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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review

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Gameplay:

This is the section I have most wanted to get to because there is so much to talk about here. Normally I end with the play time, but this time I am going to start with it (but I will also give it again at the end, for anyone who skims these reviews). I have put in 67 hours and 44 minutes so far and only completed Chapter 1. That is 30 episodes/story missions, to be more specific, along with however many Side Ops I have completed. I am not sure how much there is still to go, but I doubt the second chapter is going to be a short one.

The reason I am giving the play time now is because of how much the game changed and evolved for me over this time, as I better learned it and unlocked new things. I normally try to play games in a conservative way, meaning I go for stealth, certainty, and using as little ammo as possible. As this is a stealth action, that has worked out pretty well for me. Initially I was going around and using my suppressed tranquilizer gun and melee attacks to take out guards, so as to keep enemies from detecting me. This leads me to some of the odd quirks to the game I wish were different.

There are four ways to neutralize an enemy. You can stun them, tranquilize them, hold them up, or kill them. Stunning and tranquilizing are only temporary effects, so be careful with these as the enemies can get back up and attack you. There are some other issues with these two that I will get to shortly. I am not sure how long enemies will remain on the ground, hands over their head, if you hold them up, which is actually a problem for these three options. There is no way to know just how long the effect will last. Tranquilizing is probably consistent, but I have observed stunning lasting for very different amounts of time. In some cases the enemy is stunned for a few moments and other times they seem to be stunned longer than they would be tranquilized. Killing enemies naturally means they will not get back up, but brings up another issue.

Invisible to the player is a demon counter. As you commit certain evil acts, such as killing enemies and even allies, you will earn Demon Points and once you get enough, you become Demon Snake, covered in blood that you cannot wash off, and the shrapnel in your head grows in size. I had no idea this would happened until it did, and no idea why until I looked it up. Fortunately it is possible to commit enough good acts to return to normal Snake, but the issue I have with this system is how expensive it can be early game.

 

The only way to deal with enemies without gaining Demon Points is to keep them alive and Fulton extract them, so they will eventually join your team at Mother Base. The thing is that Fulton extraction costs money each time and you have a limited number of Fulton devices to use. Because of these costs I would only selectively extract enemies, and just kill everyone else so they would not become a threat again. This does mean that I would go through camps and outposts executing sleeping and stunned enemies because it seemed to be the only practical option, especially as I would get ammo back from their weapons.

This ammo issue lets me return to the issues I mentioned with stunning and tranquilizing enemies. To kill these enemies you have to shoot them or wake them up, grab them, and then select the option to execute them. While the latter does not cost any ammo, it takes a lot of time. The thing is, you have a knife, so why is there no ground execution ability, or similarly faster method? It would also be appreciated for when you encounter enemies in bed. Currently you cannot do anything with them but shoot them or wake them up to do whatever with. Again, this is time consuming and does not make sense. Why can you not grab them like an awake enemy, and wake them up in the process? This would make a lot of sense, but is not an option.

 

Another issue is that if you choose to grab an enemy and stun or kill them, if you then want to move their body for some reason (extracting the live enemy or hiding the body) that is a separate action. Why is there no command to just transition to picking up the body? There are other games that either give you this option immediately or actually make it a skill to learn and it would be appreciated here.

Going back a bit, thankfully I eventually unlocked some things that make it much easier to empty out a camp without gaining a lot of Demon Points. The first I got was the buddy Quiet. The buddy system allows you to call in certain characters that will help you in one way or another. The first you get is D-Horse, followed by D-Dog if you want, then Quiet and D-Walker, I think. Not sure of the order on the last two. Anyway, Quiet is a very good sniper and you can give her a tranquilizer rifle eventually. As she has unlimited ammo, and unlimited suppressor durability if you give her one of the suppressed rifles, she becomes a very powerful alternative to killing enemies, assuming she can shoot them.

Tranquilizing with Quiet still leaves the issue of sleeping enemies, but then I got new gear for D-Dog, giving him the ability to Fulton extract enemies. Like Quiet and her ammo, D-Dog has unlimited Fulton devices. Unfortunately you cannot have both buddies out, but that would have been really overpowered. Now, instead of going around with Quiet, letting her deal with the enemies, I go around, deal with the enemies myself (slower, but more fun overall) and then have D-Dog extract them, clearing out camps and outposts, removing the threats, growing my crew at Mother Base, without any cost to me. In addition to that, D-Dog has the natural ability of smelling enemies, putting temporary marks on the map, so I know where they are better than when Quiet spots them, or even scouts an area. Just by unlocking D-Dog's Fulton equipment, my strategy changed dramatically, allowing me to play as the nice person envisioned by the developers, and stop being Demon Snake. (This equipment for D-Dog is not immediately listed in the Development menu as you need to find a key to unlock it by completing a mission.)

 

Quiet does still have a significant use, which is dealing with the Skulls. These are the zombie-like enemies I mentioned earlier and I mention them now because I absolutely hate them. They are greatly overpowered as they can take multiple hits from very powerful weapons, have very powerful attacks of their own, and are very fast. Basically, every time you encounter them, you are told to run for it and you really should, because you really are no match for them, at least during the first chapter of the game. Quiet, however, can really change that. Eventually you can unlock and give her a very powerful sniper rifle that allows her to effectively take on the Skulls, with her unlimited ammo, safer perch, and all-but guaranteed headshots.

Fortunately the Skulls are not particularly common enemies, so you can play as you want more often than not.

