Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Game


Other titles include "Bait and switch" "Phantom Protagonist" and "Holy shit was that the ending? ...No I mean really was that it?"

I have been anticipating the release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain ever since it was announced separately as Ground Zeroes and just The Phantom Pain and no one thought it was even related to MGS. It was a long road. A road filled with tech demos, interviews, and Geoff Keighley.

I honestly didn't even think I would get the game. The hype and pure excitement I got when thinking about this game was so much that I thought, shit, I'm probably going to die before I get my hands on it. MGS is my favorite video game series of all time, with no close second. So every release is a big deal for me.

And with this release, I actually almost didn't even get the game. In fact, my pre-order had been canceled, someone stole my money and bought Arkham Knight on the Xbox One instead. I have never been so embarrassed and infuriated to look the Game stop rep in the eyes only to be told there was nothing that could be done.

Nevertheless, some family pitched in for me and thus I was able to buy the game.

And buy that fucking game I did.

I put it into my PS4 so carefully I almost took five minutes. I was not letting any sort of bad luck get in the way of my progress.

My journey into Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain began.

It opened with such a bang that I didn't even realize I was sitting in the main menu. That's right. When you first begin the game, shit pops off in such a way that I couldn't have predicted.

There's like 15 minutes of game before you get here and IT'S A WILD RIDE
Big Boss wakes up from his coma to find he's been out for 9 years, he's got a sick metal horn, no left arm, and also a bad case of bed head. All to the tune of The Man Who Sold The World. But there's no time to sit around and talk, because XOF has begun their attack on the hospital and it's time to leave. With his trusty guardian Ishmael, the two begin their escape.

The hospital sequence is highly scripted, only giving you a moment of open gameplay for a minute or two. But the actual narrative moments that occur are exciting and unique in the scope and tone of the rest of the game. It's got the feeling of a horror thriller as you are being chased by a black ops death squad who are killing everyone in their search for you, and The Man On Fire, a vaguely familiar foe who wields the power of fucking fire.

Without going into too much detail, you escape. You are then taken to Afghanistan with Ocelot, your old Snake Eater buddy who may or may not have taken your eye. He's your buddy now and is giving you commands through your iDroid, an era-accurate device that links you to your map, your base management, item development and cassette tapes all with the touch of a button.

You're in Afghanistan to rescue your old friend Kazuhira Miller, who has been taken hostage by some bad people. But in order for you to rescue him, you've got to find him. And that's where the bread and butter of The Phantom Pain comes into play: Well, uh, the gameplay. It's so great. Right away, you are given a Bionic Arm and a tranq pistol, and with your trusty stead D-Horse by your side, you are thrust into the hostile world of Tactical Espionage Operations.

After spending some time being too afraid to get back on my horse, and having Ocelot yell at me for walking around everywhere, I finally committed to the horse and began my search. I tore up and down the dirt roads and sand dunes, hunting down clues and tearing apart enemy forces, yet not being caught. I moved in the shadows like the sneaky Snake I was. And then I found him. Or rather, the fortress he was being held in.

A series of houses and huts and shacks surrounded the prison where Kaz was being kept. Guards at every possible position, hiding in plain sight yet blending into the background, making it extremely hard to sneak in without being caught. I'll admit, I felt not shame in restarting from checkpoints when I got caught. I felt like it was too hard to get right with my limited skillset, and honestly I was rushing a little too much because I was so excited to get to Mother Base and see the next big part of the game.

You get Kaz, you go to Mother Base and that's when the game begins to open up.

This is around the time you will begin developing weapons, items, support weapons, different camouflage, different outfits all together. By upgrading your Mother Base and expanding the struts, you will be able to recruit more people and better help you get better equipment so you can tackle harder missions with more options.

But that's not all you get, you also get the option of fire support. Being able to call down all kinds of aerial bombardments. At first, it's just a regular air strike that will destroy much of anything around it. But as you upgrade it, you will get sleep gas bombardments that will put everyone to sleep in the strike zone, and more.

