Made you wait, huh?
Note: I'll be adding a review of MGS Online and hopefully of the FOB later down the line (when it works)!
This review of the Phantom Pain is based on Xbox One retail code, which was kindly sent by Konami a few days ago. I haven't been able to put it down since then, which says something about the game right from the start. This review also won't contain any spoilers, in fact, I'm not going to talk about the story at all - since the prologue mission and cut-scene sets the stage for Hideo Kojima's swansong and in my opinion, the finest open world action/stealth game that's come out of someone's mind in a long time. It's also based on extended play out in the field and dozens of free roam/side op sorties.
I've been playing this non-stop and hardly touched the majority of the story, but for me it's not the story that makes it so compelling - it's the game's core play that drives Phantom Pain in a way only managed by the likes of XCOM. I've dived into story missions, lots of free roam and a few side ops - I've fultoned (a balloon like recovery device) the heckout of everything I could get my hands on and made a lot of GMP (MGS V'scurrency)
I've grown Mother Base by a few platforms and started to shape Diamond Dogs into something I can be proud of.
What makes Metal Gear Solid V so great is that not only is it set in a massive open world play-space, it brings to mind the glory days of Operation Flashpoint without the fiddly controls and layers of complex options when you play. Big Boss controls a ton better than he did in the Ground Zeroes demo and a lot of my irritations with that have been erased in this finale.
You have Mother Base this time and the platform management, customisation and control over your HQ is staggering - yet never overwhelming.You can access what you need in the field most of the time, you can make changes to the base's staff, sell off resources you don't need and control 90% of things via the handy-dandy i-Droid. I wish I'd have had this tech back in1980 I can tell you.
You can visit Mother Base during your downtime, see various cut-scenes, interact with your staff and take a shower - because after several days in the field you're going to be covered in grime, sand, dust and blood.There's a wealth of projects to develop and as you grow Mother Base you'll get access to more and more for R&D to play with.
Some of these are done instantly, some of them take time and all of them require GMP and resources (collected autonomously by mining or out in the field by hand).
Once you leave Mother Base you are in the ACC, which is yourhelicopter HQ for operations. Here you can customise Mother Base, change your emblem, your colour scheme and a few other things - as well as pick missions and sorties.
On the mission prep screen you can customise your buddy, your character, choose their equipment and all sorts of other neat options that I suggest you dive into. Like customising the helicopter with new armaments and armour (researched and developed via Mother Base R&D).
Buddies are NPCs that can come along with you, to begin with you get D-Horse who is useful for getting around all John Marston (Red Dead Redemption) style and using as mobile cover. It's a spin on an old Native American trick where you hide off to one side of the horse and your enemies often ignore you.
I was struck with just how damn pretty this game looks, and in the days of new-gen on console and beefy PC rigs with graphic cards that open small wormholes when they operate - Phantom Pain on the Xbox One looks great. The level of detail is stunning and the animations, design, quality overall have been polished to a fine degree.
It's the gameplay that sets Phantom Pain apart though, because it's not a traditional Metal Gear game by far - it's the most accessible the series has been and the most (to many fans) alien that I've seen. The codec chats are gone, though you can get intel from your scope if you press the left bumper when the prompt pops up. Troy Baker (Revolver Ocelot) will give you some useful information.
Sun will set shortly...
I chose night for my little foray into Afghanistan, to a local village. See, there was this side op where I had to extract a cute sheep from the village. I couldn't resist, had to save the little guy (you're given a nice chunk of GMP for every wild animal you manage to extract too) from whatever fate awaited him.
The helicopter set me down just as the sun was about to go down, so I made my way to a vantage point taking D-Horse in for quick mobility around the field. A few minutes later and the village was lit up for night-time, with the soviet guard patrols changing (day/night changes theirpatrols quite a bit) for their evening shift.
I recommend patience compared to a guns blazing approach, you'll get more heroism that way.
I spent around five minutes tagging and marking enemies as they moved around, listening to their conversations (I'd found an interpreter on another mission earlier on) and watching as a transport truck made stop. Two soldiers got out and went into another building for a while. The clock was ticking as it was getting darker, yet I wasn't ready to make a move - not quite.
I spied a few herbs on the ridge, collected those, and a diamond (S) which happened to be nearby. 10,000 GMP went into my account.
Skirting the most obvious patrol route I happened upon a pen, there was my little sheep buddy. No guards around, FULTON TIME! One tranquiliser round from my upgraded pistol and little Shaun (that's what I called him) went into orbit with a BAAaaaaA.
Side Op objective complete - only I wasn't done. 30,000 GMP for that little mission was well worth it though!
There was a soldier coming around the corner and I went prone fast, he thought he saw something and his flashlight came on. He shrugged and came to check, first mistake, and last mistake. In a moment he was in my vice-like grip and interrogated for useful information. A specialist you say, someone with skills I might need at my Mother Base?
