I’ve been a fan of the Metal Gear series since I popped the original game into a hand-me-down NES in 1995. It was thus with great enthusiasm that I picked up Metal Gear Solid 5 from a bargain basement, more than a year after its release. I put off purchase of the game until was I 100% finished with The Witcher 3, which had engrossed me to the point of obsession. Once I’d put The Witcher 3 behind me, I was ready to invest my time in another big-ticket game. After spending a month with MGS 5, I’m ready to give my assessment of it.
Although I’ve played most Metal Gear titles (I skipped the PSP games), I’m not up to speed on Metal Gear lore. It’s been a few years since I played a Metal Gear title, and the timeline has been all over the place. While Metal Gear Solid 4 took Snake into the near future as an aged man, MGS 5 finds Snake in 1984. Except, confusingly, this “Snake” is not the Snake of the previous MGS title, nor of the original NES game. No, it’s apparently the villain of the original game, who is also called “Snake” here for some reason. I’ll just say this: I’m a fan of the series, but not that big of a fan that I can recall who all of the characters are and how they fit into Metal Gear’s confusing history. In any case, it wasn’t the characters that made me a fan of the series; it was the RPG and stealth elements. So forgive me if I can’t remember who Liquid Ocelot was.
I can’t say I was gripped by MGS 5’s story. It seems to have an anti-colonial message, but it felt flat to me. Some of the story twists were merely ham-fisted ways of making the villain look as evil as possible, like when you discover that he turns children into members of his genetically engineered army. There are also some odd moments of dialogue. The only events in the game that moved me emotionally took place in the heat of battle, e.g. when my helicopter pilot or wolf companion got hit by enemy gunfire.
Apart from the main missions there are over 100 side quests, which give you the chance to obtain GMP (the in-game currency) and raw materials. You’ll need both to purchase gear and build additions to Mother Base. When you upgrade Mother Base, you level up and open up new gear. Some missions are almost impossible to complete without equipping the right armor and weapons.
You begin your quest on horseback, but you acquire other companions later on. In addition to the horse, your companions include D-Dog (a wolf), a mech, and a genetically enhanced human named “Quiet.” I actually got attached to D-Dog. Whenever the enemies gunned him down, I made sure to avenge him even though he doesn’t actually die (he respawns in minutes). D-Dog is useful. He can spot enemies and usable plants at far off distances. He can also subdue enemies. The only problem I had with D-Dog is that unlike the horse, he tags along with you into gunfights. When you order him to stay put, he doesn’t remain in place. He follows you into shootouts, gets injured by gunfire and pulled out of battle, which costs you “heroism” points that are tallied at the end of each mission.
Visually, the game looks great. Not quite eighth-generation; maybe late seventh-generation. There are some pop in textures, but they seemed fairly uncommon. The cut scenes all looked nice. I played it on Xbox One, so I can’t tell you the difference between the version I played and that of other consoles but you can find comparisons on Youtube. The controls and aiming system are intuitive, except when you have to throw something at a great distance. This requires you to guess where the object will land. Otherwise, everything works fine.
If I had one gripe about MGS 5, it’s how stupid the enemies can be. To give one example, you can equip an inflatable decoy in your inventory to distract enemies. You lob it at them as a disc, which inflates into a replica of Snake. But the enemies are so dumb that they can’t tell a decoy apart from a live body, even when a decoy has inflated right in front of them. After they’ve deflated the decoy, you can throw more in their vicinity, and it fools them. Once I knocked an entire guard post out just by throwing decoys at them. The soldiers should be able to figure out when a decoy is a decoy. The only time a decoy doesn’t work is when you’re in a firefight.
All in all, MGS 5 is a blast. It has a long, challenging quest, filled with explosive battles. During missions where stealth is required, you can cut the tension with a knife knowing that one false move can spell your doom. If you decide to play the side missions, the game can take weeks, perhaps months to finish. At less than $20, that’s quite a value. On the downside, the enemies can be a bit dim and the story didn’t grip me. If you liked MGS 4, you won’t go wrong with MSG 5.
Final score: 9/10