The big issues with The Phantom Pain begin to show here. Mother Base was a big topic for me, as I was excited to see it brought to life in ways that it couldn't have been in Peace Walker, which was extremely limited by the hardware. Yet in demos and interviews, they talk about how Mother Base was going to be so alive. You'd see vehicles that you've captured driving around, existing alongside soldiers who actually do things around Mother Base, like shooting at targets.

You are supposed to see Ocelot as well as other important characters hanging out somewhere, doing stuff. Mother Base was supposed to be your Mother Base, the place you go to after missions. But in reality, you will only be going there for the showers, which "refresh" you physically and mentally, washing blood away and extending your Reflex Mode length.

And yet, you don't get to hang out with your ultimate waifu Ocelot
With every game, things get cut. Content you may see somewhere else might not actually make it into the game. I understand this. I accept this. It's unfair for me to demand it be in the game when it could have caused an issue somewhere else in the game. I get it. But upon playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and seeing for myself just how many things that were previously announced that didn't end up in the game, it negatively affects my thoughts and feelings on the game.

So many times I ran into scenarios going "Okay, I've already heard them talk about this and - wait - it doesn't work?". Like when people constantly yap at you through the radio. Once upon a time, they said you'd be able to hit a button and shut them up. That is also not in the game. So listening to cassette tapes, which contain more narrative exposition than anything found in the main game was shelved for periods of time because I just couldn't take any more interruptions.

As for the cassette tapes, they are pretty much the only place that any amount of story can be discerned from. You'll do mission, see something in a very, very brief cutscene that no one in the cutscene talks about, and then get a cassette tape where they will talk more about it. Everyone except Snake anyway. He barely talks in the entire game and who ever said he talks a lot more in the cassette tapes are liars. He says barely anything in this entire package. In fact, he talks more in gameplay when ordering DD and D-Horse to do stuff than he does in any cutscene.

The cutscenes are another strange aspect of the game. They are often times so extremely well framed and directed that it's almost surreal that they are either so short or empty. And the problems mostly come back down to Snake and his lack of a vocal presence.

Most cutscenes begin the same way. Big Boss comes in and stares at Kaz, who is angstily suggesting something rancid, like killing people, while Ocelot suggests you think outside the box, play it smart and use your head. Big Boss then turns around and walks away. That's just when people talk at Big Boss. It's even more fucking awkward when the characters ask him a question. I'm sitting here like, fuck, man, just say something!! Grunt, sigh! React! Why's it gotta be so difficult!

Oh hey boss, we're going to persistently torture your buddy for revenge or something I don't know. Oh, what's that? You're not going to say anything about it. Okay, cool, just checking.

Buddies! Everybody needs a buddy. Especially Venom Snake, who's down in the dumps and depressed. Or so I think because he certainly doesn't talk about his feelings.

In this game Snake has four buddies. Five if you count Ocelot because he's a total fucking bro, but unfortunately he doesn't go out to do sneaky stuff with you so you're left with a Diamond Dog, Diamond Horse, Diamond Walker, and Quiet.

You begin the game with D-Horse, who is your early game mode of transportation. He's quick and reliable. At first, I was afraid to use him because I was afraid of this giant new world to explore and I didn't want to get caught. But he's a breeze to use and you have plenty of options even on horseback. In fact, I believe he's your fastest means of transportation even when you've got vehicles and even D-Walker to choose from. D-Horse may be simple, but he's not useless.

D-Dog is easily my favorite buddy in the entire game. You get him randomly in Afghanistan if you pay attention to whimpering out in the desert. You fulton him and then wait. You have to wait for this little puppy to grow. And when he grows.. oh boy. Easily the best buddy in the game as he automatically marks enemies, prisoners, weapon emplacements, vehicles, you name it. He does most of the scouting work for you. And as a benefit, you can have him kill or even stun enemies. He's the perfect companion in a pinch and is always reliable.

D-Walker is unique because it's a mech. A little robodroid walker thing. He's not sentient, and even though you can upgrade him to act on his own judgement, he doesn't do anything. I thought for sure that when I got D-Walker I would never not use him. He can run in stealth mode, allowing him to skate along the desert completely silently, attack guys with his crazy CQC arm, and even take on vehicles. But he's hard to control and it can be confusing to slow him down for just a second. Not to mention his weapon choice is not great until much later in the game so he's kind of inconvenient to use. He is fun to play with, but don't rely on him.

