Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for PC Review

Check out our video review:

It’s been a fun ride. An interesting ride. My quest to play all the canon Metal Gear games in release order has finally come to an end and from a gameplay perspective, I’m confident in saying that I think the series mostly improved with each release and its been fun seeing how it evolved. It seems that the developers tried to do something new with each game and I can see why fans adore the series, especially the first two Metal Gear Solid titles. Metal Gear is a unique franchise and there’s a lot to love about it whether it be the storylines, characters, or gameplay. For me, personally, there’s three titles that stand out. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence for the superior camera. Metal Gear Solid 4 for modernizing, streamlining, fixing – whatever you want to call it – the controls. Plus, the gameplay in general feels like a massive improvement over its predecessors. And finally, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for dare I say perfecting the gameplay or at least the mechanics. So needless to say, I’ve been really looking forward to playing The Phantom Pain.

Developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was released for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC in September, 2015. For this review, I played the PC version. Metal Gear Solid V was split into two projects or games, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. Together, they make up the Metal Gear Solid V experience and come packaged together in Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience. To me, Ground Zeroes feels like a prologue, a taste of what’s to come, it’s the appetizer before the main course that is The Phantom Pain. It’s also the last Metal Gear game series creator Hideo Kojima worked on before parting ways with Konami.

Nine years after the events of Ground Zeroes, Snake (also known as Big Boss) awakens from a coma and escapes a hospital after it’s overrun by Cipher soldiers who are there to execute him. Snake adopts the codename “Venom Snake” and leads the PMC group Diamond Dogs which is made up of some former MSF members. Snake’s ultimate goal is to track down those responsible for MSF’s destruction. Similar to Ground Zeroes, the story is conveyed through cut scenes and cassette tapes. In fact, much of the plot and information is conveyed through the tapes which you can listen to at any time. One thing I like about this game is that the narrative isn’t constantly shoved in your face. You can enjoy the gameplay while learning about what’s going on. Cut scenes are not as prevalent as those in some of the previous games and nowhere near as long as some of those in Metal Gear Solid 4. Not that I don’t enjoy the cinematic style presentation of the storylines in this series, but I admit I got a little burnt out on cut scenes and long exposition dumps, game after game. This feels refreshing in that regard. These things are still here but most cut scenes are not excessively long and most exposition dumps can be heard in the tapes. I really appreciate that the game puts the gameplay front and center.

I do think The Phantom Pain features one of the weaker plots in the series. It does continue with the more serious tone established in Ground Zeroes and contains some hallmarks of a typical Metal Gear game including ridiculous villains and some hammy and cheesy dialogue. It touches on some interesting themes but certain plot developments feel rushed. In fact, the whole second half of the plot, chapter 2, feels rushed. Other developments I found a bit hard to digest even by Metal Gear standards. You will get a lot more out of the plot if you’ve played the prior games and several returning characters do make an appearance. Although, I think some of their personalities don’t match their other appearances. Specifically, Snake and Ocelot.

Yes, I am aware this is a prequel but the Ocelot here seems much different than the Ocelot from any other game, including Metal Gear Solid 3. He basically feels like an entirely different character here. As for Snake’s personality, let’s just say it is explained. Or at least, I’m accepting a certain development as the explanation. In fact, the game answers numerous questions that may come up while playing and those you may have had while playing Ground Zeroes. Whether you’re on board with the answers is another thing entirely and I’ll just leave it at that. But the story also left me with some more questions that, at this point, may never be answered. The Phantom Pain does include some notable voice talent including Troy Baker as Ocelot and Keifer Sutherland who returns to voice Snake and despite missing David Hayter, I do think he does a great job.

I have heard some mixed responses to The Phantom Pain over the years. Some say it’s the greatest game in the franchise. Others didn’t care for it. I’ve even heard some say it’s not a true Metal Gear or Metal Gear Solid title. However, most players seem to agree the story is lacking but it features great gameplay. As for me, The Phantom Pain is by far my favorite game in the series up to this point. No question about it. It expands upon everything introduced in Ground Zeroes and feels amazing to play. Once I got into the groove of things, I found it hard to put down. Now it’s not perfect but I would say it has become one of my favorite games in the stealth genre and it blows away all of its predecessors in the gameplay department. The gameplay, alone, is what makes it my favorite entry in the franchise. It’s fucking incredible.

