Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review (PS3)

Did you ever wonder what’s it like to be Big Boss? Look no further! Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is here to cure you of that legendary mercenary itch. Set in Norther Afghanistan and the Angola-Zaire Border, you play as Venom Snake as you rebuild your reputation and military might of Big Boss, the greatest soldier of the 20th century. It has been nine years since the attack on Mother Base that put you in a coma. Now it is time for revenge.

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Kojima Productions did away with the classic Metal Gear Solid gameplay in favor of an open-world setting. The old, open-linear style of play is no more, instead, you are given the world to play around. Well, not exactly the world, but Northern Afghanistan and the Angola-Zaire Border, the former being a war-torn wasteland and the latter being a lawless area where even kids have guns. This frees you from the levels you used to play in, but it also puts you in a situation where you would have to spend some time gathering intel, patrol routes, and mark the guards. Thankfully, the control scheme from Ground Zeroes has returned and even feels a lot more polished. As with the prologue, the life-bar is absent, and damage is indicated via visual cues.

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Because you are given so much freedom in the execution of missions, there is also a bigger need to become invested on the development of Mother Base to gain access to upgraded weapons and items you can use as you waltz around from one mission to another. Granted, the choices are a bit overwhelming, and you’ll spend your first few moments in the development screen trying to figure out if that 240,000 worth of rifle upgrades is going to be worth it.

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That is exactly at the core of this game: freedom. You get to choose whatever approach you want (unless the mission objectives specifically say otherwise), using all the tools at your disposal. The execution of which is astounding, and every mechanic ties into what you are doing, whether you are doing a main mission, a side-op, or you just happened to drop by an outpost.

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Gameplay is this game’s strongest suit. It is hard to find any other game in both current and last generation consoles that has this depth and attention to detail. Even homages to 80s sci-fi like the rocket punch (which has an 80s sci-fi sound effect), are a joy to do, if a bit awkward to pull off at first. The control scheme is literally unchanged from Ground Zeroes which means that Snake handles so much better, and the controls are more responsive with better, more natural-looking actions. You will, however, encounter a few kinks whenever you are trying to hug a corner. But otherwise, the controls are really good, which you’ll as the shit can hit the fan in this game pretty fast.

The can throw shit at you, and you can throw shit back. Flaming shit.
The can throw shit at you, and you can throw shit back. Flaming shit.

The only downside to the freedom is that when you’re out of things to do, you are literally out of things to do. Villages in both game maps are unpopulated, with only the guards in them assuming you haven’t kidnapped or killed them all. That has been explained in-game though, and while you won’t really notice it in the first 50 hours you put in to the game (as I did), you’ll start noticing it when you’ve become unstoppable with all the latest gadgets. The best example of this is Mother Base: while building your own base can be exciting, the novelty wears off once you realize that you can’t interact with your soldiers, not even return their salute! Personally though, Mother Base (an the Animal Conservation Platform) can either be a good way to beat up some soldiers (yes, Diamond Dogs love getting beat down by their Boss) for some hilarious results, or you just hang around once you’ve unlocked the combat unit, waiting for them to finish and letting you reap their rewards. But seriously though, a little variety and entertainment in Mother Base would have been nice.

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You will undoubtedly love the gameplay with all that it offers but this isn’t a perfect game. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the weakest game in the series in terms of story. This game was promised to be the one that will connect the Big Boss games to the Solid Snake games. What we got is not even close: we don’t even play as Big Boss! And while the switch was handled a lot better this time, it still didn’t make sense. Basically what it does is establish that the Big Boss Solid Snake defeated in Metal Gear 1 was Venom Snake. We weren’t even given an insight as to why.

In fact, we were never giving much reason for anything at all. After the brilliant Chapter 1, the narrative falls and the missions become repeats of old ones with modifiers. You finish Chapter 2 and then boom! You get told the twist and it’s technically over. Disappointing? Of course it is! Even if that unfinished sequence with Eli and Metal Gear Sahelanthropus was left in, there’s nothing in it to further the story. Hollow, empty, your very own phantom pain. The only time this game actually connects to the others is through the tapes and the final timeline.

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To its credit, the story is a lot more mature than previous ones, if a bit reluctant to delve into topics that are actually connected to the over-arching plot. The narrative is not cohesive, but that may be because of the nature of the game which is open-world. However, the sad truth remains that The Phantom Pain’s story feels more like a side-story than a main entry. If there is one thing this game did right, it is giving the player the chance to be Big Boss. Your actions, on the battlefield or off it, are all in the context of you being Big Boss.

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So, the question is: how does this game on PS3 compare with current gen consoles and the almighty PC? Graphically, not even close. This game was meant to be enjoyed in PC and current generation consoles, but that doesn’t mean the last generation ports were bad. Far from it, in fact. Besides the lower FPS and resolution, it is an absolute blast to play in PS3. The only noticeable difference is that the iDroid has a load-time on some sub-menus. The good news, however, is these are menus you wouldn’t really access during a mission. I experienced a lot of pop-ups but only experienced one frame-rate drop in over 50 hours of play.

This game is easily one of the most beautiful on the last generation consoles. The gameplay and the graphics in this game isn’t what you would expect on an old system and it speaks volumes on Kojima Productions’ attention to detail as well as their determination to make it work. The amount of control the game gives you (or makes you think you have), must have been taxing on the good old PS3. But unlike Shadows of Mordor where tons of content were cut from the last gen ports, this game brings to you everything it has. You may be missing a lot of visual cues, but I’d take the lack of Venom Snake’s reflection on the chopper (called the Air Command Center), over lack of gameplay features.

Moving on to the final bullet of this review: how replayable is it? My answer is: very much. Most of the side-ops and even the main missions can seem repetitive for some, but given the back-drop of the game, that is understandable. Aside from your encounters with XOF, and its ghastly creations, you are up against a regular army, and you fight them the way you fight any other super-power: lots of kidnapping, sabotage, infiltration, gunfights, extraction of prisoners, etc. And most of the cool stuff like air strikes and even returning to the chopper will cost you so if you are farming for GMP – the in-game currency, you’d best avoid that. Running around Afghanistan like that has the effect of having events occur on different times for different people. Some haven’t seen D-Dog until later in the game. Some were able to get the sniper Quiet much earlier. Some are already running their own superpower before they even get into the second location which is Africa.

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In my opinion, this is a result of both the open-world setting and the episodic nature of the missions. For example. Quiet’s mission is officially Mission 11. I haven’t even done missions 8 to 10 yet. This also makes it possible for you to replay your past missions if you really need that S-Rank. There is always something to miss, even if you’ve been to the same outposts numerous times. Of course once you manage to finish all mission, there’s nothing really left to see or do, unlike GTA V where you can just live your boring life as you please. But after more than 50 hours of gameplay, and considering that most games right now have less content than this one, I daresay that I got my money’s worth two times over.

Conclusion

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is easily one of the best games of 2015. It’s gameplay is too good, too big, too polished to ignore despite its lackluster story. Its technical marvels, not the least of which is the fact that all the gameplay features are intact in all ports of the game, all but guarrantees that this is a game no one will forget for years. Sure, people may not like how the story went, but that should not take away from how good this game plays. Hideo Kojima tried to give us masterpiece. What we got was still a work of wonder. Just like the games before it, this one is….pretty good.

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This game was reviewed using the PS3 version. Please stay tuned for my follow-up article regarding the ending and its place in the saga.