Hideo Kojima said it best when he spoke to me and told me one thing when I asked him what he will remember the most about the Metal Gear series: emotion. “I want people to feel something from the game’s numerous characters. I don’t want to see them feel sorry for the characters, but feel the depravity of the situation they are exposed to.” That is exactly what I felt playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The storyline and the vast open world for the first time in Metal Gear history since a pseudo-open world element in Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots take full form in one of the most refined pieces of the series.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is as lively as ever in being the final spiritual successor to Metal Gear series. One question I keep getting asked by people constantly, including some other game critics who have not been long-time Kojima followers or had the pleasure of meeting him on numerous occasions like I have, centers around confusion: just what is Metal Gear? The short answer: giant cannonized robots with legs and turrets. It’s not a simple answer to behold the whole legacy and truthfully requires not just playing the past games but also understanding what chronological order they were presented. I decided to be the savior of the confused out there and explain it in the best way which I possibly can given the anachronistic nature of the series relevant up to Metal Gear Solid V. To properly label this, if you want plan to play the minimal amount of games that allows you to play Metal Gear Solid V just fine then this is the order you want to stick to: Metal Gear Solid III Snake Eater – Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker – Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeros – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. If you do not intend to play the games which came before in order to play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – then just read below for what you primarily need to know.
The Metal Gear series started off with Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater which involved a super awesome soldier called “Naked Snake” (voiced by David Hayter/ and Akio Ōtsuka in the Japanese regional dub) who is primarily a young former Green Beret assigned to the CIA under the unit known as FOX to rescue a russian scientist in the USSR taken hostage. The hostage was taken by the “Cobra Unit” which comprised of primarily a scar-filled Volgin character and what was later revealed to be ‘The Boss’ who was supposedly a friend to Snake and his mentor. It seemed Naked Snake was betrayed at the end of the game by his long time mentor ‘The Boss’ and was left for dead. All of Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater takes place in 1964 during the Cold War and before the events of the first Metal Gear Solid. Naked Snake eventually realizes that The Boss was the highest example of patriotism by dying for her country and giving the appearance of being involved in Cobra unit to recover a large amount of money from an evil group known as “The Philosophers.”
Then comes Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops seeing Snake (now known as Big Boss but simply going by Snake) and his FOX unit going rogue in 1970 from the CIA they were hired to protect (almost 6 years after Metal Gear Solid III: Snake Eater). It ends with Snake establishing a better Fox unit known as FOXHOUND to control country local revolts/strife and Ocelot talking about using the missing Philsopher’s Legacy half portion for their own agenda (whatever that was supposed to be remained unknown). Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker opens with Snake controlling the Militaires Sans Frontières a new rebel mercenary group after he established FOXHOUND and left the unit in 1972. He is invited by the “University of Peace” professor Ramon Galvez Mena to investigate a discreet army that has set up operations secretly around Costa Rica. He comes across a nuclear program known as Peace Walker that is led by Hot Coldman – a CIA senior agent and also doubling as a traitor who is hell-bent on believing that humans refuse to wipe their own race out unless they are made to retaliate. Coldman is mortally hurt from the events and a double agent known as Paz / University of Peace Student ends up drowning in the ocean after she threatens to launch a nuclear warhead on America.
This is where Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes & The Phantom Pain comes in. It sees Naked Snake on a journey that is unforgettable and one which I simply will not detail here to not just avoid spoilers for people, but also to allow people to really take in the surprises and plot points in the game’s natural progression knowing the history. As Naked Snake your mission in Metal Gear Solid V is simple: build an army from enemy soldiers. The storyline has dark themes from child soldiers to global nuclear infrastructure threats as is relevant with the darker tones of the previous Metal Gear titles. What can be said of the storyline is that while there is so much subtance in the storyline, I feel Kojima would want me to mention that an entire chapter (Chapter 3) and an alternate ending (which is presumed by gamers to be the original ending) was taken out and replaced. These are some of the flaws keeping it from a perfect score, and I would encourage Konami to release these as a DLC perhaps for the die-hard though I never see this happening. Part of the storyline does seem sort of segmented / rushed as a result in terms of critical narrative and the pacing of the events presented and the fact that parts of the game were cut provides reasonable explanation to this.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s single-player design is open world for the first time in the game’s history. It isn’t the big levels from Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots but an actual open-world with things happening around the game’s setting. The side-mission are literally in the 70+ range within Africa and Afghanistan and each one has a level of tension that is hard not to believe. In each one you can use the responsive controls and climb anything such as cliffs and the way you play is totally unlocked as a result of this bigger world with more fleshed out game elements.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has solid foundations for its gameplay core with certain issues as well in terms of believability and essentially lack of real gameplay choice. The Reflex system of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a welcome addition which slows down time similar to Fallout’s VATs system. You can use various tools throughout the game to help you and even upgrade Snake’s robotic arm to have sonar powers and punch the ground and knock out enemies per mission. Each mission can then award rewards based on how you play and if you call an airstrike for a mission that really does not need it, rewards scale down. It is not my most favorite aspect of Metal Gear Solid V but it is an element which works okay for the most part but is certainly not the most clever. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has a good narrative but I definitely feel the narrative could have been crafted much better in this conclusion to the series.
The world of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain despite its issues is rich and vibrant and though there is a lack of substance in the gameplay, there is not a lack of volume in the sheer amount of stealth action with the open-world element along with the impending online portion soon to be released. Everything in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is sure to keep people remembering Snake for a long time to come as a real patriot until the very end.
Review published with permission on Heavy