Sins of The Father
The man, the legend returns in The Phantom Pain – Kojima’s final Metal Gear Solid Game. After the taste-test that was Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which offered quite a hefty amount of re-playability, The Phantom Pain takes the foundations of that and builds it into the one of the most defining titles of this generation.
The Soviet Union invasion of 1984 Afghanistan crafts the setting of The Phantom Pain, as Snake seeks out revenge against his old employer Cipher – who left him in a coma for nine years and so many of his men dead. Waking up from his bed, the introduction mission of The Phantom Pain was probably the most beautifully crafted piece of work I’ve seen and is something everyone should experience.
The introduction was only the stepping stone for the entire game though, as it sets the tone and setting for what comes next, and that’s what really overwhelmed me. The Phantom Pain is more than just another Metal Gear title, it pushes boundaries in what it offers and with the introduction of Mother Base – players are going to have a lot more than just the missions to play around with.
The Phantom Pain centres around the Mother Base, your new home where you must create your own private army. I spent a lot of time within this area just discovering and exploring different options. If you’ve ever wanted to build your very own army, The Phantom Pain allows that. Everything is controlled from the Mother Base as you micromanage resources, research, development, and security. You can even build your very own animal park – Metal Gear Zoo Tycoon style.
The Mother Base is a big component of The Phantom Pain as it offers much more depth to the standard missions you’ll come to expect from the game. The whole game runs on resources and money called GMP that you must source in order to keep your base and private army (the Diamond Dogs) running. Management is key on how Snake performs in the battlefield and with more time spent micro-managing your base, the more tools, support, and weaponry you’ll get in the field.
After you have finished managing your base, you can start your next mission easily by jumping on the helicopter. From this, you can trigger a deployment screen where you can setup Snake with the right weaponry and gadgets. With Afghanistan as your playground, you can choose how you approach missions from the get-go by selecting where you will be deployed.
The Phantom Pain’s open-world allows every approach to be a personal affair, as you’re more-or-less given free reign on how to tackle the objectives set. While there’s not a lot of things populating the landscape apart from the occasional checkpoints and small bases, the 360 degree entry points really helps you strategise your approach and even pull out easily if things don’t go to plan. It would be great to see more things to do in the open areas but considering the game’s so vastly huge already you’ll quickly forget about the minor blank space.
One of the more significant gadgets you’ll get accustomed to in The Phantom Pain is the Fulton Surface-to-Air system. The system basically attaches a balloon to an object or person (or in The Phantom Pain an animal as well) and a plane will fly in and scoop the balloon making it a fast extraction option. This gadget comes in play a lot with the whole Mother Base management where you can pretty much extract different things to benefit your base and gain GMP.
You’ll have the option to utilise a buddy which will help Snake in various tasks in the field, too. The first and most utilised buddy would be the Diamond Horse which allows you to easily navigate the landscapes of Afghanistan. The horse is great for transport but it can be a little tedious travelling from one point to another if it’s quite far. You can, however, call in the helicopter to transport you – but it will cost you GMP.
The world of The Phantom Pain is quite incredibly detailed as it features realistic time and weather. This really can alter the pacing of the mission and can ultimately turn against you. During one mission, I wasn’t aware of the time and while I was mid-infiltrating a base, the sun rose up and my enemies were able to detect me easily, which wasn’t so much the case during the night. Timing is key during The Phantom Pain’s missions, and if you find yourself needing to fast-forward time, you can light up a cigar and watch time fly before your eyes… quite literally.
If you’ve played Ground Zeroes, most of the CQC elements are still here, as well as the usual weapons and movement system. Although it does feel more finely tuned and improved upon, however. It’s really up to the player if they want to go all stealth or guns-blazing. Your score for the mission will be affected but it really caters for players who want to utilise either option or something in between.
The transition between missions and Mother Base management in The Phantom Pain is quite seemless and it’s something that has to be praised. Having two different elements of the game has the potential of breaking immersion with the story and with the introduction of the iDroid phone, players will always feel they have a direct connection the Mother Base at all times. The iDroid simply controls everything whether you’re on-field or off and really helps you monitor and manage Mother Base without even leaving the mission.
Presentation-wise, it seems as though The Phantom Pain has been seriously fine-tuned when compared to Ground Zeroes. While Ground Zeroes was breathtaking in some sequences, The Phantom Pain really takes it up a level. I was surprised this ran on the PlayStation 4 without no issues as the game was highly detailed, sharp, and was running quite smoothly.
The way Kojima approached The Phantom Pain is quite outstanding. It feels like he basically looked at a game mechanic and said: How can we take this to the next level? We can’t really reveal much about the story but the way it’s presented felt very episodic/cinematic which really showed Kojima’s love for cinematography and how he’s translated elements of it into his games. The Phantom Pain was really powerful with this and it really got me on the edge of my seat during certain sections of the game while delivering a terrific score.
Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain is quite possibly the last hurrah from Kojima in this franchise and from the level of detail, the brilliant cinematography style missions, to the massive expansion of gameplay with Mother Base management – he’s going out with a bang. The introduction of the game was really powerful and basically took that level of momentum throughout the entire campaign. It’s incredible to see the amount of work gone into The Phantom Pain and you can see Kojima and the team really poured their soul into it to give it character. This is simply one of the best games I’ve played this year.
Developer: Kojima Productions
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Respawn Ninja conducted this Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain review at a publisher office in Sydney, Australia. This review will be updated with FOB gameplay and Metal Gear Online when that’s available.