With just a few years short of three decades, Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series has been a mainstay for home consoles with Snake's exploits spanning many iterations across numerous generations, an achievement only a few other game series have achieved; for some these games are a shining example of impeccable game design and storytelling, for others it is a dusty case sitting at the bottom of a pile of unloved games, briefly played but never completed.
After reading the opening sale numbers of Metal Gear Solid it is quite clear that many of you have already purchased this game and this review is not really for you, this is for the gamers still waiting to decide if it is more of the same or something new. Well from the huge opening cinematic many will think it is business as usual but sit back and enjoy a breath-taking, if a little confusing start to the game, as what comes next is masterclass in tactical operations in an open world.
That’s right, Metal Gear Solid has truly gone open world, offering a massive playground to run around in starting in Afghanistan during the 1980’s. This new open approach can be a little jarring at first, the restrictive linear introduction suddenly making way for a huge open world to explore with a fellow brother in arms Ocelot explaining you are now part of a new unit, the Diamond Dogs, but before you can lead this new group Snake needs to prove his skills on the battlefield in a series of solo operations. Though alone there is still assistance from the game with occasional on screen prompts and intel updates to guide you but the onus is really on the player as to how to play the game, with Metal Gear Solid V being created in such a way that you learn what is possible by trial and error as you complete missions any way you see fit, taking out the lights or communications systems, speeding up time and waiting for darkness or just calling in a chopper to thin out the enemy ranks, there is no right way, just as long as you get the job done.
Metal Gear Solid V is still first and foremost a tactical stealth game and Snake has, as ever, a huge amount of items and weapons at his disposal, starting with a few basics and then expanding greatly as you progress with an array of silenced weapons and distractions to help infiltrate enemy encampments including his new prosthetic arm and of course the iconic cardboard box. That’s not to say Snake shys away from a firefight as there is also an abundance of heavy weapons like sniper rifles or, if you fancy some real stopping power you can use the many mortars and machine gun nests littered throughout the lands. Though there is an awful lot to unlock and learn their usefulness on the field it is Snake that is the real star, being very easy to control, utilising his many battle honed skills from shimmying up walls to blending in with the foliage to crawl right under the noses of guard patrols, he may have just woken up from a nine year coma and lost a limb but he has still got it where it counts.
The open world on offer, though initially daunting is quite easy to navigate thanks to your ever ready D-Horse who is always a whistle away and allows you to traverse longer distances with ease. Helping you map out the world is the iDroid, granting you a real time layout of the map and anything you have previously tagged, you can even play intel tapes or even a few 80’s hits as you wander around the plains or call in for some backup, be it chopper support or a weapons drop if you suddenly feel the need for a rocket launcher to take care of a helicopter gunship.
The actual missions can vary greatly in length, each being selectable from the iDroid and can be played in any order you see fit, groups of missions bunched into chapters to keep a basic narrative going. These missions offer a range of exciting situations from brief sorties to huge infiltration of mysterious ruins, but no matter what, every step of the way you know the enemy is on the lookout for you, one wrong move and it could spell disaster and though not punishing, death does occur if you do not plan your missions well enough, but thanks to a generous auto save system during the main missions you are not punished harshly upon death, the game restarting at a sensible checkpoint. For gamers that struggle there is also a new mechanic created to assist in completing and progressing through the game, the chicken hat, which becomes available after a few failed attempts and in turn it allows a little bit of leniency in being spotted by enemy troops.
It is not all about stealth and killing as playing alongside the action is a business simulator with the running of the off shore oil rig Mother Base, but instead of pen pushers and numerous TPS reports you have mercenaries creating new weapons and translators helping decipher vital intel. To help build the ranks of the Diamond Dogs, Snake is equipped with a Fulton surface to air recovery system, allowing Snake to subdue enemies and then attach them to these portable devices, snatching them away and transporting them to Mother Base where they can volunteer or be “convinced” to join your ranks or, something that has not got boring yet, attaching sheep and hearing them bleat as they get flung into the sky.
For a game of this size there is next to no issues with the final product, it looks great, there are no camera issues, controls are tight and most importantly, it is a very exciting game that is rewarding even after multiple replays of missions. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain shows just how great a game director Hideo Kojima is, creating an amazing open world to explore and ensuring that no matter what your skill level, everyone can enjoy its many surprises, the beauty is that everyone will play this game differently but each will have the same thrilling experiences.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
(Version Tested: PS4)
+ Most accessible Metal Gear Game to date
+ A serious amount of content to discover
+ A serious amount of content to discover
- No multiplayer as yet