Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Final Build Impressions

August 24, 2015

The following article contains plot spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. If you do not wish to have the opening moments of the game spoiled for you, please click here to be taken to our spoiler-free home page.

Rocket Chainsaw was recently invited to the offices of Mindscape (who do distribution for Konami in Australia) to play the final build of the PS4 version of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Our session was three hours, and during this time we were able to complete the game’s Prologue and a majority of the first chapter.

The Phantom Pain takes place 9 years after the events of Ground Zeroes. Snake awakes in a hospital bed to the surprise of his nurses and doctors. The doctor explains that Snake had suffered severe trauma and has been in a coma since the destruction of Militaires Sans Frontières. The sequence is presented in a first person viewpoint and includes small elegant details such as Snake’s vision being blurry when he first awakens, and Snake violently shaking as a reaction to being told about his condition. It gives players an intimate connection with Snake without words being spoken.

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During a debriefing, the hospital falls under assault by an unknown enemy.  The doctor and nurse are strangled to death right in front of Snake, who is immobile due to his condition. Snake is thrown to the floor, with the assailant mere moments from making the killing blow. The assailant suddenly stops – a bandaged patient comes to Snake’s rescue and explains he has been watching over him for nine years and is an ally.

The game’s tutorials are integrated into an escape sequence where Snake and his ally make their way through the hospital while avoiding enemy squads. Snake is initially heavy on his feet and has to crawl through the halls, but quickly gains mobility. It feels like a game of cat and mouse as players are limited and vulnerable, allowing for some intense scenarios where Snake must use stealth to avoid the searchlights of helicopters and sneak past soldiers.

During the escape players are introduced to two other mysterious foes – a child wearing a gas mask and straitjacket who wields telekinesis abilities (we assume Psycho Mantis?), and an even more dangerous demon-like humanoid. They’re introduced as powerful god-like figures who cannot be killed by conventional weapons. Their scenes throughout the Prologue are so intimidating that when we finally had a chance to go toe-to-toe with the demon we opted for a quick escape without firing a single bullet! Kojima really demonstrates how storytellers can set an appropriate tone that grabs your full attention.

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Chapter One slows down the pace and introduces the open-world environment. Snake becomes reacquainted with his old rival Ocelot, and together the pair look for revenge in a war-torn Afghanistan. You’re dropped into the desert on an intelligence mission along with a trusty steed to help you traverse this dangerous wasteland. The series’ stealth gameplay is not forgotten in the open-world environment. If you’re galloping through an area without planning ahead it’s all-too easy to be spotted and alert guards. Instead, you’re encouraged to scope out an area beforehand, plan a route you and complete your objective. Like Ground Zeroes there is no correct way to make your approach – you can enter a camp from multiple angles and chose to take out enemy soldiers or simply let them be. Taking a more silent approach usually makes missions easier to complete, but the gun-wielding route is also an option for sharpshooters. Veterans of the franchise should feel right at home.

The desert is anything but deserted. Just traversing from one mission to the next you’ll encounter livestock along the roads, plants that can be collected for resources and enemy outposts that remind you this is a war zone. During our playthrough we were alerted to an optional secondary objective at a nearby outpost. We were tasked with capturing a militant who spoke English and could act as a translator when Snake interrogates enemies. It’s moments like these that kept the open-world feeling alive and ensured there was lots to do.

The Phantom Pain also brings back the base management system that was introduced in Peace Walker. Players can capture enemy soldiers to staff their base. This leads to Snake gaining ability and weapon upgrades through research teams. Soldiers are captured using a surface-to-air recovery balloons, which in itself is a fun challenge. Soldiers who have been shot and are close to death have less chance of being successfully captured, whereas a soldier who has only been knocked out is more likely to survive the trip. Only soldiers who are in open air-space can be captured. If they’re under shelter or inside a building the option is not available. The enemy AI will also notice their comrades being pulled into the air if they’re close-by, so discretion is key to maintain a low profile. Players worried the base-management might become redundant with extended play sessions need not worry as it’s a completely optional side task. Those who do invest time and effort however, will be rewarded.

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Visually, The Phantom Pain is absolutely stunning and makes great use of next-gen hardware. The game runs very fluid and at times the gameplay looks like it’s an FMV. The desert constantly has dust blowing in the wind, and overall there is great attention to detail. During the opening moments with Snake waking up from his coma, there were a few noticeable frame rate drops, but these only lingered for a split second and do not retract from the experience.

We left our session wanting more time with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. From the amazing attention-grabbing opening sequence to the classic stealth gameplay and lively open-world, there is certainly a lot to be excited about from this latest (editor: and last Kojima) entry. There is no doubt that it is going to be loved by both veterans and newcomers to the Metal Gear franchise.