The Phantom Pain Review

The end of an era has finally arrived, and with Hideo Kojima still at the top of his game, The Phantom Pain is nothing short of spectacular.

Kojima is a true master of his craft. The final installment of the Metal Gear Saga once again proves that he is an innovative game developer and an accomplished director. Kojima has adapted Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to fit the zeitgeist of a constantly evolving form of entertainment. Evolving for the better, Metal Gear has become open-world and has provided a progression system that will keep us going for hours without end. The Phantom Pain is a true gem, but it isn’t perfect. For those who have been following the series since the beginning, the final chapter of the beloved character Big Boss, might not be the strongest in the series. Nevertheless, aside from a forgettable online mechanic, the game is still one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played.

Hideo Kojima, know for using an excessive amount of cutscenes and codec info dumps, has listened to the fans and deviated from his usual formula of storytelling. Although I love the hours and hours of cutscenes Metal Gear is known for, this change comes with a fresh take on storytelling which we hardly see in video games. Around 80% of the The Phantom Pain’s story is told in the form of audio logs that you can listen to while you play. Listening to story during missions, is as easy as listening to music. However, by doing it this way, it could make the story of MGSV the weakest in the series. It loses some of its climactic and meaningful moments that might have been more impactful by the use of a cutscene. The game will still keep you at the edge of your seat and will urge you to press forward to squeeze out the smallest bit of story. One can appreciate Kojima’s willingness to try something new and take risks; although this new direction may not please everyone.

Gameplay is where The Phantom Pain truly excels. Just like its predecessors, this installment surpasses the former in both combat and stealth. The most defining aspect of the gameplay is the multitude of ways one can approach any given mission. With strategic planning or even a bit of luck, the player will have a unique and personal experience that will provide countless hours of enjoyment. Choosing weapons, buddies, outfits, support items, vehicles, support drops, bombardment placements, and even changing the weather, will all have meaningful ways of affecting your play style. You will never do a mission the same way twice, and sometimes luck can flip the odds in your favor. There were countless times when I couldn’t find my way out of a situation only for a fortuitous sandstorm to hit and provide the cover needed to sneak past undetected. Other times, Quiet would land a timely headshot on an enemy who was about to yell for help. The game caters to the player and how they want to approach a situation. Do you go the stealth route? Or an all out Rambo styled assault? Do you choose the no kill route? Or do you decide to Fulton every soldier on the map? Whatever play style you choose, it all contributes to your overall rank for a mission. Although the game encourages you to go all out stealth and no kills, it doesn’t necessarily mean that breaking these two variables won’t net you the highest rank possible. The Phantom Pain does a great job of giving you the option to complete a mission with whatever means necessary, but doesn’t severely punish you for choosing the unethical way or even the incorrect way. MGSV genuinely makes you feel as if you’re in the shoes of the greatest soldier that ever lived and is definitely one of, if not the best, tactical stealth games I’ve ever played.

When The Phantom Pain stumps you with an absurdly hard situation, it isn’t a matter of repetition, it’s a matter rethinking the way you play and how you prepare. Equipping more powerful weapons or even more appropriate gear can give you the edge you need to complete your mission the second time around. This gives MGSV a replay value with plentiful experimentation. It can be as simple as waiting for an upgrade on your sniper to finish developing in order to do enough damage to a beefy boss. It can also be as complicated as going into free roam mode and extracting the strongest tank in the game that you can later use on a mission for taking out an entire armada. The game does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re growing in skill, excelling in weaponry, and exceeding in augmentation. You truly are becoming the legend, and every development or upgrade improves your efficiency and intelligence.

