Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

If Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is truly to be the last entry in the venerable series, then Kojima Productions have ensured that it goes out with a bang. It concludes the transformation that was started with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, brilliantly turning into a grand open world that exists simply to give you opportunities and possibilities to play within the environment.

After a dirge-like opening hour that you quite literally have to drag yourself through, Afghanistan and Africa emerge as huge sandboxes for you to play in. The immense open spaces maybe don’t have the same density of other open world games and feature little else beyond the enemy forces and a handful of wildlife, but there’s always something nearby to explore or a mission to tackle. It could be a small side op to take out a group of guards at an outpost or extract a prisoner, or a more expansive mission that sees you tailing characters, collecting intel and striking at an opportune moment as two high ranking officers meet.

Though the series is best known for its stealth gameplay, you can tackle most objectives how you see fit. Certainly, you can go in with a silenced tranquilliser pistol and use CQC attacks to interrogate and subdue soldiers, but you can also snipe from afar, go in and cause bloody havoc with an assault rifle, or play as a completely different member of the Diamond Dogs – you can actually play as a woman in this way – and barrel through the enemy forces in a luridly golden tank.

All along the way, you’ll have the option of taking a buddy into battle with you. D-Horse is your mainstay early on, allowing you to quickly cover ground before you’re able to steal military vehicles for your own personal use, while the single person Walker Gear lends you a little added toughness for a more head-on approach. However, they pale in comparison to the benefits of taking D-Dog (AKA “DD”) or Quiet into battle with you.

DD detects and marks any nearby enemy or point of interest with a soft little bark, and can be commanded to attack to distract, kill or stun, depending on how he’s been equipped. Meanwhile, Quiet can be sent to scout an outpost regardless of where it is on the map, before setting up shop in a sniper spot and keeping a watchful eye for if you get into trouble. She too can be commanded to fire on specific targets, with a growing bond through persistent use adding the ability to fire in tandem with her, shoot a thrown grenade or simply have blanket cover fire. Get her a silenced tranquilliser sniper rifle, and you’ll be able to subdue and kidnap entire battalions of soldiers, but she can even take on helicopters, armoured vehicles and be useful during boss fights.

In truth, these two buddies remove a lot of the hard work from the stealth gameplay and could be considered overpowered as a result, but they are a lot of fun to use and it’s still up to you whether or not to take them into the field. In fact, it’s entirely your choice whether or not they are inducted into the Diamond Dogs in the first place, in another example of the surprising flexibility to the game’s design.


That Quiet is so scantily clad remains a disappointing decision through to the end, in how needless it is for her to be depicted in such a manner and the way the camera gleefully lingers upon her body during cutscenes. The pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo is a lame pretence for her near nudity that doesn’t really get better later in the game, but she remains a compelling character within the story. Her mere existence and her almost inexplicable actions are a constant source of disagreement and conflict between Ocelot and Miller – Big Boss rarely utters a word throughout the story, on the other hand – who are constantly at odds as the Diamond Dogs seek revenge, but the gradual reveal of Quiet’s particular tragedy culminate in a rather powerful scene as the game’s central story ends.

While you can tackle most things with a hail of bullets, you are gently pushed towards stealthier play, primarily through the need to build up your Mother Base into a support structure for your endeavours in the field, albeit one that you can and will visit regularly and are able to explore as it grows. The main method of gaining more men for the budding Diamond Dogs is, in fact, to enact a campaign of mass kidnap and indoctrination, by making use of the Fulton recovery system to whisk them away to your base. It takes a while for you to be able to research it, but the Fulton eventually lets you spirit away cargo containers and heavier military equipment, such as tanks, trucks and APCs.

Some of them might dive straight in, while others come to staff the various departments of your organisation, from R&D to Intel, Support and beyond. Though the game shuffles players into an appropriate department for you, you can also manage them yourself, which allows you to manually boost a department’s level and comes in useful during the story at points. Staff management is just part of the Mother Base set up which can be accessed at practically any time via the iDroid – though it’s best to wait for a lull in the action and/or use the companion app – allowing you to set the next weapon or technology to research, send the Combat Unit on missions, expand your base and even manage the forward operating bases which tie into the game’s online play.


When online, you can attack another player’s FOB in order to steal resources and capture some new recruits, while trying to set up and develop your own FOB with enough troops and defences to stave off an infiltration from another player. Your main Mother Base is off limits, and this is a largely asynchronous affair – though you will be notified of and able to attempt to thwart an infiltration if you happen to be playing and online at the time. A week after launch, the servers have yet to truly recover from the crush of players, and while you can infiltrate other bases just fine the menu for this fails to display player stats properly. You might also prefer to play without connecting to the servers, just to avoid the moments of lag introduced to certain parts of the iDroid menu.

