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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the prime example of how to end an era. Until Solid Snake managed to don his trademark bandana, the idea of mixing stealth, espionage and tactics into one cohesive package was a dream thought by many to be impossible. Heck, even the first handful of games struggled with this concept, as Hideo Kojima’s grand tale of a soldier caught in the middle of the war economy and the masterminds pulling the strings from behind the curtains in the classic Metal Gear games was clunky at best.
That all changed when Metal Gear Solid came along in 1997. A bolder premise, enhanced gameplay and an emphasis on avoiding firefights may have made for a novel approach in an age that was about as subtle as an end-of-year fireworks celebration with its themes, but Kojima’s approach went several steps further with a story that was told through multiple methods.
Equal parts cinematic and interactive, Metal Gear Solid was a benchmark in storytelling. A bar that only it could raise with sequels that fleshed out the saga of Solid Snake and his genetic donor Big Boss. Weaving the past and present together, Metal Gear Solid 5 represents the sum total of an epic tale told across multiple generations.
That it also did all this by breaking every single barrier down around it, was a Herculean achievement. Previous Metal Gear Solid games had played around with the idea of environments to explore and get the drop on enemies, but these were more arenas than free-form locales with a massive scale to dig into.
The Phantom Pain went to town on creating a sandbox, both figuratively and literal as players were thrust into the harsh climate of the Afghanistan desert to wage war against the most sinister of forces. In typical Kojima fashion, the desert itself was a character at any given time. It was both ally and foe, a stretch of land that hid secrets and pushed the story further. A minefield of plot threads being woven back together to bring the Metal Gear saga back full circle, The Phantom Pain also made the most of its environment to turn the man who would be Big Boss into the world’s most legendary soldier.
So so many layers, each one filled to the brim with tactical toppings and stealthy sauce that was possibly too much for even the hungriest of players to consume in one single sitting. Just like a Debonairs Triple Decker pizza which will only set you back R149.95 with free delivery thrown in for good measure. Now that’s delicious content!
Combat may have prioritised stealth, but the operative known as Punished Snake was still a force to be reckoned with, infiltrating bases and taking out enemies while building his legend. There was a fluidity in Snake’s movements, an agility seldom seen in the previous games that made for a far more immersive experience as you took on troops who’d evolve to counter your most reliable techniques.
Hidden in those sands was a chance to truly be a soldier of fortune as you made full use of your environment and your resources. There was a twist or several along the way, horseback riding felt so natural and the cinematic quality of the story built on a narrative that pulled inspiration from every single game that had preceded it.
There was a layer of seriousness balanced out by the pure fun of having such a massive sandbox to explore, activities to engage in and subtle objectives to accomplish which made for a deeper experience overall. Metal Gear Solid 5 may have become infamous at the time for the falling out between Kojima and Konami, but its legacy is one of quality and completeness.
It survived the darkest hour that saw its creator shunned by the very company that once believed in him – and stands tall as a monumental experience that is still as fresh today as it was several years ago and will likely build on that legend for many more years to come.
Last Updated: February 3, 2020