I want to tell you my score for Metal Gear Solid V, because it will undoubtedly be high. I want to tell you, but I can’t.
I can’t give the game a score yet because according to the game I am only 10% of the way through. I have sunk dozens of hours into it and I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m still unlocking large new features of Mother Base—I only recently built my first sniper rifle.
There’s a special feeling when you begin a game and you just know its going to swallow you whole for the next several weeks. That’s the feeling I’ve gotten from Metal Gear Solid V; I don’t know how long it is but I know I’m going to enjoy the ride.
The Phantom Pain kicks off with an immersive and incredibly engaging sequence set in a hospital as Snake recovers from a coma. The first thing you’ll notice about the game is that like Snake Eater before it, there is no radar, raising the skill floor from MGS4 by forcing you to be much more aware of your surroundings.
The stealth is as satisfying as you’d expect for a Metal Gear game. When you do it well you’ll feel like ghost with a tranq gun, when you screw up, the “Alert!” sound gives you the panicked flashbacks that comes with 17 years of Metal Gear Solid. The open-world setting of the game provides a much more diverse experience for the stealth gameplay; often the best strategy isn’t to memorize patrol routes but approach from other angles in a different order. If you’re going for perfect stealth, no kill runs like I am, the variability in each mission stops you from burning out on multiple retries.
What helps the game flow amazingly well is the short iteration time for each death or retry. By being back in the action in seconds, the frustration so common in stealth games is greatly alleviated. This makes it easier to experiment with your approach to every situation knowing you won’t be torching much time if your sprinting strategy fails.
The other side of that coin is the Checkpoint system. The game relies on checkpoints for saving, and you’ll get a checkpoint every time you reach an outpost or complete an objective. This is great when it helps you avoid starting the mission from the beginning, but occasionally you’ll be seen as you complete an objective or that guard you left unconscious will drown and the checkpoints will lock you into your mistake, forcing you to start the mission again. It’s a small gripe, but when it happens, it can eliminate 30+ minutes of flawless progress.
On PS4 the game looks great. Most striking to me was the draw distance and the complete lack of instancing. The first open world Metal Gear is staggeringly big, but pop-in is almost non existent and everything looks consistently excellent. Faces in particular are quite impressive; we’re starting to crawl our way out of the Uncanny Valley in 2015, and MGSV is a great example of how great mo-cap can look.
The story is as dense as you would expect from a Metal Gear game, but made a little less accessible by its connection to multiple other games. Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes and of course Snake Eater factor into the events of The Phantom Pain, making the hurdles to entry for some a bit high. The game does an admirable job getting you up to speed, but there’s a reason Metal Gear Solid games come with a database—not knowing whats going on will limit your enjoyment of the story.
The story follows Big Boss’ return to the world after the events of Ground Zeroes and his, Miller, and Ocelot’s pursuit of The Boss’ dream, by way of Diamond Dogs, a Private Military Force. To say more would be going into spoilers, and I’m not even halfway done yet, but the game strikes a good flow allowing players to engage in side missions and base-building alongside the main story. Side missions in feel consistent with the main story in ways not common in other games, where side missions are largely filler consisting of collection quests. You’re taking PMC contracts, extracting VIPs or recruiting assets to build your organization, it all feels logically consistent in a way that collecting flags never does.
I told you I’d have almost nothing bad to say. Even before I’m done and before we’ve settled on a score. I’m confident in recommending this game to anyone, not just Metal Gear fans.
I’ll be back in a few days with my final score if this isn’t enough to push you on the fence—until then Raptors.