Japanese video game developer Konami gained a transcendent reputation for creating the Metal Gear Solid series through the game’s wild storytelling, unique military game-play and use of cinematic cutscenes. For 16 years, MGS has been defined by its independence and challenging of its medium.
The latest entry, The Phantom Pain, which came out at the beginning of September, tosses nearly all of this legacy to the wayside. It applies the series’ fundamentals to the same open-world sandbox template that other developers have been perfecting for years. In many ways, it’s a brisk slap in the face to a franchise that once blazed trails.
Yet with this baggage thrown to the side, series creator Hideo Kojima just may have perfected the open-world formula. Massive sections of Afghanistan and Africa are modeled in the game, rich in detail in its depiction of wildlife, weather and warfare.
You’ll still be sneaking up on guards, rescuing prisoners and hiding in plain sight, but now the action is totally non-linear.
Every gun, grenade, or gadget in your vast arsenal seems like a feasible tool for the job at hand. It’s a totally reactive game world, more alive than anything else in the action genre. The missions seem to have an endless replay value; the various objectives and different weapon combinations combined with the open-ended setting makes it incredibly unlikely that you’ll play the same mission – in the same manner – twice.
When you’re not out in the battlefield, you’ll be managing your own private militia on Mother Base. You’ll extract soldiers from across the world and aim to create an army without borders. Every enemy in the game has a set of rated abilities and specialties. These skills influence everything from development of new weapons to defense against online players invading your game.
Every piece of the puzzle feels consequential to the overall game. And while managing it can occasionally feel like a chore, the fact it works at all is a stunning achievement.
Metal Gear Solid boasts some of the most fascinating lore of any video game, yet Phantom almost doesn’t bother to aim for this high bar set by its predecessors in the plot-heavy series. Phantom‘s story is relatively simple and self-contained and the deeper ties to past MGS games are hidden away in optional audio logs.
The game’s narrative focuses on the missions themselves, and unlike past MGS games, you won’t just be the sitting audience to its brand of quirky military philosophy; you’re an active participant in it.
The Phantom Pain is one of the best games in this console generation as it sets a new standard for open-world gaming. Even if its story fails to live up to the Metal Gear legacy, it’s hard to imagine this game disappointing any fan of action-stealth.