mystyr_e's Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PlayStation 4) review

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Can something be a disappointing triumph?

There is this notion in some videogames where if you play up to a certain point, that's when things really start getting good and the "real game" kicks in. Usually I mark these as a videogame having a poor opening, not immediately passing judgment on a game can pay off in the long run if you stick with it and in the case of Metal Gear Solid V, I honestly can't pinpoint the exact spot where the game became a disappointment to "you know, it's actually pretty good." While the gripes I had at the start didn't disappear once I was finished (38 hours, 40 some minutes), the game gradually started to warm up to me though I'd prefer the game hit the ground running and stayed there.

After the attack back in Ground Zeroes that left Big Boss injured and in a coma, the game opens up 9 years later as he tries to escape a hospital from an assassin and some dude on fire. One of the most intense openings in a game, Big Boss eventually escapes, rendezvous's with Revolver Ocelot and Kazuhira "Kaz" Miller and starts up the "Diamond Dogs", a new mercenary group intended to uncover who was behind the attack from 9 years before and the group known as "Cipher" while also investigating reports of a new Metal Gear.

Normally it's very difficult to talk about a Metal Gear game in terms of plot since there's so much crazy and talking and wackiness, that it's better to just experience it for yourself but this was one of the bigger disappointments of MGSV: the story just isn't very good. While the quality of the games were hit or miss (it's like reverse "Star Trek" movies where the best MGS games are the odd-numbered), tonally the games shifted from distrust of government and use of soldiers in their conflicts, with guys with flatulence problems, a soda-drinking monkey and scissors! 61! MGSV on the other hand seems rather tame in comparison and while there's definitely some memorable sequences, the game leaves with more questions than answers, plot threads are unresolved and the very structure of the game starts to get repetitive. Luckily the gameplay makes up for it but in terms of story, this is probably the weakest of the series.

In one of the initial trailers for MGSV, one of the shots announces "Metal Gear goes open world!" and maybe that was when the alarms should've gone off. Metal Gear Solid games in the past, while allowing backtracking and offering slightly large areas, have always been very directed and linear in its pacing and experiencing the game at a steady clip. Open world implies a make-your-own-fun structure with the player free to choose how it wants to play the game and for the most part, MGSV does offer almost a staggering amount of activities to do. Not only this but the different play styles and options in how to accomplish objectives makes the core gameplay a simple joy with the controls feeling so smooth, well aside from being unable to crawl off a 3 inch rock, and it is quite unfortunate that the last Kojima game in the Metal Gear series is also the best to play.

Using your trusty "iDroid", Big Boss can select missions and side missions however somewhat annoyingly you can only activate missions when you're on your helicopter and while the amount of activities is fairly large, the variety of these activities is woefully small as there's a lot of missions where you have to either extract important personnel, assassinate certain targets, destroy armored tanks and weaponry or steal blueprints. Shuttling back and forth between Afghanistan and Africa, your missions will often take you back to the same locations and made me wish the game gave me a spray paint bottle so I can put a "Big Boss Was Here" and see how many times I did revisit areas. The story missions themselves don't help either since many of them alternate between taking out Cipher targets or extracting similar targets or your run-ins with characters known as Skull Face, the Man on Fire, and the Skull unit. The latter don't show up enough and the former is too common yet too interchangeable and that's nothing to say of chapter 2. A hint: you don't have to do all those story missions offered to get to the end.

Another addition which you manage with your "iDroid" is in regards to your mother base, a bunch of metal struts located....somewhere and this is where you can manage your staff and which section of the base they work, building more sections to the various struts and develop more guns, items and tools you can use on your missions. While the slight RPG constant progression can give players goals to shoot for, having it be tied to real-time waits is such a bother, I wonder why it's even a thing. The time to develop the various projects is based not only on real-time waits, but it's based on your wait in-game so if something takes 40 minutes to develop, you can't just turn off the game, wait that amount of time, and then come back and instead have to physically be in the game for 40 minutes. Why this was developed in such a way, I don't know and the game merely loses from it yet it's such a core part of the game.

After the breakup of Kojima and Konami, Metal Gear Solid V can either be seen as the "real" ending to the series or part one is over and part 2 is whenever and whatever Konami wants to do with the series. It's clear the overall goal of what the game was trying to accomplish was constantly in flux and it's hard to tell where the Kojima branded weirdness (such as opening credits for every.single.mission, spoiling its character appearances and becomes less tolerable as time goes on) begins and where the Konami (microtransactions) ends. Story cinematics and the repetitive natures of the missions suggests potentially a more varied game but what we get instead is the most fluid and enjoyable gameplay Metal Gear Solid's ever been yet attached to a poor story and a game structure that grows more tiring as it goes on.

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