Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain starts with a long, confusing, and clunky prologue. Once that is finally over, you find yourself wrapped in a world of possibilities and intrigue.
The game puts you in the boots of the series' super solider and mercenary, Big Boss. In the game, Big Boss has been in a coma for nine years and now you're back to claim revenge on those responsible for it. You'll infiltrate enemy bases, build up an army of your own, and uncover a twisted plot that has you playing till the very end. It's everything a grizzled warrior who has been in a coma for nine years can ask for when he finally regains consciousness.
Progressing through Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, you will spend a lot of time skulking around enemy bases. You'll capture resources, manpower, and of course indulge in a rather intriguing story. In terms of core gameplay, everything we experienced in our hands-on of the game, including its responsive, intuitive controls are intact.
You have enough tools at your disposal, to turn what's supposed to be a tense infiltration mission, into a full-scale war. You can call in airstrikes and giant robots, and developer Kojima Productions has created maps where you can use out and out violence or pure stealth, depending on what playstyle you prefer. This makes Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain one of the more forgiving stealth games, for those who aren't adept at sneaking around.
If this wasn't enough, the game also features a buddy system. When you go on missions you can utilise allies, such as a dog to distract or seek out enemies, and a horse to help you race through the sprawling world with ease. Then there's Quiet, a sniper who can take out foes from a distance. Each of these can be utilised depending on your style of play; we preferred taking on missions with stealth, akin to previous games in the series.
On the topic of earlier Metal Gear games, longtime fans of the series will notice the lack of long cut-scenes in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. For many, it's a welcome change, particularly when you consider that Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had a cut-scene that was so long, it had a save-point midway.
Taking inspiration from BioShock and System Shock, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain also works the narrative into the gameplay. Throughout the game, you can collect and listen to cassette tapes, which help you fill in the blanks in the narrative. It's a compromise that tries to find a balance between those craving for exposition, and others who prefer hiding in cardboard boxes while sneaking through bases.
Apart from the core Metal Gear gameplay we know and love, this game also features base building. Borrowing from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, here, you can put together your own headquarters (called Mother Base) and assemble a ragtag team of soldiers to help you manage it along the way. To do this, the game has a feature it calls the Fulton Recovery System. Simply render an enemy unconscious and with the press of a button he'll be carted off to Mother Base by way of a balloon.
(Also see: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes review)
As you play you'll unlock the ability to use the Fulton Recovery System on bigger items like jeeps and turrets as well, which is always fun to do. You can also allocate where you'd like each kidnapped soldier to focus his efforts on, such as intelligence gathering, or research and development. It's easy enough to manage the base on your own, but you can also let the game automatically decide which soldiers go where.
Mother Base is crucial as it allows you to develop a slew of new tech, to help you take on the missions ahead of you. Be it creating a new sneaking suit or building a rocket launcher, all of this is possible at Mother Base.
Of course, it comes at a price; in this case the in-game currency known as GMP. Everything you do in the game consumes GMP. The inspiration from free-to-play mobile games is apparent. Whether you need to evacuate from enemy territory, or need more supplies during a mission, GMP is critical. By the time we neared the end of the game, we had more GMP than we needed, but we can't help but feel that some players might find it a nuisance depending on their play style, forcing them to take on side missions or replay previous ones, in order to get enough GMP to progress through the main story.
This isn't all though; you'll also come across a host of resources on your travels. From medicinal plants that let you make better tranquillisers, to diamonds that add to your GMP, whatever you can recover is useful and goes a long way in helping you upgrade Mother Base. Both base building and on-ground gameplay- be it stealth or something more aggressive, work well and influence each other just enough to make Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain seem like a cohesive package.
But while Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain might seem perfect, it isn't. Aside from the aforementioned linear opening, the game is also layered with an online component that serves to frustrate. Daily events, rewards, and bonuses for logging in all feel extremely grabby and desperate in a game where they're blatantly presented to you before you even begin a session. They exist to serve the game's Forward Operating Base, a mode which when unlocked, lets you infiltrate bases of other players.
In theory it sounds like a fun way to expand on a stellar experience, but the reality had us fidgeting with menus that took forever to respond. To top it off, it's been three days since the game was out and Forward Operating Base barely works what with frequent downtime for server maintenance.
Thankfully, the game can be played offline, which is a necessity for an optimal experience at this stage. As it stands, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a great game hampered by some niggling concerns that can thankfully, be rectified with an update or two if Konami deems it fit. Nonetheless, if you persevere and you'll be treated to a slick open-world adventure that few can match.
Overall score (out of 10): 8
We played a retail copy of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on the PS4 and PC, it's available on the PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC, priced at Rs. 3,599 for consoles and Rs. 999 for PC