Quiet. I had high hopes for Quiet, but I'm not sure how I feel about her. She's an incredible sniper that acts mostly on her own, with a little guidance from you, the player. Most of the time she screwed up missions, forcing me to restart them over and over again. Sometimes she would refuse to shoot people, and other times I felt like I was running without an actual buddy. When Quiet works, she works. Having her scout an area before I'm anywhere near it and having all of the information I need right in front of me is very nice. Having her cover me in a firefight is another, very exciting aspect. It makes it feel like I'm actually in the shit with someone else, very organic.

But again, most of the time Quiet would seem unresponsive or spend her time jumping around and not doing much. There were many, many times where I'd tell her to shoot a target and have her not shoot the target. I don't know what's up with that, but man it sure was annoying.

She was extremely helpful during certain boss battles though. For example, the Sehelanthropus boss battle where he shoots homing rockets at me. Quiet made quick work of those missiles protecting me and Pequod time and time again.

A picture says a thousand words. Probably because NO ONE IN THIS FUCKING GAME SAYS ANYTHING
While I may have been disappointed by the lack of a satisfying story, or even a conclusion for The Phantom Pain, I'd have to be crazy to leave out how Quiet, first described as a "completely optional side character" somehow has a more important arc and even a conclusion. Her story has a beginning, middle, and end, and it feels right. There's a lot of personality and heart wrapped up in it, even a cutscene or two! It's a sad, sad story. A sort of love story between two enemies who become friends and then see each other off.

I was almost offended, in a way, that Quiet's little sideplot actually had more plot than the main game, since I put 70+ hours into The Phantom Pain before I even beat it and I still don't have a fucking clue what the story was about. But more I was offended that the ending of her story actually had a consequence that bore down on me. Before I knew it, Quiet was gone. And I'd never be able to use her for missions again. I felt cheated, betrayed. I spent hours leveling her up, spending my own money to upgrade her. And in return? She was tortured, and harassed. Berated by the staff, threatened. I mean, I can't say I didn't see it coming.

The cynic in me wonders how long it will take before Quiet is patched back into the game, because, and with all due respect to the artistic integrity, it seems a little cheap that one second you are trying to rescue Quiet and the next you can't bring her with you anymore.

He just kinda has this bored face for the entire game
On the topic of not taking very much, Big Boss was made not to talk because of the facial scan technology. The idea was to have him express his feeling via his face. The issue is, he just kinda looks like this the whole time. Sure, he makes some faces and sometimes he looks real mean, but it's never blown me away. I've never seen a face made by Big Boss(Or anyone in this game for that matter) and went "Whoa! THAT'S REEL, MAN". It just looks like a video game face to me. The only game I've ever seen do such an amazing job at that was L.A. Noire, which is like the inverse MGSV because the gameplay in that... wasn't great.

Because of this, as I've passive aggressively mentioned throughout this post, Snake will look characters dead in their eyes upon being asked a question, and do the above face. Just... stare.

The issue I have with this is Keifer's a good actor, and he should have had a lot more to work with. He does some work as Ishmael in the beginning and that's great. To say it bluntly, Venom Snake doesn't have a personality. So he's bland when he does talk, and boy is that rare.

They had the perfect opportunity to explain this away with that giant piece of metal sticking out of his head, and the fact that he was in a coma, but they just don't. A lot of things in this video game is just never brought up at all, in fact. Miller's eyes are all freaky deeky, and no one talks about that. Miller's missing his arm and leg, and no one even dares to ask about how he lost them. It's a game of "Tell, don't show, but only sometimes, and not even about the important things".

I didn't care for it in Ground Zeroes, and I knew, I just knew I wouldn't care for it here. But I just didn't expect it to be such a huge thing. I am beating a dead horse with this, but fucking hell, he just stares at people who talk directly to him. It's like they said "Well, Keifer's not here today so we'll just forgo any dialog whatsoever!".

It's very difficult to talk about all of the negatives, because under these annoyance lay the biggest and best Metal Gear Solid gameplay I've ever seen.

