Profound sadness engulfs the man who let Konami’s pre-release shit storm of bad PR scare them away from picking up this game upon its release. Allegations of sweatshop style working conditions, a very public split with celebrated creator Hideo Kojima, and their full on post-release descent into exclusively garbage mobile game producing irrelevancy had me up on my soapbox and boycotting Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain with the righteous rage I usually reserve for disasters like the live action Resident Evil movies and anything involving Michael Bay.
But then something remarkable happened, as the reviews, best of lists and think pieces rolled in post the game’s September launch the almost unanimous glowing praise had proven the unthinkable: Kojima and Co. had emerged from development hell with an unlikely masterpiece, an experience not to be missed regardless of one’s history with the prior games in the series, be they positive or negative. Being a huge fan of Kojima’s previous delightfully unhinged sneaking missions into the heart of war, I decided that I needed to jump into The Phantom Pain with both of my sneaking suit boots firmly planted in the Afghan sand. “Kept you waiting, huh”, indeed.
Similar to jaw dropping cinematic opening salvos in recent classics like The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite, MGSV drops us right into the action, Big Boss (AKA Solid Snake, AKA Naked Snake, AKA Venom Snake) having recently awoken from a 9 year coma following the tragedy that took place in Phantom Pain prequel/glorified demo Ground Zeroes. Sinister agents of the same shadowy villains that decimated Boss’ virtuous Private Military Corporation in GZ are out to finish the job, and it’s up to you to guide the slowly recovering Snake past a hulking, militaristic Human Torch known only as The Man on Fire and none other than an adolescent, ginger haired version of gas masked fan favorite MGS1 villain Psycho Mantis.
After that harrowing hospital escape we join up with Revolver Ocelot in the ocean bound headquarters of Snake’s new army, Diamond Dogs (yes Kojima is a huge Bowie [RIP] fan), and are set against the bulk of the gameplay, taking on various missions in Afghanistan (and elsewhere) in an attempt to gain revenge on those responsible for the events of Ground Zeroes, who Ocelot has good reason to believe are also supplying Terrorists with Nuclear armed WMDs, naturally, of a certain giant bi-pedal robot variety, Metal Geeeeeeear…
It’s oh so Quiet…
One bone of contention that some critics had with MGSV was in regard to the gameplay, which largely takes the form of an open world stealthy third person shooter in the Far Cry or Just Cause vein, lacking the usual madcap zaniness that Kojima directed adventures tend to have. Well those critics must’ve not been paying close enough attention (or maybe too much attention to the somewhat rigid set of main mission objectives) because gloriously Japanese weirdness abounds in these war torn desert landscapes, and it’s not just because Snake can run like The Flash and punch people with an endlessly upgradeable robotic arm that emits hilarious “Bionic Man” noises when utilized.
The biggest gameplay addition here is the “Fulton surface-to-air recovery system”, an ingenious hot air balloon that can be used to air-lift virtually anything from the battlefield and back to base, starting simply with knocked out guards and animals and being powered up all the way to lifting tanks and other large vehicles right out from under the enemy’s nose mid-skirmish. Buddies also play a huge part in how you’ll approach missions, horses and wolves can be used to travel to and infiltrate, respectively, enemy outposts, and eventually you’ll gain control of your own “D-Walker”, an armed to the teeth miniature Metal Gear.
Our favorite Buddy was enemy-turned ally sniper Quiet. Quiet was a lightning rod for controversy in the months leading to the game’s release due to her ultra-skimpy clothing and the sexist implications thereof, but at least there is an in-universe attempt to explain away her naked-ness, that she must breathe and drink through her pores to survive and make use of her Nightcrawler-esque teleportation powers. Um… okay. All we know is that after surviving the super tough boss encounter with Quiet (shades of MGS1’s Sniper Wolf), you can choose to spare her and bring her back to base, where she’ll eventually bond with Boss and choose to go on missions with him, becoming an invaluable asset when it comes to both the scouting and clearing of enemy installations before Snake himself moves in to achieve his various objectives.
And those objectives, various scouting, infiltration and rescue sorties, may be a tad milquetoast overall compared to this series’ balls crazy history but the choices you’re given when it comes to tackling these missions and the freedom available to the player makes carrying these objectives out highly addicting, and just when you think you’re being lulled into a false sense of security, you’ll be hit with a cut scene, boss encounter or other insane detail of this meticulously created and refreshingly bizarre world and remember why Kojima is the best in the business, all presented with the usual state of the art graphics and sound fidelity, along with feature film quality voice acting, that this series has always been known for.
Every bit as fun as it looks.
As the swan song of not just a revered video game series, but the output of a once proud, now disgraced company and their greatest, most genius creator, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain ticks all the boxes, being an absolute masterpiece of profound mainstream interactive media in an era where pointless yearly sequels and a ‘more of the same” mentality have made the triple A console gaming scene a miasma of boredom and repetition almost hardly worth venturing into. Hopefully Konami can find their way, or at least sublicense their intellectual properties to worthy new creators, so this isn’t truly the death of Metal Gear but also similarly beloved classic franchises like Castlevania, and Contra. And we wish Mr. Kojima and his new Kojima Productions team the best of luck at Sony, continuing to build worlds like that of Solid Snake, as challenging and sometimes impenetrable as they are endlessly entertaining and rewarding.