Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the culmination of 28 years of Metal Gear, is the last entry in the long-running story to be directed by series creator Hideo Kojima. As the end of an era, MGS V has a huge reputation to live up to—and it capably carries the standard of this venerated franchise.
While earlier Metal Gear games were generally linear affairs, with gameplay shuttling the player from story beat to story beat, the Phantom Pain narrative unspools much more slowly. Big Boss (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland and Akio Ōtsuka) wakes up from a nine-year coma (gotta love video-game reality!) and sets himself on one hell of a quest for revenge. After a stunning opening, the focus shifts from the strange and disturbing implications of the prologue to a more grounded and fluid plotline: the growing of Mother Base, which is the headquarters of Boss's new mercenary group, the Diamond Dogs. (Yes, like the David Bowie album.) Some die-hard fans will ultimately find the narrative lacking in density compared to prior titles—and they'd have a point—but there's still more than enough for Metal Gear enthusiasts.
Set around multiple massive open worlds with ample opportunities to explore and sneak around, the geography of battle has never been more vast—and that means there's always more to do. Players face myriad missions, the prospect of raiding settlements to kidnap enemy soldiers (who will join your own forces), and extracting valuable resources like vehicles or cargo containers full of precious materials. Growing your roster and stockpiling goods allows Mother Base to be upgraded and better weapons to be developed. The feedback loop keeps the game engaging, as there's always a new weapon or item or goal to strive toward, but the completists out there (you know who you are) may find the huge expanse overwhelming.
Fortunately, the moment-to-moment gameplay of Metal Gear Solid V is tight and smooth, and maintains Metal Gear's signature level of direct control. The distracting crutch of Auto-Aim is meticulously balanced, but we suggest it's still better to turn it off.
The game's Fox engine is truly a sight to behold. The game excels on high-powered consoles, particularly with its detailed character models and the dynamic real-time lighting of the day/night cycle. The framerate on PlayStation 4 is nearly flawless, even when the action really ramps up. In addition, the facial capture—the game utilized facial motion-capture for the first time in the series—is remarkable. Sutherland embraces the role of Big Boss, so it's unfortunate that much of his dialogue is relegated to optional audio-only cassette tapes. In-game, Big Boss is mostly the strong and silent type, which makes the casting of the high-profile 24 actor a bit of a wasted opportunity. A handful of minor glitches can meddle with the immersion, but compared to other massive open-world games, it's nothing notable.
In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Hideo Kojima gives the franchise's fans a worthy, compelling and fun (did we mention fun?) sendoff. Fans can rest assured that Kojima's Metal Gear swan song is one for the ages: a testament to the power of his writing, to the strength of videogames as a storytelling medium, and to Metal Gear Solid as one of the greatest pieces of fiction, interactive or otherwise, of all time.
Final Score: 9/10