- This review has been kept spoiler free as much as possible.
Following the events of Big Boss rescuing both Paz and Chico from an American black site located in Cuba, Boss, Paz and Miller are ambushed at the Mother Base to devastating effect. It is believed that a Special Forces Unit going by the name of XOF were behind the attacks. After the attacks, Big Boss wakes in a hospital to find that his life is in immediate danger and it is here that he must flea with his life, with no real knowledge of what lies ahead and how or what to trust.
Once Big Boss escapes the hospital, he realises that only he, Paz and Miller survived the attacks following the events of Ground Zeroes and they make it their mission to take revenge and find those responsible. But in order to do so, they must rebuild a new Mother Base and their legendary Diamond Dogs Special Forces unit. In a lore as complicated as Metal Gear Solid, nothing is what it seems and you can expect many plot twists and turns. This is a Hideo Kojima’s and Kojima Productions Metal Gear swan song, and it might just be their finest work yet.
I don’t even know where to begin in terms of gameplay for The Phantom Pain, because there is so much to the game, I could ramble on forever. Hopefully if you’re playing this game, then there is a high chance that you’ve played Ground Zeroes. I say Ground Zeroes more so, because that was a great introduction to see how much has changed since we last saw MGSIV: Guns of the Patriots way back in 2008. While it may have many similarities to games of past, a lot has changed and much for the better.
Stealth is the essential factor here, which has always been the backbone of the entire series. Yes you can go all guns blazing if you wish, and some missions would be better suited to that approach, but sneaking your way through missions mostly offers greater rewards and is arguably the most satisfying (not to mention safest). Once you get passed the prologue (and no I’m not talking about Ground Zeroes), when Ocelot introduces you to your first missions located in Afghanistan, it will hit you just how huge the map is. It can be a little daunting at first, but it will soon become your playground haven. It’s an old cliché, but you can approach just about any mission as you please. And, however you go about it, it’s always wise to scout the area first to tag enemy locations and any objects or areas of interest.
If you run in and run out of the mission as quickly as you can, while you may get a decent end of mission score, your rewards might not be so encouraging. There is always something new in the map and a different way to approach a mission, even if it doesn’t seem so obvious at first. By rooting through military bases or abandoned shacks, you might find some handy resources and diamonds to send back to your Mother Base to aid its development. And by sneaking up to and enemy to interrogate him, he will reveal hidden treasures, enemy locations, specialist personal to extract to your base and even weapon blueprints and more. So even though it may be tempting to fly through some missions, by taking your time to explore and by interrogating the unfortunate enemy, you’ll get the most out of each and every mission.
Speaking of missions, you will of course have you main missions which will aid the story progression and key moments in its plot. Then you have the Side-Ops, which can range from rescuing prisoners (even wandering soldiers from Ground Zeroes), destroying/recovering enemy equipment and weaponry and much more. If anything, I found these Side-Op missions to be just as addictive as the main campaign (if not more so), not only for the extra rewards, but it’s also a great way to speed up the development and efficiency of your Mother Base. A word of warning, do not play Side-Ops during the early hours, you WILL NOT have “just one more mission.”
Much like the huge open sandbox located in The Phantom Pain, at first glance development of your Mother Base can initially appear to be a daunting process, but it’s really not and you will soon no doubt become just as addicted to expanding it as I have. Your Mother Base will start off very small, similar to that of an off-shore oil rig, but trust me when I say, it grows very quickly. The areas in which you are able to upgrade initially are Combat Unit, R&D Team, Base Development Unit, Support Unit, Intel Team and Medical Team. You will start off with staff members on MB, but you acquire more by taking on missions, mostly via the Side-Ops and just by kidnapping enemy foes. Each team member you extract will have a skill that they excel more then another.
While the game will do a decent job at automatically assigning them to a division, it will be wise to check and make some manual adjustments as and when, especially when your MB gets rather large. Also once you have assembled a decent Combat Unit, you’ll be able to send your troops out on missions to earn cash, upgrades and specialist personal for the MB, as well sabotaging enemy equipment to give them a slight disadvantage when you’re out in the field. Each of these “Combat Deployment” missions will have a risk factor, the higher the risk, the greater the rewards, so choose wisely if you want your soldiers to return successfully.
As your MB grows you will also be able to create and upgrade a variety of weapons and gear. Such as firearms, camo outfits, cardboard boxes, equipment for your buddies and more. Later in the game you’ll be able to take buddies such as the deadly sniper Quiet, but during the earlier stages of the game, you’ll be relying more so on D-Horse and D-Dog, both come with their unique assets. For example the horse is a great way to travel around the map without attracting too much attention, as well as being handy when extracting prisoners or soldiers. Whereas D-Dog will have skills such as distracting the enemy, tagging them and locating specialist plants to send back you the MB. Quiet will have many of the awareness skills as D-Dog would, but she’s also excellent at offering firing cover, picking out some enemies one by one.
