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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC) artwork

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC) review

"We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..."

It was the best of MGS, it was the worst of MGS.

Does that opening bother you? I hope not, because if you're not willing to roll your eyes and soldier on through references to your old high school's required reading list you're going to have a rough time in MGSV: The Phantom Pain. Of course, a little stupidity in the plot of the Metal Gear series never bothered me personally. The series is about building up larger-than-life characters over the course of several hours (or even games), and delivering big payoffs in the form of memorable boss fights and epic, dramatic scenes. The silliness just adds some flavor in between. Does it all amount to much more than an overlong soap opera when it's all put together? Well, that's debatable.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC) image

The only thing I care about storywise is whether or not those epic moments are there. Well, they aren't. Sure, Skullface is there, and he has a few nice moments. And you've got the beautiful Quiet, who gets both a boss fight and some fairly decent attention in the story. Everyone else? Kaz, Ocelot, and other characters I'll refrain from naming get a couple of scenes and a few interviews on cassette tapes. Snake himself is bordering on a silent protagonist at this point, most lines being extremely short snippets the player could easily ignore. His coolest scene is in the opening. With showstopping moments few and far between, and the (I'll go ahead and say it) stupid plot being explained via readings on cassette tape, it's apparent that this has the worst story I've seen in an MGS title. It's all made worse by the fact that the true ending reveals a plot twist so inane that...Hmm. Well, let me put it this way: when Ground Zeroes came out, I read a whacked out, idiotic theory on an image board about a possible twist in TPP. As it turns out, that anonymous user may have been Kojima himself because that twist is exactly what happens.

Why then is TPP also the best of MGS? If you read my review for GZ, the short prequel game to this title, you know that I adored the gameplay that set you in a detailed sandbox and set you loose to achieve your goal. The Phantom Pain lets you do that as well, but the sandbox is now enormous and the toys you have at your disposal are some of the most fun yet put into a videogame. I'm a big believer in games making the player character feel powerful, and I've never felt more like an unstoppable soldier in the MGS series than I do here. Sure, if you get spotted you won't be able to stand around and kill everyone, but with just a little thought you can find your way out of any bad situation.

Pinned down by gunfire? Call in your chopper to provide cover. Small arms fire giving you a hard time? Have a tank dropped in! Need to eliminate an armored vehicle? Why, don't radio in asking for a rocket launcher drop! Simply look at the target's predicted route on your iDroid. Now, pack some C4 in the right spot. Be sure to have your horse stand in the middle of the road so it'll slow down where you want it to. Now boom!

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PC) image

The answer in MGSV is invariably more complexity. There are few times you'll want to wipe the slate clean and start the mission over when things start to go bad: it's just more fun to keep going. You get a lot of leeway here. If you were supposed to kill a target without anyone knowing, and you instead alert the whole enemy base with, oh, I don't know, let's say a rocket attack, it's not game over. The target will try to escape and the mission will be completely changed, sure, but it's not game over and if you think your way through the problem (have a jeep dropped in to give chase, order a bombardment, find the perfect sniping spot, etc.) you'll have a rewarding sense of accomplishment at the end.

There is also a base building element to the game, like in Peace Walker, and staff management and weapons development. The fulton recovery system has also returned, meaning you can whisk away countless soldiers and weapons for your private army with balloons. (See, that's the good kind of MGS silliness everyone loves.) You can automatically assign soldiers to their best departments, or you can let base management become as complex as you want it to be and handle everything manually.

There are dozens of ways to have fun in MGSV, and some of them break the game wide open. A lack of balance upsets some people, but if it leads to more fun than I'm always all for it. Calling in a tank to deal with a sniper in a boss fight on extreme difficulty was one of my favorite moments, and yes, it made me invulnerable to sniper fire. Having my sniping buddy put everyone to sleep with a tranquilizer gun before I arrived at the target location was also a favorite trick of mine. But my favorite was calling in a chopper to attack a base and charging in on horseback with my assault rifle at the same time. It was early in the game, and I fully expected a swift death to punish my utter disregard for stealth. Instead, I survived a tense battle of eliminating soldiers as they attempted to get to their mortars and anti-air weapons as the chopper did the heavy lifting.

It stings that this is likely Kojima's last MGS, and it sucks that the story we have here is so lame. Many incomplete plot threads exist in the game's final act, and maybe with more development time they would have been wrapped up. As they stand, it's just a mess, which is really unfortunate. Go watch the trailers for MGSV and imagine what the story will be and you'll probably have a better idea than what actually happens here. In the end, though, this is an interactive medium, and the gameplay is the best it has ever been in the series in MGSV. No one can argue, as some did for previous titles, that this is a movie and not a game. For MGS fans, it can be a little jarring. But dig in, roll your eyes if you need to, and play on anyway. It's worth it.

Germ's avatar
Community review by Germ (September 27, 2015)

Jeremy plays video games, sometimes.

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dementedhut posted October 23, 2015:

Ha, looks like you decided to use the more "extravagant" choices to your advantage! I never would have thought of using tactics like a tank against a sniper, and it's likely because I'm so stubbornly rooted to the oldschool ways of Metal Gear stealth. I think that's MGSV:TPP's biggest strength in terms of gameplay, that not everyone is going to have similar experiences. Even nearly two months after the game came out, I'm still reading up on silly methods when dealing with soldiers. Thanks for the read!

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