The road to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was one mired with troubling stories, but despite whatever behind-the-scenes turmoil occurred, is what could be director Hideo Kojima’s last Metal Gear Solid game a fitting end of an era? And more than that, is it one of the best games of the year?
For a series notorious for its complex and bizarre plot and characters, The Phantom Pain may seem like a difficult place to start for those not well versed in the franchise’s mythology. Set after Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker but long before the original Metal Gear Solid, trying to boil down the story would require its own explainer. But The Phantom Pain is being praised, almost unanimously so, for its open world gameplay while the narrative and world have taken a backseat in its critical reception.
“However, where Phantom Pain’s gameplay systems are far richer and meatier than any the series has ever seen, its story feels insubstantial and underdeveloped by comparison,” says IGN’s Vince Ingenito.
For more from Ingenito and other critics on various aspects of the game, read below for the initial reception to The Phantom Pain and stay tuned for EW’s opinion on the game.
“It’s surprising, though, how little Phantom Pain’s story woes actually impacted my experience with it. It takes an almost completely hands-off approach to both story and gameplay, which means that the lion’s share of the takeaway moments will almost certainly be the ones of your own orchestration. But given how readily Phantom Pain facilitates the creation of those moments, it’s difficult for me to feel bad about that.”
“There’s so much to do that I often wondered if I’d ever complete it all, but at the same time, I was pleased to know that the open-world always had more for me to do beyond the main story missions. It’s a game that lavishes in tugging your attention in multiple directions, but as you mull over which prescribed missions to undertake, you more often than not find emergent scenarios that serve as the third pillar of The Phantom Pain‘s open-world gameplay experience.”
“Quiet is also incredibly useful in missions, dispatching foes to ensure Big Boss doesn’t get caught or sowing mayhem to distract enemies. She’s also central to the plot of The Phantom Pain, more so than any other “buddy.” The game’s explanation for Quiet’s mute, nearly-naked presence is inextricably tied to the game’s convoluted story, and while her silence makes sense, her sexualized appearance doesn’t feel earned. I couldn’t shake the feeling that her visual design came first, with the game’s ridiculous justification for her barely-there outfit coming second.”
“The Phantom Pain’s openness feels like Kojima finally found a technical platform broad enough to make use of all of those tools and trusts players to build their own narrative drama from the way they choose to put these tools together for each mission. Accompanying all of this tactical gear is a dynamic enemy AI, capable of moving not just through a single compound but patrolling the whole map. Still, there are telling limits to the openness. The Phantom Pain has farms but not farmers, villages but no villagers, trading posts but no traders. The game has no place for human life that isn’t trapped in orbit around militarized conspiracies and shadow organizations.”
“Mother Base is a whole different animal as well. By using the Fulton system in the field you’ll slowly acquire new soldiers, which you can in turn visit at your base at any time. It’s similar to the Farmville-esque Garrison system from World of Warcraft, but much more rewarding. While I usually tend to ignore mechanics like this, your crew is integrated into the game in a number of ingenious ways. New weapons rely on the R&D team’s efforts, for example, and the Intel team can inform you of incoming weather, as well as nearby enemy patrols if they are sufficiently staffed. The rewards are both tangible and poignant.”
“The hands-off approach to storytelling is disappointing, but it also makes room for other elements of the game to step to the forefront. Without frequent interruptions for exposition, you’re free to immerse yourself in the addictive mission-based structure. You are presented with a staggering number of missions (split into story-critical and optional categories), and you plan and execute a series of operations at your own pace. The freedom is great, letting you choose the activities and rewards that interest you. Extracting valuable prisoners, stealing resources, sabotaging communications – each type of mission has a different flow. Getting into a rhythm is easy and fun, and you won’t run out of content quickly. I finished the game around the 45-hour mark, and I still have a wealth of things to do.”
“The narrative of The Phantom Pain is one of the strongest yet in the Metal Gear Solid franchise. It still has some of the more annoying trappings of the series, like acronym-heavy military jargon and a few unexplained plot threads, but forfeits long-winded conspiracies for a clear villain and to-the-point storytelling, while still leaving plenty of twists for players to try and unfurl. Frankly, I have never been as emotionally affected by any piece of entertainment, video game or otherwise, as some of The Phantom Pain’s final moments.”
“MGSV is a blend of the series’ best ideas – the camouflage stealth of Snake Eater, the base building of Peace Walker and the obsessive attention to detail that permeates the series – married to a handful of clever innovations and woven into an open world. The focus is on experimental play, with most of the forced exposition of old Metal Gears scooped out and repackaged as optional audio logs that you can listen to on the move. It is surprising how little dialogue there is, especially from Snake himself, who remains silent much of the time despite the fact he is voiced by Kiefer Sutherland.”
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Released on: Sept. 1, 2015
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows PC
Metacritic rating as of press time: 95