has marched confidently to the center stage. The combat and infiltration are just as tight as they have always been. However, the more open world sandbox of the game, which really isn’t that far from the way most of the previous titles have played, really pushes the feel of being an elite commando. Call in air drops for more equipment, helicopters for air support when in combat, or simply to pick you up and get out of dodge and you really feel like a commander on the front lines. One might argue that the game would be highly repetitive if it weren’t for the headquarters you are building for you and your Daimond Dogs; Mother Base.
Mother Base is made up of an old oil rig and it is where you and yours base all of your operations out of. Over time and with the collection of money and resources, you are able to build more platforms, each offering you special bonuses and abilities. Research and Development, for instance, allows you to develop more powerful, more helpful, and more efficient weapons and equipment. This mechanic makes the general sneaking and infiltration (or full on combat) that much better by allowing you to make development decisions while on the ground. Scan enemy soldiers and find out how good they would be if they were helping on one of your platforms. Then simply knock them out and attach a Fulton balloon to them. They will be carried into the air and retrieved by your support team. You can steal equipment and eventually vehicles and full shipping containers full of resources.
Infiltrating takes on a new facet as well with the inclusion of Buddies. Thus far I have only been able to use three: D-Horse, DiDi, and Quiet. Diamond Horse is literally a horse that you can ride into the sunset, making it easier to move around whichever area of operations you are in before you have the ability to steal or call in a vehicle. DiDi, which is short for Daimond Dog, is a dog that looks a lot like a wolf or husky. Her ability to sense enemies in the area without you having to tag them is incredibly helpful, and the novelty of giving her battle gear and training her to use a knife was just great. Quiet, a scantily clad sniper with abilities reminiscent of the Cobra The End from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, is her own monster. You can send her to scout, which makes her about as useful as DiDi, with one notable difference; if you get caught, she opens fire with impunity.
The story of the game is both large and surprisingly sparse. For those of you who are long term players of the series, the narrative is told through specific story missions and a few special side ops. While I am sure that if you played the story missions one right after the other, you would capture the same confounding and compelling narrative that usually defines the title. However, with all of the side ops and the excellent distraction of developing your base and equipment, the story almost takes a back seat.
There are some mainstays of the series that carry on, but also a few nuances of this final chapter that I feel I need to discuss. Hideo Kojima, game designer and creator of the entire franchise, actually shows up in the game as an Intel Operative. He has always had a penchant for doing unorthodox things inside these titles and this title is no different. The oddest thing I have found is the ability to put yourself in a cardboard box (a constant piece of equipment since the days of Metal Gear Solid) and send yourself via mail to other places on the map. The evolution of earlier titles where you could shoot the radio on an enemy and keep them from calling in reinforcements, in Phantom Pain you can destroy relays and radio equipment to much the same effect. In fact, you can even destroy anti-air radar to allow for your support helicopters to get closer.
The special enemies that you have to fight which are also a common theme in this series feel less cohesive and a little more random. Instead of a group of terrorists or unit themed military specialists, you have the representatives of Cipher, a covert military operation ran by your former allies. The Lone Ranger themed Skull Face and his elite zombie-like soldiers the Skulls, what looks like a young Psycho Mantis, the possibly ethereal Burning Man, and the newest form of Metal Gear.
Everything about this game is just amazing and I find myself sinking hour after hour into both Africa and Afghanistan. If there are more theaters of operation, I’m sure I’ll be just as exhaustive in them as well. Every mission makes sense in the grand scheme of things and the story feels much more grounded in reality than the traditional Metal Gear game. This finale for Hideo Kojima is worth every penny and I haven’t even gotten into the multiplayer yet. If you’ve ever wanted to a legend, suit up, strap on those boots, and hit the as Big Boss!
My rating 5/5.