After sending the helpful gent into the land of Zzzz I fultoned him out too, he was fairly decent at R&D and I wanted to level that a bit more. As luck would have it, he was the needed boost for my R&D team to level up! DING!
I popped a couple of projects into research and explored the village a bit more, finding some resources, a few emplacements and a hidden cache of diamonds (L), 100,000 GMP later and I was grinning all the way to the PMC bank.
It was at this point I decided to completely ransack the village. I systematically went on the stealth offensive, taking guards down and either stashing them in dumpsters, outside-toilets or sending them into orbit with the fulton (if they had decent stats). It was a slow and steady process with a few hair-raising moments here and there, but fortunately Boss is agile and the stealth system in the game is rewarding.
300 Heroism later and the whole village was pacified, at least until the soldiers come and repopulate it later on. A few emplacements were scattered about, those were quickly fultoned and then sold for a profit as I had no need for them at the time.
3:00 in the morning and I was finally done, around 45m in real time or something along those lines (a mission took me 1 hour and 44 the other day) - the village was stripped of manpower, resources and emplaced weapons.
A job well done!
Metal Gear Action
When stealth goes wrong (as it did last night) you can either fight or flee, well I wasn't going to flee. I'd got the prisoner out and my contingency plan was in full operation. I'd disrupted the enemy communications, blown up their anti-air radar and set the base on full alert. A large number of enemy combatants were out there hunting me. They lit the sky up with flares and the commander issued an order to man their available mortar, at least they only had one left - the others had been fultoned out of the battlefield before everything went FUBAR. It's neat how they assigned a new soldier to the mortar task, since the previous one went into orbit half an hour before.
The FUBAR was my fault, intentionally. I wanted that anti-air out of the way, but I'd gotten too cocky - tried to take down a specialist for extraction when three soldiers came around the corner. What followed was an intense game of cat and mouse, as the sky lit up with flares,explosions and gunfire. I ran for cover, snapped off a few supressed shots and got the hell out whilst detonating my c4.
I called in the support chopper, which managed to rain down death on a few enemies before it got shot down (30,000 GMP that cost me) and I was gutted.
I needed to turn the tables, so I headed off in the opposite direction and used the night as cover. The enemy AI is brilliant in PhantomPain, clever, sneaky and it uses all sorts of tactics to try and flush you out.
It got way too hot though and I was forced to pull out of that engagement. I gained 30,000 for the prisoner extraction and a few thousand for the emplacements - losing the 30,000 for the chopper was a blow though. As I was trying to extract out of the hotzone, a sniper put a round through Boss and he went down - thankfully I'd got the sneaking suit (great armour) and it saved me. Another flare and the sound of a mortar followed, so I ran for cover and hoped they'd miss. They missed!
A whole squad of soldiers rushed my position and just as they did, the dynamic weather decided to deal me an ACE. A beautiful vision impairing sandstorm thundered in from nowhere and stopped their assault on myposition, time to escape!
I made for my marker whilst everyone was blind and escaped by the skin of my teeth.
The action was something else - kind of Operation Flashpoint meets Metal Gear. I spent most of the duck and cover fighting in a mix of first person gunsight and third person. It was great fun.
As the sandstorm went away, I called in the new chopper for extraction and sat back to relax.
The sounds of battle faded (and they are fantastic sounds in the game) and the chopper zoomed in to the tune of: Kids in America. Harry Gregson-Williams provides the original musical score for the incidental music. There are a lot of music cassettes from the 1980's to discover and add to your collection as you play - which can also be added as the chopper's arrival/departure theme.
Metal Gear Online
The online portion of the game hasn't launched yet, and due to server issues with Konami the Forward Operating Base, and Ground Zeroes save data import function is down - so I can't comment on the base invasion at this time. You can still play the game in offline mode, so it doesn't impact the game at all for anyone who doesn't want to setup/invade/defend FOBs.
Metal Gear Genius
Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain is a different Metal Geargame than ever before; with shades of Peace Walker brilliantly combined with this new take on the franchise. It's sad really that it's Kojima's swansong - possibly the last Metal Gear we might see. Graphics aside, new-gen bells and whistles too - the game excels at offering a fresh take on the play-space each time you make a new sortie, and as you progress, the guards adopt better tactics.
Use night a lot, they'll start using flares, flashlights and if you go for the head. Expect them to eventually equip helmets.
With adaptive AI, great gameplay features and a bunch of features that unlock the further in you get - you'll spend a lot of quality time with Metal Gear Solid V.
I'm also not going to comment on Quiet, because I haven't gotten to her yet.
It's a fantastic game because of Diamond Dog and D-Horse.