After Nearly 30 Years, Metal Gear is Still Defining the Stealth Genre


Game: “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”

Platform: Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC

Developer: Kojima Productions

Publisher: Konami

Released August 1, 2015


I would like to preface this review by making it clear that I have never played any of the other “Metal Gear” games prior to writing this review, however after playing “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” I soon plan to.


Never before have I played a game that manages to be so non-linear without sacrificing a strong narrative. Immediately after selecting a mission in “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” the player is to select from around 3 drop zones that dictate where the mission will start. You can then choose your prefered loadout.


It’s surprising how much variety there is within the loadouts. You can equip only weapons modified to stun or incapacitate and go for no kills, or equip a grenade launcher and machine gun and fight your way through a mission. Loadouts also include options like uniforms that will affect your likelihood of being spotted on certain terrain, or buddies, NPC support characters that are surprisingly well implemented. The player can then chose the time of day which will affect where the guards are and how they behave. The game does become more linear during missions that are more important to the story, but there is never a clear path through a mission that the developer clearly wanted you to take.


The story of Metal Gear Solid V takes place in 1984 after the events of “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker” and “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeros.” “Venom” Snake or Big Boss is put into a coma after his Helicopter is destroyed during the raid on Mother Base, the headquarters of his PF (Private Force) , by a rival PF “Cipher.” He wakes up in a hospital just as it’s being raided by Cipher. After escaping, Big Boss is then tasked to find and recruit the old members of Mother Base to his new PF “Diamond Dogs” as well as rebuilding Mother Base. Boss eventually learns about a “weapon to surpass Metal Gear” being developed by Cipher and tasks himself with destroying it.


This will take you to the deserts of the Russian occupied Afghanistan and the PF controlled jungles of Central Africa. However I wish that there were more weather effects than having solely sandstorms in Afghanistan and rain in Africa. Another issue is that the Africa map is small and areas get reused sometimes. This is especially problematic because most of the story heavy missions take place in Africa. The game also has some moments that try to be shocking with missions where you might need to sneak through a village filled with child soldiers where you can not use lethal methods. Instead you need to rely on stun and sleep weapons. However while they do add variety they don’t feel morally grey.


The story is long, it took me about 29 hours to complete, but it doesn’t rely on padding. You always understand why a mission is important and there are never times when the context of the mission is akin to “I can help you later, go talk to _____ he will tell you what to do.” When not directly related to the main story, a mission will be a contract for Diamond Dogs that makes you feel like you’re running a PMC.


My biggest issue with the story is that most of the subplots are not resolved at the end and are instead left for postgame side missions known as “Side Ops,” however the narrative is weak in these and it’s not as satisfying. All together the story didn’t leave me with much to think about afterwards. It’s nothing like, for example “Bioshock Infinite,” where I would constantly think about the world in which the game takes place and the shocking moments in the plot. So to sum it up the game has a very strong story for an open world game but in its whole it isn’t thought-provoking.


The gameplay can be incredibly varied depending on your playstyle and loadout, but at it’s heart it’s a stealth game, and a good one. The biggest change is the ability to do recon and scan targets with your binoculars and then track their position so you don’t get caught off guard later. Another big addition to the gameplay is the fulton device, a balloon that extracts sleeping or unconscious enemies and prevents them from waking up and being an issue later as well as guaranteeing that their body won’t be found by other guards. This is very useful as how the sleep pistol is one of the few effective stealth guns because suppressors degrade quickly on other weapons. Anyone you extract then joins Diamond Dogs. New recruits are put in different units that all have different functions. For example your research and development team can develop new weapons at higher levels.


The AI is often unpredictable. If they see you they could go and investigate alone or call a buddy, or they could also call their headquarters before coming and checking where they saw you, ensuring investigation if they go missing but also giving you time to escape. Once you extract a soldier with the interpreter skill you can hear and communicate with Russian or African speaking enemies. One of my favorite tactics was sneaking up behind someone with my gun drawn so that they put their hands up. You can then interrogate enemies to learn vital mission info or guard locations. Repeating tactics will cause your opposition to be outfitted as well as respond differently. I used smoke and the headshot-only sleep pistol and eventually I started seeing gas masks and helmets. I even heard some guards talking about how they were granted the ability to call in helicopters if I escalated a mission into a firefight.


