NOTE: I wrote this at launch in November 2015 and just recently found the file. This does not cover online play.
V has come to. The long awaited sequel and missing link in the ballad of the infamous Big Boss has arrived for the pleasure of the gaming public. The latest entry in this fan favorite series has been a complete media circus. The announcement that the game would be released in two parts, Konami announcing that it will cease production of most of their video game properties, Kojima desperately trying to get away from Konami which would in turn affect the production of his Metal Gear series, and so on. To any other game this would spell certain doom with bright red letters, but Metal Gear has the legacy of absolute masterpieces in the series behind it for fans to weather the storm with baited breath to don the cardboard box for one last time.
The Phantom Pain takes place in the mid 80's, roughly 10 years after the events of Ground Zeroes. Big Boss has been in a coma the entire time and upon his awakening he finds that everything he worked for has been destroyed. Aided by familiar faces in Revolver Ocelot and Kaz Miller, the newly titled Venom "Punished" Snake must build his army of Diamond Dogs from the ground up. The story, which is the central focus of all of the main series Metal Gear Solid games, is very noticeably put on the back burner in the new entry. The amount of cut scenes and cinematic moments in the game are very sparse. Most of the pertinent information is put into optional audio logs which, as a long time series fan, was a complete bummer. I've grown to love the grandiose cut scenes and exposition that is given in the Metal Gear Solid series and to discover that these were scrapped for audio logs was disheartening. Instead of being able to sit and enjoy a video of the characters interacting, I had to spend the same amount of time staring at a virtual cassette tape as two bodiless voices had a conversation. While the cinematics are certainly lackluster for the Metal Gear pedigree, the story is compelling enough to get your fill of the expected Metal Gear flavor.
My views on presentation aside, it really cannot be stated enough that The Phantom Pain polishes every element of the old school MGS controls to a mirror sheen. This is easily the best controlling Metal Gear game that there has ever been and possibly ever will be considering the state of Konami's video game division. There are 2 main maps where most of the action takes place in Phantom Pain: Afghanistan and Africa. These maps are open world in the sense that once deployed snake can travel from place to place completing side ops or collecting animals/plants/resources to bolster his new Mother Base. Mother Base is technically its own map that you are able to expand and explore, but the base is gigantic and not very interesting. However, it is important to make occasional stops in the base as it is required to advance the story in some cases as well as to gain companions, such as D Dog.
Companions, known as Buddies, are a new entry to the series. They allow you to deploy with a Buddy that is specialized in a certain way that can make your approach to a mission completely different on multiple play throughs. This is vastly different from past installments where it was assumed that your character had certain equipment and forced you to use said equipment to progress. The mission structure is very open and able to be completed with a variety of load outs.
Along with buddies another new feature to the main series is the ability to fulton enemies to join your personal army, much like the recruitment system of Peace Walker. This adds a new layer to your approach. You could be going into a mission with guns blazing, see a soldier with great stats, then put yourself in greater danger by trying to CQC the enemy or tranquilize them in order to extract with a fulton balloon. The soldiers you recruit are able to be assigned at Mother Base into different teams such as recon, medical, combat, etc. This helps you in the game in several ways. For example, if your recon team is a high enough level you will get notifications on your map that show you were resources are or the predicted routes of enemies.
Metal Gear Solid V makes a bold gamble and deviates from the tried and true structure of the MGS series and it pays off big time. While making a sacrifice in terms of story development, the game provides us with silky smooth controls, the ability to forge our own way through any mission, a base building element, and the ability to call on a companion to help in a tough mission. The advancements made in the Phantom Pain go a long way in ensuring the legacy of Kojima and the Metal Gear series as a whole.
On a scale of 1-10 I give Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain a 9/10