“A(nother) Hideo Kojima Masterpiece”
Available on PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 (tested)
(Mild spoilers if you haven’t play Ground Zeroes)
It’s really funny how before every Metal Gear Solid (MGS) releases, we think deep inside “will it be THAT good? Will it top the previous games?” and the answer always seems to be “Yup, nailed it”. MGS V: The Phantom Pain is no exception to the rule, as Kojima’s latest creation probably is the Game of the Year.
I’ll be honest with you, I was pretty skeptical about the game when Ground Zeroes came out; I didn’t like how it played, mechanics were poorly introduced, enemies’ detection level was that of a robot, etc. I was afraid TPP of being an extension of it and luckily, I was very wrong. The Phantom Pain executes almost everything in a flawless way; gameplay, graphics, sounds and story. We will delve into every aspect details in the next few paragraphs, but start thinking of it as Peace Walker 2.
Dogs of War
So, the story picks up right after Ground Zeroes’ ending… well, kind of. Anyways, the point is, you as Big Boss wake up in a hospital somewhere within Cyprus. Shortly after you are informed that you have been 9 years in a comma, scraps of metal are slowly pushing into your brain and you are missing your left arm. That’s the optimistic part of the opening act, as suddenly a squad of black ops raids into the hospital in order to kill the legendary Big Boss. Fast forward the prologue and the first mission, and you are back to square one as far as a mercenary squad goes: it’s just you, Kaz, Ocelot and a huge thirst for vengeance. I won’t go much more into the game’s story, as it is well known that one of the strengths of MGS games is based on the surprises and “oh sh*t” moments.
The game plays very similar to its PSP predecessor; you engage different missions, be it from the story line or the ones cleverly named “Side-Ops”. You can deploy for a mission whenever you see fit, or just free roam the map. Here’s where the game really shines: it is pretty clear from the beginning that you have to rebuild your army from scratch and, to do so, you roam the lands searching for resources (metal, herbs, fuel, bio chemical), gaining GP and, more importantly, recruiting soldiers. The recruiting part is the most fun, as you will be using the Fulton Recovery System, which enables you (limited times per deployment) to extract soldiers that have been knocked out to the Mother Base, where they will be convinced to join the ranks of the Diamond Dogs (new army, new name).
As you make your progress through the game, your army starts to add new specialized departments that will help you in some way: You start only with R&D, which will be the team charged with developing new weapons, items, suits and upgrades for them. After a couple of missions, you will have access to a reckon team that, depending on the skill of the recruited soldiers assigned to the team, will give you some useful information while on the field. The game automatically assigns each new soldier to the team it thinks it suits best, but you can arrange each team however you like.
Another remarkable aspect is the option to deploy a companion to help you in the field. You start only with D-Horse (best horse in a video game period), but as you advance through the game, you gain a couple more, each of them differs drastically from the other, and all of them have a bond meter, which fills every time you use them and determines the variety of abilities they can use. I have found myself switching between companions depending on the mission so, even if one of them have a slight advantage over the rest, the usage of companions is pretty well balanced.
The sum of these mechanics (variety of weapons, items, companions, suits, time of the day, etc) is what makes TPP so special; you can tackle every mission however the f*** you want. You prefer the MGS trademark stealthy approach? You got it. You are more of a guns blazing style? We got you covered. Hell, even you can rush down an enemy outpost from your helicopter, while the chopper’s speakers play The Final Countdown (yes, you can do all of that). It’s all about choice and how you feel you want to play the game, executed in the best possible way. This is what will get you clawed to the game: “ok, I need these materials and a R&D Level of 15 to get this weapon in order to make my life a little easier on this mission”, and you go free roaming gathering said materials, soldiers, finding out new Side Ops to get GP and, why not, a specialized soldier… cause yeah, besides the regular skills, some soldiers have special traits that help some of the areas (or even yourself) in special ways. For instance, some Side Ops will ask to extract an enemy soldier that speaks Russian and doing so lets you understand the soviet soldiers, henceforth enabling to interrogation for hidden materials, elite soldiers to extract, prisoner locations and more.
But Pol, how well does it actually plays? It plays like a MGS fanboy’s wet dream. No, seriously, the game has the best gameplay MGS has ever seen; controls are super tight and you will find yourself doing exactly what you had input in the controller, which is key for these types of games were you need to act with precision without losing a second. I’m very fond of the sprinting/jump to cover combo; it lets you cover a large distance and jumping into prone stance in a blink of an eye.The Reflex mechanic is another welcome addition; whenever you are discovered by an enemy, the action goes slow-mo requiring you to act in some way in order to put down the soldier that discovered you, be it killing the soldier, putting him to sleep with a dart or stunning him with a close combat maneuver. Reflex mode is the summarized way of telling what the game expects from you: react fast, response to the ever changing situations with the tools at hand and do not hesitate. The gameplay tightness applies for all the vehicle handling and horse riding too. In fact, my first thought while riding D-Horse was “please, someone mod this horse into The Witcher 3, thanks”.
Regarding the Art department, the game looks stunning and it’s another demonstration of the Fox Engine’s power, running at 60fps/1080p without dropping a single frame for most of the time. The same flawless execution applies for voice acting: Kiefer Sutherland is ok as the less talkative Snake in the whole saga and, while you will be missing David Hayter, Sutherland does a correct job. But the one who really stands out is Troy Baker (again) with his awesome portrayal of Revolver “Shalashaska” Ocelot. It must be really hard appearing in some many games and not sounding like “Troy Baker” every time, but the grizzled veteran accent suits Baker just well and gives Ocelot a personality of its own. Another shout out to Robert Atkin Downes, who completes the mercenary trio as Kazuhira “Kaz” Miller, making his thirst for revenge believable in every word he speaks. You can hear plenty of both Ocelot and Kaz not only during the game’s story, but also in the recorded tapes (which also help to fill in the gaps of the story, in case you haven’t played Peace Walker or Ground Zeroes). The music is on par with the previous MGS games and makes an excellent job at setting the mood for the situation. Also, if you don’t like the music or feel like listening something else while sneaking into an enemy outpost, you can always collect the 80’s music tapes and neutralize your enemies while listening to Rebel Yell or Africa.
Should you play it?
Absolutely. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a real masterpiece within the action games department and, why not, games overall. It’s all about you making the choices, the planning and the execution, reacting and responding in order to build your own story about that time when you had to face a certain mission. I loved Arkham Knight, equally loved The Witcher III, but there’s no denying in saying that MGS V: TPP will be this year game of the year, as it’s outright superb.
Online features have not been reviewed as the servers will be up and running September 1st. I will write a separate article when this feature is available and be sure to link it to this review.