You’re down to your last clip of ammunition as your sniper buddy tries to take out the remaining horde of soldiers who are barrelling down on your position. A gunship is hovering overhead, ready to cut you in half with machine gun fire while a mortar team is ready to fire on your position. You call in an artillery strike and you run out into the Afghan twilight, blasting ‘The Final Countdown’ as the sky lights up with bullets. This was only a jaunt out into the desert yet it turned into a 20 minute long unscripted infiltration and escape mission, which would rival most action set pieces in other AAA shooters. With Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Kojima and his team have created one of the finest open world experiences to date, with almost infinite gameplay choice which captures the feeling of being a legendary soldier. While the gameplay is unparalleled, the story is afflicted by Kojima’s constant want to lecture players about everything he knows on microbiology or nuclear deterrence, on top of having contrived twist on contrived twist. It’s the most ambitious Metal Gear to date and while it does fulfil many of its ambitions, some aspects fall just short of it being an absolute masterpiece.
I’ll get my biggest bugbear out of the way first. Kojima has still not learned how to write a well paced story. While this is certainly the most straight forward of all the Metal Gears in my opinion (no nanomachines or psychic essences locked in arms to deal with just yet), Kojima cannot stop jabbering on and filling his plots with technobabble and arbitrary twists. Now, if you aren’t versed in the Metal Gear lore, you’ll just have an alright revenge story which seems to run out of steam fairly quickly and has rather an abrupt ending. If you are a long time Metal Gear fan, the endings that The Phantom Pain presents will either be genius or you will think the whole series is ruined. The infamous Kojima ‘ruse cruise’ is in full effect, with the 3 endings you have to sit through only obfuscating the conclusion even more. It isn’t as awful or drawn out as Guns of the Patriots, but Kojima isn’t winning a prize for best narrative any time soon.
As for the voice acting, all the cast do the best they can with the script presented to them. Robin Atkin Downes and Troy Baker do excellent jobs as Miller and Ocelot, but you will become sick of Miller constantly asking if you are extracting that particular soldier every time you attach someone to a Fulton ballon. Kiefer Sutherland does well as Snake, bringing a forlorn gravity to the character, making this iteration of Snake feel like one who is finally being ground down by the horrors of war. The thousand yard stare Snake has when he returns to Mother Base, covered in blood, is so effective in showing the mounting fatigue of this eternal soldier. He is the least talkative of the main cast, with most of his dialogue being presented in tapes you get between missions but even then, his personality does not really shine through. This is a very particular choice, tying in with Kojima’s tale of identity but it does make you yearn for the goofier and more defined Snake voiced by David Hayter. Skull Face goes from possibly interesting antagonist to cartoon villain, with James Horan really phoning it in with the lacklustre script while it is just another day at the office for Christopher Randolph, bringing some top notch bitching and moaning with Huey Emmerich.
The mission tapes are again plagued by Kojima’s desire to lecture at you about a topic he has just read about. They act mainly as pleasant white noise to listen to as you plan your next mission or order the next platform to be built on Mother Base but don’t expect to be listening to Shakespeare. Right, enough about Kojima’s lack of writing skill, let’s get to the real meat and potatoes of Metal Gear Solid V, the actual experience of sneaking across Central Africa or commanding your private army and its headquarters.