The Phantom Pain begins nine years after the destruction of the Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF) in Ground Zeroes. Big Boss wakes up from a coma and facilitates the endeavours of a mercenary group called Diamond Dogs. His mission leads him into Afghanistan and Angola during the Soviet-Afghan War and Angola Civil War, respectively. He looks to track down those responsible for the MSF’s destruction and in the process discovers a devious plan by the Cipher Organization.
The structure of the narrative was not perfect and was done in a way that was not conducive to telling a compelling story. This is not to say that the story the game tries to tell is not interesting, but rather that it was hard to keep it together in a cohesive narrative. It was difficult to follow without diligently searching for and listening to cassette tapes, which should typically reveal ancillary parts of the story, but instead were imperative.
The story definitely did have its memorable moments, but it felt much less important to the fun of the experience than what you were able to create for yourself out in the world.
What drives The Phantom Pain’s gameplay is the freedom of the experience and the richness of each encounter. There are a large number of missions and side objectives to accomplish that each leave so much to the imagination in terms of your approach. There is significant flexibility in the application of gameplay mechanics and combat to strategize and complete an area as methodical or improvised as you wish.
You can meticulously devise a plan of action – sneaking around and diving like a secret agent badass, equipped with your satchel of cool gadgets to quietly carry out tactical takedowns. Often what made this really work were the reactions by the sophisticated AI. They will adapt to your go-to strategies, constantly patrol, and tenaciously search for you when they find evidence of an intruder.
With such vigilant AI some plans don’t go as well as you would like them to and force you into an improvised state. The Reflex Mode allows you a chance to quickly recover from a moment of detection by an enemy. If you are spotted you have a small window to avoid them alerting anyone by initiating a slow-motion sequence where you can take them out. This brings some added intensity and creates some seriously badass moments.
Depending on whether you are in Afghanistan or Angola, there are environmental factors that play into battles and your general approach to enemy areas. The environment not only changes your experience through its day and night cycle and storms that halt airdrops and impacting visibility, but it also affects your enemies. The changing weather and time of day can make you less visible and less audible to them. When night rolls around they are not going to be able to see you as quickly, and weather storms can cover the sound of your footsteps as you sneak around.
By weaving in weather disruptions, varying environments, and an arsenal of equipment – it presents you with varying challenges, each of which can be overcome or utilized in any creative way the enormous range of tools and your imagination will allow.
Before you actually engage in a mission, there is a chance for you to customize a mission loadout. This includes selecting your equipment, character, vehicle, and Buddy. Buddies are companions that will accompany you on the mission and each provide some sort of tactical advantage, whether it be sniper cover, faster movement, or massive firepower. They each change the gameplay experience allowing you to do a variety of things for the same mission, plus it’s just incredibly fun and silly to ride something like the D-Walker into battle.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain gifts you the glorious freedom of an open world and does its best to not hinder you in anyway. Despite some missteps in presenting the narrative thread, it offers rich gameplay that can be what you want it to be. If you want stealth, you got it, if you want chaos and hail storms of bullets, you got it – you determine the pace of gameplay.
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