Convoluted stories and top notch stealth mechanics have been staples of every Metal Gear release. My first contact with the series was back in 2002 when I saw a used copy of Metal Gear Solid 2 for sale at Blockbuster Video. At that time I knew nothing about the series other than the good reviews and TV commercials. I decided to give it a shot and I was blown away by what I experienced. Engrossing story, fun stealth mechanics and beautiful visuals hooked me instantly. The game oozed influences from one of my favourite movies of all time: the 1996 action thriller The Rock. To this day, Metal Gear Solid 2 is still one of my favourite games of all time. When I was offered the chance to review the Phantom Pain I jumped at the chance.
Phantom Pain takes the series in a new and exciting direction with an emphasis on open world gameplay. The game ditches its linear story driven past and focuses on letting you sit in the driver seat. You pick and choose exactly how you go about completing missions and what order to do them in. In some respects, the story almost takes a back seat to the open world. That’s not to say the story isn’t good, because it’s quite terrific. It’s just that there are so many other things to get distracted by: side missions, random enemy checkpoints, roaming animals, building Mother Base and collecting resources. On top of that, you won’t get bogged down watching hours and hours of cut scenes like in past games. The cut scenes in Phantom Pain for the most part are short and sweet.
Phantom Pain contains one of the biggest and most interesting open worlds I’ve ever come across in the game. Every time I was making my way to a story mission marker, I would get distracted by at least half a dozen other things I could do in the environment. The environments feature full day-night cycles and random weather events such as sandstorms and rain. Nothing is more satisfying than being on a mission in Afghanistan and having a sandstorm hit, allowing you to conceal your movements from enemies.
“Phantom Pain contains one of the biggest and most interesting open worlds I’ve ever come across in the game.”
There are literally dozens or ways to approach a mission in Phantom Pain. You can choose to be stealthy or carry an all-out assault. What’s interesting is within each choice (stealth or assault) lie numerous ways to approach a mission. You can choose a particular time of day to carry out a mission, you can approach the enemy from any angle and use any weapon you wish. This is what I love most about The Phantom Pain. You could play the same mission half a dozen times and have a completely different experience each time.
Apart from the game’s main story, you’ll be tasked with looking after “Mother Base” which acts as a home for your mercenary army called the Diamond Dogs. One of your best friends in the field is the “Fulton Recovery Device” which allows you to strap a balloon to captured enemy soldiers, animals, hostages, weapons, and vehicles and send them back to Mother Base. The vehicles and weapons you send back to Mother Base assist in defending the base from outsiders while the enemy soldiers you send back to base can be assigned to different units including research, development, medical, and combat support. These units can produce new upgrades for you to use in the field including weapons, tools, and support vehicles.
It’s important to note that all enemies and objects cannot be successfully sent back to Mother Base. Killed or critically injured enemies cannot be successfully sent to Mother Base so it’s in your best interest to tranquilize enemies as much as possible. Whenever you approach an injured enemy or object you will see a percentage next to the prompt for the Fulton Recovery Device. This percentage represents how likely they are to be successfully transported back to Mother Base. Usually if enemies were at 40% or lower I wouldn’t bother taking the chance and wasting the balloon since they come in a limited supply.
You can even expand Mother Base to house more staff. As you get deeper into the game it’s absolutely mind blowing how expandable Mother Base is. Looking more like a small oil platform at the beginning of the game, the base can be transformed into a floating City with enough upgrades.
Aside from the Fulton Recovery System, your other best friend will be your iDroid device that lets you see what missions are available, call in supply drops, ask for air support and expand Mother Base. You can literally sink hours and hours onto your iDroid device figuring out who to assign to what unit and which weapons to develop. Players who are not fans of micromanagement can get the game to auto-assign staff to different units.
The enemies in Phantom Pain are smart, relentless and adapt to your fighting style. Enemies will flank you, call for backup and adapt to your fighting style. If you knock out or kill too many enemies using headshots, enemies will start wearing helmets. The game even has a new mechanic where if you are discovered by an enemy, the game goes into “reflex mode” for several seconds allowing you to slow down time and carry out a lethal or non-lethal headshot prior to other enemies being alerted. I personally loved this mechanic as it saved my bacon on at least two dozen occasions. One of my favourite tactics was to disable the enemies’ communication system so in the event I am discovered, the enemies cannot call for backup.
The Phantom Pain is beautiful looking game. One of my favourite moments of the game was to sit in a black hawk helicopter between missions and take in the large draw distances, beautiful landscapes and swirling sand prior to touching down. Ambient background noises help lend credibility to the environments making them feel more real and less like set pieces. My only gripe with the visuals is that in tight corners the camera can be a bit clunky, but these instances were few and far between.
Phantom Pain is hands down one of the best game’s I have played in a long time. The open world environment offers you an endless amount of ways to play. Phantom Pain is a game you can sink over 100 hours into and still come back for more. Even if you haven’t played past Metal Gear games, Phantom Pain is a great place to start.
***This game was reviewed using a PS4 code provided by the Publisher***
Micromanagement may annoy some