I like bears. Bears are the perfect mixture of cute, smart and dangerous. I could never kill a bear, and this can ruin videogames for me. In Dragon Age: Origins, I was only able to complete a quest to kill some bears when I ran away and my squad killed them without me. In Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed III, bear attacks see me lay down my arms and go gentle into that good night. I dread games like Tomb Raider throwing in an unskippable bear fight and rendering themselves uncompletable.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (a Hideo Kojima game, written and directed by Hideo Kojima) finally offers an alternative. Here, when a bear attacks me in the field, I don’t have to kill it. I have numerous techniques I can use to put it to sleep and extract, via hilarious balloon nonsense, to the zoo at my private military complex.
Bear preservation might not be game of the year-worthy for most people, but is indicative of the attitude Hideo Kojima and his team have applied to every aspect of Hideo Kojima presents: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. A director famed for scripted games, where every detail has been meticulously crafted, turned his attention to open-world, freeform action and nailed it first time.
The trick which makes MGSV work is that every inch of this world is still a designed, contrived piece of Tactical Espionage Action. Each mission can be arrived at organically, as a horse-riding, wondering mercenary or, later in the game, helicoptered to and from like the slickest special operative, and each one can be handled in a multitude of completely different, but completely viable, ways.
Any of the tiny outposts littered across Afghanistan and Africa could be the setting for a huge swathe of a normal Metal Gear game. Stripped of direction and lengthy conversations, the player is free to tackle it as quickly or as patiently, as quietly and stealthily or as brashly and explosively as they like.
The reason MGSV deserves to be heralded as the game of 2015 is that it would take all of 2016 to express why it is so very good. The slickness and nuance of the gameplay, the layers upon layers of touches, from the horrific to the hilarious. People much smarter than me have already waxed lyrical about the music, the story which, rather than interrupting every five minutes, allows you to explore at your own pace, the dog, the characters which manage to tug on your heartstrings despite every attempt to render them juvenile fantasies.
Like almost every entry in the series, Hideo Kojima says MGSV is his final game in the series. This time, however, that really does seem to be the case. He has broken all ties with Konami and that company seems to have all but stopped making games entirely. Now Kojima is the most wanted free agent in game design, with the eyes of the world on what he's going to do next. Unfortunately, MGSV offers no clues because it shows the man and his team to have a deft hand in almost every type of game.
Naturally, the game delivers impeccable stealth gameplay. At the same time, it shows the world how to do action, exploration, comedy and drama. It handles mechs and vehicles, animal attacks and superpowered enemies. At times, MGSV is genuinely terrifying; creepy, unsettling sections building to panic and horror. If nothing else, it shows us how excellent Silent Hills could have been.
No game is perfect, and often the greatest masterpieces are the most flawed. The message of MGSV, about hero worship and the player integration, can leave some feeling a little hollow at the conclusion. The missions can get repetitive, if a player lacks the imagination to try different things. Worst of all, the absence of what would have been the final chapter of the game is keenly felt. The story the team wanted to tell is there, if one searches, but perhaps a little longer in development might have led to a game even closer to perfection.
In the end, though, if after almost 100 hours one’s major complaint about a game is that there isn’t more of it, it must be doing something right.