Friday, October 2, 2015

Review - Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain | A Game By Hideo Kojima

Firstly, I would like to thank radkliler for the additional input and screenshots for this review. Cheers, mate.

etal Gear Solid has come a long way since it first saw the light of day in 1998. The original title was an ambitious game with blocky polygons and muddy textures, but jam packed with great voice work, excellent gameplay, tremendous story and over-the-top cinematic action extravaganza. All these crammed into a two-disc PlayStation video game. Metal Gear Solid has indeed redefined video gaming into what it is today.

The mastermind behind this vision of video game evolution is none other than Hideo Kojima – game designer, screenwriter, director, producer, and potential Bond villain. Not only has he revolutionised cinematic presentation into video gaming, he also introduced clever game mechanics that may seem outlandish to traditional gamers, but still made sense in every way possible. Examples: A mind reading boss character who can predict your every move? Plug your controller into the Player 2 slot instead. Lazy to backtrack to a far off section of a map? Hide in a box and hitch a ride on a transport truck that goes there. A century old sniper out-gunning you? Save your game, wait a week later and he’ll die of old age. No, really…

It’s this level of gameplay design that encourages player ingenuity made the Metal Gear Solid series its own game. A Hideo Kojima game. A lot of developers have tried to imitate Kojima’s creativeness in design, but few have surpassed his cunning. Sorry, Peter Molyneux. So if you’re ever playing a Metal Gear game that lacked Kojima’s design essence, you’re probably playing the one that was outsourced to Platinum Games.

Years and sequels later, we now have Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Sadly, it’s also the final Metal Gear Solid game by Kojima. Is it worthy to be his last and greatest hurrah in the franchise?

Kept you waiting, huh?
Last year’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, felt like an over-glorified demo with bite-sized content and story, which left much to be desired. Released more than a year later, The Phantom Pain fulfilled its promise by being a more polished and larger game compared to its predecessor. Players get to explore the open-world of Afghanistan and Central Africa with enormous map sizes. The Mother Base management segment from Peace Walker returns with refined mechanics that’ll keep players busy even when they’re on the field. Another welcomed return from Peace Walker is the Fulton system, which allows you to rescue prisoners, steal resources and kidnap soldiers while conducting operations. Players can now customise their load-out, choice of vehicle and time of departure before starting a mission. A buddy system is introduced, which allows you to bring along a sidekick of your choice. The wait for The Phantom Pain was long, and we’re glad to say it was worth the wait.

V for Vendetta
The Phantom Pain takes off after the events of Ground Zeroes, which saw the obliteration of the Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF), Big Boss’ now-former private military. Awoken from a coma nine years later and missing his left hand, Boss now shoulders the title of “Punished Snake” due to his crippled state and for his failure to save the MSF. He later survived an assassination attempt by XOF, the rival military group led by Skullface, who were responsible for the attack on the MSF. Rescued by Ocelot, Snake was then outfitted with a bionic hand and the duo travelled to Afghanistan to reunite with former MSF comrade, Kazuhira Miller. Together, with a new base of operations, they regrouped the remaining MSF members and formed the Diamond Dogs military company. With Snake at its helm, Diamond Dogs continuously grew in strength with hopes of delivering vengeance upon XOF and Skullface.

Plan your approach
Gameplay in The Phantom Pain is a massive departure from the other Metal Gear games due to the fact that the game is now an open world sandbox of sorts. A mission gives you objectives that you need to complete. How you achieve those objectives is entirely up to you. Do you want to be a pacifist and knock out or tranquillise every enemy you see? Go ahead! Do you want to emulate John Rambo’s finest moments? Do it! Do you want to bring a tank into a gunfight? If you have a tank, sure thing! Apart from getting a lower rank at the end of the mission, the game really doesn’t restrict you in terms of how you want to get it done, so long as it is done. Choosing to be a pacifist does comes with it benefits, since knocking an enemy soldier out allows you to extract them to Mother Base and add him to your list of guns-for-hire, via the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system. These additions to your crew benefit you by way of giving you access to higher tier research options, or increasing the efficiency of your combat support.

As stealth is a major part of the game, you would expect the game to be unforgiving in the stealth department. Surprisingly, this isn’t the case as the moment you are about to get spotted, the game goes into Reflex Mode. Reflex Mode is basically Bullet Time, which allows you to neutralise the person that spotted you before he alerts his teammates about your presence. Failing to do so will result in the traditional Metal Gear warning and a hail of gunfire, mortars and other armaments bearing down on you.

When you’re not out doing story missions, you’re able to mess around in the operating area of your choice. You can complete Side Ops, run between outposts trying to find new recruits for Mother Base, or just go around killing everyone. Travelling between places on the map may seem daunting at first thanks to the scale of the operation area, but once you learn a few tricks, navigating the world becomes much easier. Hint: it has something to do with the cardboard box.

Yeah Buddy!
For the first time in a Metal Gear Solid series, Snake is able to bring a sidekick along via the “Buddy System”. These companions have distinct abilities, which he can use in his operations. And the more they missions they participate in, the bond between Snake and his buddy will grow stronger. Stronger bonds allows him to give additional commands to his buddy, and eventually customise their look and load-out.

Your first companion, D-Horse is... well, a horse that could transport you around the map, and is a stealthier alternative from using a noisy vehicle. While on the move, Snake could even hide by repositioning himself to D-Horse’s side to avoid the enemy’s line of sight. Finally, D-Horse has the ability to relieve itself at Snake’s command. Well, this may sound like a load of horse crap (ba dum tish!) but it actually has its usefulness. Wait, hear me out! When placed on roads, these biological land mines could cause a moving enemy vehicle to lose control and crash. Having a tough time interrogating information from an enemy soldier? See if he’s all that with D-Horse answering nature’s call in his face. Oh sh-!