Hi, I'll be your protagonist for the evening. Oh, I'm sorry, I mean "..."
The Phantom Pain is like a pizza with everything on it. Everything but olives because those are fucking disgusting. Except this pizza is wearing an infinity bandana and never runs out. The game is such a solid display of game design that it couldn't have been designed by anyone but Hideo Kojima.

There's such an understanding of what makes stealth games so fun behind the design of the game and at the same time it gives you so many options that you don't even have to play it as a stealth game. You can totally just run in and gun down people left and right. It certainly won't be easy, because the A.I. in this game won't put up with your shit, but you can. You can drop a supply crate on someones head, knock them out, go in and take down everyone else before they even wake up.

You can sneak into a facility, turn off the power to get them distracted and also slightly blinded, then get your objective and get out before they know you're there. Using your weapons, buddies, and skill can get you extremely far in this game. And it rewards me like no other MGS game has ever before.

I snuck into a facility, got caught, knocked everyone out and got what I wanted. Not before they sounded the alarm and sent a message out to everyone else in the surrounding area. So as I proceeded to the next facility to get what I wanted from them, I was almost blindsighted by a soldier who had been sent from one facility to the other as reinforcements. They had run some 1200 meters from one base to another, all on their own, in real time. I tagged the enemy and was surprised to find even later that they had began to run back, almost catching me again.

It was a small moment, but it made me see the game for what it was. Big, but filled with shit. Enemies will travel in real time, not popping in randomly and popping out. They will move around, and given it's not often that you'll see a jeep driving by - it's mostly trucks - it still makes it feel like things are happening.

That said, the world is kind of empty. It's not the biggest, and it's not filled with as much moving parts as I would have liked to see, but it's still got a lot for you to do, and a lot of ways to do it.

The funny thing about having so many options is that the mission design can be a bit repetitive, for the main missions as well as the side ops.

Many of the side ops involve you doing something once, then doing it again and again and again. I've done like 72 of the 150+ side ops but I don't feel like I've done much because they are mostly all the same. Whereas in Peace Walker, even limited by the hardware of the PSP, you were doing things like destroying containers, hunting fucking GHOSTS, sneaking through levels infested by cleverly hidden snipers, and also taking photos of enemy commanders. You may be saying "But what about those fucking vehicle boss battles?" Well, sure, you're right. Those battles in fact took up more slots than any other side ops in the entire game. But there was other stuff to do in that game.

Sadly, that does not seem to be the case for The Phantom Pain. Most missions require you to go to an area and capture something. You can also "eliminate" stuff, but that mostly means just Fultoning guys as well because they usually have good stats and hey, waste not want not, right?

For the main mission, you are usually rescuing someone or something. It mostly involves sneaking into a place, finding a thing, then escaping the area with it. The fun is in the journey, not the destination, and I agree 100% with that statement, but it can feel a little old when you realize you're 20 missions into the game and 1, very little story has occurred so far, and 2, it's mostly just the same old shit already.

It may be difficult to explain because it may seem like there's a lot of negativity here, but to be honest The Phantom Pain is the best game I've played all year. I got Mad Max also and haven't even played it yet, because I can't possibly put down The Phantom Pain. The systems in place, the customization, the revelation of the ending and the one thing it allows you to do once you beat the game, it's a lot to take in. It can feel overwhelming but it's so rewarding. It's just so much fun.


I don't have to agree with every design choice Hideo Kojima made with this game to love it for what it is. It's also an even more important game for him as it is his last Metal Gear Solid game. It's inevitable that Konami will run the series into the ground with shitty mobile games, erotic Pachinko machines and a reboot at some point in my life. But I've got to say, I've been a fan of Hideo Kojima for the last 22 years of my life, almost the duration of Metal Gear as a whole, and I'll be ready and waiting for whatever he does next.

I think the true Phantom Pain is the feeling I have inside knowing I'll never see another Hideo Kojima MGS game.

I give this game a:


My name is Ryan. I like to play video games and Dungeons and Dragons and all kinds of other cool stuff. I also like to write. This is my website, it's nothing special, but I write about topics from time to time that probably make no sense. But if you think they do make sense, then hang around and check out some other articles. My friends call them "blogs" but goddamnit I've got a URL and everything, so they're "articles".

    Post Your Comments


Post a Comment