Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: a man with a knife in his mouth
It’s a dark and violent game, but…

‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’ is an insane open-world stealth game and much more. It’s also incredible that despite its flaws it’s still such a great game. A weird combination of 80s action movie, bad writing and utter madness, enhanced by something that is either a great sense of humor or me being ignorant of Japanese culture. It’s also a very impractical game if you want to write a blog about video games because even by concentrating solely on the story missions it took me about 35 hours to finish it.

In ‘Metal Gear Solid V’ you play as Punished “Venom” Snake aka Big Boss. Most of the time you ride a horse called D-Horse through some versions of 1980s Afghanistan and Central Africa. You are the leader of the adorably named ‘Diamond Dogs’ band of mercenaries and besides managing your off-shore private army base, you mainly visit afore mentioned conflict zones and decide whether you sneakily sedate and extract or less sneakily shoot and kill everyone and anything you meet. Wild animals hate you.

…it’s also sexist, so it evens out!

I nearly didn’t make it through the first few hours because that’s as long it takes for the game to actually start. It’s an insane, over the top and entertaining intro, but it’s way too long. The game hits you with its beautiful looks – I love the pseudo-realistic art design – but if you stretch something long enough you will even be annoyed by scenes like: The ambulance in which you are riding shotgun crashes through a military blockade and tumbles down a slope just to get rockets fired at it from an attack helicopter, which itself is then swallowed by a giant whale made of fire, which is immediately followed by two burning people riding a burning Pegasus-unicorn, who then attack you, but you get saved just in time by a man on a horse wearing a suspicious overcoat. That’s just a glimpse. I was told this is a trademark feature, but apart from a short rendezvous with a very bad Windows port of ‘Metal Gear Solid 2’, about a hundred years ago, I am new to the series.

SHE CAN ONLY BREATH THROUGH HER SKIN! IT’S ALL VERY PRACTICAL!

When the game finally started I was already in a bad mood and ready to tear apart another shitty open world game. That was until I was allowed to tie my first enemy soldier to a balloon and saw him shot into the air by incredible speed. It’s what you do in ‘Metal Gear Solid V’ to recruit or extract people to your base. The moment I truly fell in love with the game was when I realized you could tie a balloon to basically anything. It doesn’t matter whether it is a tank or a ‘wild ass’, they look at you irritatedly for a second just to be shot up in the sky accompanied by a fitting scream (not from the vehicles, though). This mechanic alone will keep you entertained for hours, I promise.

Best gaming moment ever.

The game shares some of the usual open world game sins. There’s no persistence at all. Go around a corner, and the base you just ‘captured’ will be fully stocked with enemy soldiers again. An especially painful experience when you realize that you forgot to pick up that Europe – Final Countdown-tape while killing your way through the base. Yes, you can collect 80s hits of varying quality throughout the game. You can play them in game at any time you want. I never really used the feature, but it made me happy just to know that somebody took the time to make sure it is there. Worse than the lack of a persistent world is not respecting the limited time of the player (Why is it that games are still tailored for teenage boys without a life. They have no money!). Yes, I complained about the instant availability of anything in ‘Ghost Recon: Wildlands’*, but I didn’t want to wait for a helicopter picking me up, looking at the take off sequence and the landing sequence, including loading screens, every single time.

I don’t know what’s happening either. You will get used to it.

Now that that’s out of the way, I am happy to proclaim that ‘Metal Gear Solid V’ is a great stealth, and if you are impatient like me, a great action game as well. You have such a big arsenal, so many options, that capturing lousy guard posts is still fun after you’ve done it for the hundredth time. You can snipe, you can stun everyone in close combat, you can call in an air strike and enjoy the show. Instead of becoming repetitive the story missions don’t stop to surprise you. While in theory it’s an open world, the story missions very much feel like big, but well designed levels and I really appreciated it. The underlying gaming mechanics are fantastic. I never had the feeling that I had to deal with guards that could look through walls or had a freakishly big field of view. When they spotted me, it was because I fucked up, which usually led to the most awesome moments in the game. You get enough wailing alarm sirens, machine gun rattling and explosion for several action movies.

But it’s also the little details. The first time on my off shore base I accidentally hit one of my men in the face, who commented the attack with a very serious “Thank you for that, boss!”. Another time I missed a head shot with my tranquilizer gun and instead hit the upper body of an enemy guard. It took the tranquilizer longer to work, which happened the exact moment when the guard was attempting to climb a ladder. He fell off the ladder onto a colleague, knocking him out as well. Beautiful unscripted gaming joy.

In the field you learn to appreciate the blood resistance of the Sony Walkman.

Speaking of beautiful – the game looks fantastic. From the art design to the crystal clear graphics I had a lot to feast my eyes upon. The cutscenes of the game look amazing. Too bad that the writing is so awful, the characters so shallow, that it sometimes hurt my brain. The game introduces child soldiers at some point, but woe unto you should you accidentally (or on purpose, because you had a very good reason) clip one of the little buggers! “Boss, you killed a child. I’m aborting this mission!” Really?! Me and my merry band of murdering mercenaries kill hundreds of people every day and you want me to believe that it makes a difference to them whether they kill people that are above or below the age of 18? I understand that it probably hurts your sales if you allow your players to include children in their virtual slaughter, but why did you go there in the first place? Trying to be edgy and pc at the same time makes for a hypocritical mixture. Why are the children I saved still as dirty and mud encrusted as five days ago? Nobody seems to care about them! Why do you try to sell me this mercenaries with a heart of gold crap? They kill people because they want to get rich and powerful, and they even say so themselves several times throughout the game. I am fine with that, spare me the awkward  morals. I admit it’s all still very entertaining in its utter silliness.

Best gaming moment ever.

Towards the end of the game it gets more and more plain that the production ran out of money. There’s a moment where the hero and the villain sit awkwardly close together in the back of a car. After a long monologue by the bad guy, an even more awkward moment of silence between the two follows, while a crappy pop song is playing in the background. The camera is fixed behind the car throughout the entire length of the scene and it all feels very out of place compared to the spectacle the game presented up to this point. It did match the overall weirdness of the game, though.

Hideo Kojima managed to get his named displayed in game several hundred times. I am not sure whether this is his sort of humor or just old fashioned insanity, but I am glad he was allowed out of his cell to make this game. Especially since it is probably the last of its kind, given his departure from Konami. I guess some people might complain that the game is too easy, but for me the difficulty was just right to enjoy it. Then again it feels like I scratched the surface of it. There was still a lot of tech to develop and I didn’t look into the online gameplay at all. Thankfully, you can continue playing after the main story and you even get harder versions of the missions you already played. I feel like I want to give this a more thorough playthrough at some very distant point in the future.

If ‘Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’ was an unconscious Russian soldier I would tie a balloon to it immediately.

In the 1980s, Afghanistan was an even crazier place than it is today.

Info: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was developed by Konami and released in 2015. Go get the best Metal Gear Solid you will ever play on Steam.

*Just to make something clear: When ‘Ghost Recon: Wildlands’ lays alone at night jerking off to thoughts of being MGSV, it feels so very very ashamed of itself because it’s such an absurd thought to have. It’s like, if some mid-30s blog writer would start comparing himself to The Rock. The only thing they have in common is the species, and even that is debatable in The Rock’s case.

I guess not.

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