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Metal Gear Solid V Review: Metal… Gear!?

We review Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the last of the Metal Gear Solid saga

Metal Gear Solid has always been a special franchise. MGS1 and MGS2 were console-defining games, MGS3 took the convoluted story and started to make some sense of it and MGS4 really put a neat bow on the whole thing. MGSV was touted as the game that was going to tie up all the loose ends that 4 had created and really flesh out the whole mythology of Metal Gear Solid. Oh, also it was going to be open world and have really big maps! Yay, right?

A Phantom Pain in my ass

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After spending over 60 hours in the new Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain, I am faced with a pretty gnarly conundrum. For what it is, MGSV is probably the 5th best of the main Metal Gear Solid franchise. Now, before you get angry and start huffing and puffing in the comments section, let me spoil this review for you: the game is a great game. I’m still enjoying it quite a bit, but it’s the most drawn-out and uninspired game of the entire series. How did this happen?


The game itself starts with a bang. The opening is easily the most iconic moment of the entire game and really sets the tone that Metal Gear Solid is back! Then, after a quick cutscene (quick for a Metal Gear) you are on a horse and on your way to rescue “Kaz” Miller.

“This Metal Gear Solid lacks a solid story, which is the heart and soul of the franchise.”

As soon as you wrap up the first mission, the game and story drop off quickly. You are given a list of missions that you can around and complete, a la Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. At any time, you can call a helicopter and return to Mother Base to manage the growth of your army, which will consist of prisoners you rescue and enemy combatants you tied fulton balloons to and sent to the base. There’s always so much to do, but by chapter 11, the issue made itself abundantly clear. This Metal Gear Solid lacks a solid story, which is the heart and soul of the franchise.

Maybe it’s the fact that Kiefer Sutherland’s Big Boss sounds like a 50-year old alcoholic that is recovering from a stroke, or that he almost never talks to any other character in person. Perhaps it is the lack of a real codec system that allows you to directly communicate with your team? By the time I got to Africa, I realized that the cutscenes that featured even just a taste of story were what I was finding myself anticipating. Just to reiterate because I feel I am shitting all over it: Metal Gear Solid V is a great game. Kojima did something different, it worked in a sense but failed miserably too at the same time.

A diamond, no matter how imperfect

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The things that Metal Gear Solid V does great are fantastic. The controls are the tightest they have been, which is great because precision is key when you need to be stealthy. Audio is pretty great, sound effects and music blend into gameplay without actually being overbearing. There’s even tons or 80’s music you can find and play in all sorts of inappropriate situations. Even the game’s difficulty continually stays at an optimal level as you play, partly because enemies will eventually adapt to your play style and force you to start thinking outside of the box. Hell, even for the flak she is getting, Quiet is one of the coolest and most intriguing characters I’ve encountered within the Metal Gear universe. She even has one of the greatest scenes in the entire game.

“Hm, this is a Metal Gear Solid game after all…”

I really enjoyed all the neat utility that Snake’s prosthetic arm adds into the game, up to and including the super silly rocket fist. I also enjoyed hunting down soldiers that had desirable stats so I could spirit them away to Mother Base so they could help me make lots of cool stuff when the time was right. The moments where the story took over were gripping and awesome entertainment. When you elect to bring Quiet back to Mother Base, there is a scene with AWESOME tension. It was a moment that made me say “Hm, this is a Metal Gear Solid game after all…” That isn’t the only great scene though, there is a young kid named Eli that has some very unique motivations that contrast the last child soldier Big Boss (Snake) worked alongside. There’s a lot worth talking about, but I don’t want to spoil any of the story because Kojima did end up tying up some major loose ends but it would ruin the whole game to explain.

Farewell Kojima and Metal Gear

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The game suffers from the exact same issue that Dragon Age: Inquisition does. There’s just too much to do in such a large area that you lose focus and direction. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cast of characters to provide any real guidance from the sidelines to actually make you feel like there is any urgency to take on the next mission. At one point, there is some seriously heavy stuff going on that requires my immediate assistance, instead of jumping on a helicopter and flying back and handling it, I ran around for about a day trying to capture rare animals in Africa.

“There’s just too much to do in such a large area that you lose focus and direction.”

I could sit here and gush about how fun it is to search for all the little secrets and how big the maps actually are. I could explain that the game really opens up as you become more experienced and using new tips and tricks will make things happen much faster. This review could easily be 3000 words long and I’d still have things to say about this game, like the gratuitous customization options available .

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That’s probably the most amazing thing about it, the experience is polarizing and I imagine my love/hate experience with it is something that many players will struggle with as well.  This may be the first game I’ve ever played that I found myself loving so begrudgingly. It says a lot about the good and the not-so-great of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

The Good
The game is built around combat and exploration
The crafting and staff management aspects of the game are cool
Side Op missions will keep you coming back for more and will guarantee that there's a massive amount of content available.
So many unlockables and secret gear
Supporting characters are cool and the moments that the story takes over are simply amazing
The Bad
The story is available in spurts and incredibly spotty
Venom Snake is bland and boring, although this may be intentional
Many moments in the game feel rushed, including the final mission
Halfway through each of the zones, the game starts to feel painfully grindy and repetitive
9.4
Overall
Buy Now

Longtime games journalist and Florida resident. I'm a Guinness World Record holder, wordsmith extraordinaire, MOBA fan, devoted dad and husband. I'm here to spread the gospel of video games.

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