Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – a short review

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the latest and maybe the last game in the franchise to have Hideo Kojima’s name attached to it. This is a franchise I’ve heard about quite often but frankly played very little: my last interaction was a PC port of Metal Gear Solid some 15 years ago, and to the best of my memory I don’t think I finished it.

Which is surprising then, that somehow I still remember how that game felt when I played it, and therefore I felt completely at home in MGSV. In my view this game is great demonstration about the power of a “vertical slice” that is extremely sticky/addictive – the core gameplay of stealth infiltration in a modern military setting is essentially the same, and yet after dozens of hours spent I still feel compelled for “one more mission”.

The layers wrapped around this vertical slice are hit and miss, in my opinion. The plot feels like a direct-to-video action flick that has gone off the rails, with the opening prologue especially faulty as a case study of “what NOT to put your players through in an opening level”. The base-management/R&D meta-layer is reminiscent of X-Com and Syndicate (especially having to farm missions for bodies really echoing indoctrinating civilians in that 90s classic), in a generally good way. And I didn’t venture into the online play much, but at a glance it felt like multiplayer ideas from mobile games such as Clash of Clans were liberally referenced, and probably can provide some light diversion for players still wanting more action.

And then there are the level designs… Generally speaking I found the occasional boss-fight levels to be unsatisfactory, because they typically broke the stealth gameplay and required you to go loud and confrontational. Otherwise the levels felt well-crafted, and felt like puzzles with multiple solutions available. Combined with the variety of equipment available (and therefore gameplay styles), the whole package made for very high replayability. The design of having optional mission objectives hidden in the first play-through felt a bit cheap though (as a gimmick to force replays for completionists), especially given the sheer amount of content packed in the number of missions / side-ops available.

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