 

I briefly implied that suppressors for your guns have durability limits, so after so many shots they will become useless. This makes it useful to remove them when you do not need them. The problem here, and why I am mentioning it now, is that the process of doing so is far too long. You have to open up the menu for selecting weapons, select the weapon you want to remove the suppressor from, then remove it. Too many steps and it is not helped by what the key binds are. To remove the suppressor from a primary weapon, press and hold 1, select the weapon with the A or D key or use the mouse, then press G to toggle the suppressor off, all while the game continues on in real-time. Now, to my knowledge, G has no other use in the game, at all, so why not have it just toggle the suppressor on and off without having to go through the menu?

Keybinds are actually a problem for the game in many ways. For one thing, the game routinely provides tips and such referencing controller buttons, instead of keyboard and mouse, and many of the menus are apparently designed with controllers in mind, and are thus clumsy on KB/M.

 

One menu that is actually problematic for two reasons is the Call menu. This is the menu you use for interacting with your deployed buddy, attracting the attention of enemies, and interrogating enemies. It has obviously been designed with a directional pad or control stick in mind, as the commands are placed in one of the four quadrants. You bring it up by pressing and holding Q, and issue a command by hitting the correct button on the number row. This is not the easiest motion, like hitting G to remove the suppressor, but there is something else that makes it even worse.

The top quadrant for the Call menu is to make a noise to attract the enemy. The right quadrant contains commands for current buddy. The bottom quadrant is to activate your prosthetic arm's bio-sensing sonar, if you have it. The left quadrant is for interacting with enemies. The reason I have gone through this is that the number key assignments are made in a clockwise order, but buddies can have different numbers of commands, or you may not have a buddy out, so there are no buddy commands. This changes the key assignments for the options that are more consistently there, which would basically be all of them but the buddy commands. This is ridiculous, in my opinion. The design should have been different to keep the key assignments consistent, or even to allow the assignments to be manually locked, instead of always changing based on context.

 

I have another very odd quirk, but need to cover something else first. The Development menu is how you will unlock new equipment for you, the Diamond Dogs, and your buddies. Initially this seemed like a standard, yet deep, development system as you can find in plenty of other games. Then I got the Legendary Gunsmith. This unlocks the ability to customize weapons with the various parts you have unlocked. Have an assault rifle you want a suppressor on? Go ahead and put it on. Light machine gun with a rifle scope? No problem, if you have what you need developed already. The depth the customization opened up is impressive and welcome.

The odd quirk to this is that you can only enter the customization menu from the Aerial Command Center (ACC), which is your helicopter. Mother Base, your home base where the equipment is developed and put together for you, does not have this option. Only and exclusively the helicopter allows you access to the customization menu… Huh? I really hope this will be changed.

 

I should definitely talk about Mother Base some because it does play a large role in the game. You cannot neglect it, even if you do not visit it often. You want to collect enemies to staff it because as you swell the ranks with better and better staff, you will gain access to better and better things. More equipment to develop, better resource gathering, faster extraction, better intel about your environment, and better teams to send on missions. These missions are deployment missions you are not personally involved with, but can result in various rewards, including money, other resources, more staff, blueprints, and even some advantages on the field. You can actually send teams on missions that will cut off the supply of shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns, flashlights, night vision goggles, body armor, riot gear, gas masks, and more. This can really upset the balance of enemies in your favor, if you are active with deploying these teams.

Staff management is important for Mother Base, but thankfully it's done automatically and pretty well. The staff members all have their own strengths, and they will be assigned to the appropriate team when you collect them. You can manually assign people, which can be useful if you want to temporarily boost, say, the R&D team, to start development on better equipment. Once development is started, it will continue even if the team drops below the required level.

 

There is a limit to the number of staff you can have at Mother Base, but the game will automatically dismiss people for you when you run up against this cap, so if you bring in better people, you will keep them and lose the less capable. But then once you start building Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), which are like additional Mother Bases, the staff cap can grow a lot.

You will build one FOB as a matter of the story, but to build any more requires the special MB currency that I have not yet seen how it is earned. I have gotten some as daily rewards for launching the game, but not nearly enough for another FOB. The Konami FAQ for the game suggests there are other ways to earn them for free, but I do not know what they are. Even then, I do not (so far) feel like I am missing anything by not having them. Two bases can hold a lot of staff and there are still plenty of platforms left to build on both of them. As a matter of principle I want that in-game, free way to earn them, but I am just not seeing a need for them presently.

 

You know, I have written quite a bit about in this section and have not yet mentioned what it is like going around as Snake. The simplest and best way I can think to describe that aspect of the gameplay is that it is exactly what you would expect and want from it (minus the quirks I mentioned earlier). It is another example of something there is little to speak about because things are just done right with it. I can add one more quirk to the list, as running is a toggle option and you cannot change that. A number of times I have used the button like it is press-and-hold, because that is what I am used to and because it is hard to know if you are running or not when in slow motion, and discover that I left run-mode, and am now going slower than I want to be.

Another quirk that is not a criticism is that when you are in the prone position, it is difficult to turn, like in real life. There is a way around this, however. Bring up the binoculars and point them where ever you want to face. This will turn you the direction you want to be facing instantly.

I think that covers everything I really want to touch on. With 67 hours and 44 minutes into the game, I hope I have experienced everything that would be significant enough to mention. There is still plenty to do, I am sure, so know that the full play time is going to be significantly higher than that, which is always a fun thing to be able to say. Plus you can replay missions to get things you missed and try for a better score.

Truly I have been having a lot of fun playing The Phantom Pain and am looking forward to continuing and finishing it. The various quirks I have mentioned are definitely annoying, especially those that make it evident the game is a PC port, and not a well-polished one at that, but at least none are too horrible.




  1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review - Introduction
  2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review - Graphics
  3. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review - Story
  4. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review - Gameplay
  5. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review - Conclusion
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