If you were to ever ask me the difference between Naked Snake, Liquid Snake, or Solid Snake, I’d probably throw my hands up and show you a copy of my favorite Samuel L. Jackson joint, Snakes on a Plane. But if you were to ask me if I could replace a game on my Game of the Year list with one title, it’ll undoubtedly be Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
MGSV is, without a doubt, the best installment in the series for non-Metal Gear heads such as myself to jump into. What fans see as a disappointing deficit in elaborate storytelling, is a welcoming invitation to those irritably turned off by cumulative cutscenes. What some might say is a departure from the weirdly gratifying obtuse controls of old school MGS titles, is a godsend to others who can ease into the gameplay mechanics of a modern day stealth game. The legacy and history that the Metal Gear franchise has left in its wake means nothing to us. All that matters is that Metal Gear Solid V is arguably the best stealth action game ever made.
The Phantom Pain is an absolute masterpiece when it comes to sheer gameplay systems and mechanics. It’s a complex but alluring showcase of what the then and (likely) now Kojima Productions is capable of when given (or forcibly demanding) carte blanche to create the best game they possibly can.
If you’ve listened to our 2015 GOTY podcast, you’ve heard me salivate over just the intricate animations and controls of Big Boss himself. It’s flawless. The way in which he transitions from sprinting, to crouching, to crawling on his belly is absolutely seamless. He can instantly dive in any direction to avoid detection and oncoming fire, and aim his weapon in all directions regardless of his position without a hitch. Even the way in which he can climb through windows and navigate around his environment is just beautiful.
Control is key when playing a stealth game, something that certain long-running franchises don’t seem to get right. I can’t think of a game, including 3D platformers, where I’ve felt that I’ve had complete and total control over a character the same way as I do over Big Boss. It circumvented my satisfaction earned when stealth killing or incapacitating enemies without detection, or even fultoning their helpless bodies into space.
The fultoning system adds a certain Kojima goofiness and hilarity that, even as a non-Metal Gear fan, makes sense in this universe. I smiled gleefully every time I successfully put a dude to sleep before strapping a balloon to his ass. That, in and of itself, served up a series of mini accomplishments, and then I realised that I can fulton up a whole truck full of enemies at once. It’s a silly, yet achingly useful mechanic that fully satisfies pacifists who lean towards a non-lethal approach while cleaning up the evidence at the same time. Of course fultoning was just another tool in my covert arsenal where, sleep mines, stun dummies, and sexy boxes are also equally as useful and comical.
Fultoning also scratched that old crusty Pokemon rash that I haven’t paid attention to in almost 10 years, creating a meta game inside a meta game within The Phantom Pain. Seeing those A++ or S ranked patrolmen changed my tactics completely, forcing me to take extra care to avoid alerting anyone, or god forbid shooting my target square in the cheek. This meta game existed inside the exercise of staff micromanagement where I assigned and reassigned my Mother Base crew to level up my facilities in order to open up DD abilities and unlock research projects. Because of this, cool new shit unlocked at a satisfying clip – save for the ludicrous amount of deadly firearms that served as interchangeable weapons. But I truly doubled down on staffing my research when I gained access to D-Walker, the dopest companion you’ll ever have over D-Dog’s silly eye patch (ok… it’s pretty cool) and Quiet’s stupid boobs. Unlocking new weapons and behavioral-modifying heads for him was backed by over half a dozen hours of play.
The staffing, research, and customizing busy work in MGSV was enough for me to the point that I lucked out in not participating in any of the FOB nonsense. Why would I want to subject myself to paying real money for insurance to protect my assets? Avoiding MGSV’s exploitative online features, in turn, had me develop my own grievances that aren’t often talked about. The Phantom Pain, as fantastic as it is, feels like an unfinished product in many ways. Fans will discuss the various story threads omitted from the game’s narrative, which is hard to say that this isn’t evident of MGSV’s troubled development. I myself on the other hand, was more bothered by the game’s lack in variety in some areas.
Having the game only take place in Afghanistan and Africa became tiresome rather quickly. And after seeing the unique conditions that are characteristic to these areas, as I’ve mentioned before, I would have liked to see perhaps a snow environment to add more variety to the stealth elements such as knee high snow and sense-suppressing blizzards. The diversity in the game’s enemies also felt a little thin. For most of the game, I was faced with your standard goons who occasionally spiced it up with full body armor, sniper rifles, and riot shields. Very rarely did I come up against bi-pedal walkers and security cameras that shook the game’s encounter design significantly. But in spite of all this, MGSV’s full spectrum of stealth toolsets, dynamic AI and environmental changes preserved even the most mundane Side Ops missions for replayability. That’s the beauty of The Phantom Pain.
We probably won’t have the pleasure of playing a game like Metal Gear Solid V at least anytime soon. Very rarely do we get a game backed by a massive budget that painstakingly focuses its resources on an absurd level of detail and uniquely refined, expansive gameplay. Such freedom of time and money simply doesn’t exist en masse in the current state of the video game industry. Like pre-Modern Warfare 3’s Infinity Ward, it’s safe to assume that the new Kojima Productions is largely made up of those who earned a paycheck under Konami; but even then it’s impossible to imagine that Kojima’s new endeavor could ever replicate the sheer influence and renown of the Metal Gear series. The point I’m trying to make is Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is not only a very special game, but a very rare game. It would have definitely given The Witcher 3 a run for it’s money as my game of the year in 2015.