Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain ReviewPrice: £40
I remember when Metal Gear Solid V clicked for me. I was thoughtfully picking apart a village after dark, cutting power to the lights, reaching out of the shadows to grab sentries round the throat for interrogation. Every soldier had a story to tell before I choked them into unconsciousness, every poke and prod against the game’s systems rewarded me with information about a new path, or a cache of diamonds to collect.
These interlocking systems are the key to the game’s magic. In taking the series out of the linear environments and claustrophobic settings of its predecessors, Kojima productions managed to reinvent the series, making their last game together a contender for best-ever stealth game while wrapping up the Metal Gear Solid saga.
It’s 1984 and we’re here for Big Boss’s Darth Vader moment: This is the crucial middle piece of the puzzle that shows us how legendary soldier Big Boss makes his heel turn from hero to series villain in time for Solid Snake to take him down in Metal Gear 1. The supernatural/science fiction elements are largely muted this time around, with several levels passing without appearance of the supernaturally powerful “Skulls” to ruin your day and that’s a plus because their appearance is often equal parts jarring and unwelcome. Metal Gear Solid V is a game about controlling your enemies, yet the arrival of these elite soldiers often heralds you losing control of the situation.
This time around Big Boss is less lone wolf superspy and more concerned local business owner, often heading into the field with one eye on the mission and the other on likely recruitment targets to rebuild the Mother Base that serves as the games headquarters. The reward for Big Boss’s international game of Supermarket Sweep is that as you acquire more resources and personnel you see this represented in the Mother Base area, allowing you to get out there, meet the men propping up your private military company and put them in a headlock before you shoot them with enough tranquilliser darts to kill a bear.
This treatment is probably mentioned in the contract all of your Diamond Dogs sign upon recruitment because no one has complained yet.
In terms of the broad strokes it’s the same Metal Gear mayhem, with diseases, powerful mercenaries, the warrior’s code and a close look at some of the greyest areas of modern combat. Most of it is handled well - the inclusion of child soldiers in particular made me balk initially - and the story is often engaging, but it’s with a heavy heart that I have to concede maybe Kojima’s just never going to understand how to represent women. It’s several hours before you meet The Quiet - the first female I met in the game - and she’s running into combat in barely-there bra and shredded tights. There’s an “in-universe” excuse that people will surely respond with but it’s ridiculous. It’s upsetting because she’s a truly useful companion to take on missions, but I came away from each interaction feeling sleazy. That Kojima’s final attempt at a fleshed out female character is one with the superpower of wearing no clothes and the ability to say nothing
would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tiring.