Perhaps most importantly for the main game, expanding Mother Base lets you stay one step ahead of the soldiers that you encounter. Over time, they start to wear helmets, body armour, wield shotguns and sniper rifles, place decoys and mines. The Combat Unit can disrupt the supplies of these items, to give you a temporary advantage for those sticky situations.

Unfortunately, the game’s story and pacing start to come off the rails around the half-way mark. As it moves from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2, it starts to repeat itself more than it offers new material to play through. There are new missions and more than a few new cutscenes that resolve a number of plot points and tie up loose ends, but they are interspersed with missions from the first chapter that are modified in various ways to be more difficult.

The real problem isn’t that those repeat missions exist, since the game encourages replays to get a better score, complete side missions and more, but I’d rather have Subsistence or Extreme modifiers be an option across the board, rather than something I have to play in order to trigger the next cutscene or unlock a new story mission. It feels as if Kojima Productions simply ran out of time or resources to create new material, and found themselves having to pad the game time out in order to tell the rest of their story. It’s somewhat telling the number of times that a message from Miller after an unrelated repeated mission sees you dragged back to Mother Base for a cutscene.


There are a few missions that fall flat, as well. Kojima would have done well to heed the old advice to never work with kids, as the missions featuring children sap a lot of the fun and potential for inventiveness out of the game through awkward design. The boss fights can also feel rather wearing if you don’t go about them in a certain way, though they are undoubtedly very tense, difficult and fraught experiences. It’s maybe a bit of a shame that their appearance is spoilt by the intro credits, when you load into a mission.

But in the grand scheme of things, those missteps do little to detract from the glorious open world of possibilities that the majority of the game presents to you. Kojima has also done an excellent job of integrating this story into the well worn universe, wrapping up almost all of the loose ends within, as well as tying it to the events that are set to follow in a way that ought to please fans. Having said that, I’ve no doubt that there is much gnashing of teeth amongst fans of the series over the finer points of the ending and, for entirely different reasons, some of the more overwrought and hackneyed plot points.

What’s Good:

  • Outstanding open world sandbox play.
  • Quiet and DD are excellent buddies.
  • Mission scoring system that caters to more than just stealth.
  • Kidnapping everyone and everything in sight.
  • Base building is a natural feeling addition.

What’s Bad:

  • Second half of the story loses its way with repeated missions and some awkward design.
  • Quiet’s design is inexplicable.
  • Online hiccups at launch.

The Phantom Pain makes a major departure from the gameplay of the earlier home console games, but it’s brilliant for it. The story loses its momentum half-way through and the boss fights can fall flat, but those are minor points compared to the outstanding open world that has been created for you to play in and the freedom to do so.

Score: 9/10

Version Tested: PlayStation 4


  1. I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve played, a lot, but as has been discussed in the forums – the lack of speech from Snake is a huge let down for me, and makes his character feel very flat. Unless, there is a reason for this that’s revealed later – there have been some odd indications that something could be up.

    • Also, I think you should have been given the responsibility of allocating staff by default (rather than auto-Miller). In Peace Walker it meant you felt more involved with how each department levelled-up and you were more encouraged to place people outside of their specialist areas to unlock the next bit of gear you wanted. Since Miller does it I’ve just not bothered taking much interest in unlocking stuff – which is a shame – I just let things unlock naturally as I play rather than specifically aiming to unlock something like I did in Peace Walker. I’ll just do a brief check after each mission to see if there’s anything new.

      • You can move staff from one department to another.

      • Yeah I know, I just think captured/rescued staff should be held in the Waiting Room for you to allocate by default, rather than Miller allocating them automatically for you. Gives you more to do and you can see first-hand the impact your allocations are having to the respective departments’ level, and subsequent unlocks. Just my personal opinion.

      • Considering that I liberate people by the dozen, I prefer to have them automatically placed to the department they’re best suited to. Managing them individually would be a chore. Having said that, there were a few occasions where I deliberately boosted one dept. or another in order to unlock a specific weapon or upgrade, and one or two plot points do tie into this ability as well.

      • I fulton EVERYONE too but don’t see it as a chore, personally, it’s part of managing Mother Base. I just think it worked better in Peace Walker. It’s made me lazy and not bother to care or make adjustments, which is a shame imo.

  2. Tempted to get this, but the fact I didn’t like Ground Zero at all is stopping me.

    I’m not that familiar with the MGS series & Snake either, as I played the 3rd one (I think) & literally skipped every cutscene as they were ridiculously long.

    The fact you can play as a woman is interesting though as nothing about Snake (or whatever his names is) seems to interest me. Can you start off from the beginning with the female character? I’d rather see a female running around the screen for the whole game than a bloke trying to grow a mullet.

    As for Quiet, I must be an old perv because thats a selling point to me. Less clothes the better. Being born in the late 70s & watching god knows how many action movies through the 80s & 90s, Quiet’s costume is pretty much the norm.

