boxart
Game Info:

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Game Title: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Developed By: Kojima Productions
Published By: Konami Digital Entertainment
Released: September 1, 2015 (Worldwide), September 2, 2015 (Japan)
Available On: Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Violence, Strong Language)
Number of Players: Singleplayer (campaign, with semi-optional involvement in a limited multiplayer experience)
Price: $19.99
(Humble Store Link)

When it comes to the "tactical espionage action" genre, Hideo Kojima's "Metal Gear" series is the bar setter, and in his final work in this series, The Phantom Pain delivers the gameplay of hiding from enemies while accomplishing your goals style of play fans have come to expect, but like all the previous Metal Gear games, it delivers some new twists on the formula.

The story starts nine years after the events of prequel game Ground Zeroes, where Big Boss was in a helicopter explosion that put him in a coma. He awakens to find he's missing a hand, his enemies are still trying to ensure his death, and that threats new and old are both once again trying to make not just a Metal Gear, they are also working on even worse engines of destruction, unless he decides to intervene.

The plot focuses on the theme of "Phantom Pain," as everyone in the story has suffered a kind of loss that leaves them feeling pain inside the void of their loss. Language is also a major theme, with its power over men and nations explored alongside the themes of phantom pain, and these twin themes are married to exploring the world of private forces in the Soviet-Afghanistan conflict and the military struggles in Africa circa 1984.

Most of the gameplay is an updated version of that presented in the prequel, with an updated base building mechanic from the prior Peace Walker. Big Boss must not only show his skills in stealth to achieve his goals, he's got entire armies willing to destroy him, and that means he needs to recruit his own forces to even the odds.

Much like in Peace Walker, this base building mechanic involves knocking out enemy forces, using the Fulton Balloon to send them back to his Mother Base, and then convert them into forces for his army. As Big Boss does the various story and side missions, his fame allows him to attract volunteers who will augment his team, alongside prisoners he can rescue who will also bolster his side.

The base building mechanic is split into several wings. Combat troops will be deployable on missions in the place of Big Boss, and can also be sent on combat missions to acquire funding and resources for Mother Base. Intel troops give a better picture of enemy deployments and resources to be found in the areas you deploy. Medical personnel keeps the troops healthy. Support troops process what you acquire from the field, and security forces keeping rival forces from encroaching on your base. Finally, the research team helps develop new weapons and other gadgets for better mission progress.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Highlights:

Strong Points: Excellent open-world gameplay; excellent plot; an incredibly stable and scalable game engine that works on all kinds of computers
Weak Points: Fluky internet connectivity
Moral Warnings: Intense blood and gore; some strong language fit for prime-time movies; some revealing outfits that show a considerable amount of skin; disturbing imagery of disease victims and corpses; depictions of child soldiers and other war crimes; allusions to atrocities like rape and genocide; depictions of torture

There is an online component semi-baked into the main game where other players can launch strikes against your base to attempt to steal resources and troops, and you can return the favor, though this game is playable offline. However, additional resources and certain items are not usable offline, so it's up to the player if they want to accept the risks along with the benefits of the online portion of the game. This is independent of the Metal Gear Online mode, which is a completely different game experience (and as such is not addressed in this review).

The main campaign and side missions focus on deploying to either the Northern Kabul region of Afghanistan or the Angola-Zaire region of Africa, where both offer a wide-open sandbox-like area with many places to go and explore for various missions. These areas contain enemies, resources including wild animals that can be extracted for money for your Mother Base, and various vehicles and combat buddies can be deployed and found in these areas to facilitate smoother transportation around these world hubs to more easily accomplish missions.

Graphics are very well rendered, especially if you have the horsepower to use max settings, and the dusty badlands of Afghanistan and the jungle underbrush of Africa are rendered in stunning detail. Even low-end gamers will find this game looks surprisingly beautiful. Character animations are generally excellent and facial animation looks quite good. There are some minor glitches where objects can float in the air at times, though this will only be noticeable in rare instances at best.

Sound is excellent, with a tense soundtrack that sets the mood, sound effects for the environment and weapons are crisp and highly accurate to the setting. The game provides multiple languages you will hear in-game, along with an option to provide subtitled interpretations of enemy dialogue, as you will hear various Asian and African dialects and understanding what enemies are saying will be critical to successful infiltration. For those who speak these languages, the game will provide a nice multilingual bonus for those fluent in multiple tongues, and for story reasons, the languages spoken by your troops will be critically important to keep in mind for several reasons.

Controls are accomplished via keyboard and mouse or controller, either works fine on PC, though an Xbox style controller is heavily recommended. The game interface is quite helpful and keys can be rebound as needed, though I found the default setup to be quite intuitive.

