Despite Early Praise, MGSV: The Phantom Pain Doesn’t Leave A Good Lasting Impression

To say that I'm a Metal Gear fan would be an understatement. I'm a grown adult with Metal Gear art on my wall. I've beaten every game in the series at least three times. Heck, my friends call me Big Boss due to my manic interest in the franchise. You might just find me stealthing around cosplaying as Big Boss with Vietnam-era camo and equipment.

As with many other gamers, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a game that I considered my most anticipated for nearly half a decade. But just 10 days after release I'm already burned out of the game, and can't say that I will remember it in a positive light. This isn't an uncommon theme with post-release talk. Many Metal Gear fans are disappointed, and it's only becoming worse with time. Let's go over why.

 


 

A Forgettable Story

Prior to MGSV's release, I took for granted how much I admire Hideo Kojima's storytelling, even with all its insanity (i.e. nanomachines and "the arm"). Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was certainly full of lengthy cutscenes, many of which were almost unbearably long. However, at the end of the game I felt as though I had been through an epic narrative. There were so many great moments that are impossible to forget, including the microwave hall and return to Shadow Moses. The truth is that while Metal Gear has always been long-winded, it's also been clever. That's extended beyond story elements to character design, with plenty of noteworthy antagonists encountered along the multi-decade journey.



 

​Skullface is a boring bad guy.

MGSV's story is, for the most part, uninteresting and all over the place. Skullface doesn't make for a compelling adversary, especially once his motives are revealed. Made worse, you spend most of your time doing menial tasks that have no grand importance, something that you just don't see in the four major installments of the franchise. It's almost as if Big Boss has all the time in the world on his hands and his friends don't mind sending him around to run errands.

When the final boss is taken down and the credits roll, even the most unknowledgeable Metal Gear player is left saying, "that's it?". Yes, that's it, unless you count the incomplete second chapter that follows.

 

Unexciting Boss Battles

When I think back to any of the four main Metal Gear Solid games, one of the qualities that sticks out the most is boss design. MGS's Psycho Mantis, MGS2's Fatman, MGS3's The End, and MGS4's Laughing Octopus all immediately spring to mind for their diverse mechanics and exciting gameplay.

In contrast, when I think back to my 50+ hours with MGSV, it takes me a few seconds to think of anything other than the final boss. Even then, the final boss is surprisingly simple at a gameplay level, with all the design efforts focused on presentation. You could argue that there is one solid boss encounter in the game, but unfortunately it's a rehash of experiences had in prior Metal Gear games.



 

In a series known for great boss battles, MGSV stumbles.

Many argue that MGSV's open-world nature made it much more difficult for Kojima Productions to introduce compelling boss design. While that may be true to some degree, there was nothing stopping Kojima from leading the player into a confined area similar to previous games for the encounters before returning to the open-world. There's no good excuse for how it is, and as a result the standard gameplay is left to pick up the slack.

 

A Dry Open World

In a lot of ways, MGSV's two open world maps (Afghanistan and Africa) aren't all that interesting. While they offer a large, beautiful area to move around, they are lightly populated with activities. Those activities are, for the most part, limited to breaking into enemy installations.

It's truly a desert out there.
 

It wouldn't be so bad if there were random events around the world, and secrets to explore. Or, maybe it could have had a presence of civilians that provide a layer of interaction. Instead, there are a limited number of side-stories and encounters to engage in, and its variety is derived from its Buddy system and diverse equipment library. What's here is very one-dimensional, especially when compared to the recent The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Equipped with only two map styles and many repeated buildings and towers, level design becomes repetitive early on. Once I hit Chapter 2 and I was tasked with revisiting locales, my interest deteriorated at a rapid rate. This is a Metal Gear game that few will ever run through more than once.

 

Missing Pieces

It's become clear that Hideo Kojima needed at least another year to work on MGSV to make it the epic finale that he envisioned. Unfortunately, Konami didn't want to fund more development time, and therefore incomplete content had to be pushed to the side. Remnants of this have been peppered all over the game experience as well as the data files. There are areas shown in pre-release media that aren't in the game, there's a significant cutscene that was outright stripped from the title, and Chapter 2 feels like a complete mess.



 

MGSV was supposed to fill the 1980's gap.

The biggest disappointment is that MGSV fails to accomplish what it set out to do from a story perspective. It's set in a time period between the events of MGS: Peace Walker and Metal Gear, one that produces a wealth of discussion among fans for its lack of information. There was a tremendous amount of potential squandered as MGSV raises more questions than it answers.

 

The Debrief

When I think back to the pre-release hype of MGSV I find a few problems. For one, Kojima showed way too much of the game in pre-release trailers, to a point where there wasn't much surprise left for the game, and some content was shown that didn't make it into the final product. Additionally, I can't help but firmly believe that the MGSV pre-release review boot camp was shady. I respect others' opinions, but I have difficulty understanding how the game received so many perfect reviews when it suffers from as many shortcomings as it does, especially given its significance for the Metal Gear franchise.

MGSV has some great qualities that make it a game deserving of respect, especially when it comes to minute-to-minute gameplay. Unfortunately, despite being by far the most expensive MGSV to make, and Kojima's last piece of the timeline puzzle, its disappointing qualities don't leave a good lasting impression.

 

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