Fortress of Solitude was fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to play the final version of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for review before launch.
“The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has brought a new edge to the Cold War, and in 1984, a one-eyed man with a prosthetic arm appears in the country. Those who know him call him Snake; the legendary mercenary who was once swept from the stage of history and left in a coma by American private intelligence network Cipher. Snake is accompanied by Ocelot, an old friend who saved him from attack when he finally awoke. Now, Snake’s former partner Kazuhira Miller is being held by the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Snake must undertake a solo mission to rescue Miller and prove to the world that the legendary mercenary is not dead and gone. That first step will lead to a path of vengeance against the very Cipher that slaughtered so many of Snake’s men, and to a battle that will embroil the whole world…”
MGS: Ground Zeroes gave us a small taste of what surprises we could expect from MGSV: The Phantom Pain. Would MGSV live up to all the hype that surrounds it? Will the end of Big Boss’s tale be all we hoped it would be?
From the story to the missions and even boss battles and encounters, MGSV is a game littered with surprises and twists. It is difficult to write about the game and not spoil anything for players. I have tried none the less to stay away from spoilers as much as possible, as some of the best moments in the game were surprises or twists that I did not see coming.
As soon as the game starts players are welcomed by a very lengthy introduction sequence, (what else did you expect from Kojima) as well as a tutorial that slowly leads us down the rabbit hole that is MGSV. Although the whole introduction is quite an action packed intense one, Kojima’s signature humor can be found punctuating the tenseness and seriousness of these moments. Some of these include; a character (during a very tense sequence) asking you to press the “X” button to initiate an action, as well as the fact that one whole sequence is spend staring down the open back of a character’s medical gown. These humorous moments are littered throughout the whole game, although some are easier to spot than others.
After the quite long introduction sequence, players are finally dropped into the open war-ravaged Afghanistan (only one of several locations players get to visit). It is here that the game slowly starts to open up, as little by little players are introduced to more of the game’s mechanics. It is also as you take your first steps into the desert that you notice how absolutely stunning the game looks. From the dry desert to the lush jungles each environment is beautifully recreated. The whole world feels alive in a way that makes sense, weather conditions change, animals scurry to get away from you and even the odd predator can decide to attack you.
Players start off with the basics; some weapons and D-horse (one of the buddies that can accompany Big Boss on his missions). It is apparent from the first mission that MGSV’s open mission structures are something special. Players are not only able to complete missions in any order they want, but they can complete these missions in any way they feel best suits the specific situation. There is no right or wrong when completing missions, whether you run and gun, sneak or a combination of both, I never felt like I was being punished for the way I chose to complete missions. The most rewarding moments were when I found myself stuck on a mission only to find another completely different way to complete it. Some of the missions can be really difficult to complete, but figuring out a way to complete them and then finally succeeding, is one of the most rewarding feelings I have had in recent gaming memory. It’s finding the balance between moments of frustration and joyous relief that makes MGSV’s missions something special. It is refreshing to play a game that doesn’t leave you in the dark about what to do but respects the player enough not to hold their hand.
Although the game doesn’t have different difficulty levels for the player to adjust, the game does offer the player stuck on a mission the opportunity to wear the chicken hat. This hat may look ridiculous, but it enables players to be spotted up to three times without raising the alarm.
Missions are made up of main story missions and side-ops missions. Where the main missions take you through the story of MGSV, the side-ops missions are where you can experiment with new equipment, weapons and buddies that you unlock by completing the main missions.
There is another side to these side op missions, completing them not only rewards you with in-game currency, but players will usually find resources scattered throughout the side mission areas (although these resources can also be found throughout the open world as well). These resources and currency become an important part of MGSV as soon as players are introduced to Mother base.
Mother base will be your floating base of operations during your time playing the game. Situated in the middle of the ocean, players will have the opportunity to use all the open space in order to expand their base. Using the resources and currency gained in the field, players can expand Mother Base by adding additional expansion platforms. These platforms consist of Intel, Medical, Research & Development, Combat, Support and Command platforms. Each of these has their own unique benefits that they offer the player in the field.
