Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain comes out September 1, delivering what may be the final chapter in one of the most beloved video game franchises ever created. But the plot line for Metal Gear games is often as impenetrable as the armor on the walking mechs the series is named after. So here’s what you need to know in order to sort things out before the next, and probably last installment of series creator Hideo Kojima’s epic military saga.
Strictly speaking, the The Phantom Pain is a sequel to 2010's Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a non-numbered Metal Gear game released for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) in 2010. You play as Big Boss, who, after waking up from a coma, takes up the codenames “Punished Snake” and “Venom Snake” and forms a new mercenary group called the Diamond Dogs in order to track down those responsible for the destruction of Mother Base and his previous combat unit, the Militaires Sans Frontiers (Soldiers Without Borders).
Thankfully, you don’t necessarily need to have played Peace Walker to enjoy The Phantom Pain, because 2014's Metal Gear V: Ground Zeroes is basically a two-hour playable prologue that sets up the story of the upcoming game. In fact, the best way to prepare for MGSV is to play 2004's Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, which follows Snake before he became Big Boss during the run up to the Cold War. Snake Eater documents his attempts to stop Soviet development of the Shagohod, which is a walking mech with nuclear launch capabilities and the precursor to later Metal Gears.
Wondering where franchise icon Solid Snake is during all of this? The Phantom Pain is a bit before his time. Solid Snake is technically Big Boss' son (it's a long story), and his saga is largely told throughout Metal Gear Solids 1, 2 and 4, all of which take place well after Big Boss' adventures.
If you don’t have time to replay previous Metal Gear Games, you can also watch videos from YouTube channel KefkaProduction, which has condensed the entire Metal Gear storyline into much more manageable movie-sized chunks. If you prefer your summaries in written form, you can instead check out this document from reddit user reeceprocter89, which covers an expanded history of the Metal Gear world.
The tagline for Metal Gear games has always involved some form of tactics and espionage, and the The Phantom Pain stays true to that theme while expanding on it significantly. Early reviews have pegged MGSV as the best playing Metal Gear yet, with Kojima Productions having finally mastered third-person shooting and stealthy gameplay in a way that doesn’t make you want to tear your hair out. Missions often have multiple paths to success, and Kojima and company have even thrown in some of the bombastic physics-based fun seen in other open-world games such as Just Cause and Far Cry 4.
You can play missions in any order without creating a mess of the story, and there’s a new base-building mode that allows players to create resources for use in the campaign. Additionally, these bases can be attacked by other players in multiplayer mode, which allows rival players to steal each other's resources. The Phantom Pain will also come packed with Metal Gear Online, which offers a more traditional player vs. player experience. It’s important to note that despite the game's full retail price of $60, Konami has still shoehorned in some microtransactions to MGSV’s multiplayer modes. However, the extent to which certain features will be locked behind a paywall remains to be seen.
Where Can I Get It?
The Phantom Pain will be available both digitally and from retail stores on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC. The last- and current-gen versions of the game differ mostly in terms of texture details, which will be higher on the PS4, Xbox One and PC versions.
Should I get it?
For anyone even remotely interested in Snake or the Metal Gear Franchise, this is game will likely be a day-one purchase. For everyone else, consider this: MGSV: The Phantom is just one of six games to get a perfect score from both IGN and Gamespot. The other five? The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and Soul Calibur. How's that for good company?
What's Next for Snake?
This may be it. Hideo Kojima has said that every Metal Gear since 2001's Sons of Liberty would be the last game in the franchise, but now with Kojima and Konami going through a messy break-up that involves Konami removing the legendary designer's name from the box art, and Konami largely getting out of the video game industry as a whole, The Phantom Pain could really be Snake's last ride. Spin-off titles such as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance were developed by other studios, so it's possible Konami may hands the reigns over to a new team in the wake of Kojima's departure. But Metal Gear without Kojima isn't really Metal Gear, and so enjoy The Phantom Pain for what it's most likely to be: a great game and a fitting end to an era.
Images and video courtesy of Konami