The Phantom Pain, the sequel to last year's Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, concludes the long-running Metal Gear franchise.
The game actually plays as a prequel to the original games. You take control of Punished "Venom" Snake, also known as Big Boss, the antagonist in the original Metal Gear Solid games. The game takes place in Afghanistan and Africa, against the backdrop of the Cold War in 1989.
It begins with a tutorial stage at a hospital, where the basic controls are taught under the guise of you re-learning how to use your limbs again after a nine-year coma.
From there, it rapidly escalates into a glorious chaos of fire and terror. Special forces descend to find and take you out, which sets the stage for an open-world game with a complicated storyline that ends with more questions than answers.
The open-ended world is fun and adds immense replayability to the game, but I found myself at times missing the old-school gameplay of sneaking around in cramped quarters and hiding from guards in ventilation ducts as they hunt for you mere metres away.
But the beauty of The Phantom Pain's open-ended nature is how every mission ends up being something unique to each individual player as there are seemingly infinite solutions to achieve your goals.
I opted for the stealth route on my first play-through, in keeping with the spirit of the franchise.
This meant choosing to enter my missions in the cover of night, armed with a silenced tranquilliser handgun - and a tranquilliser sniper rifle once I unlocked it - as well as my wits and sneaking suit.
But my enemies soon wised up to my tactics. They started donning night-vision goggles to spot me in the dark, as well as helmets so that I could not one-shot them with a tranquilliser bullet to the noggin.
I soon got tired of constantly crawling along and sneaking up on guards, and busted out the assault rifles and rocket launchers to start tackling enemy bases head-on, reinforcements be damned.
When Snake is not out roaming the vast Afghan desert, he is setting up a base for his own mercenary army. Players get to run a base- operation simulation as well, by gathering resources such as fuel or metals to upgrade their bases' facilities, like research and development or medical centres.
You build your base's manpower by capturing enemy soldiers you meet on the battlefield.
How? By strapping on a portable balloon system, called a fulton, to a soldier you've knocked unconscious, which will then send him whizzing up to a helicopter. Through the wonders of Stockholm syndrome, the captured soldiers become your loyal troops the next time you see them.
One gripe I have about the game is how expensive it is to upgrade your base in order to unlock the level requirements for all the cool and fun weapons in the game.
By the time you do so, the main story is pretty much over and you're an overpowered lone cyborg. So there are no real reasons to use expensive, upgraded guns other than for fun or to create wacky YouTube montages.
Even after having sunk more than 80 hours into the game, I am only at 60 per cent completion, with many more side ops to complete. My other gripe has to do with the storyline: It is well paced in the first half of the game, but quickly crumbles into a shambles in the second act.
Other gamers have also criticised the game for feeling like an incomplete and rushed job. Indeed, the ending of the game comes out of nowhere, likely shoehorned in in a bid to release the game on time after Konami announced that creator Hideo Kojima was leaving the company.
In its own right, The Phantom Pain is an excellent game. It holds its own against this year's top titles, such as The Witcher 3 or Batman: Arkham Knight. But when judged against the standards of the Metal Gear franchise, with its 18-year history, it is a disappointing end to the convoluted story the series set up.
PRICE: $84 (PC, version tested); $65.90 (PS3); $79.90 (PS4); $69.90 (Xbox)
This article was first published on October 28, 2015.
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