After 22 extremely short hours spanning across two even shorter days, I have completed a mere 21% of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Let that sink in, 22 hours, over 2 days, that doesn’t even count breaks, as all timers stop on suspend mode and I’d suspend my play whenever I was finished. Unless you’re comparing The Phantom Pain to that of a Witcher, Fallout or maybe even Bloodborne, that kind of time/completion ratio is incredible. For more of a comparison: inFAMOUS: Second Son, Saint’s Row IV, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Watch_Dogs and Battlefield 4 are all games I’ve gained the platinum trophy in less than 22 hours. Now, that may not be 100% of everything in those games, but I consider that to be a fair claim to rinsing them dry. Anyway, that’s just a little analogy I wanted to put out there before beginning this article – based around how lost a new player of the Metal Gear Solid franchise can be when jumping into The Phantom Pain.
When Ground Zeroes first came out, I can’t say I was too amazed, at first I just didn’t quite grasp the uniqueness and very different type of playstyle it offered. The controls were new to me, there were a bunch of commands and basically, there was a lot to think about. Bullets or tranq? Hide or interrogate? Scout or rush in? I just didn’t quite get it. Fast forward a week before The Phantom Pain was released, I was now trying to brush up, and more importantly gain the final trophy of unlocking all trials. It wasn’t until this second playthrough where it really clicked, I got it and it felt so damn satisfying. The variety and choice isn’t meant to scare you, it’s meant to overwhelm you, these feelings are similar, yet so far apart. Those aforementioned questions are scary, but it’s about learning the answers and when those answers become relevant. I soaked in the story, wrapped up the missions and read through a few websites to gain a tiny bit of insight into the lore of this new universe.
I’ve tried to keep some kind of structure and outright order in this article, yet as I play, read and learn about this game, there’s even more I want to write about. I wanted to go straight to just how bloody in-depth the game is, but I feel it’d be far more appropriate to talk about the opening first. Thus far there have been no major spoilers, and there most likely won’t be throughout this article. However, if you care about things like name-dropping of characters and areas, small plot-points or interesting things that can happen in-game, please do turn back now and return when you’re more acquainted. As the title states, this is the story of a rookie, so if you’re just like me, then please, enjoy your own newbie story, as it’s a very special one.
Funnily enough, you wake up from the coma you went into at the end of Ground Zeroes. You’ve lost an arm, damaged a lot of bodily tissue and have shrapnel literally sticking out of your head (Imagine Big Boss crossed with a deer.) Fast-forward some world-building and the doctor is telling you to create a new character. I thought to myself “Excuse me, what? I don’t want to play as Jordan, I want to play as the legendary Big Boss, this just isn’t fair.” I spent a reluctant 20 minutes creating a character I’d be happy to play as, when the surgeon is killed not 1 minute after finishing. I thought again, “All of that to further the illusion of free choice, huh?” It seemed like a little rib on the player and if I didn’t know Phantom Pain was as polished as it is, I’d say it was mistakenly left in after Hideo changed his mind on a design idea.
I then spent the next hour running through a hospital trying to escape from what appeared to be Ghost Rider and a flying boy in a straitjacket who could both control fire and rock an awesome orange pompadour. It then dawned on me as to what I was in for, I then understood that creating an unnecessary character was nothing in comparison to this. It was a crazy opening sequence and I didn’t understand any of it, but the sentiment of a classic introduction will forever be in my mind. From David Bowie playing on the radio, to the man with no face who sounded like John Cusack, ending with an assist from Ocelot. Then again, what can you expect from a man who prides himself on fultoning goats into the sky and placing himself in video games?
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is in-depth, I will argue with anyone who says otherwise, the sheer amount of content is unbelievable. Animals, buddies, enemies, environments, items, vehicles, it really does look and feel just like something that could be a military simulator. It isn’t, of course, it’s much more of a stealth-operative simulator mixed with undertones of controlled wackiness. Motherbase is overwhelming, even at its starting point – I don’t know how involved Mother Base was in other games (I’d assume quite a lot) regardless, so far it feels like a living breathing structure. Home to Big Boss’ army, Mother Base houses all sectors of the Diamond Dogs’, including medical, research and intel. All of which have an impact on the field, such as healing soldiers, offering new developments and highlighting important areas on your map. Within these sectors are your allies, some are boring shmucks who salute you on sight, others are far more interesting.
For example, you have the the Diamond Dog, or, DD, named by the oh-so creative Ocelot. You find this little pup in the wasteland of Afghanistan, bring him home and Uncle Ocelot takes care of him while you’re away. Now and then you’ll get updates on the dog about how he’s growing and learning, which is a cute get away from the rest of the game. He goes from licking your face, to failing to jump in the helicopter, to accompanying you on missions, spotting soldiers and mauling them to death on command. Along the way you’ll also find Quiet, the newest addition to my now trio of all-time favourite characters. The list previously consisted of Ellie from The Last Of Us and Penny from RWBY, however, Quiet is just such an interesting character. I mean, sure, she’s wearing hardly any clothes, but there’s reasoning behind it, on top of that, her skills and actions in-game are really something to witness – I’m also not ashamed to say her story was a driving factor for me wanting to play through Phantom Pain.
