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Ambitious new Metal Gear not-so-solid

Oct 13, 2015

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Metal Gear  Solid V: The Phantom PainThere's only one thing more ambitious than Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and that is any player who chooses to take on this latest entry in the critically acclaimed series. As finely-honed as the stealth gameplay mechanics have become, they're lost amid a thousand other features that eventually suck much of the fun out of the massive campaign.

Much has been said about the issues surrounding the development of The Phantom Pain, but when it comes to the game proper, those issues are neither here nor there. This is clearly a fully-fleshed out Hideo Kojima game regardless of the numerous questions that surround the future of the series.

The Phantom Pain takes place in 1984, which is 30 years before the events of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Players take on the role of Big Boss (also known as Venom Snake) as he attempts to save compatriots and seek revenge on those who helped cause him to fall into a coma and nearly die.

The story is classic Metal Gear Solid, and involves all sorts of characters and far-reaching plot points. It's also much darker than previous games in the series. Thankfully, the overly-long cutscenes from MGS4 are nowhere to be found. Instead, Kojima has allowed the story to be told in smaller chunks as you're traversing the game's environments. Cutscenes are there, but you won't need to book off half of your night just to watch them.

Metal Gear  Solid V: The Phantom PainAt the heart of any Metal Gear Solid game is the stealth, and the power of the next-gen consoles has truly allowed Kojima's vision of stealth combat to be fully realized in The Phantom Pain. Enemies are extremely smart, and even the most basic-looking adversary can't be underestimated.

You may have cleared out a small base in the middle of the desert, for instance, and you'll feel completely at ease as you loot all of the goodies within. Then, an enemy vehicle will randomly drive by and notice a missing weapon emplacement or broken light, and they'll not only stop to investigate, but depending on what they observe, they may radio radio in for reinforcements and warn surrounding bases of a possible nearby intruder.

This hints at one of the game's biggest new additions - open world environments. Snake can be dropped off at several points in places like Afghanistan and Africa, and from there, he can take on one of dozens of side missions, or push the story further by beginning a campaign mission.

As empty-looking as the desert may seem at first blush, there is often a lot to do, and unlike other open-world games that overwhelms the player with hundreds of icons on a map, a lot of the stuff you can do in The Phantom Pain pops up without any notice.

Metal Gear  Solid V: The Phantom PainOne minute you'll be chasing down wild animals and capturing them, and the next you'll happen upon a heavily-fortified enemy base and saving hostages you didn't even know existed.

This is all a ton of fun, thanks in no small part to the weapons and items at your disposal. Snake can be equipped with everything from sleep grenades and a robotic arm that allows you to see enemies through walls, to decoy grenades and even a water gun.

And let's not forget about Snakes many "buddies." Whether it's a mysterious and highly-skilled sniper who will call out enemies and shoot to kill when asked, or a small mech that can be further equipped with all sorts of features, Snake is rarely alone in the wild. Don't even get me started on "DD," which is Snake's highly-loyal and just plain awesome dog.

Where the game loses its steam is when it stops being Metal Gear Solid and starts being Military Commander Simulator.

You see, in between missions, players are able to return to a home base of sorts, known simply as Mother Base. This is where Snake builds up his new mercenary group, called the Diamond Dogs.

Although building up Mother Base is at first a small - but enjoyable - addition to the MGS5 experience, it eventually eats up far too much of the player's time, and it takes away from all the fun stuff on the battlefield.

Metal Gear  Solid V: The Phantom PainPlayers can do everything from build up Mother Base itself (you eventually will be able to justify going from platform to platform via helicopter or car, as opposed to just being able to run back and forth), to adding to the different divisions of Diamond Dogs.

The different divisions - whether it's Intel, R&D, Combat, etc. - are what help create those aforementioned weapons and items that are so integral to Snake completing missions. That shiny new rocket launcher you want, for example, may require a Combat Unit rating of 30, but if the current rating is at 25, you'll have to do more sneaking in the field and kidnap more enemy soldiers.

You can manually set soldiers to different divisions, or simply "set it and forget it" (as I did). Eventually, you'll also unlock the ability to create and upgrade forward-operating bases (FOBs), which will let you attack (or be attacked) by players online. This, too, requires all sorts of commitments that require you set up defenses, improve weapons, and more, so that you're properly prepared if and when you're attacked by other players.

Keep in mind, I've barely scratched the surface of what you can - and at some point, must - do off the battlefield. Honestly, I'm convinced these features would make for a compelling downloadable companion game. When it comes to Metal Gear Solid 5 proper, though, it eventually becomes a nuisance as you're trying to focus on sneaking past a dozen highly-skilled guards, and you're constantly being virtually poked in the shoulder by a never-ending stream of notices.

Metal Gear  Solid V: The Phantom PainThe Phantom Pain features top-notch production values (no surprise there), and looks as amazing as it sounds. It plays like a dream when you're moving from one area to another, and as slow as it can be much of the time, it offers up its share of white-knuckle action moments, too.

It's just a shame that so much other stuff gets in the way of those moments. It becomes less of a "want-to-do," and more of a chore as you build up your team of Diamond Dogs.

Whatever Hideo Kojima ends up doing after the Metal Gear series, it's clear he was aiming for something truly grandiose when creating The Phantom Pain. For that, he should be commended. Even so, it's the smaller games in the series - those that focus on Snake and his sneaking - that are still the best.


Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Format: Playstation 4
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Kojima Productions
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+
Official Site:

Rating: 7.5 / 10

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