Even During a Stealth Mission, F.O.B!
I couldn't resist make the reference. Every time I hear F.O.B in The Phantom Pain - short for Forward Operating Base - I think of that wonderful song about Etrian Odyssey. It's even halfway appropriate, since you never know when you're going to get an emergency alert informing you that your F.O.B. is under attack.
The F.O.B. becomes available around halfway through the game, and is ostensibly there to serve as a jumping off point for additional operations. Contrary to early reports from GameSpot, the first F.O.B. is free - microtransactions only come into play if you want additonal bases. Once you have an F.O.B., you can start attacking bases belonging to other players, which will earn you money and potentially valuable soldiers for Mother Base.
In most cases, you will work your way through an opposing F.O.B. like you will any other base, killing and extracting enemy soldiers on the way to the installation's core. Sometimes, though, an actual player will drop in to try and stop you, at which point the battle becomes an exciting cat and mouse battle through the multi-level F.O.B. In such instances, MGS V takes on the tension and excitment of a Dark Souls duel, though the battles in The Phantom Pain tend to end much more quickly.
It's obvious that F.O.Bs are meant to be a big part of the Metal Gear Solid V experience. They are carefully introduced in the context of the story, receive a lengthy tutorial, and offer plenty of rewards. And yet, after building my F.O.B. and dabbling in a few battles, I found myself going offline and not looking back. Once the novelty had worn off, all the pop-ups and prompts felt like a distraction. What's more, being online slowed the menus considerably, though that was likely a product of the servers being hammered on launch day. I haven't lacked for resources while playing offline, so I haven't missed them.
Best case scenario, Konami irons out the menu lag and a PvP community develops around F.O.B. combat. If that winds up being the case, then the F.O.B. will prove a compelling addition to Metal Gear Solid V. But for the most part, I found it easy to ignore.
Final Thoughts: Does Metal Gear Solid V Stick the Landing?
When I was about 30 hours into Metal Gear Solid V, I wrote how impressed I was by its ambition. The question is: Does it stick the landing? I'm on the fence about that.
When all is said and done, I think Hideo Kojima took the right approach in structuring The Phantom Pain as he did. Don't get me wrong, I love the craft of Snake Eater, but it sort of feels like Kojima has done everything there is to be done with the traditional Metal Gear Solid formula. It's always nice to see a creator take some risks, especially when it's carried off this well.
Perhaps the biggest risk of all comes in the back third of the game - a kind of coda that wraps up the arcs for a number of key characters. It intersperses a handful of story missions with replay challenges, with the rest of the story hidden away behind secret objectives. There's a "true ending" with a pretty unbelievable twist in there, and if you want the true Metal Gear Solid V experience, it's worth going through the trouble to unlock. If you don't, the story hits a climax and sort of peters out in a depressing fashion.
It's an odd but fitting approach for what is in many ways Kojima's wildest story yet, at times pushing beyond the realms of science fiction and into something akin to magic. There is a "practical" explanation for the Skulls, Quiet's special abilities, and the fire demon who appears in the opening moments, but it's one that requires some serious suspension of disbelief. And in typical Kojima fashion, the secret is there to bonk you over the head with big ideas, particularly the notion that war turns even the best of intentions to shit.
The thing is, Metal Gear Solid V has a very large budget, which affords it a lot of handsomely produced cutscenes. And as always, characters like Ocelot are extremely welcome. It's tough to get much further into the story without venturing into some serious spoiler territory - that goes double for Quiet - but absent the filler, it mostly works. As always, Big Boss is the game's most compelling figure, his presence serving to ground even the wackiest ideas in something approaching reality.
The hardest thing about writing this review is that Metal Gear Solid V defies an actual score. I can point out the occasional bouts of repetition and filler, but there's no question that it is a masterfully executed game that will figure heavily into this year's Game of the Year discussions. Even at its most annoying, when you die deep in an enemy base and have to wind all the way through its defenses again, it's undeniably absorbing. It makes you want to try your best. If this is truly Kojima's swan song, then it is a terrific end to a distinguished career. Something tells me he's not done, though. If The Phantom Pain is any indication, he still has a great deal to contribute to gaming. I look forward to seeing what's next.
Zooming in with the R1/RB button can be a tad cumbersome, but otherwise the controls work very well. The myriad menus flow well and are easy to understand.
The Phantom Pain runs a minimum of 45 to 50 hours, putting it on part with a pretty long RPG. It's a huge and comprehensive package.
The soundtrack is mostly subdued, but it does a great job of using musical beats and sound effects to warn you of an enemy's approach. The '80s pop tunes are a hilarious (and welcome) addition.
Metal Gear Solid 5 sets a new benchmark for this console generation with its graphics. The character models in particular are stunning.
The story loses a lot of momentum in the back half, and F.O.Bs aren't much more than a fun novelty, but otherwise it's a stunningly enjoyable game that almost perfectly integrates a sizable open world environment with solid stealth fundamentals and a huge arsenal. Even at its most frustrating, it's an incredibly absorbing play. We'll be talking about this one for a long time to come.