The Silent Snake
HIGH Infiltrating a heavily guarded enemy prison for the sole purpose of retrieving a copy of A-ha's 'Take on Me'.
LOW A lack of story motivation coupled with an overload of open-world repetition.
WTF Huey's role in the game.
It's been nine years since the end of Ground Zeroes, and Big Boss has been taking it easy ever since—not that he's really had much choice in the matter given that he's been comatose the entire time after getting blown out of the sky. Alas, all good things must come to an end, so after waking up at a particularly fortuitous moment he decides that it's probably a good idea to rebuild his private military and seek revenge on the people who wiped it off the face of the earth in the first place.
Oh, and he's missing an arm now. Bummer.
It's a pretty cool set up, but The Phantom Pain almost immediately jettisons all attempts at weaving a compelling storyline. Earlier games in the series have faced criticism over their lengthy cut-scenes, but The Phantom Pain proves that heading too far in the other direction is even worse—and Snake's sudden lack of interest in speaking to anyone doesn't help much either. He's practically a silent protagonist now. For a large part of the midgame, there seems to be little personal motivation to get anything done in this new, open world entry beyond satisfying Snake's bizarre kleptomaniacal leanings.
See, to rebuild Mother Base and get his PMC back on track Snake has to procure equipment and personnel in the field—usually by implementing a Fulton device, which is essentially hooking balloons to them and watching them shoot into the sky where they'll be picked up and reprocessed for his own use. Nothing quite like staffing a base full of previously hostile combatants as far as efficiency goes, right? Anything's fair game, from enemy soldiers and gun emplacements to random goats and donkeys just wandering around the warzone. It all proves beneficial in the end.
Snake doesn't have to go it alone this time out either. There's a new buddy system in place where friends he picks up along the way can help him out in the field including an absurdly cute dog, a magnificent stallion, a bipedal manned robot thing and a mute sniper there for the befriending, and they all spend the rest of the game trying their level best to out-silence one another.
As for how it plays… well, it's generally okay. The open world is strangely and disappointingly lifeless. One outpost feels much the same as any other in their approach with few unique twists to enliven any of them. My basic approach from beginning to end rarely had to evolve beyond surveying the area with binoculars, tranquilizing everyone in sight and Fultoning out staff as required. Gone are the days when each area felt like a uniquely crafted puzzle to overcome—the open world and patrol patterns makes enemy placement feel almost haphazard by comparison.
The truth is that there were far too many times where I felt irritated or bored rather than excited and enthralled whilst playing The Phantom Pain. Guard behaviour is often bizarre—they can spot Snake running while he's a veritable pinprick in the distance, but will have to walk to within arm's length to locate him if he's squatting in the middle of a brightly lit airfield. They'll immediately call in a report if they spot that local resources are gone, but will jerk around like befuddled imbeciles if members of their group start dropping like flies around them with tranquilizer darts sticking out of their foreheads.
Checkpointing can also be completely dire, and getting spotted because Snake judders up against a pebble and stands up rather than crawling smoothly over it is thoroughly aggravating. It's not like it happens every five minutes, but in a game where stealth is stressed so heavily these moments stand out like a dead guard nailed to a door. Losing in excess of twenty minutes of playtime as a result of accidentally sliding down a ledge that looked like it should provide stable footing isn't a great deal of fun.
The game as a whole also seems significantly less focused on victimless stealth than most previous entries in the series. The non-lethal approach essentially doesn't work in several areas, so getting Snake's hands bloody is a necessity. This led to wasting time waiting for decent weapons to develop in the latter half of the game, because there's now a real-time mobile inspired waiting mechanic where ordering equipment might take Snake's R&D teams an hour and a half to research and craft a new shotgun. It's a pointless addition and a complete waste of time.
It's not all bad, mind. The FOB missions are great, enticing players to invade the Mother Base of other gamers in a bid to steal their personnel and resources—and possibly facing off against one another as they do so. It also does the job of providing an open world sandbox to faff around in reasonably well, it generally looks really nice and has an excellent soundtrack to stealth along to, but I found each individual moment paling in comparison to what had been achieved previously. None of the enemy outposts were as interestingly or intricately designed as the Helipad on Shadow Moses. None of the boss fights came remotely close to reaching the highs of Revolver Ocelot, The Boss, Gray Fox, The Fear or Metal Gear ZEKE. The moments on offer here are, on the whole, comparatively tame.
In a lot of ways The Phantom Pain feels unfinished, which is admittedly one hell of a trick for a game that took around sixty hours to play through. Story threads are few and far between, often petering out limply just as they have the opportunity to become interesting, and the less said about the bizarre, awkward 'conversation' held in the back of a jeep during a critical story moment, the better. Furthermore, Skull Face is absolutely wasted after his impressive debut in Ground Zeroes.
It's kind of insane that the spiritual follow up to Peace Walker and easily the most ambitious Metal Gear title to date somehow winds up as arguably the least interesting entry overall, but there it is.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Playstation 4. Approximately 70 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 5 hours of play in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, strong language and suggestive themes. It's not for kids, but it's also not exactly what I'd call excessively brutal. The easily offended may also take umbrage at Quiet walking about in a bikini and fishnets. The nerve of that woman!
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There's a lot of visual information and subtitles to help players out, but being unable able to hear environmental clues, alarms and the like will undoubtedly put those hard of hearing at a disadvantage.