Review: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes/The Phantom Pain (PC)

By: Steve Zachmann, contributor

The original Metal Gear Solid is quite possibly the best game I’ve ever played.  If it’s not, it’s most likely the most formative.  I played it in high school, during a time when I was developing more mature tastes.  MGS hit all the right notes for me then; it was mature, but still accessible to a teenager, it’s gameplay was stellar, it’s graphics were top of the line.  Literally everything about MGS was awe inspiring at the time.  Then came Metal Gear Solid 2, and with it, a deep sense of resentment towards the series and Hideo Kojima particularly.

I really hated MGS2.  Not so much because the gameplay was bad, but because in a number of ways I felt betrayed by the series.  First off (15 year old spoiler alert), only playing as Snake for the first few hours of the game was really jarring.  To me, Snake was Metal Gear Solid.  At the time, being forced to play as Raiden was utterly awful.  It wasn’t just that Snake had been replaced either; he’d been replaced by what I felt was whiny, JRPG cut-out protagonist.  I didn’t want that; I wanted Snake.  Still, I begrudgingly played through the game and yes, it’s gameplay was still fantastic.  Then the end MGS2 happened and, as I’m sure Chris can attest to, I completely flipped out.  I won’t go into all of the details of the end; you can look that up on your own if you want.  Suffice it to say, it was – to me- the beginning of Kojima’s disconnect with narrative structure, story telling, and general common sense.  It was the moment I felt the series slipping into some pretentious head-up-its-own-butt Terrence Malick territory.  I was crushed.

I skipped Metal Gear Solid 3, and only recently played MGS4 (at Chris’s behest), which I’ll get into a bit more later.  It was with a deep sense of uncertainty that I decided to take the plunge and buy MGSV.  Honestly, in some ways I think I wanted the game to miss the mark for me.  I wanted to be vindicated in my hatred of the series.  I wanted to be the scorned lover, glad to see the former flame doing badly.  I wanted to be able to say that MGS was a series that became so genuinely dislikable to me that I could laugh at it’s almost certain conclusion.  Well, that’s not what happened.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is one of the finest gaming experience I’ve ever had.  I’m currently about 7% into the game, which means that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, and I can already tell you that I think there’s very little that could sour me on this experience.  For me, this is the MGS game I’ve always wanted.  In many ways it’s the game I’ve always wanted.  It does so much right, and so very little wrong that it’s difficult not to gloss over it’s incredibly minor problems.

I liked MGS4, with the keyword there being liked.  Begrudgingly.  There is so much about MGS4 that I didn’t find appealing that, at times, I struggled to find good things to say about it.  As always, the gameplay is fantastic, but there is far too little of it.  I felt so bombarded with story in MGS4 that it seemed like I watched as much or more, than I actually played.  Not only that, but I did not care for the plot much at all.  MGSV, by contrast, leans hard the other way.  The story feels far more intimate so far; centering on Big Boss and his motivations.  Furthermore, the story is presented in much smaller chunks (so far) and with as much infrequency as I would like.  You see, one major problem I had with MGS4 was that I never knew, from session to session, how much I’d get to play and how much I’d have to watch.  There really is no, 30 minute MGS4 session.  With MGSV, you can choose to roam around, collect some metal and flowers, interrogate some dudes, and maybe do a side-op.  When you’re ready for a big story mission, you do it, on your time.  That is a far better system in my opinion, and one that most open world games provide.

Since I just mentioned it, let’s talk about the open world part of MGSV.  It is, as far as I’m concerned, the finest open world experience I’ve had in any game, ever.  The reason I say that isn’t because worlds like Skyrim or The Witcher 3 are bad, but because the gameplay of MGSV is deeper in a multitude of ways that makes use of the open world.  At any given time there feels like a multitude of different ways to tackle any given mission, side-op or random encounter.  By contrast, The Witcher 3 presents a huge beautiful world to play around in, but presents encounter after encounter where the solution is almost identical.  You choose have to choose the right oil, the right potions, and the right signs.  The enemies dictate your gameplay choices, not you.  That’s not to say that The Witcher 3 is bad.  It’s a fantastic experience that I thoroughly enjoyed, but the homogeneous encounters simply didn’t do the open world justice the way that MGSV’s do.  I haven’t been this intrigued by the possibilities in an open world since Grand Theft Auto 3.

This game has won me over so wholeheartedly that things I would have despised in any other Metal Gear Solid  game I find to be endearing.  I love rescuing animals.  It’s stupid, and it feels a bit out of place, but it makes me feel like a decent person, and in some weird role-playish kind of way, it makes me feel like Big Boss is a pretty nice guy.  I also think it’s hilarious that every mission shows you the cast and that it was, of course, directed by Hideo Kojima.  It feels as if he’s in on the joke at this point, and that he’s just poking fun at himself.

I could go on for much, much longer about my love for MGSV, but I don’t want to, mostly because I want to go play it.  I feel that I have to mention a few other points before I go though.  First, I think it speaks volumes about my appreciation for this game that I actually want to get to the next piece of story..  I’m loving the base management, and the RPG type of elements it provides.  I especially love that it allows me to choose the upgrades I want.  One thing that turned me off about MGS4 was it’s huge amount of weapon choices.  I liked stealth, so choosing between 50 different assault rifles didn’t matter to me.  In MGSV I can go either way.  I choose to develop support items that help me stealth better, but others could develop grenade and rocket launchers.  What’s even better; both approaches seem viable!  It also feels like there is a real reason to not kill everyone though.  Extracting soldiers to recruit is pretty pivotal, and it gives you a reason to want to go the non-lethal route.  In previous MGS games stealth was the supposed to be the point, but often times felt like just a means to an end.  In MGSV it’s so much more important.

Metal Gear Solid V is an absolute masterpiece, and it’s worth every moment you put into it.  In 200 hours or so I may write another piece about it, and perhaps my mind will have changed slightly.  Honestly though, I don’t think that it will.  There is simply too much that this game does right.  Even if it goes completely off the rails in the next 10 hours, I could restart it, play the first 20 or so hours again and be happy.