Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain Review – One of the Best Stealth Games of All Time?

Konami released its much anticipated Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain developed by the now disbanded Kojima Productions and after years in the making. With a series spanning many years and expectations running extremely high from ardent and vocal fans, is this last game from creator Hideo Kojima under Konami the best yet, or even one of the best stealth games ever created? Take a look at our Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain review for the full picture.

Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain Review:

Today we’re taking a look at Konami’s eagerly anticipated multi-platform release of Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain which comes from developers Kojima Productions after years of development and plenty of teasing through trailers and gameplay videos. Now gamers have the finished product in their hands after the rather cool Ground Zeroes prologue game which released last year is this one of the best stealth action games ever made? After 100 hours logged time playing, in a nutshell, yes it does deserve such a high accolade but there’s a downside depending on what your expectations are.

There’s no question the game’s switch to an open world format, a la, Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry is a solid one, in terms of gameplay there’s a real sense of scale and presence felt when wandering the arid Afghanistan lands or the more tropical African wetlands as lead character Venom Snake or Big Boss as he is known as. However, from a story driven perspective the game delivers a less involving experience than previous games aside from the heavily scripted but totally gripping intro mission which was perhaps spoiled by the reveal trailer several years back. Naturally it seems this direction is of inclusiveness where making the overall experience more acceptable to the masses in the absence of 10 minute cut scene which might be wasted on the impatient. In all honesty though if you enjoyed the cinematic moments then sadly they are mostly absent here. Instead players are tasked with delving deeper into the story by way of listening to cassette tapes which are befitting of the 1980s setting and replace the more modern codec calls of the previous games. Cleverly, these are optional so that those uninterested in the lore or going too deep can crack on with the core gameplay without fear of interruption. This is an obvious move and is clever but does leave a sense that many scenes could have been made into fully fledged visual elements expected of the series.

Aside from the lack of depth to the visual narrative the core gameplay is where the game shines and although linearity has its benefits, the open world approach is bathed in solitude and coupled with engaging moments with the enemy as a neat contrast. At the start of the adventure, the open world does feel quite barren requiring lengthy rides on horseback to get anywhere fast but once players hit their stride more respect has to be given to the areas outside of enemy intrusion – although admittedly the lack of random encounters in the wild is a shame. What’s neat about the gameplay is how players are thrust from the seemingly quiet expanse to fully fledged guarded outposts, settlements and key structures making their presence even more thrilling when they appear over the horizon. Players are then free to do as they please and can sneak around during real-time day and night cycles, interrogate lone guards for info, take out entire units one by one accompanied by various side kick characters who each have their own nuances to compliment your approach or goof around with some very unusual gameplay moments such as hiding in boxes or luring enemies with decoys. It seems every element has been thought of here and it’s extremely clever to see how each cog in the grand machine works together to form the basis of some challenging components which can be approached in numerous ways. It’s interesting how enemies react to the player presence over the course of missions where they too upgrade their defences based on how you are playing. You can counter this by disrupting their supplies, but sadly this is not handled by direct gameplay which seems like a missed opportunity. There are elements which make the game too easy in some respects though such as the marking of enemies, seeing them through walls, a slow motion reflex mode when spotted and the overuse of extracting the fallen via Fulton Balloons but these are mostly optional where at any time they can be switched off to make for a more raw experience.

The Phantom Pain is based around bespoke fitting thus making the game your own with a wealth of options such as weapons upgrades and mods, item progression, side kick customization and of course the base of operations “Mother Base” where you become the leader of a fantastic army. The previously mentioned soldier extraction becomes almost like a meta game in itself where not only are you completing objectives to drive the story or side mission objectives but looking out for improvements to your army by viewing the stats of each opponent and capturing the good ones. Again, this is an optional component but is tied to the acquisition of better tools and equipment and therefore becomes paramount to overall success if you want to play the game to its fullest. Mother Base itself is quite barren in terms of things to do offering only spot challenges and some key moments to drive the story. However it also doubles up as a online map for other players to infiltrate and vice versa for those who wish to be connected.

In terms of visuals, The Phantom Pain looks fantastic on any platform with the last gen versions certainly holding their own and the current gen systems falling just behind the only slightly superior PC version. With neat lighting and effects across all versions, it’s a pleasant looking game despite some details from Ground Zeroes being absent. The current gen versions and PC benefit from a smooth 60 frames per second making the gameplay feel highly accomplished overall. In terms of design, the game’s locations are captured flawlessly with some excellent variety even during the day and night. The character designs are also of an expected high standard with some neat moments witnessed during cut scenes and during gameplay.

Audio is also of a high standard with an excellent score and accomplished voice overs from all of the cast although sadly, the main character voiced by Kiefer Sutherland who replaces series vet David Hayter speaks very little outside of the cassette tapes making for a more pensive lead character. This is definitely a step backwards from previous games which fans will no doubt notice right away, newcomers will likely appreciate the more silent protagonist approach.

In terms of length, the game offers many hours of gameplay across two chapters for the main story, which house several endings and a number of side ops, of which can be replayed over and over – we’re 100 hours in and still have much to do. The main story missions are ranked with the aim of scoring the highest S-Rank to gain more cash for your Mother Base or upgrades and various unlockables. The fact players can approach missions with stealth or action using an abundance of weapons and gadgets means there’s much incentive to replay again and again for different experiences each time.

The previously mentioned Mother Base online component is an optional layer for those interested in challenging other players by way of infiltrating their bases at the risk of having their own attacked. It’s a neat side game to mess around with and extends the gameplay even further for those who want a break from the story.

Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain cements itself as one hell of a cool action stealth game and quite possibly one of the best ever created as it playfully appeals to stealth and action gamers in equal measure. Despite the understandable but rather poor final ending, a lack of overall cinematic direction and a lead character who’s less charismatic and more gritty than before and you have an exceptional game that’s been well worth waiting for. Fans of the stealth genre, will relish in the fact that games don’t get much better than this where the AI constantly keeps you on your toes in a reactionary and countering way and the open ended approach gives you plenty of options to toy with. Whilst the overall story presentation might not feel so much “Metal Gear” the gameplay shines through and simply keeps you coming back for more.

Score 9.5/10

Xbox review codes supplied by Microsoft.

Written by: Robert Cram

Robert Cram has hundreds of video game reviews and thousands of articles under his belt. He aims to remain objective and fair in his analysis. With years of experience, feels his gaming opinions are valid and worth sharing. Agreement is entirely optional.