During a four day review event at the Konami Los Angeles studio, Carlos Fregoso (crimsonfox) had the opportunity to play Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain extensively on behalf of Metal Gear Informer. Here is his spoiler-free review of the game.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review, by Carlos Fregoso
This review is written entirely by a fan of the series for the fans in the series. And anyone else who is interested: I would first like to Thank Hideo Kojima, Konami Studio’s L.A. & their amazing Online Community Manager Robert Peeler for extending their invitation to us here at Metal Gear Informer to play the game. I would like to say a special thank you to the Q & A staff who were an amazing help with learning the ins and outs: Luna, Byron and Wiston. For years we have followed every development on the series. From gameplay footage, trailers, screenshots, clothing, figures, statues and so much more. This website has built a great community for fans of this incredible series that couldn’t be nicer and more informative to be a part of. All veterans of this site will know what I mean. So my last thank you will be to Metal Gear Informer itself. Thank you for the years of hard work and all the time you put into building this site & community. It’s been a site for fans, by fans and it shows. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to represent Metal Gear informer for this event, The Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain Bootcamp 2015. Now, Let’s begin…
Let me start off by saying this will be a spoiler free review, written as a fan of this series speaking to fans of the series. I absolutely refuse to ruin this game’s story or pivotal plot points.
This is not the biggest sandbox you’ll ever play in. But it absolutely has the most toys you can play with.
First off, the game’s audio. The work done in this area is what all Metal Gear fans want. It successfully sets the mood and atmosphere for the decade it is set in. The original music is very unique and varies from deeply emotional to tense sounds that build and heighten the immersion like only this series can do. The sound design is incredible, from series trade marks like the sound of foot steps on different surfaces to even the smallest details like Big Boss breathing. For those of you worried about the possibility of the iDroid, or even some buddies making too much of a racket often, all audio cues serve a purpose. The audio in particular for the cutscenes are impressive. After the infamous “They played us like a damn fiddle!” line in Ground Zeroes (it probably sounds a lot cooler in Japanese) no one was more worried about the material being cringe worthy in key moments that are supposed to establish a dark tone. Then Robert Atkin Downes speaks his first lines and I literally said to myself: “Holy shit, this is going to be amazing.” His extreme emotion along with the soundtrack will make you say the same. Piers Stubbs’ work as Eli will make you look at children with his demeanor differently, his voice definitely sets an amazing bar for young voice actors in conveying rage and other emotions. And as for the man himself, Big Boss, voiced by Kiefer Sutherland: he brings intensity and a very firm leader’s deliverance to every line of dialogue he is given. Never has Big Boss been so assertive and sure of himself. His work with the character is truly astonishing. What can be said about Troy Baker that hasn’t been said? This man brought Ocelot as a character in full circle. He has the ability to make you smile with his amazingly badass delivery every time, especially during the cutscenes in which he makes an appearance.
The cassette tapes expand on the story for the audience that wants to go in even deeper. There isn’t any information on the cassettes that isn’t intriguing. For the fans who want to spend time with the tapes you’ll have plenty to listen to, which thankfully are given to you and you don’t have to explore every environment to find. Of course not including music tapes which have to be collected by the player out on the field. They vary from the average two minute cassette to the far and few between ten minute cassettes which all paint a very vivid picture with added dramatic ominous tones and even background audio depending on where the cassettes conversation takes place, making them all great to listen to. Also, if interested, you can pull up the iDroid’s control function with R2 (while in the cassette menu) and skip ahead line by line so you can just read the text if you don’t want to listen to the whole conversation. It’s entirely up to you.
There isn’t any information on the cassettes that isn’t intriguing.
Which brings me to my next topic, gameplay. As a fan who watched all the gameplay trailers, absorbed countless hours of gameplay analyses and knew everything there was to know, I still had no idea what I got myself into when I started playing. To the people who are concerned about the sizes of the maps – let me assure you: This is not the biggest sandbox you’ll ever play in. But it absolutely has the most toys you can play with. I have never seen a deeper skill tree for various equipments, weapons and gadgets in any other game. The limitless combinations for load out & buddy pairing makes this game replayable for years to come. Every buddy has legit tactics to suit a variation of play styles and just make every mission that much better. The way you can use them to mess with guards or distract them is one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. And the number of buddies is perfect considering all the other aspects you have to manage. The ones you are given and the ones that are optional add a great layer to you as a player.