    • You have to start off as Snake, but can rescue a woman captive and add them to your Combat Unit on Mother Base, which then lets you switch and play as them instead of Snake. He just reappears during major cutscenes, I believe.

      • OK, cheers. From what I read on that link, it must be around the beginning – I just need to make sure I don’t miss the opportunity.

        I’m toying with the idea of picking a copy up tonight, although I’ve just bought and downloaded the first episode of Kings Quest which should be ready for me when I finish work & arrive home.

  3. Looks really good. I’m hopeful that when they add the Online modes it is as good as it was in MGS4 bar the horrendous online set up system.

    Getting for my birthday :)

    • Ah the glorious Konami ID system!!!!

  4. Been playing MGS 5 since launch and whilst it is excellent, I prefer the old style of Kojima’s narrative as it’s more engaging. It also breaks the story when it goes TO BE CONTINUED…. then dumps you back in the ACC. Dislike how silent Snake is and do believe that it’s either Keifer cost too much or a plot reason. I am underwhelmed by the open world and just wish there was more to do on motherbase. I reached chapter 2 on Monday and was disappointed by there being two repeated missions. It is very rewarding when you get that S rating after disabling Reflex mode. I have heard that there is a massive retcon introduced by a character reveal that breaks the franchise but I can’t tell what that is yet.

    For me, I would say it’s an 8/10. It’s excellent but compared to PW and MGS 4, the plot is not as strong. The boss fights are weak from my experience and silent snake is just wrong.

  5. I loved what I played of Ground Zeroes.

    But I’ve only played MGS2 before (and a little bit of 1 and 3). Would it be OK to jump in with such limited knowledge of the events of previous games?

    • Yes, most of the series are great games in their own right (including The Phantom Pain) – I’ve played them all and the story confuses the hell out of me, but I still enjoy them! Story-wise it doesn’t help that they’re released years apart and they’re all out of order, and my memory isn’t great!

      If you loved GZ then you should really enjoy TPP, it’s huge, and a far far deeper game as you’d expect, with RPG elements with the inclusion of Mother Base, weapon research and development and managing resources/money.

    • The only game it has really direct ties to is Ground Zeroes, but even there, you don’t need to have played that to be able to enjoy this. Sure, there’s a lot of characters you’ll meet who have been in other games, but this is really a self contained story which happens to build people and relationships up to feature in the games that are later in the timeline.

      • Thanks Youles and Stefan, I’ll probably be looking at picking it up a lot sooner than planned then.

        But there’s so many games coming the rest of the year, I’m not sure how I’ll juggle it all. Some will have to wait.

  6. Haven’t got that far into the story yet, but I hope it gets a bit wackier. I had loathed the outlandishness of MGS, and I think that the MGS2/4 story arc is too convoluted for its own good. However, MGS5’s story seems to empty its own surprises, twists and revelations well ahead of time. It’s true that MGS5 is filling in very minor gaps between MGS3 and MG1, but I want to see it come up with a peculiar little knot of its own.

    Granted, I am currently only 3% in – it’s just that from what I’ve heard from other people, and from what I’ve seen myself, it does seem to suffer a bit from the open framework type of story that most open world games have to employ.

  7. It’s no forza then

    • I 100% saw that coming when I looked at the score.

      • Vehicle physics are fun, but it’s definitely no Forza. There’s no hypercars and an abject lack of real world tracks.

  8. Is mother base the oil-rig type structure in the pic above? Makes me homesick for MGS2. :)

  9. Quiet has a cracking body, I for one enjoyed perving at her. It’s ok to play as Snake topless but a woman and the double standards feminazis are in a uproar.

    • Lady Bewbs = Sexual. Man Bewbs = not sexual. There is a difference.

      • Like I said, double standards.

      • Yes. Set by you, you said “Quiet has a cracking body, I for one enjoyed perving at her.” – so you’re the one sexualising her boobs and setting the double standards. Now if you (and every other straight man) could keep you hand out of your pants when she’s on screen then you could see her completely naked.

        But you can’t. And that’s the problem. You, not her.

      • Wow, can the game detect if you have a hand placed within your underthunders and so not show the fully naked character? Best switch off that PS4 camera :P

  10. Great review Tef. Youles, LoneSteven and I seem to have discussed the game a hell of a lot without getting to the meat of anything, out of a desire not to spoil it for each other. I’ll be glad when we’re finished and can really pick it’s bones, it’s a great game but the drama does not live up to the MGS1-4 standards, I personally loved Kojimas cinematic cutscenes and 4 contained the absolute mutts nuts. I think the open world damages the story pacing a lot but adds to the stealth gameplay brilliantly, I’m not sure it was the best decision but it’s definitely an interesting trade off. More missions for me tomorrow I think.

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