MGSV: The Phantom Pain De-Emphasizes Story and It Works

I've been playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain just like the rest of the video game world, and to no one's surprise I've been having a blast with the game. As a huge Metal Gear Solid fan I love the series' penchant for insane plot threads, larger-than-life characters, and David Hayter as Snake. In the first handful of hours of The Phantom Pain there's less of an emphasis on story, toned down characters, and Kiefer Sutherland as Snake. It's a stark shift for the series, and yet it hasn't hindered my enjoyment of The Phantom Pain. Based on fan feedback so far, I'm not alone.

The move away from story isn't immediately apparent in the opening hour of Metal Gear V: The Phantom Pain. It begins with a prologue that captures Hideo Kojima's love of bombastic moments. I won't spoil the specifics of the prologue, but let's just say there are explosions, supernatural elements, and plenty of cinematics. It felt like I was right at home with the series I know and love, but after the eventful opening, the game changes its focus and the emphasis on narrative fades away.

It's as if Hideo Kojima wanted to remind players that he's also a game designer. Sure, he can write stories with crazy twists and turns, but his production team also excels at the creation of classic stealth gameplay. Each Metal Gear Solid game allows players to approach scenarios in a number of different ways, but there have always been obstacles along the way. The controls in particular often left something to be desired, but Metal Gear Solid V perfects the controls scheme. Imagine Ground Zeroes with a much larger budget and scope and you have The Phantom Pain.

It means that actually playing Metal Gear Solid V is the best part of the game. I'm not sure I can say the same about previous entries in the series, with the possible exception of Peace Walker. In fact, The Phantom Pain takes a lot of cues from Peace Walker and expands on them in smart and inventive ways. There's still a base management aspect and the game is broken up into various missions. The structure adds an addictive element to The Phantom Pain – the thought of “just one more mission” often turns into two or three more and then you realize you've been playing the game for hours.

The mechanical variety also elevates Metal Gear Solid V to a new level of tactical espionage action. The game rewards creativity, as every outpost and camp can be captured in a wide variety of ways. I've put soldiers to sleep with tranquilizer rounds, interrogated them for information, placed C4 on a truck to blow it up as it drives away, and launched jeeps into towers, just to name a few. There's no fumbling with controls along the way – just think of something and do it.

Much of my time in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has been spent wandering around Afghanistan and completing side-ops as they become available. I haven't really felt the need to complete main missions immediately to move the story forward. Perhaps it's because I felt underwhelmed by the narratives in Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes. I'm not quite as invested in Big Boss' story as I was with Solid Snake's, but the aforementioned games still have their standout narrative moments. I'm sure the same will hold true for The Phantom Pain. Even if it doesn't, I'm not sure I'll mind.