Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review – Kept You Waiting, Huh?

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the hotly anticipated follow-up to the disappointing tech demo that was Ground Zeroes. During its development, rumors abounded that Hideo Kojima, the series’ creator, would be leaving Konami due to some internal dispute. These rumors were made fact, much to the consternation of die-hard fans, but MGSV was still completed and released cross-platform.

I use the word, “completed,” in the preceding sentence rather loosely, as when you’ve beaten The Phantom Pain, you’ll realize just how fragmentary the game truly is. The ending has a pretty insane plot twist—even if the trailers did partially spoil it—but when you sit there and think about it after the game is over, it makes zero sense. There are so many plot holes and loose ends toward the end of MGSV, you’d think it was directed by the Wachowskis.

In a game that is all but assured to be the last in the franchise, having an ending like this is akin to a slap in the face. In the interest of not spoiling the game for anyone who hasn’t completed it, however, that will be all that is said about the climax of Metal Gear Solid V’s story. It’s unsatisfying, and raises far more questions than it answers.

Well, that’s a lot of doom and gloom. Is the rest of the game really that bad? To be forthright, no. Metal Gear Solid V is utterly fantastic in just about every way I can think to describe it.

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The gameplay is a delightful, rewarding experience, the controls polished and incredibly tight. Each mission allows for multiple methods of approach, which makes each sortie ridiculously fun. This also causes MGSV to have a fair amount of replay value, coupled with the fact that this type of game lends itself very well to challenge runs. It is a fair criticism to say that the online aspects of the game are almost unplayable due to hackers, but this might be a bit less heinous on the console versions of the game.

The gunplay is smooth and handles well, and the PC port thankfully is bereft of any mouse acceleration. The camera can get a little fiddly during in-game cutscenes, as the mouse tends to freak out when you look around, but otherwise I have few complaints. If I’m nitpicking, it would have been nice to be able to use the mouse in menus, and being locked at 60 FPS is slightly annoying on a rig that could easily blow past that—but ultimately, these are incredibly minor grievances. MGSV plays amazingly well.

As for the visual aspects of The Phantom Pain, there’s not much to say other than, “It looks great.” The FOX Engine is very well optimized, being able to run competently on older machines, as well as running at a solid 60 FPS on the PS4 and Xbox One. The graphics are impressive, really immersing you in the world the game presents. There is some shoddy texture work here and there, but you only really notice when you’re looking through the binoculars.

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The voice acting (even though Keifer Sutherland gives a curiously spartan performance), music, and sound design are similarly remarkable, which is all par for the course in a Metal Gear Solid title. Gunfire sounds amazing, especially when you’re hearing it in the distance. The music swells and themes are executed flawlessly as well, making each bout of action feel as dynamic as the last.

What’s also somewhat amusing is that you’re able to collect cassettes of popular music at the time, which can be played on your walkman as you go about your travels/missions. Executing very serious story missions while playing, “She Blinded Me With Science,” in the background is a truly transcendent experience.

The narrative in The Phantom Pain is engaging, though unfortunately falls flat toward the end of the game. It takes place in the aftermath of the events of Ground Zeroes, where Militaires Sans Frontières has been destroyed, and Big Boss falls into a coma for nine years. He awakens in a hospital, and manages to escape The Human Torch and baby Psycho Mantis–who literally attacks a helicopter with a flaming whale–with the help of a mysterious benefactor with a bandage-concealed face.  BB goes on to form the mercenary group Diamond Dogs, rebuilding Mother Base somewhere in Seychelles waters.

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Most of the story takes place at Mother Base, as well as the places you’re deployed in Afghanistan and Africa for various missions. You’re joined by old friends, such as Ocelot and Kazuhira Miller, and most of the game centers around the concept of revenge. In fact, it goes a little over the top with that theme, with seemingly every character you meet seeking vengeance in one form or another.

It seems the narrative takes a bit of a backseat in TPP, with a somewhat jarring majority of story being told via cassette tapes you can listen to using your walkman. I’m usually someone who enjoys reading/listening to codecs, but the amount of tapes to get through in MGSV is utterly excessive. I wouldn’t be surprised if the cassettes total several hours of straight talking.

Thankfully, you can get by without hearing most of the tapes, but you’d be missing out on some background and important story elements. However, with an ending as piss-poor as MGSV’s, it’s hard to care much about going back and listening.

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Despite having one of the most disappointing climaxes in Metal Gear Solid history, I still would be remiss not to recommend The Phantom Pain. The graphics are fantastic, the gameplay tight and rewarding. The voice actors put in a solid effort, even if Sutherland’s lines as Big Boss were somewhat sparse, and the music is fantastic as always.

If you’re a MGS purist, buy it on sale. If you’re simply looking for an engaging stealth/action experience, you’d be doing yourself a major disservice if you steered clear of The Phantom Pain.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was reviewed on the PC using a retail copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8.75

The Good:

  • Fantastic visuals and smooth framerate
  • Amazing score, with more than competent voice acting
  • Tight, satisfying controls, excellent gunplay
  • D-Dog is the best

The Bad:

  • Incredibly disappointing ending with many loose ends
  • Hackers ruin the online aspects of the game (you can literally tweak everything in Cheat Engine)
  • Keifer Sutherland has surprisingly few lines of dialogue
  • If you’re a completionist, it will take you a very long time to 100% the game without resorting to microtransactions.