I will also say getting comfortable with your play style will backfire on you. The game’s AI adjusts to you and it isn’t a gimmick. Not personally, but while at the event I spoke with others about the way they were playing and how all of their techniques were eventually turning on them. It makes you try new things that you normally wouldn’t try because you figure: “Hey, this works for me I’ll keep on doing this”. Wrong! Personally, I would recommend trying out all of your buddies and deploy ASAP unless you strongly insist on doing missions on the preset 0600 or 1200 time options because you’re more confident. Don’t confine yourself to one play style, one load out or one buddy. This game does what all games should try and achieve, being genuinely good at making all of your options fun. Nothing is in there for the sake of being there. All of the items are great to play with, and in trying out all the options my favorite technique was constantly changing. The Fulton Recovery Device is another area where people had concerns about making the game easy. The Fulton doesn’t start off as a “pickup everything in sight device”, in fact I wasn’t able to Fulton a vehicle until 22 hours into the game. The Fulton doesn’t even have to be used often to recruit men either, if you’re not interested in using the Fulton on every soldier you see. Right after missions – depending on your score and on other factors – recruits will volunteer for Diamond Dogs (your personal army) and want to fight along Big Boss based on the kind of soldier you are, once again leaving it up to player choice. The vast Mother Base management mechanics are also given to you in a very helpful and easy to understand way. There isn’t just a blimp on the top right of your screen for a few seconds and if you miss it, oh well. The game aids you in understanding the management of your base at first. And it’s all necessary. You’ll be thankful the game did. While there’s a ton to do, nothing feels overwhelming. By 10 hours in you’ll be flying though all of your menus sending your men on missions, developing new weapons and outfits, and designating your recruits to your R&D, Support, Intel and Medical platforms. Making you feel like Big Boss in every aspect of the world you inhabit. All of your platforms can be built upon to incorporate more recruits. They can be upgraded up to 4 times to support more of your recruits (This isn’t even covering your FOB). The more in a unit, and the higher their ranking the better they are able to assist you. For example, if you further develop your Support platform you can order air strikes, they can gas out areas making it easy for you to run in undetected or provide cover fire via chopper if you’re in a pickle. Hell, they’ll even send you ammo when you’re in a gun fight and run out of it like a chump. And calling a resupply mid firefight can be exhilarating and a visual spectacle, with smoke and gun shots all around you. The game starts off at a slower pace and you do missions for about 14 hours with a few big developments. This gives you time to learn the systems through and through. Then you hit a certain mission and it absolutely takes off in the story department. When you get there you’ll understand what I mean. So take your time in the environments, do the side op’s don’t rush through anything. Listen to all your tapes and enjoy all the sights and sounds the game gives you.
This game does what all games should try and achieve, being genuinely good at making all of your options fun.
Speaking of visuals: when it comes to graphics and performance of the Fox engine, it’s as 60 frames per second as 60 frames per second can get. And for a game of this scale it’s beautiful, in both day and night, dusk and dawn. There were 2 instances where I had some frame rate drops, but the first didn’t happen till 29 hours in – on a very big stage with tons of particle effects, fire, dust and other effects going off like crazy. The best part was that the frame rate drop was less than a second long, it was so quick I had to make a note of it. And it didn’t happen a second time until 41 hours in. All in all, when it comes to frame rate, the game is insanely astonishing. The only issue with the engine is the draw distance during the day when moving on D-Walker (personal mech) or D-Horse fast enough. But it’s also not an issue, which I know sounds ridiculous. It doesn’t have the problems Ground Zeroes had where enemies at 300 meters would pop in 3 seconds later. That’s been fixed. The only pop in you get here is from vegetation. The engine works in a way that no traditional pop in exists. In the Fox Engine everything fades in. When you see things coming in they never come in too late. They are always vague enough to be made out in time to not screw up your line of sight or sense of direction. And at night these effects become even less noticeable because the map is dark, basically making pop in a lot harder to spot. It’s hard to explain the way this looks when you’re playing because no other engine works in this way. And I’m interested in seeing how other engines might make adjustments to their own because of this. It’s baffling to see in action, the game has so many different interiors and styles, from bases to outposts, and even things that have been done before like cracks in the walls or sweat and dirt on character models look incredible. Gashes and bullet holes in enemy soldiers aren’t normally this pretty to look at. The facial capture is also a wonder to look at in cutscenes. The subtle nuances on all the main characters’ faces really convey the message they are trying to get across with just their face. It works better than a lot of people might think. It’s used often enough in video games today that everyone kind of just expects it. But with the story and situations this technique really gets the message across. With the use of close up camera angles you feel like you’re there and makes you want to reach out to the characters, rub their faces, and say “everything will be okay”.
