As a kid, I was never really interested in Metal Gear Solid. The only entry in the series I gave any time to being Ghost Babel on my Game Boy Colour. I tried the PS1 classic, a demo I believe giving me my first taste of its stealth action, but I could never get on board with it.
It required timing, precision, educated moves and at that moment in time, my attention span was not ready for that kind of gaming. I preferred the colourful ridiculousness of Crash Bandicoot, the platform exploration of Spyro, not to mention the little block men of ISS Pro Evolution (damn, I loved that game). It was only when Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow came out that I really started to enjoy stealth, my mind and hands ready for a new type of experience. By this time, the Metal Gear series wasn’t on my radar, other games were out and, despite my new found appreciation for the stealth genre, my earlier experience had put me off playing it. According to many of my friends, I missed out.
Fast forward to last year and I was working for an online site, managing the reviews section. I had heard about The Phantom Pain being released and from the footage I’d seen and things I’d read about it, I was feeling pretty impressed. For the first time, I was truly interested in playing a Metal Gear game. Enter Ground Zeroes. Short in length, I knew that this was just a prologue, a starter if you will, to the main course that was to be next years TPP. I decided to review it for the site, the demo like length being perfect for someone like me who wanted to dip their toes into Metal Gear water without feeling like she was drowning under the story. I conducted research before I played, familiarising myself with the storyline that setup the game, and I had a few playthroughs before giving my score. I rated it highly, although I did question the rather short length considering the monetary value Konami were asking for. Nevertheless, it was still a very entertaining few hours, hours that made me want one thing: The Phantom Pain.
When TPP came out a few weeks ago, I decided to read a few reviews, get a feel for how others were perceiving the final instalment. The more I read, the more I noticed a reoccurring sentiment by reviewers: it was accessible to the masses. I was shocked, especially as I knew how much research I had to do in order to understand Ground Zeroes. Therefore, it surprised me that this was a game that many felt anyone could play, a extensive knowledge of the Metal Gear world not being needed. For me, this sounded perfect but still, I wasn’t sure it could truly be as accessible as some of these reviewers were saying, especially with a few being ardent fans of the series. So, what about the average player going blindly (or mostly anyway) into TPP, was it truly going to be something they could fully enjoy? Having forgotten most of the research I’d done 18 months ago (once I write it down, research often goes out of my memory) and having not played previous instalments apart from GZ (Ghost Babel being a very distant memory), I decided I would be a good test subject for this accessibility theory.
I am currently 20 hours into the final entry in the series, a lowly figure compared to some, and I have loved every second if it. From the open world exploration to the buzz of not being seen during a mission, Hideo has given me some of most entertaining gaming hours of the year. Using large balloons (Fultons) to hijack recruits (who clearly get brain washed back at mother base) and stealing 80’s tapes from bases have being among my favourite things to do. The gameplay is excellent and the controls are easy to use, Snake responding to your button clicks without a moments hesitation, most of the time anyway. It’s a brilliant game, one that I would recommend anyone playing, regardless of their Metal Gear knowledge. The story however, can be confusing. Between the flame man, the Voldermort man, the flying thing, the lady with the poorly covered boobies, I feel like these people are very important characters, people who others have met before in previous games, although I could be wrong. To be honest, I haven’t really followed the story that much, the cut scenes becoming more and more batshit the longer I play, being chased by a Deception being a personal favourite mental moment. However, if you are interested in really understanding the story, there are lots of tapes for you to listen to, many of which provide background, plus reasons, as to what has happened before and what is happening now. As such, the accessibility of the narrative feels more like a player choice, rather than a forced cut scene situation, which I certainly prefer. Having said that, I haven’t listened to many of these tapes as I’ve been more preoccupied with listening to ‘Take On Me’ while sneaking through bases.
A daunting prospect for new players, The Phantom Pain really is a game that I feel you can just have fun with, despite if you’ve played the previous games or not. Understanding why you’re doing things in this game, I think anyway, doesn’t really feel that important, especially since just doing them is entertaining enough. If you’re wondering whether to give this a go, if you’re concerned that you’ll start this up, only to be engulfed by years of winding narrative and scenarios that don’t make sense, don’t be alarmed. Starting at the end of the series isn’t as scary as you think, in fact, it’s some of the most fun you’ll have all year.