Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V

“Check out Matt’s Walkthrough here”:

It’s hard to believe that the Metal Gear franchise began 28 years ago. Almost as hard to believe is the fact that, for all intents and purposes, the series has now come to an end.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the seventh mainline entry in the franchise— not counting the various portable games, spinoffs and prologues—helmed by creator Hideo Kojima. It also happens to be the best playing, best looking and longest Metal Gear game. However, following a split from publisher Konami, this is likely Kojima’s last Metal Gear, and what a sendoff it is.

As in the past, MGSV is billed as a “tactical espionage” game, meaning that strategy, stealth and patience are key to completing your mission objectives. And for the first time in the series, there are enough tools and mechanics at the player’s disposal to truly make you feel like a ghost, a skulking phantom hiding in plain sight.

Gone are the days of wrestling with idiosyncratic control schemes and baffling loss states. MGSV presents you with a varied assortment of bases, compounds and camps to infiltrate, and if you can think of a way to sneak in, it can be done.

Series mainstay Big Boss is back as the protagonist, albeit in rough shape. Following a helicopter crash, Big Boss (known in this game as “Punished/Venom Snake”) awakens from a nine year coma in the 1980s with a missing arm and shrapnel protruding from his skull, like the lone horn of a demon.

Despite these setbacks, Snake eventually regains his strength and agility, and the player benefits immensely from his return to form. You can crouch, crawl, dive and sprint with an ease never before seen in a Metal Gear game, and it’s an absolute joy to play. Previous entries in the series never reached their full gameplay potential due to the limits imposed on player input, but I’m pleased to say that this is the first truly great playing Metal Gear. What the series has never lacked, however, are handsome visuals, and MGSV handily carries on this tradition. The vast, open world environments are crammed with beautifully rendered detail, and the character models are lifelike and expressive. This is coupled with a smooth frame rate that seldom drops from 60 frames per second on Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Last-generation versions exist on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and while not as visually striking, they are completely functional, with a frame ­rate hovering in the 20­30 range.

Regardless of your platform of choice, the game’s graphics impress throughout its 50+ hour length. That’s right, you read that correctly. MGSV is a very long game.

This is perhaps the most surprising element of the game. Previous Metal Gears were relatively breezy plays, coming in at around 8­ to 15 hours each. While this is now the norm for big­-budget first person shooters, some fans complained that previous games featured a 50/50 split between gameplay and non-­interactive cinematics. Lots of talking, not a lot of playing.

In MGSV, however, the split is probably 95/5 in favour of gameplay, thanks in part to the open world structure of the game, plus the various side missions and base-building activities at your home compound, dubbed “Mother Base”. It’s an unexpected shift in priorities for creator Hideo Kojima, and I can see how some long­time fans of the series might feel alienated by the lack of an hour long cutscene (Metal Gear Solid 4 took its cinematic ambitions to ridiculous levels at times).

Still, the story sequences that are in MGSV are poignant, impactful and well delivered. Series voice actor David Hayter has been replaced by Kiefer Sutherland, who voices a more subdued Big Boss. This even led to pre­-release fears that the main character would be almost mute, due to limited access to the Hollywood star for recording sessions.

I can mostly put these fears to rest. Is Big Boss as chatty as he has been in the past? No. But thankfully, there are satisfying narrative justifications for the character’s selective verbosity. And
when he does speak, Big Boss’s words carry a weight and restrained sadness expertly delivered by Sutherland, who also provides a facial ­capture performance.

All of this is in service of a story that people will be discussing and dissecting for some time to come. The main theme of the series has always been the transmission of values and norms
from one generation to the next, either through genes or memes. In MGSV, Hideo Kojima explores the role language plays in a socio­cultural context, and his philosophical underpinnings
are intriguing and thought-­provoking.

The game also deals with grim subject matter such as torture, child soldiers and post­-traumatic stress disorder. It’s definitely the darkest entry in the series, but it still maintains the Metal Gear
tradition of beautifully jarring surrealism and otherworldly elements meant to extend the narrative beyond the typical military­-themed format.

Think Black Hawk Down by way of David Lynch, and you’re on your way to understanding how Metal Gear operates. And while it takes some time to get there, the ending delivers a satisfying
and well-­earned twist that forces the player to re­evaluate everything that came before, in the tradition of cerebral filmmakers like Christopher Nolan.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has the true mark of great accomplishment. It’s almost impossible to put down, and when the final credits finally roll, you can’t help but smile in
satisfaction at the way the journey has ended.

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