METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
Every release of a Metal Gear game is an event. You know it’s going to be an expensive project, made over many years by some of the best talent in the industry, almost guaranteed to be timeless. In most ways Metal Gear Solid V delivers. It’s quite different from the other games in the series, and there are some decisions in the game that left me baffled. But the negatives can’t blot out the parts that are simply amazingly good.
I’ve seen sites praise MGS V as “the best stealth game ever”, which is a statement that sits wrong with me. It makes it sound like this is what every other game in the genre has been trying to do, but was unable to until now. This can set you up with the wrong expectations, as it for example doesn’t provide the same white knuckle thrills the Thief series does, because it just isn’t aiming for the same thing.
MGS V is a stealth action hybrid, where either approach works just fine. The series has been nudging in this direction with each installment, with this one being the most accessible to the widest range of play styles. It has the most complex, and the most finely balanced mechanics of any game of this type. Your range of movement, tools and the AI provide for enormous variation and granularity to how missions can play out. At first it feels overwhelming, as there’s just too much to the game for you to master it within a couple hours. This is perfectly appropriate, as MGS V aims at being a huge 50+ hour game.
Because of the length, the pace of the story is slower than the other Metal Gear games. I loved the opening hour, but after that it takes a while before it gains momentum again. I didn’t mind it, but if you’re in it mostly for the story, the pace will drive you up the wall. In order to have a good time here, you really have to be in it for the whole package.
The biggest problem with the game is that the story is unfinished. When you get to the final stretch of the game, holes start appearing. It’s clear Konami wanted to pull the funding of the project, and they had to cut as much content as they could while still delivering something coherent. There’s videos on youtube from the PS4 collectors edition which featured footage of cut content. It’s stuff that would have fit perfectly into the story as it exists now, and only added to it. It wasn’t cut because of a creative decision, it was a business decision. Unlike most games with regrettable endings, it doesn’t feel like it was poorly thought out, only that it has parts cut out of it.
It’s still a story worth experiencing, even with its flaws. There are many high points in the game, even at the end. There was especially one subplot that resolved itself with such power that it kind of blew my mind. On the other hand there are also parts of the story that live up to the “convoluted” reputation Metal Gear games have. This happens mostly when it’s trying to directly tie events of the game with other entries of the series. I see why it has to do it, but it’s clearly more at ease with itself when it’s telling its own story. Taking a step back having finished it, it’s remarkable how coherent it ends up being, given the size.
I vastly prefer a game like this to anything released by EA or Ubisoft, who show only a fraction of the ambition Hideo Kojima’s team do. This game is so packed with layers of mechanics and systems, and touches on so many themes and ideas, that it feels idiotic trying to boil the game down to “is it good” or “is it bad”. There’s so much more to Metal Gear Solid V than your average AAA game, that it justifies all the articles and videos coming out about it. For every bizarre cutscene with the camera shoved right into Quiet’s boobs, there are moments reminding you Kojima Productions also created PT, a game that played with audience expectations like nothing else. It’s the most amazing blend of the abhorrent and sublime. If you think MGS V looks interesting in any way, it’s absolutely worth playing.