The best part of Metal Gear Solid's frequent trips to the past? How creator Hideo Kojima's obsessive attention to detail perfectly captures those evocative elements of the many time periods his series visits.
...Well, within reason. Metal Gear Solid V may contain plenty of authentic '80s trappings, but Snake's iDroid—a powerful PDA/GPS hybrid—stands out as a pretty glaring anachronism. In our reality, the 1984 equivalent of a cellular communications device would probably take up most of his inventory space, and, 30 years ago, the very idea of a piece of tech with such a complex-yet-intuitive interface only existed as a wonderful dream. But that's totally okay, since the iDroid makes for a great way to explore The Phantom Pain's vast open world without drawing too much of your attention away from the game itself.
While the iDroid works perfectly fine within the context of The Phantom Pain, Konami offers a way for players to go a step beyond this in-game interface with their mobile app, cleverly titled "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain." Since Snake's iDroid is clearly based on the iPhone and similar smart devices, I had to see if using the same interface on a smaller, separate screen could somehow make MGSV's elegant take on open-world gameplay even more immersive. When I first heard of the app, I dreamed of having all of the iDroid functionality in the palm of my hand, completely removing the need to stop what I'm doing to pull its screen up on my television.
Unfortunately, the MGSV app is pretty limited in its applications. Now, I'll fully admit the way it interacts with the game itself is downright impressive: Glancing down at my knee to see a map's worth of visual information (updated in real-time) without pausing Snake's actions feels legitimately futuristic. But, outside of using your phone as a glorified map, you'll still need to return to the iDroid menu for most actions, outside of receiving an ammo drop or summoning your helicopter—which saves a second or two at best. You can place markers on the map, too, but the fact that you can only zoom in so far—and that your markers don't "snap" to the nearest icon—makes the standard iDroid interface much more appropriate for this task.
The visual framework of the MGSV app doesn't help much either, and seems to be on a completely different page from the designs within the game. A strange, H.R. Giger-inspired biomechanical mess surrounds the map, and manages to obscure buttons I had no idea existed until I played around with the app for about an hour. Thankfully, you can perform most of the same functions by tapping and holding your finger on the map itself.
Again, the app can be somewhat useful, and I'm always interested in games that think of creative uses for a second screen—something that sparked my initial interest in the WiiU—but, even if this app featured more functionality, it'd still be at odds with the underlying design philosophy of Metal Gear Solid V. Ever since Metal Gear Solid 3 dispensed with the Soliton Radar system, future games distanced themselves even further from the old Metal Gear play style of staring at a screen within a screen for hours. There's a reason the only way to pull up a mini-map in MGSV also puts you into an awkward first-person mode: Kojima and his team want you to move towards destinations as they exist in the world, not in the form of icons displayed on a smaller representation of said world. It's also why so much of your standard map functionality in MGSV can actually be done in the wild by Snake himself: tagging enemies, objectives, items, and so on.
And that's the reason why using the app feels a little wrong. Too often, I'd find myself glancing away from the TV to look at visual information that actually makes more sense when displayed in the context of a 3D environment. If the app could perform other functions, like Mother Base management, and weapon and item development, it'd be a neat-but-unessential companion. In its current state, it feels oddly contradictory to Metal Gear Solid V's mission statement. And the app's other function, a makeshift media device to listen to Snake's collection of cassettes, ends up being a bit of a bust as well. It works, but unlike the interactive map, it isn't programmed to keep your device awake while it plays audio—and there's no option to change this setting within the app itself. Sure, I could tell my iPhone to go to sleep much later, but, then again, I could just listen to these tapes within the game while I'm undertaking missions and searching for resources.
It's hard to feel too disappointed in the MGSV companion app; if anything, the sheer greatness of The Phantom Pain's design renders it irrelevant, and that's nothing to get upset over. Though I do have to wonder if Konami or Kojima planned for this app to be much more elaborate at some point. It feels like a bit of a rush job, and the amount of poorly-translated English—like the description of a cassette that reads "I will listen to the preliminary knowledge of towards the mission"—tells me Konami could have put a little more work into the app, especially considering its relationship to such a high-profile release. Go ahead and tinker with it if the idea sounds interesting, but don't be surprised if you find yourself turning this app off thanks to how effortless the UI of Metal Gear Solid V makes its few functions.