Other than nostalgia, what do long term fans of a franchise love the most? Continuity. Fans will just eat it up if a long-standing plot hole is filled in, or there’s further elaboration on a tiny detail mentioned aaaages ago. The problem with continuity, however, is that it’s harder to pull off successfully if your work is particularly complex. Take the Metal Gear series, for instance. Metal Gear Solid 4 doesn’t really tie everything up as concisely as fans would have liked, because Metal Gear Solid 2, its chronological predecessor, created too many plot threads, meaning that the game’s attempts at continuity aren’t entirely successful.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, despite being fully deserving of its place on the Best Games of 2015 list, faces a severe backlash in this article, having fallen foul of the same crime as its prequel, failing to truly achieve successful continuity by giving itself too large a job in connecting the Big Boss Metal Gear titles to the Solid Snake ones.
Continuity in this instance is extremely difficult for a number of reasons; MGSV technically has a set ‘target’ that it needs to meet – Big Boss becoming evil – which means that some fans will inevitably be disappointed with how the story gets to that target; there are a number of characters who are no longer involved with the action in chronologically later titles whose stories need to be tied up; and to be blunt, because the series has to justify its decisions in changing the roles or personalities it has given to some of its characters.
By not really doing this, MGSV fails to meet its target to provide true narrative continuity, but the reason that MGSV makes it into our list is because it does continue one long-standing Metal Gear Solid element – despite all of its narrative flaws, Metal Gear Solid V is a shining example of stealth gameplay. While it remains open of accusations of not really sticking to what is conventional Metal Gear Solid, Venom Snake’s story is incredibly fun to play. The game claims to have placed its emphasis on gameplay, as well as the individual experiences of all its players, rather than the epic cutscenes the series is known for, and this is evident to see. In this writer’s experience, MGSV flows seamlessly from stealthy infiltration to frantic shootouts following the inevitable impatient mistake, while for others, it’ll be a masterclass of swift and silent takedowns. It just works – no matter what your approach. What happens in the game, and – to a certain extent – the story, is down to the player.
The addition of factors such as a buddy to take with you on missions, time of day, or weather conditions help make each mission a more cohesive experience. Too many guards? Maybe try infiltrating at night, or while there’s a sandstorm brewing. Can’t see where the guards are? Your dog will sniff them out for you while you sneak about, or Quiet – who the player can completely remove from the game if they choose – will pick them off for you. MGSV allows the player to make these choices, and really earns the ‘Tactical’ part of the game’s tagline.
The level of detail in the gameplay itself is phenomenal. Use your water pistol (lol) to create a puddle around the head of an unconscious face-down guard, and he will drown. If enemy guards hear a gunshot, they won’t just shrug and disappear once they can’t find you – they will keep looking. A guard sees you, and the familiar alert sound will play, but you have a few precious slo-mo seconds to land a very gratifying head shot just before the alert is raised. It’s all just SO satisfying.
Ultimately, however, the most satisfying element of MGSV is the growth of Mother Base, where Snake’s private army forms. While Snake’s quest for revenge is arguably the main focus of the game, building Diamond Dogs, Snake’s army without borders, is an equally important game-encompassing objective. It’s incredibly more-ish scoping out capable enemy guards, knocking them out, and recruiting them to your cause after airlifting them out of the field. It’s also great to then see improvements made to your game thanks to these recruits; may it be by providing guard locations in the field, earning money in the background, or by cutting supplies to the enemy, which then directly affects your infiltration in missions.
Of course, the emphasis on Mother Base is because MGSV’s priorities are clearly, and disappointingly, with multiplayer, which is where your Mother Base comes further into play. You can use your own army to attack other Mother Bases, plunder recruits and resources from other enemies, and defend your own bases. It’s great fun, but it has come at a cost; the single-player game is, bluntly, unfinished.
MGSV lands some of its narrative punches well. The game highlights some real pressing issues which games do not usually tackle – such as child soldiers and torture – and there are some truly unforgettable moments in the story’s main missions. One gruesome mission leads the player to rows of blood-soaked human experiments, while another emotionally numbing mission sees the player have to kill fatally-afflicted colleagues as they salute you. Clearly, the game is able to stick the points it really wanted to make.
However – and this has to be said despite this article being a positive one – several areas of the main campaign are clearly underdone. Skull Face is an extremely poor antagonist, several plot threads remain incomplete (THERE IS A GIANT NUCLEAR ROBOT ON THE LOOSE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD), and the player is simply expected to mostly complete harder versions of already-completed missions once the first endgame has been reached. This is particularly unforgivable, as by the time you first see credits, MGSV has not ONCE touched upon the game’s primary narrative responsibility – Big Boss’ transformation into series antagonist – leaving it to a handful of new missions to try and make this change. And this is particularly bad, when the game offers the player approximately 100+ hours of gameplay.
It is testament to the high quality of MGSV‘s gameplay that the game features on this Best of 2015 list, as well as many others, despite glaring problems with its story; problems which are unlikely to be fixed in DLC, now that series creator Hideo Kojima has left Konami. It can be supposed that these holes can be justified in MGSV if further games are now to be developed. We don’t need clarification about why Venom Snake goes rogue yet if they have a more willing series director ready to churn out new Metal Gear titles. But MGSV‘s job, to wrap up the storylines and bring a clear sense of continuity to the series, has not been done.
Despite this, however, Metal Gear Solid V is undoubtedly one of the best games that 2015 had to offer. Its fun, addictive and varied gameplay means that going out to the field is a brilliant thing, allowing players to create their own narrative experiences, rather than rely on the game’s story. Players may end up remembering that kick-ass bit where they made Venom Snake shoot down a helicopter and drive through a soldier-filled complex after they were seen, rather than the scripted cutscene where Venom desperately and defencelessly hides from approaching enemies. Whether that’s a good thing, like many other things in MGSV, is entirely up to the player.