Just like Ground Zeroes, the game plays and controls really well, especially with a controller. Whether you’re sneaking around or shooting, it all feels amazing. The Phantom Pain is very much a successor to Peace Walker. Building and managing Mother Base, recruiting soldiers, and developing new items and equipment is all here. But that also means the grind and repetition return. You will return to many of the same locations whether it’s a story mission or side op, often to complete similar objectives. But I would argue the grind and repetition are easier to ignore here just because of how much fun it is to complete the objectives. You have so many options that it can be overwhelming. One of the biggest new things here is the open-ended environments. The Phantom Pain will take you to Afghanistan and Africa and both locations could be considered open world.

First I’ll talk about the worlds themselves. Both Afghanistan and Africa are basically just large maps. You can get around on-foot, by horse or vehicle, and there is a fast travel system involving boxes and delivery points. Each world is filled with guardposts, villages, encampments, and bases among some other areas. But for the sake of argument, I’ll just refer to all of these as outposts. The worlds and outposts contain resources that can be collected and sent to Mother Base and enemies can be found standing and patrolling around and some may even be sleeping. Guards will even change shifts at certain times of day. Unfortunately, that’s really all there is to these worlds. Large maps with multiple outposts. Animals roam around and you may see some enemies on the roads but I can’t say the worlds actually feel alive and few of the outposts are as detailed or as fleshed out as that of Camp Omega in Ground Zeroes. While the open world aspect does feel unnecessary considering there’s not much to do besides move from outpost to outpost while evading or engaging enemies, it does allow for numerous ways to approach situations and complete objectives.

Expanding Mother Base is a big part of the gameplay. You can build new facilities and explore Mother Base on-foot and by vehicle. You can recruit soldiers that you will see roaming around the base, capture animals, and even capture armaments that can be used to defend the base. Unfortunately, Mother Base, itself, lacks things to do. In single player, that is. You can attempt the target practice side ops, find some resources, take a shower, and improve staff morale but there’s very few areas or rooms that offer anything interesting to see or do. Not only that, the base can be confusing and tedious to navigate which becomes more of a problem the bigger it gets. Regardless, it is cool seeing things like the soldiers you recruited walking around and the animals you captured contained. The soldiers and prisoners you recruit come with different stats and skills and they can be placed in different teams which serve different purposes and each team can level up. When teams reach certain levels, you’ll unlock new things for Snake to develop including equipment and items. Even Outer Ops from Peace Walker, or at least the concept, returns, now referred to as Dispatch Missions. You can deploy different units on missions and if successful, they will come back with rewards. Online dispatch missions typically yield better rewards but the wait time is much longer.

The Phantom Pain does come with multiplayer including Metal Gear Online which comes different game types and there’s also an extension to the Mother Base base-building feature. Eventually, you unlock the ability to build Forward Operating Bases which can be used to accumulate resources. But these facilities can be attacked by other players and you can set up defenses. What I found really impressive about this is the customization. You can customize the security and staffing allowing for a ridiculous amount of configuration options. The Phantom Pain also comes with a ranking system of sorts in the form of PF (Private Force) Grade and Rank. Your Private Force or PF is basically the sum of all your shit or in other words the strength of your base, and you are ranked and graded based on your PF compared to other players’.

Stealth works like it always has. Stay quiet and out of sight but the amount of options you have for almost any situation is always plentiful. If you need to infiltrate a location, you typically have the option to evade all foes, shoot or kill them, or recruit them. You can turn off lights, shoot them, destroy telephone wires and comms equipment, distract foes, snipe enemies from a distance, lay down mines as traps, blow everyone away with a tank – the possibilities feel endless. You can even use rain and sandstorms to your advantage. The Fulton Recovery System returns and when upgraded, you can Fulton vehicles and containers. You can call a helicopter for support and supply drops and use the helicopter’s minigun to engage foes as your landing or taking off. Furthermore, you can bring foes and prisoners to the helicopter and recruit them that way. The helicopter actually plays a big role here. It’s how you travel to the different worlds and Mother Base and acts as an aerial command center.

