Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PlayStation 4) Review

By Az Elias 30.11.2015 8

Review for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on PlayStation 4

A lot has been made of Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima's departure from Konami, but with his sign-off title, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, at least he was going to go out with a bang, right? The Phantom Pain is a huge departure from previous entries, taking on an open world design that is bound to be a hit with some, but a miss for others. Full of praise in the initial US review, Cubed3 sneaks into Big Boss' boots again for a second opinion on PlayStation 4.

As far as Metal Gear games go, The Phantom Pain is a disappointment. Prequels can often be frowned upon, as going back in time in a series generally doesn't pose as much interest as events going forward. Metal Gear Solid 3 single-handedly changed that mentality. After the PlayStation 2 classic, though, hadn't Big Boss' story already been told? His status as a legendary soldier was cemented, and it was easy enough to see why he ended up on the path to villainy that paved the way for events in the very first Metal Gear. How much more of this chapter in Big Boss' life needed to be documented? If anything, it was Ocelot that needed some character development to detail his transit into the crazed torturer he becomes in Metal Gear Solid, but it turns out that this is one of the most boring and one-dimensional casts in not just a Metal Gear game, but of any game in the last few years.

With major changes to voice actors and poor dialogue, these characters don't feel anything like the ones fans have come to know throughout the series. What was the actual point of casting Kiefer Sutherland as Big Boss when he's practically a mute? The ridiculously-designed sniper Quiet serves little purpose in the story, other than eye candy to gawk at, and the true antagonist isn't even seen throughout the entirety of the experience.

Screenshot for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on PlayStation 4

The pacing of the story is all over the place, as things start off reasonably dramatic, yet then drop dead for about 20 hours, with mission after mission of similar gameplay goals, and hardly any cut-scenes whatsoever. This is a massive deviation from the series as it has come to establish itself since 1998, whereby long plot-heavy cinematics have always been customary, but The Phantom Pain has hardly any at all for the most part. This might sound like a relief to some that couldn't sit through them in previous outings, but after the opening prologue, there is little to keep the tale going. It's far too slow to get anywhere, meaning it's entirely possible the title will be dropped completely before anything decent starts happening. Metal Gear fans expect good gameplay, but not at the cost of any story-advancing cut-scenes to establish actual meaning and desire to push forward.

The real kicker is that a lot of typically important pieces of the yarn are resigned to cassette tape entries, which are a total pain to have to sit and listen to, with optional subtitles that don't always show the correct words being spoken - in some cases, completely different lines of dialogue that were clearly re-recorded. When cut-scenes do eventually start to ramp up in the final hours, they amount to near nothing because of how anticlimactic events are. There is no proper final boss fight with the prime antagonist, and what's worse is that the real climax has been omitted entirely, rendered too incomplete for it to make the final cut. It's an absolute disgrace that it was seen as okay to ship this product in its current unfinished state. How the final batch of story scenes are triggered - by completing repeated filler missions on harder difficulties or through even more side ops - is also lazy, almost like they were slapped in at the last minute when they could - and should - have been evenly placed throughout the campaign.

Screenshot for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on PlayStation 4

The Phantom Pain is a very conflicting piece of software, since when the story isn't busy being rubbish (or just not existing at all), gameplay can be decidedly fun, if effort is made to make it so - in other words, trying to ignore the fact that it was an utterly pointless move to take the open world route. It's a growing trend in videogames today, but jumping on the bandwagon is not always a good thing. Of the two main areas included - Afghanistan and Africa - the maps are incredibly barebones, save for the actual mission zones, so most of the time between these locations will simply be spent galloping on the horse to whichever place needs to be headed to next, or wasting just as much, if not more, time by hopping in the chopper and selecting the closest landing zone to the mission, and then sitting through the same exceedingly awful sequence of Big Boss looking painstakingly bored as he approaches his destination.

It's the freedom of expression on the battlefield that makes up for the tiresome story and pacing, though. With the range of tools at Big Boss' disposal, every situation can be tackled in a variety of unique ways, and through extended play time and customisation of weapons and items on offer, a personal style will be developed. It is very easy to fall into the tried and tested formula of simply sneaking up on nearby enemies, knocking them out, dragging them away, and then using the Fulton extraction device to ship them off to Big Boss' Mother Base. However, by stepping outside of these boundaries, Metal Gear Solid V becomes a playpen of humour and satisfaction through utilisation of not just Big Boss' weapons, but the surroundings and other hostile units. Although the choice is there to tear it up Rambo-style, there aren't many better moments than completely clearing out of a zone in a timely manner, without being spotted through sheer ingenuity and wit. Sneaking into a base, planting a whole bunch of C4 around satellite targets, and then setting them off from atop a nearby cliff, watching as soldiers haven't a clue what just happened, is nothing short of gratifying. Fighting a helicopter one-on-one? Heck, try Fultoning a tank - whilst extremely hard to do, with perfect timing, it can be airlifted right into the chopper, taking it out in a way never thought possible.