D-Dog (DD) is a personal favourite. Originally a stray one-eyed puppy found on the battlefield. After being rescued by Snake, DD grew up to be a loyal and deadly companion to have on missions. He could mark enemies and medicinal plants within his range of smell, distract guards by barking, and even knock out or kill an enemy soldier on command. Remember to pat him on the head for a job well done.

D-Walker, as the name implies, is Snake’s Walker Gear. It’s fully customisable with your choice of primary and secondary weapons, armour type, head functions and so on. It’s drivable, thus allowing Snake to cover more ground in either Walking Mode or Drive Mode. In comparison, D-Walker can mount weapons and could take more hits than D-Horse, but is way less stealthy.

Finally, we have Quiet, the mute sniper that caught everyone’s attention during her first reveal in promotional materials for The Phantom Pain. Yes, her appearance is highly questionable, but not without a reason. Just don’t hold your breath for anything ground breaking or dramatic. Moving on, Quiet acts as Snake’s spotter and sniper cover. Command her to scout an enemy base, she’ll mark soldiers, prisoners and critical targets. If you’re merciless, you could ask her to clear out an entire outpost on her own. While providing sniper cover, she’ll immediately react (shoot) if you trigger the Reflex Mode when spotted by an enemy. It’s not ideal for the pacifist approach, but you could equip her with a non-lethal sniper rifle later on.

All Your Base..
Besides the main stealth gameplay, The Phantom Pain also comes with some micromanagement tasks in the form of Mother Base. As mentioned earlier, you are able to recruit soldiers on the field to add to your PMF. The base management side of things allows you to shift recruits around to maximise base efficiency, quarantine them, or fire them if they prove to be troublemakers. Once you cross a certain threshold in the game, you’re allowed to send the troops you recruited into the field to conduct their own operations. Achieving success in those operations rewards you with materials and cash that you can spend on upgrades or deployment costs.

While the base management section of the game is really engrossing once you get into it, navigating the menus for it can be difficult as there are so many options that are given to you, making it feel very cluttered at times. If you manage to stick through the initial learning curve though, you’ll soon be able to trim the fat from your army and make it into a lean, mean, no-nonsense fighting force.

..Are Belong to Us
After a certain point in the main story missions, you will unlock the Forward Operating Base (FOB). These bases are, simply put, a second Mother Base, allowing you to expand your staff and in effect, enables you to research higher tier weaponry from the menu. You can construct multiple FOBs, but to do so, you must spend special currency that can only be gotten via real world money. To be fair, a single FOB is usually enough to unlock almost everything the game has to offer, but the option to get more is there if you want to.

The FOBs are also the centre of The Phantom Pain’s pseudo-multiplayer mode. Once you’ve unlocked the FOBs, other players can choose to assault your FOB in hopes of stealing your resources and staff. If you’re online during the invasion, you will be sent an emergency mission to defend your base. If you’re not, the game would inform you of the invasion and gives you a mission where you assault the culprit’s own FOB in order to gain back what you’ve lost. If you’ve failed to take action within one week after the invasion, your resources and crew are forfeited to the invader.

In theory, this mechanic is very interesting as you can interfere with another person’s progress through the game. In practice though, this gets incredibly annoying, particularly if you have numerous high level staff and are stockpiling resources on your FOB. There is no way to opt out of this experience the instant you get pass the FOB tutorials, and the game forces you to clear those tutorials before you’re allowed to continue on. If you want to bypass this part of the game, your only choice is to not connect the game to the internet once you built your first FOB. With that, you’re able to gain the benefits of an FOB without it constantly being invaded by other players.

Played Like A Damn Fiddle
A gentle reminder that we are at the mercy of Hideo Kojima when playing The Phantom Pain. We won’t spoil the story, but you can expect his infamous takes on the twists and turns in storytelling. The Phantom Pain has a strong build-up with revelations that will knock most fans off guard, but we wouldn’t say its flawless.  Some story elements are predictable and will lose steam after hitting the second half of the game, but despite its setbacks, The Phantom Pain is not without its strong story moments that will keep fans on the edge of their seat.

While the first half of The Phantom Pain is pretty great, the missions in the second half of the game were not so good. It’s due to the fact that they’re mostly harder variants of missions that were in the first chapter. These missions are harder due to the game disabling some of the game mechanics such as reflex mode and the ability to bring buddies along. Intersperse between these “challenge” missions are a few story missions that attempts to tie up the story completely. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite manage to do that as it was obvious that the story was rushed in order to ship the game to market. What this means is that the late game content is sparse and the story is subpar for people expecting something more.

More to come
The Phantom Pain does contain a multiplayer section, which is to be released soon. Based on what we’ve seen from footage during this year’s Tokyo Games Show, Metal Gear Online looks to be a fun addition to the base game that allows you to abduct other players in a game of team deathmatch. We only hope that the servers don’t spontaneously combust when the mode is eventually released.

We Are Diamond Dogs

Most will expect The Phantom Pain to be Kojima’s magnum opus, since it’s his final involvement to the Metal Gear series as a director in Konami. With all due respect, while the game is indeed his final masterpiece, it’s a wee bit shy of being perfect. Aside from those mentioned earlier, driving physics weren’t the best, and controlling D-Horse wasn’t entirely fluid either. To top it off, there were news circulating that a critical story element was cut out by Konami because.. Konami. However, like Punished Snake, the scars and disabilities did not stop the game from being an excellent one. Like its predecessors before it, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a game worthy for fans and newcomers alike. A game by Hideo Kojima.

Yes, Kojima-san. We liked it.

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