Medical platforms heal soldiers that have been wounded while on missions, Combat platforms enable the player to send out teams of soldiers to complete missions (which nets the player some great rewards), Intel platforms gives the player more information about mission areas (enemy placement, resource placement ect.), Research & Development platforms allow you to unlock all the equipment Big Boss may require and Support platforms gives Big Boss the ability to call in support (airstrikes, helicopter support etc.) when things get rough in the field. It is really rewarding seeing your base expand from a small base -which you can traverse on foot- to a huge monster of a base which requires you to use either a vehicle or helicopter to travel between platforms. Another strange but logical function of Mother Base is that Big Boss is able to use the showers there, in order to wash off the blood that he collected on himself during missions. This might sound arbitrary, but being covered in too much blood makes you more visible to enemies.
Part of having a properly operating and defended base is having the right equipment and personnel. Acquiring these is one of the most fun (and crazy) aspects of MGSV. Early on players are given a device called a Fulton. The Fulton enables players to extract enemies, hostages, equipment, vehicles, resource containers and even animals for use at Mother Base. The device works by connecting a pack to the designated item/person/animal which then deploys a self-inflating balloon that extracts the item/person/animal quickly and efficiently to Mother Base. Animal extractions once again have a touch of Kojima Humour to them, as the noises these animals make when being extracted just sounds over the top and extremely funny. I found myself becoming a hoarder of sorts as I tried to extract anything and everything I could, this lead me to even extracting a huge brown bear. The equipment, personnel and resources you extract are used at your base while vehicles can be dropped into the field when Big Boss requires them. Animals, on the other hand, get placed in a special animal sanctuary platform that Big Boss is able to visit.
Mother Base being your own private base of operations can also be customized. Players can design their own emblem and even color of the base. This level of customization is also available when it comes to your helicopter, buddies, and even weapons. All this just makes Mother Base and the Diamond Dogs unit feel like your own unique team, that you are in charge of, and how they develop is depended on what you decide or do.
While on the subject of extractions, players can also deploy and extract their buddies in the field as they deem fit. Each buddy offers Big Boss their own benefits, which of course as with everything in the game, can be upgraded to suit the players specific play style. The different buddies Big Boss have access to in the game is D-Dog, D-Horse, D-Walker, and Quiet.
D-Dog sniffs out enemies when on missions with Big Boss; he also can distract or attack them. D-Horse is your go to when you need to travel vast distances quietly, players can also duck behind D-Horse to hide from oncoming enemies. D-Walker is your mobile attack or stealth platform (depending on what upgrades it has equipped). Then there is Quiet, the enigmatic sniper, she can scout ahead tagging enemies, knocking them out with a sleeping dart sniper rifle or thin out enemy groups by killing them off one by one. Each of these buddies can be used by the player at any time adding even more options to completing missions.
Boss fights are once again a treat, successfully completing them usually means thinking out of the box. An example of this is a mission where Big Boss needs to fight Quiet in order to recruit her. She’s moves very quickly and can snipe over long distances, so spotting her requires some creative thinking. Each Boss fight is memorable and stayed with me long after playing the game.
During Boss fights and missions, there are many factors that can affect the way you complete a mission. These range from weather effects, day/night cycles, animals and even enemy groups randomly patrolling the map. There were quite a few missions where rain or a sandstorm made me fail a mission; on the other hand they have also aided me on many occasions. Sandstorms can decrease your visibility, but it also decreases your view distance. Rain can mask your footsteps making sneaking easier, but it also hinders your visual range. Some of my most memorable missions where; when out of nowhere the weather turned against me, forcing me to change my strategy on the fly. Although weather conditions can be treacherous, visually they look really good, incoming sandstorms and lightning streaking across the sky just looks impressive and adds to the immersion.
Big Boss can use his Phantom cigar to move time forward, this comes in handy when your strategy requires a certain time of day or weather.
MGSV ticks every box for me. It is a great stealth action game but has some really deep base building, resource management and upgrading mechanics. Each of these is implemented with great success, and no part ever felt tacked on or unnecessary. The “do-it-your-way” manner in which players can take on missions not only adds to the replayability but also makes for some of the most memorable and exhilarating gameplay I have had in recent memory. As the leader of the 80’s A-team, Hannibal uses to say “I love it when a plan comes together”, this for me accurately describes MGSV. The feeling when all your planning and patience finally pays off is not only exhilarating but leaves you with a sense of accomplishment. This paired with the absolutely stunning graphics makes MGSV a must play game and one that is sure to be a ‘Game Of The Year’ contender.