The Phantom Pain comes with story missions, side ops, and dispatch missions as indicated earlier. You can free roam around each world and complete side ops or do whatever you want, really. One complaint I have is the amount of time it takes to deploy and take off and start and end missions. It can mess with the pacing. Even if you reduce the dispatch time with upgrades, it takes too long to deploy and leave a location by helicopter. When deploying, you have to sit in the helicopter and wait for it to reach it’s destination. To leave, you have to call for a pickup and choose a landing zone and then wait for the helicopter to arrive and then wait for it to finally take off. Not only that, story missions are considered “episodes” that start and end with credits which only add to the wait times. And that’s in addition to the score and rewards screens you must get through at the end of story missions. One thing I find odd and disappointing is that the helicopter can’t be used as a fast travel system. You can’t call it and tell it to take you to a different landing zone. Once it picks you up, you have to wait for it to take off and leave the world and then deploy again to a different landing zone. It seems very odd to me and I think it’s a missed opportunity especially since you can use it to fast travel to the different facilities at Mother Base. Funnily enough, you can use the actual delivery point fast travel system at Mother Base as well which is much faster.

Another big new feature here is buddies. As you progress through the story, Snake will acquire numerous buddies that he can bring with him on missions. These include a horse, a sniper named Quiet, a wolf, and a Walker Gear. You can purchase equipment for these buddies and improve your bond with most of them by taking them on missions. As your bond improves, new abilities are unlocked and my favorite ability is by far horse shit. Yes, the horse can shit on command and it actually can be useful. That’s the best part. As awesome as that is, I actually preferred bringing the wolf, D-Dog, and Quiet with me most of the time. D-Dog is great because it can spot enemies and animals from a distance and they’ll be marked on the HUD which proves to be very helpful. Quiet can make infiltrations a cakewalk. Once the bond with her is improved and you equip her with a suppressed rifle, she can easily drop most, if not all, foes for you. Give her a suppressed tranq rifle and she’ll put every enemy to sleep which is great if you’re on a recruitment drive.

The Phantom Pain features a lot of customization. Once you get into the meat of the game, you’ll be able to customize your equipment and loadouts, Mother Base, buddies, your emblem, helicopter, vehicles, and even customize weapons and the weapon customization can come in quite handy. You can swap out parts and change colors and even attach suppressors to unsuppressed weapons. The game features all kinds of weapons including handguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and shotguns among others. These can be upgraded and you can also develop and upgrade items like cardboard boxes, capture cages, suits, and other unique items. Before starting a mission, you can configure your loadout, select a buddy and vehicle, and even change your character. Keep in mind everything costs GMP or money, including deployments. You earn money for completing missions and through certain rewards and can drain through it very quickly with how much shit there is to develop and upgrade. The loop here is pretty simple. Complete missions and spend money on development to unlock more stuff. Rinse and repeat. Despite the fact it can feel like a grind after a while, I found it does become addictive.

The grind is real and the repetition is real, especially if you don’t focus on the Forward Operating Base stuff. However, I honestly feel the gameplay is just so much fun that I didn’t mind doing the same shit over and over again. But the fact remains, the gameplay does get repetitive and if you stick to only the offline or single player stuff, you will have to grind to buy and upgrade and everything and you will end up visiting the same locations and the doing the same shit frequently. The story missions change things up mainly because they feature more varied objectives and some unique enemy types but a lot of them along with most of the side ops feel very similar. There’s over one hundred side ops to complete but there’s only about a handful of objectives. Extract prisoners or specific enemies, clear mines, capture specific animals, and neutralize specific enemies. Nevertheless, what I found makes the grind and repetition easy to ignore is the freedom you’re given to complete these objectives. There’s just so many way to accomplish things that each run through an outpost or location can be drastically different. And the enemies you encounter on subsequent runs through locations can be different. In fact, there’s an enemy “revenge system” which is a mechanic that adjusts the difficulty based on the player’s methods of infiltration. So for example, depending on your actions during one run, the enemies on a subsequent run may be wearing helmets or night vision goggles or you may have to contend with snipers.

