It’s only fitting that the franchise that popularized stealth, has returned to revitalize the dying genre. The culmination of a franchise that has spanned nearly 30 years, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a masterpiece like no other. As with most open world games, The Phantom Pain can not be simply stuffed into one genre. It’s an RPG as much as it is a stealth or action game. Due to the sheer amount of content in the game, my review will be broken into two parts. Part 1 will focus on stealth, while Part 2 will focus on story elements, Mother Base, FOB, etc. Sit back folks, this is one hell of a ride.
Developer: Kojima Productions
Format: Xbox one
Release Date: September 1st, 2015
Copy provided by publisher
My first experience with the stealth genre was on the PlayStation 2 with Splinter Cell. Since then, the genre has evolved to keep up with the growing popularity of action games. At a time stealth was all about slow, calculated, planned attacks that left enemies oblivious to your existence. That style of gameplay has virtually become extinct outside of indie games.
To strike a balance between appeasing the hardcore and appealing to the casual, stealth games had to implement an action/stealth hybrid approach. Titles such as Splinter Cell Blacklist, Hitman Absolution, and yes Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain are a few such examples. It’s a compromise that’s unavoidable. The issue, as I see it, is that stealth games have now become too stagnant. There are only so many ways to choke an enemy. There are only so many ways to hide behind a corner. There are only so many ways to shoot a tranquilizer gun. Outside of a few differing elements such as disguises or superhuman powers, every stealth game feels the same as the last.
As a huge fan of the genre, I’ve played just about every stealth game that has released on an Xbox console in the last 10 years or so. I’ve seen it all, I’ve done it all. What The Phantom Pain (TPP) has done is simply open the world and grant the player an unprecedented amount of freedom. You may be thinking “Yes it’s an open world game, that’s nothing new.” and to some degree you wouldn’t be wrong. But from a stealth aspect, that simple change makes a world of difference. Actual freedom is an abstract construct when you’re talking about video games but the quality of the illusion of freedom lies with the developers. For example: you enter a building and you have two doors to enter; one room has a pipe to hang from; the other has a vent to crawl into; you have two of the weapons available to you; three gadgets that are available to you; and there is one way to complete the mission. All of these parameters are being set by the developers. There could be seventeen doors to enter, seventeen different types of paths to take, thirty-five guns to choose from, fifty gadgets, and nine ways to complete the mission.
This is the illusion of freedom. The more options you have, the stronger the illusion. In this aspect, TPP has perfected the stealth genre. The amount of different weapons, gadgets, items, uniforms, vehicles, and buddies drastically alters the style of gameplay depending on which you use. And everything maters. What I mean is that your equipment will dictate how your mission plays out. An Animal print suit will get you spotted easily in a muddy environment; a silenced, non-lethal sniper rifle will make it easier to take out a target from a distance; a truck will get you around bigger areas faster; D-Dog will sniff out enemies from a distance; a decoy will distract enemies; a Fulton device can extract enemies faster; the list goes on and on and on.
It’s not only the amount of options, but the room for customization and upgrades. One thing that TPP does better than any other open world game I’ve played is trickle out new content for you to experience throughout the entire game. I’ve played for over 80 hours and I’m still getting completely new items that have a huge impact on my gameplay. These are more than merely a stat boost or new skins to items I’m already using. These are items that allow me to perform actions that I have yet to experience at all. A lot of this can be attributed to the Mother Base which will be fleshed out in Part 2 of the review.
Not all of these options are useful for stealth players. 20 different types of assault rifles and rocket launchers does nothing for the sneaky gamer. But there are a plethora of options available for both play styles. But these options would have a much lesser impact without the open world nature of the game. Bases themselves can be infiltrated from multiple angles. From climbing a crack in the wall, crawling in a sewer tunnel, sneaking around the mountainside, or simply creeping through the front door. The buddy you choose also plays an important role. Quiet can cover you from a distance with her sniper and scout an enemy base before you enter. D-Dog can takedown, mark, and distract enemies. D-Horse is good for travelling, can be used for cover, and poops on command (yes, really). Even D-Walker can be equipped with dual non-lethal pistols for stealth mode. But not all of the elements are in your control.
The A.I. in TPP is one of the best I’ve seen in any game period. Depending on the time of day, enemies will react differently. At night you’ll see more flashlights, spotlights, and even catch a few guards snoozing away. As long as you stay in the shadows it will be harder for enemies to spot you. But as the sun rises, enemies will be ready and alert. Then as the sun begins to set again, a new shift of guards will swap out with the old. All of this can happen in the middle of a single mission thanks to the dynamic day/night cycle. Weather also affects gameplay. A sandstorm limits visibility for everyone and reduces your percentage of a successful Fulton extraction while rain dampens the enemies hearing and allows you to move more freely. Yet the most impressive feature is how the A.I. adapts to you.
If you become a creature of habit (and you will) enemies will begin to tell tales of the legendary Big Boss and his methods. Once the mystique wears off they will begin to arm themselves accordingly. Let’s say you fancy shooting enemies in the head with your silenced pistol, enemies will begin wearing more helmets. What if you prefer sniping from afar? Enemies will start arming themselves with binoculars to keep a lookout. What if none of that works and you keep taking down bases and eliminating enemy soldiers? Prepare for full body armor suits, cameras, and the works!
This level of freedom, in any game, is unprecedented. The amount of options at your disposal, combined with customization, A.I. where the “I” isn’t for show, dynamic weather, and the open ended nature of the game make for a level of freedom the likes of which I’ve never seen. As a long time fan of the stealth genre it’s even more amazing to see this come to fruition with a stealth game. TPP is oozing with detail as Kojima and the team held nothing back. The freedom to choose how you want to complete a mission makes me question the legitimacy of other games in the genre. Not only has TPP shot up to one of my all time favorite stealth games, it’s one of my all time favorite video games. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is stealth perfected.
To be continued…..
Part 1 Summary:
+ Scale and Scope
+ Amount of useful customization
+ Non-linear Gameplay
+ Flow of new content
– Forced Action Missions
Score: 10 “Monumental”
What I Played: 85+ hours completing every Mission, 93 Side Ops, with 70% overall completion.