One issue I had with the game (which is most likely an engine situation) is the time it can take to go from one mission to the next. Between side ops you can’t just fly to another side op. You always have to go back to your Air Command Center (ACC), your mission and management area. Or travel across the entire map and go through all the outposts and enemy patrols to get to the other side op. So if you do a side op on one end of the map and want to do another on the other end you have to return to your ACC, choose your load out, and go back again. Which makes sense from the story side of the game. You can’t just be flying everywhere over bases and out posts. The problem with this is the load time from your ACC to the Mission Area. Every time it takes about 35 seconds to fly in and jump out to start your mission. Plus the time you spend choosing you load out, buddy, time of operation and landing zone. The time really adds up when you play long enough. I think it might be the level loading so the helicopter ride in takes a little while longer to cleverly hide that fact.
But with those few negatives there is 100 positives. Kojima-san treated this like the last Metal Gear Solid. He went all out and pushed the story to absolutely heart breaking and mind bending new heights. As a personal fan of this series since 1998 when my older brother (Mahalo bro) rented a PlayStation from a local video store I have been attached to the story. As I grew older, the franchise grew older with me, taught me lessons of life I couldn’t get in any other form. And this game is no exception. When you put it down, the story will stick with you. It could easily stand up against any TV or movie. When I started playing the game I told myself every time something happens that totally blows my mind I’ll make a note of it. At 00:05 into the game it happened, it happened again and again to the point where I gave up keeping count. but the last thing I saw that blew my mind was exactly 44 Hours and 13 minutes (In the interest of time I won’t type down every one) I played a total of 44 hours 16 minutes and 7 seconds and I had 38 percent of the game completed. Saying this is a big game is a understatement. This game is bigger and more ambitious than any Metal Gear Solid game before it and it changes your perspective on what any game can be. Especially on what a 60 USD game should be. For a series that has been around since 1987 to constantly reinvent itself and stay relevant is an accomplishment in itself. But to totally break what you expect a game can do for you emotionally & mentally – and at the end of the day have fun with it, and give you legitimate joy – is something special. The team that worked night and day to make Kojima’s dream a reality and Mr. Kojima himself deserve every award they’ll win for this game. All the acknowledgment in the world. All the recognition in the world will belong to them. Since November of 2004 I have said “Metal Gear Solid 3 is the best game ever made and nothing will ever beat it”. Today August 23rd 2015 I can say without a other thought that Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain is the absolute greatest video game ever made… If you ever enjoyed a Metal Gear Solid game in your life. If you are interested in the series now and are thinking about getting this game. Stop thinking… the end.
For a series that has been around since 1987 to constantly reinvent itself and stay relevant is an accomplishment in itself. But to totally break what you expect a game can do for you emotionally & mentally – and at the end of the day have fun with it and give you legitimate joy – is something special.
For those hungry for some more, on August 24th check out @crimsonfox_MGI on Twitter and get your questions ready. He’ll be answering questions for an hour from 10:00 to 11:00 PST / 13:00 to 14:00 EST / 18:00 to 19:00 GMT, any questions you have except for story and plot questions.
Lastly, a big thanks to everyone who visits this site and takes part in the community. For helping this site become what it is, and for making this an enjoyable place. It wouldn’t be the same without you guys!