Stability is something I'm pleased to report is amazing. The FOX engine that powers this game scales insanely well, to the point this game is playable on some surprisingly terrible computers with more than acceptable performance. While primarily a Windows game, there is marked degree of success running it under Proton on Linux, though both Windows and Linux gamers are both subject to the somewhat fluky servers for the game, which I noticed can disconnect seemingly at random on the game's end, even if your internet connection is otherwise excellent. This can be a problem for those who make frequent use of the online additions to the campaign. That aside, this game is rock solid stable offline.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 96%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 44%
Violence - 2/10
Language - 4/10
Sexual Content - 5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10
(+3 for a strong moral on the evils of revenge)

Modding is not officially supported (and those wishing to use Metal Gear Online are advised to not attempt it lest they get server banned), but this also works well. The Lua scripting the game uses easily lends itself to some impressive mods to extend gameplay and add new costumes and content due to a still-active modding community. Unfortunately, modders cannot restore a lot of the cut content that the game still has due to the incompleteness of many dummied out assets, but modding can still add a lot of fun to the game experience.


Morally, MGSV: TPP is going to be pretty bad.

Violence is a BIG part of the experience. The prologue level is an excellent cross-section of the violence you can expect, where you get to see innocent people brutally murdered in all sorts of gruesome ways, all done by said murderers so they can kill you. Gore and blood will also be profusely displayed in many scenes. The game does reward the player for going with non-lethal, and aside from gunships (which must be dealt with lethally), it is entirely possible to take down everyone and everything else in some form of non-lethal manner and it is actively encouraged by the gameplay and plot.

Language and sexual innuendo are crass at times but no worse than prime-time TV movie level at their absolute worst, at least with the English dialogue. As the game has multiple languages spoken and players may be fluent in more than one language, some commentary may come off more or less offensive depending on their native tongue, though the subtitled English translation tends to match up with the rest of the native English text in terms of content level.

Sexual content concerns two things. The infamous "Quiet", who has an in-game medical condition requiring she wears little clothing (but this still means she walks around looking like a stripper unless you unlock some bonus outfits for her that are much more conservative). The other is that some of the outfits for your female operatives can be a bit on the revealing side, but aside from a fair degree of exposed cleavage, they generally stay in the realm of mostly good taste (or are meant to be thematic, like The Boss' sneaking suit homage showing the snake-shaped scar she got in the lore). There are some bikini outfits for both males and females, but these generally tend to be no worse than most real-world swimwear (of the more sensible variety), covering the essentials more than adequately. Finally, some of the audio and at least one cut-scene depicts an attempted rape or allude to such, but these are either not explicitly shown or thankfully are averted in time.

The occult and supernatural have an oddly low presence in this game compared to other Metal Gear titles. There are some scenes where you see fantastical imagery (chalked up mostly to hallucinations), and there are a few characters with psychokinesis and other phenomena, but the game always tends to tie these abilities back to some scientific explanation. While Muslims and their religion as well as the native beliefs of some African tribes are mentioned, they are as a result of historical reference, given the game is set during the mid-1980s and you play in the Afghanistan and Angola regions where such would be commonplace.

In terms of ethics, this game has an interesting depiction of revenge, particularly how empty and meaningless it is, and while the theme of obtaining it is a big goal for many in the plot, it actually serves to deconstruct it, showing how even successfully obtained vengeance leaves one feeling more empty than before, with many expressing regrets at the evils such motives led them to commit. Nonlethal gameplay is strongly encouraged, and while one can build nuclear weapons as a game mechanic, their dismantlement and disarmament are commended.

Further, the game actively punishes the murder of prisoners, allies, animals, and helpless enemy combatants, changing your appearance to reflect your demonic barbarity until you cease such cruelty (and your acquisition of resources and recruits will suffer as well). Killing children is outright punished with an instant game over, and it's condemned in-game to continue the cycle of violence that dooms many into being child soldiers, with their rehabilitation being an explicit focus.

Overall, the game has a lot to say about how war harms people and the environment and you are encouraged to play in a nonlethal style, capture or non-lethally take down enemies where possible, and make every attempt to rescue endangered wildlife, children, and innocent people.

This all said, this is a brutal, dark game that showcases many acts of cruelty, barbarism, and the sadness caused by the war economy of private forces hired to make money off the business of conflict. You are encouraged to remain as humane as possible despite all this, but this game will still depict a lot of subject matter only mature adults should experience. As for its merits in terms of gameplay and content, it has a lot to offer and despite having a lot left unfinished in terms of concept, it's still well worth the purchase price for any Metal Gear fan who wants to play one of Hideo Kojima's finest works.