Many story missions, especially in chapter 1, feel layered or more involved than any side ops on offer. Sometimes you have to locate a target or tail someone to a target but there’s usually other ways to find what you’re looking for in that case like by finding intel and/or interrogating enemies to get more information. Chapter 2 features less let’s call it “exciting” missions along with harder variants of already completed missions. Certain equipment and buddies can make completing certain objectives easier and I invested over twenty hours in the game before I reached the half way point of the story. That’s because I focused more on side ops and developing new shit and I found it very easy to keep going like that since it’s addictive and there’s no narrative interference associated with most side ops. You can just roam around the worlds and complete them at your leisure and exploring the various outposts will lead you to resources.

The Phantom Pain is a gorgeous game with detailed environments and models, great lighting, and cool visual effects and, much like Ground Zeroes, the animations are excellent. The game does showcase some neat details and I particularly enjoyed seeing Snake covered in blood after getting into a firefight and taking some hits. Other than some noticeable pop-in from time to time, I can’t say I witnessed many eyesores in the visual presentation. The audio work is also great. From the sounds of weapons to footsteps to the sounds of Snake’s equipment shuffling as he runs around, it all sounds great. The action is accompanied by a pretty good soundtrack with some great tunes that really add to the intensity and drama of certain situations. Furthermore, the game comes with some licensed tunes in the form of cassette tapes. On the technical side, I’m happy to say I did not encounter any major issues and the game ran smooth from beginning to end.

I am confident in saying Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is my favorite game in the franchise. Hands down. Without a doubt. No question about it. And it’s just for the gameplay alone. The gameplay is absolutely phenomenal. The Phantom Pain does deviate from the typical Metal Gear formula and is far from perfect but it’s just so much fun to play and I often found it hard to put it down. The stealth mechanics are amazing, the gunplay is great, the amount of options you’re given is incredible, and it feels great. In fact, I think it’s so good that it’s easy for me to ignore many of the game’s faults and, believe me, it does have faults. I like the open-ended nature the developers were going for but the worlds on offer here are not very interesting to explore or navigate. Almost nothing happens between the outposts. On top of that, the gameplay does get repetitive and there are some odd design choices here and there. As for the story, I can fully understand why some series fans are upset about certain plot developments but for me, none of it brought down my enjoyment. And if I’m being honest, I enjoyed not being bombarded with long cut scenes and exposition dumps every five to ten minutes.

As I mentioned before, I do think the second half of the game feels rushed and as much content as there is, I feel like the game is somewhat unfinished which I’ve actually seen some other people bring up. Whether or not the developers did or did not finish everything they wanted to do, I really don’t know. The Phantom Pain does answer several questions related to the overarching narrative but I certainly had more by the time the story was over. My one friend keeps telling me there should have been a third chapter to explain a few more things and I think I would agree with that. But even outside of the plot, I feel like there should be more to Mother Base and the actual worlds themselves. It’s hard to explain but certain aspects feel like there should be more to them. It’s like you can see the developers were going for something and it seems like they only partially finished. And, to me, what’s really amazing about this is that there’s already so much content here. Unfinished or not, The Phantom Pain will keep you occupied for a very long time and it’s fucking fun.

I would absolutely recommend Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It deviates so much from the typical Metal Gear formula that I would even encourage those that didn’t care for the previous games to give this a shot. I do question some design decisions and can’t help but feel this could have been even better. Regardless, as it stands it’s still one of the best stealth games I’ve ever played. Definitely check it out.

Similar posts

1 Comment

  1. wallace
    July 9, 2024    

    Please review the Syphon Filter series, K THX

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *