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Hidden platform effects, mine placement and the ins-and-outs of defensive PVP.
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*Powerful mix of cinematic and emergent gameplay
*Clever systems that adapt to the way you play
*Tense, exciting and unpredictable
*Storming set-piece sequences
*Incredible graphics
*Infrequent checkpoint that punish your stupidity and impatience
*Occassionally struggles to get started

If this really is Hideo Kojima’s last Metal Gear, then you can't accuse gaming’s great auteur of going out with a whimper. The Phantom Pain is everything you ever wanted from a Metal Gear Solid – and possibly all the things you ever wanted from all the Metal Gears crammed into one crazy last instalment.

Want the complex interlocking systems of MGS3? You've got them. How about the cinematic drive and gangs-all-here fan service of MGS2 and MGS4? Well, that's here too. Like the knock-out recruiting and army management of the PSP’s Peace Walker? It turns out that there’s room for that as well. And the emergent, open-world gameplay of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes? Well, you hardly needed to ask.

There's also space for all of Kojima's varying obsessions, ranging from pointed looks at cold war politics, revolution, capitalist greed, western hypocrisy, war and violence, to echoes of the movies and music he loves. There are weird in-jokes, bizarre head-scratching moments and young women clad in outfits so revealing that it could be months before we entangle whether we're looking at a satire of gaming sexism or just the sexism itself.

Most of all, while it's a game that takes itself pretty seriously at times, The Phantom Pain can be knowingly ridiculous and playful. From some bizarre side activities to new variations on the good old cardboard box, MGS V is nowhere near as po-faced as it could have been, even if it’s the darkest MGS of all.

One criticism of Kojima has always been that his cinematic pretensions sometimes get in the way of the gameplay; that he'd rather you sat back and watched the movie than played the lead. Kojima seems to be toying with the idea himself in the prologue; one of the greatest sustained gaming sequences I’ve played this year or any other. Linear, but jammed with taut set-pieces, shock moments and extraordinary build-ups of suspense and release, it’s an absolute stormer, and by the time Kojima has pulled in some of his trademark oddball villains – adversaries to rival MGS3’s Cobra Unit or Metal Gear Solid’s Foxhound – you’ll be ready for some formidable action scenes and a storming climactic chase.

This, it turns out, is The Phantom Pain just winding up.

Next we’re off to Afghanistan, and it’s here that The Phantom Pain’s true character emerges. This is the open-world, emergent tactical espionage of Ground Zeroes, only played out on a truly epic scale. The map is huge, and while mountain ranges impede your progress, you can traverse it completely on foot or – more sensibly – on horseback.

There are missions to complete, starting with a daring rescue of old comrade Kazuhiro Miller, but how you complete them is up to you. Come in at daylight or at night. Make your way through villages and guard posts, killing, capturing or simply evading Russian soldiers.

While the game holds your hand a little through the early stages, the actual way you do things – and even the time of day that you do things – is pretty much up to you.

And there’s more to do here than just completing missions. As in Peace Walker, your foes can be knocked our rather than slaughtered, then captured through the Fulton Recovery System – the bizarre, balloon-powered ground-to-air retrieval system that’s all the odder for being based on a real-world contraption. Captured troops are then converted into new and fully willing employees.

Before you know it, The Phantom Pain has you not only worried about your main objectives, but busily stealing resources and capturing troops to cover the ever-growing needs of Snake’s new Mother Base. Beyond your main missions – mercenary contracts sponsored by different players in the Afghan wars – you’re engaged in side ops to weaken the Russians, grab vital blueprints and target promising if initially uncooperative new recruits.

Movement and combat work pretty much as they did in Ground Zeroes, meaning the skills you’ve developed there are transferrable to the new game. While the sheer number of options makes for a fairly complex set of controls, it’s all surprisingly fluid and intuitive, with context-sensitive close-quarters combat and cover manoeuvres and shooting that flips quickly between third-person and first-person views as the situation demands.

However, The Phantom Pain also sees the addition of the D-Horse; the first of several ‘buddies’ you can call on during your adventures. Sorry, Roach, but D-Horse is the finest steed yet found in a video game, beating the Witcher 3 and Red Dead Redemption’s equine chums with a mixture of smooth controls, believable horsey handling and a great set of sneaking and galloping manoeuvres.

You’ll need all your moves, plus D-Horse’s and more, because The Phantom Pain really isn’t interested in giving you an easy time. The missions are designed to make you work and force you to plan and be strategic. Even early on it’s clear that Snake’s most boring gadget – binoculars with scanning technology and a built-in zoom mic – might actually be his best, because you can spot and tag Russian troops so that they’re always visible within your current view, even when in the distance or concealed behind a wall.

Missions are designed in a way that you’ll nearly always have to deal with some of these goons, and they’re always just smart and organised enough to pose a threat. They’ll return to their patrols if you go to ground and keep quiet, but raise an alert or keep stirring up the hornets and there’s predictably hell to pay. While the all-guns-blazing approach works in some situations, The Phantom Pain likes you to play things quieter, smarter and more patiently.

Luckily, you have the tools for the job. Not only does Snake have his own moves and gadgets, but you can play the environment to your advantage. Dust storms, for example, might restrict your vision and movement, but they also do the same for your enemies, making it possible to sneak into the heart of a base if you’re quick and clever about it. An unplanned explosion or skirmish can be catastrophic, but you can also twist it to your advantage, hoping troops will race towards the point of contact to find you, leaving security weak elsewhere. Ground Zeroes encouraged and rewarded just this kind of improvisation. The Phantom Pain goes much further.

Missions run the gamut from straight destruction and demolition missions to hostage rescue missions, recon missions, infiltrations and assassinations. Some can be tackled in minutes within a small area, while other require you to traverse half the map, dealing with guard posts, recruiting and pinching resources all the way.

Debate will rage over whether it’s the best, but The Phantom Pain is very arguably the ultimate Metal Gear, grabbing the best ideas, themes and mechanics from every game in the series, then forging them into one coherent whole. It’s set in a believable open world of complex, interlocking systems, yet it still has tension, drama, plenty of Kojima weirdness and some serious cinematic power. The Phantom Pain might be hard on body and soul at times, but you really don’t want to miss it.

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King Ban Dec 1, 2017 @ 2:22am 
King Ban Nov 20, 2017 @ 9:03am 
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King Ban Nov 3, 2017 @ 5:30am 
Heather™ Jul 27, 2017 @ 5:53pm 
hello and nice to meet you ^_^
✪ DarkAgel_BR Jan 10, 2017 @ 10:21am 
add my friend
Nigga Sep 30, 2016 @ 2:14pm 
hello and +rep