For all the brilliance in Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, there are certainly problems. Hideo Kojima's latest offers up open world gameplay of incredible intricacy and depth that creates exhilarating moments over and over again. It's all Kojima has wanted his series to be, but it is still far from a perfect game.
Here are five things we'd change about The Phantom Pain. What minor spoilers there are will be marked...
Remove most of the TV nonsense
Where Metal Gear Solid 1-4 showed a desire on Kojima's part to make movies, in MGS5 the developer displays a desire to make television. Each core mission is a numbered episode, all introduced with the same sequence of shots as Snake/Big Boss travels to the mission location aboard a Diamond Dogs helicopter.
Credits for the forthcoming mission overlap the shots, introducing Punished 'Venom' Snake and detailing who wrote the mission, directed it (always Kojima) and who designed it. All of this works well stylistically, but it falls apart because the credits tell you which characters will appear before the mission is complete, ie HONKING GREAT SPOILERS.
There is absolutely zero need to do this in television, so why has it been allowed to happen here? So Kojima can pursue a fantasy? The credits at the end of each episode (though easily skipped) are also pure ego and the infrequent To Be Continued freeze frames are laughable.
Focus the story
Metal Gear Solid 5's storytelling is a conundrum. Its sparsity is a blessing compared to the bloated fan-service of MGS4, but the story it does tell is one of Kojima's weakest. The game is simultaneously freed by a lack of focus on narrative and encumbered by it – a pitfall nearly all open world games encounter.
The Phantom Pain is a massive game that will siphon 40 hours of your life before you've even hit the 50% completion mark (completion being story, plus collectables, perfect mission ranks and gear developments). It was toward the 30-hour mark that I completed the first of the game's two chapters. In itself that's far longer than it takes most players to complete previous MGS games in their entirety.
There's nothing wrong with games being 50 hours plus of course, but MGS5 could have quite happily focused its story into a shorter time-span before then fully revealing the depth of its gameplay. It feels as if Kojima feared the players would walk away if there wasn't more story to be told, which isn't the case for most players.
Stop regurgitating old missions to pad out the core game
In the second half of the game, the plot is padded out with main missions that actually take the form of earlier missions that must be completed under different parameters. Subsistence missions will start the player with no buddy, weapons or gadgets, Extreme will heighten the difficulty and Total Stealth will make being seen an instant fail.
These in themselves are not a problem (Subsistence missions are a particularly fun challenge) but when they're used as numbered entries in the main mission list, it feels cheap. There is nothing wrong with giving players the option to play older mission under these conditions, only do not seemingly force them to. What's more, at this point of the game, some Side-Ops become story-driven in ways that could have been turned into core missions. Why they weren't is a mystery.
An improved checkpoint system
This is less of an issue but it is still something that could be addressed. MGS5 will typically create a checkpoint when the player is approaching a group of enemies across an open expanse. Fair enough. But there are moments when the system feels pointlessly harsh, sending players back too far or to the wrong side of completed objectives simply because they ran off a cliff in a sandstorm.
Better boss battles
(Minor boss spoilers from the first 20 missions follow)
With Psycho Mantis, Liquid Ocelot, The Boss, Crying Wolf and The End the Metal Gear Solid series can make numerous claims to the "best boss battle ever" mantle. These memorable fights form a large part of the series' enduring appeal and have created many of its finest moments. It's disappointing then that MGS5 features nothing that even comes close to the quality of past games in this regard.
Battles that do happen are more like encounters occurring somewhat naturally within the game's open world. These come in two main variants – tactical sniper battles and wilder battles against the "Skulls". Said sniper battles never come close to the brilliance of Metal Gear Solid 3's and the Skulls are a cheap, bullet-sponge enemy type that take little more than perseverance to defeat.
The structure of these battles differs so much from previous games because of the game as a whole is so different. More open games require different approaches, but at the same time there is still clearly room within what Kojima has created for more inventive boss encounters than are served up.