PlayStation Plus’ free games have, on the whole, been underwhelming over the years. The odd gem like Rocket League has scraped through, but generally, they tend to be lacklustre indie games. Not anymore. October’s PlayStation Plus ‘free’ game is Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It is an incredible deal because, as I will now explain, MGSV: TPP, still stands up as a generation-defining game.
First, I think it is important to quantify to people who did not play the game, how it was received on release.
gamesTM magazine said: “It would be ludicrous to assume Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will appeal to everyone, but it is absolutely the best game in the series – and one of the best games we’ve ever had the privilege of playing.”
And IGN said: “There have certainly been sandbox action games that have given me a bigger world to roam, or more little icons to chase on my minimap, but none have pushed me to plan, adapt, and improvise the way this one does. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain doesn’t just respect my intelligence as a player, it expects it of me, putting it in a league that few others occupy.”
I am not giving you these quotes to sell you this game (it is free). Instead, they are there to point out how much of a phenomenon this game was at launch. Thus to be getting it for free just two years after its release is the deal of the century.
If you are still not sold, let me explain, in more detail, why this game is worth your time.
The likelihood is if you have not played MGSV yet you probably are new to the series. That is not a problem. Why? Well, I was new to the series, and I can say–and I think series veterans will say the same–the story is almost unfathomable. Actually, I should quantify that by saying the overarching story is unfathomable. As a standalone game, though, MGSV has relatively straightforward storytelling with a distinctive Japanese charm. If you were afraid to buy it because of the five in the title, you should not be. The game is so much more than an incomprehensible sequel.
You can look no further than the open world to prove this. These days, many open-worlds are chock full or randomised events, NPC missions, towers to overrun, animals to kill and collectables to collect. When comparing the dual-open worlds of MGSV to an Assassin’s Creed game, they are positively sparse. Having said that, they are far more engaging.
Now, some of you may be saying, “there are loads of things to do and collectables to collect in MGSV”. To you, I would say you are correct, but I would also say that they are not highlighted, in any way, on the map, they are there for you to stumble across and all have a practical use. That poster you found, that can be used to distract enemies, often with hilarious results. That tape of Man Who Sold The World, that can be used by a tannoy system on your helicopter, if you are so inclined, to signal your arrival or escape.
Likewise, there is no forced reason to attack an enemy outpost; it will not reveal part of the map or allow you to progress with the campaign. Attacking it is either a specific mission or, more likely, you are just having a bit of fun at a Russian Soldier’s expense.
Speaking of the lovely Russian Soldiers, the AI created by Kojima Productions are some of the best ever made. These enemies think for themselves, they are inquisitive, they are clever, but they are also unpredictable and easily manipulated. They will radio around, warning of something unforeseen. They will search for you if alerted and not let up. Moreover, they will not hesitate to fill your ass with lead. If you mess up, they will kill you.
They sound like kinda decent soldiers, right? That brings us to another significant part of the game. Killing these great soldiers is not ideal. Why? Well, you have a base to fill. Without getting into too much detail, you have to build up your mother base and to do so you are given a Fulton balloon that you can attach to high-value targets–as long as they are not dead–and extract them to be your own. Upgrading mother base was one of the many addictive gameplay choices that had me coming back. Everything you collected in the field was needed to upgrade weapons, stealth capabilities, and the base itself.
The effect the Fulton mechanic had on stealth play was also massive. Now, you are encouraged to not go in all guns blazing for fear of killing useful recruits. Why kill them when they can be translators or gunsmiths or work in the kitchen? It is a seamless system that rewards the careful play the game is all about without it feeling forced.
Rebuilding your base by “acquiring” people, as well as animals, weapons, vehicles and supplies add a huge amount of depth, and it all works together seamlessly. The game also forces you to return to mother base to keep morale up or, brilliantly, to shower the mud, blood and grime off Snake. In fact, the depth of systems of this game makes the Mariana Trench look like a puddle.
There is so much more I could talk about enemy AI and my interactions with them. Freaking them out with distractions like animals and blow-up decoys of myself spring to mind. However, taking them out can be difficult.
Thankfully, you do have some help. Added to the cacophony of chaos are your plethora of buddies. Each has their own character and uses. The silent sniper Quiet is perfect as your eyes on the battlefield (and a dab hand at a headshot). You have your trusty steed, D-horse who is, well, a horse. You have D-Walker a mechanical walker/tank that acts as a good balls-to-the-wall fighter. And finally, you have D-dog, your loving dog that can sniff out and distract enemies. Each can be upgraded, like almost everything else, and each is incredibly useful. They each add another layer of depth; alone or with a buddy, the game never, ever, plays the same.
The beauty of MGSV is it takes incredibly well-defined mechanics and meshes them together in one package. Its attention to detail is insane and bizarre. For example, you can, if you want, teach D-Horse to defecate on command. It may seem like a pointless addition, but it proves how refined this game is. If Kojima Productions took the time to have a horse poop on command, what else did they spend time on? Finding these ridiculous gameplay easter eggs is another part of the fun of this incredible game. Replaying missions over and over again in different styles never gets boring. Your limit in this game is your imagination.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a game that will go down in the annals of history as one of the best–a literal game changer. Kojima Productions managed to create a game that took incredibly detailed mechanics and lump them together in a rich tapestry that, after two playthroughs and hundreds of hours, I have never got bored of. Even now I wonder if I can discover a new wacky mechanic or an ingenious way to kill, or simply mess with those poor soldiers.
And best of all, it is free (in October, on PlayStation). What a deal.