Your helicopter will also be massively important, for not only entering and leaving missions, but also to offer fire support in taking out the enemy. Though a word of advice would be to upgrade your chopper as soon as possible, because it will get destroyed quite easily on certain missions. And of course I have to mention the Fulton, which has more than the purpose of extracting sheep (though that is always fun). When out in the battlefield, by using the Fulton, you can extract personnel, wildlife and so forth. During the early stages you will only be able to extract the lighter items, but as it upgrades, you will later be able to retrieve heavy weaponry and even vehicles. Also while it may be more obvious to extract mainly personnel, make a habit of extracting machine guns and mortars to help defend your base for invading online players (which will become functional when Metal Gear Online launches in October). You can also scan the enemy with your scope, which when upgraded will highlight their skill-set, handy for when you need to be more picky on whom to extract.
If I was going to have one grievance with The Phantom Pain, then it would be with the lack of a manual save function. There has been more than one occasion where I had made changes to my MB before leaving to the game, to only return at a later date to find them no longer implemented. So having the option to manual save before or after something significant would have been a welcomed feature in my opinion. Also make sure that each time you play The Phantom Pain, ensure to connect to its online functions via the main menu, as you will be gifted with daily login rewards.
When you talk of the most visually impressive games to release this year, The Phantom Pain won’t take too long to sneak its way into your conversation. What’s most impressive about its visuals is that many games of a huge scale sometimes suffer somewhat in the visuals department, but not with The Phantom Pain. Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions really have worked wonders with their almighty Fox Engine (which also powers the recent Pro Evolution Soccer games). Even looking at quick glance, Afghanistan and the Zaire jungles looking stunning and are not only brimming with life, but it also invites you to go on your own adventure (which falls into the “don’t play during the early hours” category). Whether it’s the stunning open-world or the epic cutscenes with uncanny facial animations, you’d struggle to find a more visually stunning game on such a huge scale for many years to come.
However, while The Phantom Pain maybe lacking the extensive cutscenes (that’s personal taste whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing), with the cutscenes that it does have (much of the back-story is told via in-game audio tapes), they immerse you like only a Hideo Kojima game knows how and that not only includes it’s well told story, but also by its extremely talented voice-cast and superb soundtrack. Back when we first heard that Kiefer Sutherland would replace David Hayter as Snake/Boss, it was greeted with uproar and rightly so, as David Hayter provided one of the most iconic voices in the videogame industry for many years. This was worsened by the fact that the long standing Japanese voice-actor for Snake/Boss Ōtsuka Akio kept his job, a close friend of Hideo Kojima.
So even for someone as talented and awesome as Mr Sutherland, it proved to be an uphill battle. Thankfully if there was one man that could replace Hater as Snake, then I can think of no-one better then Kiefer Sutherland, especially with has natural grizzly voice. However, Sutherland isn’t the only talented voice-cast member in The Phantom Pain, as he is joined by Troy Baker as Ocelot who brings that natural cocky charm needed to portray such a character and of course long standing voice of Kazuhira Miller with Robin Atkin Downes reprising his role in typical fine form.
When I played 8 hours of The Phantom Pain at a preview event earlier in the year, it was clear to me that this would be a 2015 game of the year contender, no question. So when I finally got my copy of the full game, my high expectations we’re quickly met, but would you expect anything less from Hideo Kojima? This game is epic in every sense of the word and I’ve not even had the opportunity to play Metal Gear Online, which launches October 6th. While The Phantom Pain is arguably not the best game from Hideo Kojima, it most certainly is a contender for the best in the series, especially when considering the games ambition, scale and immense replayability.
No one really knows what the future holds without Hideo Kojima at the Metal Gear Solid helm. The series may lack that signature soul that we know and love that Kojima generates or perhaps the series can ride off the coattails of The Phantom Pain for the next few years, who knows? Perhaps Hideo Kojima will create something entirely new away from Konami and wow us once more (as a lifelong fan of Kojima, that prospect excites me). I very much doubt this will be the last we see of Kojima, but if this is his Metal Gear swansong, then he would struggle to say a fonder farewell to the series and to his loyal legion of fans. So in return, I say thank you Hideo Kojima for the many years of keeping us entertained and enthralled within your Metal Gear world. I hope you don’t keep us waiting too long.
+ An insane amount of variety and possibilities, a sandbox game in its finest form
+ The maps are HUGE in every sense of the word
+ Rebuilding Mother Base brings a sense of pride and ownership, this is your baby
+ Breathtaking visuals
+ Fluid and open approached lethal/non-lethal combat
+ Superb voice acting & Awesome soundtrack
- Could have done with an manual save function