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V has come to.

Metal Gear is an exciting franchise to me. I’ve dabbled in Guns of the Patriots, played the demo for Rising, turned my nose at Peace Walker and just generally couldn’t get into anything earlier than those. However, while those games were exciting for its fan base, they just didn’t grab me like people said the series was supposed to. This time, though, things were different. With The Phantom Pain, creator Hideo Kojima was going to finally let you be Big Boss instead of just watching Big Boss. Plus, it’s the effective end of Big Boss’s storyline as well as Hideo Kojima’s tenure with the franchise he created, so it’s kind of an emotional thing for people.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain sometimes lives up to those expectations.

Right from the start, The Phantom Pain shuffles you into an almost two-hour tutorial level that sets the tone for the entire game. Big Boss has been sleeping for nine years and someone’s coming to kill him. It comes off as a very tedious thing, considering all the additional stuff you’ll have to do later on.

Now, don’t take this as bad news. It’s still miles better than having to sit in those awful Codec cutscenes. In place of that, someone (mostly Ocelot) will give you feedback as you go through the game’s open world. Big Boss isn’t the most talkative guy, but when he talks you damn well better listen. Sure, you may say it’s not the same without Hayter, but I tend to disagree. Sutherland is much more poignant with his speech, not wasting a syllable. The voice direction in the game also seems to indicate a more serious tone of the game, which we’ll get to in a bit. Sure, there’s still big dumb robots, but you won’t hear anyone saying “Metal Gear?!” in this game.

So, the overarching thing is, this takes place in 1984, about 11 years before Metal Gear released on the MSX, where the Soviets invade Afghanistan. The first manner of business as Big Boss is to rescue Kazuhira Miller, and to basically build a new Mother Base with the newly minted “Diamond Dogs” to take on Skull Face and get your revenge. Past this point, it turns into an epic tale of back-stabbing, spy stuff, with reveals that will just leave your jaw on the floor and some truly awe-inspiring action sequences. This is Metal Gear.

Not only is this a great Metal Gear game, it’s also just a great game in a series. Kojima has made hundreds upon probably thousands of tiny little improvements, all of which are now possible through the in-house Fox Engine. You get to go to 3 different countries, most of which you can explore almost all of. I certainly was not found of the open-world happenings at first, but once I just wandered through bases and rode around, I kind of got the hang of it.

My reasons for acclimating so quickly are due to Kojima Productions making the game just a fun game to play, no matter what you’re doing. You can go in guns blazing, not get seen using the refined stealth mechanics or a combo of both. Through R&D teams within Mother Base, you have a loadout for every situation and the option to approach something in hundreds of ways. Just for context, I came back to a big base with a huge tank, blew up the tank, took the ladder instead of the front door and captured the outpost within a matter of minutes.

You also have an insane level of customization. It’s just bonkers. You can choose from about 5 “buddies” (which I won’t talk about here for fear of spoilers) and they can come along with you on Missions or Side Ops, which all have their own outfits and weapon loadouts as well as skills. You can choose what Big Boss looks like, Mother Base and even deck out your helicopter.

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Mother Base is an entirely different beast. By using your Fulton system (a balloon at first, then a wormhole), you can bring soldiers you find out in field to Mother Base, so they can do things like develop weapons or give you intel on what you’re heading into. It’s not too dissimilar from things you’ll find in modern mobile games or even MMOs, but immensely more satisfying. I usually tend to just mainline the story, but this mechanic quickly grabbed me and just wouldn’t let go of me. Your weapons rely on R&D, which effects your ranking in missions. Furthermore, if you don’t upgrade your Intel team, you’ll have no idea what you’re heading into and quickly fail most of your missions, if you’re anything like me. The rewards you gain along the storyline are ever-present, like a piece of chocolate in a store window. You can visit your troops, beat them up to boost morale, take a nice shower to wash the blood off you, practice your abilities with targets, and just walk around just to walk around.

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The Fox Engine brings all this out with a level of polish I haven’t seen in years. Sure, textures are still lower resolution than I would’ve like, but come on, it’s got to render an entire region of a country. Cut it some slack. Not too much, though. Ok, a little more. There you go. There are some glitches with this game. Sure, everything is in-game, but every once and awhile, my game would just “hitch” frames, where I’d be moving, but Big Boss wouldn’t move for about a good 5 seconds, but by then he’s already too far. This happens too often to not be noticed. If you have headphones, I recommend wearing them. Not just because it’s a stealth game and you should just wear them, but because of directional awareness. You can tell where the bullets are coming from. It’s just so much better this way, trust me.

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In terms of what I thought of the plot, I didn’t finish it. I spent 22 hours trucking my way through the game, but I just didn’t have the heart to finish the story. Some may say that to be cruel, but I really didn’t care about the story. There’s a minimal amount of relevant details in regards to motivations and revelations, so don’t expect much. Yes, the game is serious, but I assure you, it’s still Metal Gear. If you’re like me and just want to play this game, just do it, as the great Shia LaBeouf has taught us. I must warn you, though, that you’ll definitely want to play Snake Eater as well as Peace Walker, which you can find on The Legacy Collection, provided you still have your PS3 lying around like I do. You get the whole franchise (with the exception of Rising) in one package. That’s unheard of.

While I was generally okay with the story, I still have issues with the way you, y’know, play the game. Some of the levels feel thrown together, force you to backtrack, usually for something you’ve already done dozens of times before during the course of the game.

Just as a cliff note, I cannot speak to the online portions of the game, including the FOB missions, due to my lack of a subscription to Xbox Live Gold as well as a lack of servers in my early days of playing the game. You’ll come across an invasion, but I pretty much played the game offline.

Despite hitting a exclamation points along the journey, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a celebration of Metal Gear as well as an indication for where it might be heading next. It’s challenging and bombastic, and if this is indeed Kojima’s last Metal Gear game, well done.

The Verdict

Should you play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain? Absolutely.

If you don’t care about story and just want a great game to play that is the best Metal Gear in the franchise, The Phantom Pain delivers.

A stealth action game that focuses on its mechanics, rather than its story.

The story is not that great and pushed to the side for the sake of fun gameplay.

Game Details

Type of Game: Stealth Action-Adventure

Developer: Kojima Productions

Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Release Date: September 1st, 2015

Playtime: Around 22 hours

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