Kojima has created a vast open-world this time around. It’s an element that we’ve been seeing in video games lately and has increased the longevity of a game. In The Phantom Pain, there are two free roam playgrounds: Afghanistan, an arid sandy desert, and Africa, a heavily wooded forest. Both maps contain biomes that are wonderful to gawk at and are filed with a variety of things to do. You’ll be spending most of your time in these areas, either by completing main missions, side ops, or looking for collectables. There are 50 main missions in the game, all with a set of extra goals to accomplish and an S rank to be achieved. Achieving S Rank, a perfect score, can be a major challenge and will keep you retrying missions for days. Along with 157 side missions, an extraordinary set list of musical cassette tapes, and a substantial number of blueprints, the game will keep you busy striving for 100% completion. If that’s not enough you can try your hand at capturing the various types of animals the game has to offer, unlocking all the emblems, discovering every registration in the database, or developing every version of each weapon. Furthermore, there’s a Mother Base you’ll need to take care of that will require an immense amount of time and resources to construct.

In MGSV, progression depends heavily on how powerful Mother Base is. Most of the upgrading you will do to Mother Base is by fultoning soldiers. Each soldier has unique weaknesses and strengths that you will need to utilize to increase development. These soldiers will join Mother Base and increase the stats of your attached buildings; stats that you desperately need to upgrade weapons and gear. Moreover, you can expand the size of Mother Base by constructing more buildings that can increase resources, GMP, and soldier limit. It’s a system that feels organic, with different gears working together to create a large complex progression machine. This addictive element will encourage you to get the best staff and the highest research level in order to upgrade the best weapons. Upgrading Mother Base is a slow process, and it will take a lot of patience to get all buildings to level 60. Not to mention the tedious task of firing staff and replacing them with better soldiers you’ll gradually obtain from the field. All in all, Mother Base is fun to perfect and constitutes the core of your development capabilities and online gameplay.

Currently The Phantom Pain features a forgettable online portion, along with a micro transaction system the game could easily do without. Most of the multiplayer consists of infiltrating or defending Forward Operating Bases, an extension of Mother Base that exists in an online virtual space. Resources and soldiers can be stolen from a player’s FOB, which can be substantial at times, but can get rather mundane quickly. In addition, players can infiltrate your base at the most inconvenient times and you will be forced to defend and protect your precious valuables. Sometimes you don’t even get a chance to. Lately, I’ve been waking up everyday only to find an absurd amount of resources stolen and a portion of my soldiers extracted. The aggravating part of the multiplayer is that you can’t turn it off. Your FOB exists in an online space and can still get attacked even when you disconnect, later updating the results the next time you log in. To further aggravate matters, the micro transactions seem forced, mostly by Konami, for a quick cash grab. My advice is, don’t succumb and stay content with the one free FOB. Although it would be nice to have that extra FOB for more combat deployment capabilities, I’ll wait to afford a second one by collecting them with everyday rewards.

MGSV is definitely Kojima’s best directorial accomplishment and features a cast that beautifully complements the narrative. The motion capture is great and the acting is ripe with nuance and subtlety. Although David Hayter was amazing for the series, Kiefer Sutherland as Big Boss, brings the acting chops needed for a great but minimalistic script. Kiefer Sutherland is perfect and it’s a shame that there wasn’t more of him. A shortage of cutscenes and lines will leave you wondering why the decision was made to underutilize the acting talent. However, when the cutscenes do start rolling, you can see Kojima’s work is abundant with detail and artistic vision. The prologue for example, is a masterfully shot tale of rebirth and anguish. From the moment Big Boss wakes up from his coma, to the queuing of David Bowie’s classic song, “The Man Who Sold The World,” the direction is symbolic and electrifying. The Phantom Pain gets off to an amazing start but eventually slows down and starts missing those critical story beats that Metal Gear is known for.

The main storyline of the game, which follows a new antagonist known as Skull Face, is interesting but ultimately isn’t something we haven’t seen before. Aside from a unique nuclear dilemma introduced by our main antagonist, the game follows a formula that we’ve all seen in a Metal Gear game; defeat the bad guy and destroy a giant walking tank. A nuclear dilemma, that for some people, might be a little too far fetched and hard to believe when it starts rewriting history. However, the journey to Skull Face’s wrap up is fantastic and ends with an epic battle. Even though I would’ve loved a little more time with such a fleshed out, damaged antagonist, the inevitable downfall of Skull Face doesn’t seem as impactful as other villains we’ve seen so far in the series. As for the final boss showdown, the battle is literally on an epic scale and will leave you starstruck. It’s an almost satisfying ending that leaves you yearning for more. Nonetheless, the story doesn’t end at the credits and the most captivating moments happen after them.