Although, speaking of firefights, there is an issue there. I rarely ever died because if I was sneaking and was detected, I could just shoot all my problems away. It supports the “Play Your Way” style of gameplay that “Deus Ex” created better than previous entries (from what I have heard), but doesn’t make the game feel challenging. Plus, is “Play Your Way” really necessary in a game franchise known for creating the stealth genre? Although,  in previous games like “Dishonored” I would just load my previous save upon discovery because it’s too hard to fight guards, and that shattered immersion into powder.


The health regeneration only works as long as the player isn’t sprinting. This can make fights extremely intense especially against bosses. There is also a mechanic where when shot, Big Boss gets covered in blood. Once bloody, hostiles will spot you easier, making it harder to go back to sneaking after a firefight. Luckily there are no detection walls where it instantly fails you if discovered like in some games, *COUGH* *“Assassins Creed”*.


“Metal Gear Solid V” also has one of the best implemented companion systems, or as it refers to it “The Buddy System.” Stupid name aside, this was the first game where you actually need to give commands to your companions. Take for example the sniper “Quiet,” if you want you can do nothing, have her follow you and shoot someone if it gets rough. Whereas, if you use the command wheel you can have her shoot a target, lock on to a target, provide cover fire, and shoot a throw item in mid air. although the last one seems like the developers ran out of ideas for commands because it’s pretty conditional.


One of the problems with the game is that the cover system can be hateful at times. On several occasions I would be up against a wall watching a guard walk ever closer almost into range of my melee attack only for him to see me because I thought I was locked to cover but was actually just pressing my face up against a corner.


The missions don’t seem to have much variety since most of the missions revolve around freeform infiltration and extraction missions with the rest being occasional convoy ambushes. I wish the ambushes were freeform with a mission where the player hears of a passing convoy, interrogates guards to find its route and then plans an ambush accordingly.


The game advises you to find a high place to scout out a mission but in this seemingly harmless aspect lies my biggest issue. Climbing is broken. Or rather, not dynamic. You can only pull yourself up certain onto chest high ledges. this often leads to running up to a ledge you can’t climb. Also, If you try to run up a hill that’s too steep you will slide down. This becomes a problem when you are running along and you step anywhere with any slope at all with an angle of more than 45 degrees. It’s the worst when a ledge gives you the ability to climb onto a ledge with a 46 degree slope on the two inches by the ledge, only for you to slide back down. This happened around 6 times to me!


The boss fights are mostly weak with no real sense of accomplishment afterwards for reasons I won’t ! SPOILERS ! However, the final boss fight is one of the best to date. Without any spoilers, it captures the feeling of fighting a massive opponent in an incredibly intense way. My favorite part of the gameplay is that every mission has a story to tell your friends afterwards, a story you made. You always do something cool except that you were clearly not meant to. This is a strong antithesis to high action set piece games that are extremely scripted. One of my favorite things that I did was when I tossed a smoke grenade over a wall to where 5 guards were investigating a body, equipped my night vision and took them all out silently. In a game like “Call of Duty” it’s expected you do something like that… once… in a highly scripted section of the game… and if you messed up it would restart you to do it again.


The game has a strange sense of humor that juxtaposes against but does not ruin the mood of the game. It’s funny how at one moment the story can be focused on the ethics of fighting child soldiers in a mission, but if you fail it one to many times it will let you wear a chicken hat that prevents you from being detected. However some jokes get old fast. Take for example the fulton. When you use it, the person sits in place for a second and is then jerked up into the sky at an incredibly high speed. It’s funny the first couple of times but on number 300 the joke wears quite thin and no one’s really laughing anymore. The jokes that don’t get worn out can be funny at times, and the humor doesn’t break immersion.


This game is excellent in almost every way: the gameplay is great, the story doesn’t feel padded, and it has incredible immersion. However, the lack of conclusiveness at the end and the severe lack of postgame content, especially for an open world game holds it back. If the missions that wrap up some of the important subplots were before the ending, it would have been much conclusive. However the flaws I have been pointing out barely affected the overall merits of “Metal Gear Solid V”. This game is incredible, and it is one of the best stealth games I have played to date.


“Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”

Rating: 9/10