Review: Metal Gear Solid 5

Game: Metal Gear Solid 5: the Phantom Pain
Recommended price: $35
Metacritic Score: 96
Completion Time: 50+ hours
Buy If You Like: Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima, 3rd-person Far Cry

A serious game for serious people.

A serious game for serious people.

Metal Gear Solid 5 is one of the most engaging games I have ever played. The completion time up there is a general estimate, but I personally clocked in 75 hours before I reached the end. The core gameplay loop is incredibly tight, the visuals (with a GTX 970) are impossibly fantastic, and never before I have felt like such a badass, one-man infiltration army.

At the same time, I can empathize with those who feel this Kojima swan-song is the weakest entry in the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Or simply an incomplete game.

As you will undoubtedly see in the weeks and months to come, a lot of people were incredibly disappointed with… let’s just say Chapter 2. The “first Chapter” comprises what felt like was the entire game – it is almost an entirely self-contained 40+ hour narrative, with a capstone boss battle and rolling end credits. When I saw “Chapter 2” flash on the screen afterwards, I was legitimately surprised. “What?! There’s more? Wow!”

What becomes immediately clear across the half-dozen or so story missions though, is that Chapter 2 is more Epilogue than anything. Or, if I’m being honest, a desperate last-ditch attempt by Kojima to throw in plot material he wasn’t able to work into the main narrative before the release deadline. Which is really a goddamn shame, because Chapter 2 has some of the most emotional missions in the entire game.

The boss battles were a little weak, but no different than the other games.

The boss battles were a little weak, but no different than the other games IMO.

I am mentioning all of this at the beginning because it’s important to ask yourself what kind of gamer you are. If you are a diehard MGS/Kojima fan who bought into the trailer hype, you’ve memorized the lore, and are looking forward to having this 5th (and presumably last) game wrap everything up in a manner consistent with the other games… you will be disappointed.

The spectacle is there. The ridiculous plot points are there. The zany scope is there. What’s missing is at least one critical story mission (which was included as a video in the Collector’s Edition, but can also be viewed on Youtube) and some filler missions to coherently link together what exists in Chapter 2. This isn’t like the end of MGS 2 where you’re wondering what the hell just happened, or the 2nd disc of Xenogears when the team apparently ran out of money. The Chapter 2 missions feel like they were created first, and awaiting a context in which to place them later, but it never arrived.

Indeed, they are missions that in all likelihood should have been cut out altogether, until and unless they could be finished as DLC.

What's in the booooox?

What’s in the booooox?

On the other hand, if you are a gamer capable of enjoying a game for what it is, or otherwise have few expectations coming in, MGS 5 is going to blow your mind.

As I mentioned before, the core gameplay loop is incredibly tight. You might be tasked with rescuing a prisoner for example, but are otherwise left to your own devices (literally) as for how to accomplish that. Binoculars will tag enemies and allow you to track their movements through walls, so scouting is encouraged. Mother Base is always in need for more and better-skilled recruits, so tranquilizing and extracting enemies soldiers is encouraged. If you manage to get in close-quarters with the enemy, you can interrogate him into telling you where prisoners and resources are located, so getting real close to enemies is encouraged. It is a hell of a lot easier to do all of those things when the entire base isn’t trying to kill you, so stealth is encouraged.

Note how all of this is “encouraged” as opposed to being required. You can absolutely run and gun your way to S-rank level completion if that’s how you want to play. Or, you know, if someone raises the alarm when you’re 80% done with the mission every goddamn time and you can’t be asked to reset it yet again.

There have been some complaints for how much of the story was relegated to cassette tapes. As someone who attempted to complete MGS 4 before the release of this game, all I can say is: thank Christ. Having the plot mechanics tied to cassette tapes instead of the Codec system allows the player to A) listen to them at their leisure, including while on Side Missions, and B) opens up the ability to hear historical information, including conversations in which Big Boss was not present. Removing the Codec system might have contributed to the looser overall narrative of the game, but honestly I’d take that over the awkward, rambling Codecs of titles past.

Perfect grenade opportunity: ruined.

Perfect grenade opportunity: ruined.

Since I played this on the PC, I just want to take a moment to talk about my experience playing exclusively with the mouse & keyboard. For the most part, it worked well. The two specific issues you will encounter is with sneaking and throwing grenades. The default crouch speed is fast enough that guards can hear you with 5-10 meters, unless you hold down Ctrl, which is agonizingly slow; with a controller analog stick, you would be able to hit a sweet spot between the two speeds while remaining undetectable. That said, you can unlock a Sneaking Suit fairly early on that will allow you to move around a maximum Crouch speed with no issue. With grenades, there is an overhand and underhand throw option, supposedly determined by tapping the left-mouse button versus holding it down. After having enough perfect grenading opportunities foiled by this finicky detection system, I resorted to overhand throws always.

There are some additional mouse & keyboard unfriendliness in the many menus – mouse scroll doesn’t work, you need to press 1 & 3 to navigate menus, etc – but it’s not disruptive enough to forgo mouse aiming IMO.

In the final analysis, a day or two removed from the end of the game, I still feel like Metal Gear Solid 5 is an incredible experience. There are people out there with completely legitimate grievances with the game, both mechanically and narratively, and I empathize with them. At the same time, I feel less that MGS 5 “doesn’t fit in” with the rest of the series and more that the rest of the series would have been better off being more like MGS 5. You know, minus the rushed, unfinished nature of Chapter 2.

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Posted on September 14, 2015, in Review and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Review: Metal Gear Solid 5.

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