Some of the more enamouring moments that the Metal Gear series is known for can be found in the second act of The Phantom Pain. It is here in Chapter 2, that the game presents you with the inevitable fate of some of the characters and how The Phantom Pain ultimately fits into the rest of the series. There are two critical moments that are genuinely breathtaking; one with Quiet, and another with a situation at Mother Base. Quiet is easily the best character in the game and her storyline has those crucial beats that will break your heart. She has some of the most conflicting feelings along with a set of mind blowing abilities that make her the center of attention for every scene. The other great moment is a pressing matter you eventually run into at Mother Base that will have your head spinning before pulling the trigger. This chapter is not without its weaknesses and you’ll start to notice them as you get closer to its conclusion. For long time fans of the series, the final chapter of Big Boss and all the related storylines, might not conclude as smoothly as one would hope. It’s a shame to say that you start to notice the inner workings of Kojima’s abrupt departure from Konami. Storylines such as “Les Enfant Terribles” project or Cipher’s eventual master plan either lack in depth or seem to wrap up fast. DLC or even another installment could have been in the works that tied the games a little more nicely. There’s even evidence of an additional mission that was removed from the main game due to being unfinished and added as a bonus Blu-Ray special featurette in the collector’s edition of The Phantom Pain. The whole shady situation between Konami and Kojima was unfortunate and sadly the game suffers slightly from it. Still, the game is spectacular and the development team managed to wrap up the game in the closest way Kojima intended. Not to mention an ending that will be talked about for years to come with players not knowing whether to love it or to hate it.

The ending of MGSV is an intricate and puzzling showpiece. Hideo Kojima is renowned for using twists and this is the most elaborate one he has ever conceived. Like I said before, players will love it or hate it. As for me, at first it was hard to buy into it, while completely leaving me in awe, with an almost sense of betrayal. However, after some time, the ending slowly began to grow on me. I started to see the true mastermind that Kojima really is. Hideo Kojima’s ultimate end goal was meant to have allegorical concepts and an unforgettable experience. In the end, it succeeded, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will stay in our minds for a long time.

All in all, Hideo Kojima’s latest and final installment in the Metal Gear Saga, is a monumental experience. With extremely fun and innovative gameplay, The Phantom Pain redefines the stealth and the tactical espionage genre. It incorporates a unique and risky type of narrative that gives the player control of relaying story at their own leisure. Furthermore, the scale of MGSV is enormous. With a long list of blueprints to develop and collectibles to hunt down, in an open world playground, the game will keep you going for weeks to come. Not to mention a Mother Base that requires an immense amount of resources, personnel, and attention. Precious resources and personnel that can be stolen with an annoying and quick cash grab, online mechanic. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is beautifully shot and masterfully cast, with a talented voice cast that is at times underutilized. It’s a game with an intriguing story and a few astonishing moments, but slight hiccups prevent it from nicely tying the events of the other games. The ending of The Phantom Pain is one for the books. It will blow you away and leave you perplexed, but it won’t please everyone. The Phantom Pain is a game both worthy of your time and money. For long time fans or for newcomers alike, I encourage you to delve into the world of Metal Gear and experience the brilliant mind of Hideo Kojima.


+Innovative Gameplay

+Masterfully Directed

+A Wonderful Sense Progression


– A Forgettable Online Portion

– A Sloppy Tie In With The Rest of The Series


Verdict: Buy

Whether you are a long time fan or a newcomer to the series, you definitely won’t want to miss this game. 

Luis Soto is a writer for The Game Bolt. Graduated top of his class from the N7 program and now specializes in killing reapers. Follow him on Twitter.

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