Auteur game designer Hideo Kojima stuck with his Metal Gear series from its inception in 1987 until 2015. His final contribution to the legendary saga was Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The game was generally well received, but also came with its share of glaring issues.
Unfortunately, most remember its problems and the troubles surrounding the production more than the impressive feat the experience represents. As an objective acknowledgement of both the good and bad, the following list will present five reasons why The Phantom Pain was the best in the series, and five reasons why it missed its mark and wasn't a worthy swansong for the beloved franchise.
10 Best: Open World Gameplay
The Phantom Pain is the first entry in the series to drop players into an open world. Most missions are true feats of infiltration, requiring Venom Snake to enter a place, complete an objective, and make it out alive. Because of the open world design, players can accomplish this task in a variety of ways.
Going in guns blazing is just as valid as the stealthy approach. Player freedom was always central to Metal Gear's design philosophy, and The Phantom Pain excels in this area.
9 Underwhelming: The Twist
The narrative hook involves the bizarre opening chapter and how it relates to the main character. The end of the game clarifies the protagonist's true identity, a nurse who was on Big Boss's helicopter when it crashed, but most already figured that out from the game's heavy-handed foreshadowing.
The idea of strongly implying something so unbelievable only for it to be the truth is clever, but it rubbed many the wrong way. Because it was so obvious, the final reveal was fairly underwhelming, a far cry from the jaw dropping twists the series is capable of.
8 Best: Progression
The two portable titles from the PSP, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, introduced a progression system whereby Snake would earn new equipment and upgrades by developing a headquarters, through the recruitment of soldiers, scientists, and civilians.
The 2015 title wisely borrowed this same model, adding a new layer to the classic Metal Gear formula. Players start out with the basics and slowly unlock better --sometimes outlandish-- equipment to use in the field. The desire to upgrade Mother Base and the tool set adds dozens of hours of replay value.
7 Underwhelming: Multiplayer
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence was the first in the series to feature competitive multiplayer, and those who were around to play it will sing its praises from the mountaintops. Every Metal Gear since then has modeled its online component around the 2006 game, but they never seem to match it.
Metal Gear Solid V had even more potential with its open world and quality of life fixes to gameplay, but its online component came off mostly as an afterthought. It plays smoothly, as one would expect from the series, but it lacks originality and ultimately made no mark in the crowded field of online shooters.
6 Best: Soundtrack
Venom Snake waking from his nine year slumber to the tune of Midge Ure's "Man Who Sold the World" cover stands as one of the greatest video game intros ever. The synth-heavy music is a shocking juxtaposition to whatever was on the airwaves in 1975, and the first-person perspective as the character's vision slowly comes into focus is an powerful artistic touch.
The choice of song is just a small prelude to the handful of licensed songs in the game that help solidify the title's 1984 setting.
5 Underwhelming: Too Few Bonus Missions
Aside from the story missions, Venom Snake can tackle a small handful of side missions with the goal of acquiring more supplies. They are a nice incentive, but there are too few for it to feel like a significant addition. After getting to a certain point, harder versions of certain story missions become available, which Snake must complete using only what he finds out in the field.
These are a great challenge, but any other game would have had this for each story episode, while Phantom Pain offers it for only a select few. Ground Zeroes had some outlandishly creative bonus ops, and the following game lacks this almost entirely.
4 Best: The Parasites
Vocal cord parasites play a role in the story, but their integration into gameplay is where they really shine. At one point, players must figure out what is causing a plague on Mother Base. By looking at their recruits and finding connections between the ailing soldiers, they ultimately deduce that the ill all share a common language.
Afterwards, Venom Snake must enter the quarantined area and personally end each of his comrades' lives in order to prevent further infection. The segment is just as intense and hard to stomach as it sounds, but elevates the action game to new artistic heights.
3 Underwhelming: Microtransactions
The inclusion of microtransactions in a primarily single-player game is a stain on the fantastic story. Players can pay to speed up development time at Mother Base. On top of that, the Forward Operating Bases require real currency in order to build more than one and expand on them.
The mode is ultimately inconsequential, but it still feels like locking something behind a paywall. Not only is it questionable, but the feature had no advertising, as though Konami snuck it in under everyone's noses.
2 Best: Narrative
Metal Gear has always garnered praise for its complex narrative, dealing with profound themes most other games do not dare touch. The Phantom Pain certainly follows suit. It starts out as a simple revenge tale, but uses its characters and lore to discuss themes like culture, the protagonist's ethics, and the importance of language.
The actors' performances are excellently presented through masterfully-crafted cinematics, each of which were done in one continuous shot. While writing and acting is getting better within the medium, Kojima still stays ahead of the curve.
1 Underwhelming: It's Incomplete
This is the biggest mark against the game. One reaches a point where the story just kind of finishes with little resolution. Several plot threads are left hanging and the player never feels the satisfaction of beating it. Kojima had a highly publicized falling out with Konami, which left the game in this compromised state.
Thankfully, it runs smoothly and what is there is one of the best action-adventure games of this generation, but one cannot help but wonder what it could have been had it reached its full potential. Fortunately, Kojima marched on and is releasing Death Stranding very soon.