That subject line is far from a typo.
One of the definitions of phantom is: an illusion or distortion of the senses.
Metal Gear Solid V appears to be a Metal Gear Solid game but that is an illusion.
It is in fact a open world sandbox game with a Metal Gear paint job. Don’t be fooled though. Even though it has the appearance of the quirky greatness of past Metal Gear Solid games it lacks the polish to even put it on the other four games’ level.
You play as “Punished” Snake or Venom Snake since both code names are listed at in the opening credits of every misson (more on that later) who fans of the series also will know as Big Boss. Nine years after the Mother Base incident you awake from a coma, missing an arm and immediately have to flee for your life as soldiers attack the hospital. This sequence goes on far too long and I nearly quit during it but I sucked it up, escaped the hospital and fled a Man on Fire, floating ginger kid in a gas mask and straight jacket and witnessed a giant flaming whale eat a helicopter (none of which I just made up but wish I had).
From there the game introduces a few recognizable characters in their younger days (Revolver Ocelot, Miller) and throws you into the “sandbox” of northern Afghanistan (you go other places too or at least central Africa as I didn’t see any more locales but I guess there are more). This is the way the game plays for the bulk of my time with it. You arrive in the theater of operations, you mark you mission on the map and make your way there. Once there you kill or subdue the other guards, extracting ones via fulton recovery system (strapping a big balloon on them to shoot them skyward where a plane catches them) that you find worthy of your cause and either killing/destroying or also extracting the target and then escaping. In my near 4o hours of time with the game this was what I did 90-98% of the time.
Initially this was fun, finding new ways to sneak up on my enemies and more or less kidnap them with giant balloons but after a while it started to get repetitive. There were other big name open world games last year that were destroyed in reviews for their repetitious game-play but for some reason this game got a pass. I can’t give it one as the lack of story in the game (yet again, more on that later) requires more from the game play than some amusing gimmicks and tools.
The other 2-10% of the missions actually move the story along as you encounter the enigmatic Skullface and his Skull Units. These missions while welcome for the actual injection of plot into the game are typically frustrating as the Skull Units move with supernatural speed and are vicious fighters that will take you down fast in a toe to toe fight. Even when the game gave me some story or plot to sink my teeth into I was still less than fully satisfied thanks to the “ingredients” they chose to do it with.
One of the more annoying stylistic designs they went with was calling missions “episodes” including opening and closing credits for each one. This is particularly annoying when at the start of a mission you see the names of all characters included in the episode. So in a regular game, as you reach the end of the mission a character could spring up and surprise you, like when Skullface and the Man on Fire show up during the last mission I played. Its a cool moment to suddenly be facing you enemies in that manner but this game takes that away as you see their names before you even had your boots on the ground in the “episode” opening credits. It is a stupid decision and should have never been included.
The game offers some mildly entertaining content, fultoning men and equipment was generally amusing but it doesn’t take long before the enemies start making an effort to pop the balloon which sucks the fun right out of it. Also many of the tools at your disposal, like the decoy, are amusing to use but the game unlocks them so painfully slow that you encounter situations early on that the devices would be perfect for but are still buried under a bunch of not yet met requirements. Maybe this was done to foster replaying the mission but given that after 35-40 hours of game time I was just over 20% into the game I wonder who the hell has time to replay things.
You are also given a number of companions to accompany you into the areas, some are more useful than others. My personal favorite skill wise was Quiet as she her excellent sniping skills made for excellent overwatch while still letting you play “alone”. Of course I can’t help but call out the absurdity of her overly sexed up look. In game they offer some bullshit excuse about her breathing and drinking through her skin but it is a piss poor excuse for an unnecessarily objectifying character. Despite being a fully heterosexual adult male I found her attire embarrassing and wish they would have just slapped some appropriate clothing on her (even a tight black tanktop and camo-cargo pants would work better).
Questionable attire decisions and frustrating/repetitive missions aside my biggest gripe is the utter lack of story in the game. The thing I have loved best about the Metal Gear Solid series is the crazy story. They’ve always been bizarre, quirky and funny while still griping and intense. None of that is showcased here. In fact lots of the plot seems to be buried in the menus, expecting you to listen to dozens upon dozens of clips on cassette tapes that flesh out the story. Most galling is the fact that there are several instances where you are given a tape in a cut scene and hear things that you would have easily witnessed with your own two eyes if Konami had bothered to create cutscenes that would have made the story content at least twice as enjoyable as it is presently.
I really, really wanted to finish the game and see how it plays out but after 35-40 hours I had to throw in the towel. I was no longer enjoying the structure of the game, getting bored between the start of the mission and reaching the objective after running through miles of empty land and skirting encampments because I was tired of the sneak, capture, flee game play. This boredom and lack of desire to play made me really sad as the Metal Gear series has long been one of my favorites. I struggled to get into the game for a long time and thought at one point it was going to take off and be the game I wanted it to be (the arrival and battle with the game’s version of Metal Gear) but immediately found myself back in the same frustrating and repetitive game. I might return to it one day in the future but for now I’m calling it quits.
This really should have been a masterpiece but in the end it feels incomplete. If I had played this last year I no doubt would have considered this a front runner for most disappointing game of 2015
Such a shame that this will be Konami’s final game for the foreseeable future as they move on to make gambling machines in Japan.
Final Verdict: 6 out of 10.
For those interested in seeing how my experience as it unfolded to better understand my scoring and opinion, here are the links to the archived installments of my play-through.