I have to apologise. My review copy of this enormous game arrived a week late, and I’ve had to scrounge together every spare second I’ve had to play it so I could get this review out sometime before next year – and even that only allowed me time for a general grand tour rather than an exhaustive attempt at completion.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is an absolutely mammoth game. There’s so much to it that I don’t even know where to start. So let’s start with the obvious. The Phantom Pain is another interquel in the Metal Gear series that takes place after Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes, and before the original Metal Gear from 1987.
Metal Gear stories are always ridiculous, but even by those standards, The Phantom Pain is off its axle. I saw more insane stuff in the interminable intro alone than in the whole series up to this point. Long story short, Big Boss and friends are out for revenge against the military group that destroyed their home. They plan to do this by rebuilding their base and their mercenary army under the name Diamond Dogs.
If you’ve played Peace Walker, you’ll be somewhat familiar with this process. As you acquire resources from missions, you can build new platforms and upgrade them, gaining access to better equipment for Big Boss and so on. The nice thing is that this time around you can actually wander around your entire base – so at least you can see where all your money went.
The meat of the game, however, is out in the field. Whether you’re doing a main mission or one of the side-ops, you’ll be dropped off in one of several huge maps. These maps contain different types of terrain, wildlife, plant life, villages, military checkpoints, bases, airports, caves, you name it. How you want to tackle each objective is usually entirely up to you. I haven’t come across too many situations, even in the story missions, where I didn’t have several options.
There are all kinds of missions: assaults, destruction of vehicles or facilities, prisoner rescues, abductions of enemy soldiers and even the capture of animals. You can try to be a complete ghost, going in without being noticed or killing anyone – but where’s the fun in that? You’re free to go in like Rambo, guns blazing, causing all kinds of chaos. Whichever option you prefer, there’s a plethora of equipment you can develop to help out. Different types of lethal and non-lethal firearms with all kinds of attachments; various explosive weapons and grenades of different types, and all kinds of support items such as night vision goggles, drugs, decoys and the classic cardboard box.
One of the coolest features of the game is supply drops. Let’s say you’ve got your gear and you’re all set up to undertake a mission, but you run into an enemy chopper that’s causing you grief – and the silenced sniper rifle on your back isn’t going to help. You can radio your own chopper and ask them to deliver you a rocket launcher. Or maybe you’ve seen a highly skilled enemy soldier you’d rather abduct into your army than kill – but he’s in a hard-to-reach place and you don’t have any non-lethal weapons. A simple call to your chopper, a minute or so wait, and you can have a non-lethal weapon delivered to you. You can also call in air strikes and air support if your base and chopper are upgraded enough. I actually found myself having to do this once to bypass two miniature Metal Gear walkers that were guarding an area I had to enter. The chopper is just so damn useful.
But! That’s not all. One of the most inspired new ideas in the game is the buddy system. As you progress through the main story, you’ll gain access to several “buddies” you can take with you on missions. You start out with your horse, D-Horse, who makes travel around the huge maps a lot easier, since the horse can go places vehicles can’t. Your horse can also carry one other person, be they a rescued prisoner, abducted soldier or corpse. D-Dog is a very handy buddy. You have to wait for him to grow and be trained, but once you have him, he’s immensely useful for stealth missions. He can sniff out enemy positions, saving you the trouble of surveying the area with your binoculars, and you can command him to distract, kill or stun enemies, which is both amusing and cool.
Speaking of stealth missions, there’s also your sniper Quiet – although I refuse to call her that until she stops frickin’ humming into the radio! She’s got teleportation abilities, and you can order her to scout places or give you covering fire. She works a bit like D-Dog in the way she spots enemies for you, but she can miss enemies if she can’t see them, whereas D-Dog’s nose never fails. My favourite buddy is D-Walker, a sort of mini Metal Gear you can ride around on. It has great armour from the front and can sprout wheels to get around quicker – but I must admit, apart from it being fun, I haven’t found much use for it. You can research new equipment for each buddy and customise their looks to some extent.
Apart from that, there’s also an online mode of sorts. You can buy water space and set up Forward Operating Bases, which enable you to send more soldiers on freelance missions to earn more resources. You can also invade the FOBs of other players and try to steal their staff and resources – but they can do the same to you. I only tried this a few times and I got my ass handed to me each time. Seems like everyone already has S++ rank personnel and equipment, so it’ll be a long time before I can match them.
The problem with a game with this much to describe is that it’s hard to find a clean segue to a conclusion, so please accept my final clunky recommendation: MGS V is great and despite the stupid story, there’s nothing else like it in terms of its varied, interesting game mechanics. No matter your preferred genre, if you’re a fan of uniquely entertaining games, you’ll probably enjoy the hell out of this.