Screenshot for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on PlayStation 4

It's this diverse scope of mission approach that keeps The Phantom Pain alive, helped by remarkably tight controls that are a far cry from the clunky nature of previous Metal Gear entries. Whether much of the equipment is ever used at all is a problem in itself, though. Items must be crafted and, usually, waited on to be built before using. It can be a hindrance to certain situations - particularly one point of the story where it is only discovered after arriving at the mission zone that a certain tool is required, which then takes half an hour to make. The reality is that so many items aren't required in order to just work through to the end. Clearing out entire zones is made even easier when a buddy like D-Dog or Quiet is called into action. In fact, it's not a difficult task to get through The Phantom Pain at all, and since so many missions rely on similar goals, it doesn't feel necessary to make the effort to be unique in the field. As a result, by the time 20 hours of monotonous missions have been passed, with the story going nowhere, most players will have fallen into boredom, completing operations in the laziest and simplest way possible, just to see it out.

What this would have benefitted from, far more than the open world plan, is multiple large areas in the style of Camp Omega in its prequel, Ground Zeroes. This would have eradicated the useless and bland terrain, and allowed designers to focus on intricate semi-open areas that keep gameplay flowing for longer periods and may have forced some of the more distinctive items to be employed, instead of breaking things up too often with the short and small areas presented as they are now. Pace the story well throughout, and it's a recipe for a game that won't be dropped halfway through.

Sadly, there are further low points, the biggest of which is a real lack of boss fights. Central to every Metal Gear so far, is an array of bizarre and typical-Kojima bosses, but what's on offer this time round is ridiculous in both numbers and imagination. Ignoring the cut content at the end, it's difficult to pinpoint why this is the case; why didn't Kojima, of all people, create anything anywhere near as memorable as bosses like Psycho Mantis, The Sorrow, or even any of the BB Corps? Bosses are one of the many key features that define Metal Gear, and it's truly shameful that they are some of the weakest in the series in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, really rubbing salt in the wounds of this dispiriting game.

Screenshot for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 5 out of 10


Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a forgettable and shallow Metal Gear experience, and fans expecting this to be on par with any of the previous mainline releases will be disappointed, and, quite possibly, drop the game altogether before the lacklustre story decides to show up. It looks and plays fantastic, and the freedom to apply weapons and items to effective strategic use is second to none, but after hours of similar, tiring missions, with no incentive to drive forward or even return to once it's all done and dusted, it can't help but be wondered how on earth this turned out the way it did. This is no phantom pain, it's a physical one.


Kojima Productions







C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (2 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


a harsh rating- yet i do not disagree with anything in this review at all.

I've been shocked with how much praise it's got.

It split me two ways, and whilst it felt so good to play, all the downsides left me feeling pissed off more than anything. Right down the middle was best.

I was also annoyed with this:

TPP left me with absolutely no desire to ever return to the game, and the fact it doesn't have multiple save files probably speaks for itself.

before i settled on my rating i had to think about the big picture.

i dumped over 100 hours into the game which is pretty rare for me. my personal feelings aside- the phantom pain did keep me invested and engaged for a long time with very little interruption and ultimately managed to get an emotional response from me for better or worse.
that is not easy to do in a game like this which is essentially a weird farcry mgs hybrid.

this is a flawed game but i feel it is more than the sum of its parts.


i still think mgs3 is the best

That's the thing, it's a long game, but because it feels so good to play, and because I was always expecting the story to eventually get good, I wasn't able to put it down. Once chapter 2 kicked in, I thought, finally, things are gonna get awesome. It just didn't happen for me. When I considered the amount of hours I have to put in, only to get no reward or satisfaction out of it, I didn't think it was worth the praise.

MGS3 is a brilliant game. I'm very partial to MGS2 tho. The central theme of the story is very profound and relevant, sort of before its time.

It just doesn't sound like a Metal Gear game which is disappointing to me. I love the first 4 "Solid" games. I'm still the biggest fan of Twin Snakes. But all of them are brilliant in my mind, from story telling to game play. You have lowered my expectations of The Phantom Pain though, I actually don't care too much for an open world Metal gear. I much prefer the story driven and straightforward game play from the other games in the series. 

i still stand by my 8/10 scoring for MGS5.

yes- MGS5 has very obvious flaws and has a very weak narrative flow. However, in terms of playability you really cant do better than MGS5. Controlling Venom Snake is just so wonderful and he plays so fluidly it feels like he can do anything. The polish of the mechanics keeps you engaged  and in control that it makes it so easy for so much time to pass without even realizing.

it says something when a game like MGS5 which is rife with so many missed opportunities can managed to keep players engaged well passed the 40 hour mark which is something that not all RPGs can even manage to do. this is a substantial value for your dollar that i feel that MGS5's harshest critics dont often recognize.

I recognise what it does well, and what it does well it does brilliantly. It was a lot of fun to play. But it comes down to personal view points in the end. I had a lot of fun playing, but the story was utter gash, and once it was all over and I felt completely underwhelmed by it all, I never went back to it again, and nor will I likely ever. The other issue is that so much of the game is devoid of any good story at all, taking ages before it finally kicks into gear, with mission after mission getting pretty tedious and nothing to reward for the effort. I've known mates to drop it after putting hours into it because the story was going nowhere and the missions were so samey.

So I can see what it does well, but it is also a hella disappointing game on many levels. I think the average rating is fair, personally, because it goes both ways - much good, but much bad. Best gameplay, but worst Metal Gear in terms of my personal enjoyment.

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