Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain should have been a complete disaster. Almost everything from its botched reveal several E3s ago to its troubled development to the odd decision to release Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, a content-light prologue set nine years prior to TPP, last year pointed to a game that was destined to be a mess.
However, despite the odds against it, TPP turned out to be an incredible experience. Kojima Productions managed to combine the ambition of an open world with the basic sneaking for which the Metal Gear series is known. So now, after finishing the last mission and having the big reveal exposed, do I feel so irritated? Well, there’s nothing more irritating that having something that’s nearly perfect fail to stick its landing.
Set in the mid-80s, TPP was supposed to tell the story of Big Boss’s rise to prominence in the merc world and directly lead into the first MSX Metal Gear game. And interestingly enough, it does do this to a certain degree. Starting with waking up in a Cyprus hospital after a nine-year coma in the middle of a wet-works operation, you follow the re-branded Venom Snake as he saves his old allies and rebuilds his Mother Base, all while hunting down the people who took him out at the conclusion of GZ.
Follow me so far? I hope so, because if you aren’t up to date with Metal Gear lore through the PSP game Peace Walker, then you’re definitely going to be lost. I didn’t play much of PW, so I went into GZ and TPP somewhat lost. To make up for it, there are tons of literal cassettes that you can listen to that will bring you up to speed with the world.
After the excitement of the hospital, you’re dropped off in Afghanistan (and eventually the Angola/Zaire border) and tasked with investigating the ties that the occupying Russians have with your overarching villains. As you sneak through miles of desert, forest and mountainous terrain, you can kidnap any soldier that you can incapacitate and send them back to your fledgling base to boost up the capabilities of the various departments at your disposal. The R&D department helps you develop dozens of new weapons, items and armor loadouts, the Combat department can be sent out to earn money to fund developments and gather resources, the Intelligence department can help show threats ahead of time, and so on. You can also upgrade your capabilities to steal vehicles and weapon placements, for both base defense and monetary advancement.
When you reach what feels like an obvious end point for the story, you’ll find that you’ve only just begun. A second “chapter” opens up, and this is where the problems start. Most of the missions in the second chapter are made of up of harder versions of previous missions, with the occasional new main story mission popping up. It feels uneven and like all the story segments were thrown in at the last minute, slapdash and desperate in order to stitch together a conclusion. The last, revelatory mission arrives with no fanfare, apropos of nothing, and considering what it shows the player, it should’ve come with a bit more fanfare. And this is all ignoring the fact that a giant plot thread is just left dangling.
Despite these stumbling steps, and ignoring the ham-fisted attempts of Konami to put in a mobile-style free-to-play elements with their online bases, TPP is an excellent game that’s marred by problems outside it’s control. It’ll have to stand in the light of being merely a great in the face of being a classic.