48 hours. By the time you read this, that’s how close you will be are to getting your hands on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. With the sudden, unexpected departure of series creator Hideo Kojima and details of Konami’s bizarre corporate culture surfacing, it can be easy to forget how close we actually are to the release of what will surely be Kojima’s final entry into the Metal Gear Solid franchise. No doubt you know that there is a sizeable amount of reviews already out there, and the praise seems to be pretty much universal. I’ll give you a minute to check the current Metacritic score.
Seen it? Good. Because if what I experienced during my playtime is any indication of what we can expect from the full game (and it is), then the hype is real: this might just possibly be the best Metal Gear title yet.
The game starts immediately following the events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, with Big Boss lying blurry-eyed in a hospital bed. Fortunately there’s no ridiculous click-to-blink à la 2008’s Alone In The Dark, but the next 45 minutes spent escaping the hospital serves as your tutorial, teaching you the game’s stealth mechanics. Anybody who played Ground Zeroes early last year should know exactly what they’re doing from the get go, as only minor tweaks have been made to the formula. Don’t let that put you off though, as this prologue gets into the action almost immediately and more than a couple of unexpected familiar-yet-obscured faces make an appearance. But I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum and let you see those for yourself in just a couple of days.
After this prologue, you’ll find yourself on horseback with Revolver Ocelot in Afghanistan during the Soviet Invasion. Here you are given your first mission to rescue another familiar face (again, I’ll let you see it for yourself) and capture a few outposts. This won’t be news to Ground Zeroes players, but it really is incredible how fluid and organic the stealth is in The Phantom Pain. Despite the minimalist HUD, I could always tell whether I was hidden or not; an impressive feat, considering the game eschews overt visual indicators like radars or a camouflage system seen in previous Metal Gear games.
The open world nature of The Phantom Pain allows you to tackle your objectives with a significant degree of freedom. At one point, I came across an outpost that was blocking my path to the main objective. Instead of taking out the guards and capturing the outpost, I distracted them on the other side of the camp so I could walk by unnoticed. You can use stealth or go in guns-blazing, and it’s impressive how equally viable those options are.
You can also decide whether to tackle missions either in the daytime or night, and while the cover of darkness does reduce your enemy’s ability to spot you, there does appear to be a time limit on missions. Whether these result in an automatic
fission mailure mission failure or not wasn’t something I had the opportunity to test out, but they’re there and it’ll be interesting to see how they’re used.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest controversies behind The Phantom Pain was the replacement of series veteran David Hayter with Kiefer Sutherland as the voice of Big Boss. Interestingly, in my hours with The Phantom Pain I only heard Big Boss once saying anything beyond a grunt or a groan: “Afghanistan?” he says in response to a statement made by Ocelot.
I thought this incredibly strange for a series infamous for its heavy exposition, and how much of a big deal they made of Sutherland’s casting. Numerous fan theories are already out there, and Sutherland apparently voices a second character who shows up early in the game… but we’re getting back into possible spoiler territory.
Much has also been made of the game’s licensed soundtrack. While it currently remain under wraps for the most part, we do know that an unknown A-Ha track (presumably “Take On Me”) and Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” make an appearance, while David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” opens the game. I even heard Thomas Dolby’s synth-pop one-hit wonder “She Blinded Me With Science” playing on one of the boomboxes that can be found scattered around outposts — of course, I quickly nabbed it for my collection.
Presumably, these tapes will work similarly to the podcasts in Metal Gear Solid 4, and hopefully we’ll get a similarly licensed music player like we did with the iPod in that game. It’s 1984, Kojima — give us a damn Sony Walkman!
After sinking a few hours into the game, it’s clear that The Phantom Pain is something really special, and my time with the game only left me wanting to experience more. It’ll be interesting to see how the last generation of consoles cope with the game, as the PS4 version was impossibly gorgeous. I’m also interested to see how the new version of Metal Gear Online plays out, microtransactions and all. But beyond these two minor reservations, it’s looking like fans of the series are in for a real treat.