You also have D-Horse, who unfortunately is just as boring as he sounds, he’s a horse. You can put a gun rack and dress on him, and slide to one side to avoid detection, it doesn’t get more exciting than that; unless of course you count him shitting as “exciting”. Enough about the buddies, though, Miller and Ocelot’s bickering is always an interesting endeavour, which is good as you’ll have cut-scenes and cassettes just full of it! The main villain would appear to be Skull Face, leader of the XOF, which seems to be a sub-division to Cipher, the organisation that attacked Mother Base 9 years ago. He has his own creepy little skeleton mercenaries, as well as the aforementioned Psycho Mantis and his friend who seems to be designed after the Human Torch. It’s hard to convey just how unique these characters are, Skull Face’s appearance is easy to imagine and his personality follows that same tone. However, it goes a lot deeper, he has some kind of merciful side for Big Boss, which is comparable to that of Quiet’s undying loyalty. Then team him with the flying kid who seems to be controlling the man on fire and it becomes a really chilling experience when they’re all on the screen together.
In my opinion, behaviours in The Phantom Pain are just as interesting as any other aspect. An instance where they became very apparent was when I realised that because I was using the tranquilliser pistol and therefore needing headshots, almost all the guards were now wearing helmets. Or, if you throw too much smoke around, they start using gas masks to stop themselves becoming incapacitated from choking. Similar things happen with body armour, shotguns, sniper rifles and cameras, it’s just so fascinating that the enemies you fight can learn and adapt to the player.
Similar to this, if you’re one to be getting down and dirty on missions, you can be damn certain you’ll be punished for it. Sure, Big Boss may look badass covered in mud and blood, but your troops won’t like it, your aim will be shaky and enemies might track you from the flies around your head. Ways to avoid this? Simply having a shower, or wait, long enough and Ocelot will throw a bucket of water over your head. Although, my favourite immersion tool is still one I’ve seen mentioned all across the internet. Around the world you can find a tape of a guard violently using the bathroom, if you have this cassette and ever find yourself on the run, just hop in a toilet and play this tape on your iDroid’s speaker. Other guards will take no suspicion to such a thing because, well, you’re just another guard using the bog. It’s just one more merit The Phantom Pain gets in its crazy attention to detail.
Overall there are around 50 missions and 150 side-ops; some could be perceived as repetitive, although I argue that this can absolutely be justified by the depth of the rest of the game. You may have to extract a guy, eliminate a guy and steal some intel, but the game is a sandbox for a reason. If you’re bored of running in, killing everyone and escaping, that’s not Kojima’s fault, he’s given us the tools, we have to find them and use them creatively. Instead of eliminating, why not try covertly extracting without any sign of entry? Instead of just stealing some intel, why not have a look around? You could find some helpful prisoners, resources or even a blueprint around the place. As well as this, you’ve also got 6 or so objectives that can be completed, adding even more mission longevity. It really is up to you, whether a fortress in Afghanistan, Oil factory in Africa, or a measly outpost on the side of the road; use your creativity and have a bit of fun with it.
It’s clear to me that every environment has been hand-crafted for the events that take place within it, making every environment seem entirely different. I’ll give you a perfect example of the detail that goes into the level design. Some may say this is part of any Metal Gear Solid, or even stealth-based game. However, so far the best feeling in-game for me has been sitting on a curving road overlooking a bridge full of enemies I had to pass and a hostage I had to rescue. For 5 minutes I crouched and marked every enemy I saw, literally planning my tactics on what I’d be doing. “Hmm, should I follow the path and neutralise as I confront? No, if I slide down here I can reach those stairs winding all the way up. Actually, there are stairs there, too, but they’re being guarded.” I followed my second instinct only to be spotted by a guard near the top of the stairs, I neutralised the threat and moved on. As I followed the bridge round, I realised that if I’d gone the third route, I could have gone straight under the bridge and snuck past every guard on patrol. That, is the kind of depth I want in my video games, I’m made to think, I’m made to plan, I’m made to contemplate my tactics and I’m made to understand what the consequences of my failure will be.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is to me, a one-off experience. I’m doing my best not to replay missions or look things up, because I don’t want to unravel and undermine that experience. When I’m done, I’ll definitely be going back, in fact, my hope is that I can gain the platinum trophy before my next big challenge of Fallout 4. However, until I’m done, I’m going to pace this out, I want to enjoy the story, soak in the lore and see the trials and tribulations of my army. Until those final credits roll, I am Big Boss, I run the Diamond Dogs and I will get revenge for the fall of Mother Base 9 years ago.
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