Sunday, September 27, 2015

Screenshot of the Week #54: Neon madness!




                The months of August and September were dominated by singleplayer games, but the end of the year belongs to the competitive online games and Rainbow Six Siege Beta which started this week comes to remind us about the upcoming (e-peen) madness.
                I’ve got my key (late but better so than never) to join the Rainbow Six Siege Beta and I’ve formed my opinion about the game. It has the fun and fast but tactical gameplay that could be great for a competitive shooter, but feels a little skimpy on content. The game is in pretty good shape as it is in the Beta with the obvious stability issues and some minor things that can easily be fixed before the launch. The worrisome problems are those related to the netcode which is quite skimpy and the dedicated servers whose existence remains a mystery.
All in all it looks like a good multiplayer title. But knowing Ubisoft’s track record, what will happen to this game at launch and after that it’s in their hands.
                One Beta test for an online game is not what’s taking the end of the year by force. The Beta test for Star Wars Battlefront starts on October 8 followed by Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns release with its new ranked PvP system on October 23. Somewhere in between is going to be the Open Beta for Armored Warfare, which basically means a release to the public.
November is the month that will put an end to the Starcraft saga with Legacy of the Void while revitalizing the online part of the game with new units and the Archon mode (for the players like me with low APM). While in December Rainbow Six Siege and Star Wars Battlefront will compete in sales and probably for the title of the best shooter of this year (a year with very few FPS games). The list is big and I'm pretty sure I missed a few games.
                Naturally, I mentioned all these games because I’m interested in playing them and hopefully I’ll manage to taste all of them and choose the ones I’ll stick with for a while (as always, I get bored by online games rather fast lately). Meanwhile, I’ve spent my time beating Satellite Reign which was an enjoyable game which (sadly) feels rushed to an earlier than needed release date. But I’ll talk about it in detail in my upcoming review.


In the meantime, please share our articles and follow us on Steam, Twitter and on Facebook!!

Thanks!!!




Nodrim

Monday, September 21, 2015

Screenshot of the Week #53: Birthday!




                We are a little past the middle of September which combined with the end for August made for an agitated and crowded month for the video games enthusiast.
I’m done with almost everything I wanted to cover so far from this time period, aside of Act of Aggression, Skyshine’s BEDLAM, Shadowrun: Hong Kong and Satellite Reign. The first two are postponed indefinitely, while the last two will probably get reviewed sooner or later as they are already in the works (in before cancelation!).
There are still more notable games that are launching this month and I’ll want to check them out and maybe write about them like: SOMA, Might & Magic Heroes VII and Sword Coast Legends. But I’m already making too many promises, so I don’t know which of these games I’ll be able to play and cover in the near future.
                This being said, I’ll get back to some casual playing to relax myself, because the last weeks have been a speeding hell. Oh.. and today is my birthday!
Like a Boss!


In the meantime, please share our articles and follow us on Steam, Twitter and on Facebook!!

Thanks!!!




Nodrim

Friday, September 18, 2015

Armello Review!




                Board games are a form of entertainment that is quite spread, but their presence in the digital world is thin compared to other ways of entertainment that made a stronger impact in the video games industry over the years. And since none of the big budget developers are willing to create a digital board game, leave it to Kickstarter and fans of the genre to make it possible. In May 2014 with over 6,000 backers and $300,000 another digital board game began its development journey towards our screens as the debut project from League of Geeks entitled: Armello.

                Armello is set in a sort of grim fairy tale world filled with anthropomorphized animals that could and should be friendly but the circumstances and their interests pit them against each other in a struggle for power.
The premise for the game is this: the king is being corrupted by Rot driving him insane and putting the kingdom of Armello in danger; heroes arise from all the clans to face the threat of Rot and the insanity of the King in their desire to take the crown for themselves in a battle of wits, magic, trickery and force.
The prologue covers this entire story split in four different missions, each from the perspective of a different animal clan hero. We witness the characters’ interaction and their charming dialogues that create a magical atmosphere while presenting each hero’s motivations and setting up for the grimmer action of the game.
                The world and story of Armello feel like a combination of Narnia, Redwall and A Song of Ice and Fire and this mix can’t lead to anything bad. The story is intriguing and has some amazing characters with great potential behind them, but it doesn’t expand much further than the prologue and it left me with a desire for an expanded story mode. Instead, after the prologue the lore is halted and everything it’s about playing and winning matches.
I wish there was more...


                Armello is a digital board game which has four players facing each other in a battle for the kingdom’s crown in a strategic match involving the classic dice throwing, tile movement and randomized fun. 
Before a match starts each player has to pick an animal hero from the eight available ones, each of them being designed to be fitting for different strategies and be better at a certain play style. The hero stats are a little customizable by picking two bonuses from the few ones available with more unlocked by playing the game. The stats are simplistic yet they synergize really well with the resources available in the game and dictate the hero’s performance in certain situations, e.g. Fight affects the number of dices used in combat. With the hero picked and customized the game can start.
CUTE!
Always with the 


                All the matches take place on the same sized but randomized map representing the kingdom of Armello. The map has a number of key points that never change location. The King’s castle is always in the middle of the map and the four heroes start one in each corner in their clan’s ancestral ground which serves as a safe haven. Aside of the fixed locations there are a number of objectives, perils, dangerous areas and AI controlled enemies on the map that keep things interesting and should be taken into account as possible match changers, but they are small in number and easy to understand how they work.
                In a rather odd design choice the developers didn’t allow any changes or configurations to the existing map and this can lead to monotony after a while. But as it stands, the current board does serve as an effective battlefield working well with the game’s other mechanics.
Long live the King?!
The odds aren't in my favor...


                As expected from a board game, Armello has a turn based system which has each players waiting for their time to move during a turn. A day is split into two turns, one starting at dawn and the other at dusk with the time of the day affecting some of the map mechanics. The time of day also affects the heroes, restoring resources and giving them advantages based on their traits.
                At the start of each new day the King gives proclamation which greatly influences how the match is played from that point forward. This proclamation is dictated by the player with the higher Prestige stat which serves as the King’s advisor. With each new day the players also gain their share of gold increased by the number of cities they control. The turn system affects many of the resources in the game as well as the capabilities of the heroes, but the most important thing is when the player’s hand doesn't match their Wits stat as they will receive cards.
It's time to hunt!


                The cards are this game’s most cool and important game mechanic. At dawn each player draws cards from three distinct categories: items, magic or trickery, with the maximum number of cards that one can retain in hand being dictated by the Wits stat. These cards open up a variety of strategies and consolidate on certain gaming styles (if luck is on your side) while making resources management an important thing.
The item cards can boost your hero’s combat capabilities by providing powerful equipable items which bring the die on your side while in combat. The magic cards usually have short range spells with beneficial or damaging effects. And last but not least, the trickery cards are the most interesting providing all kind of traps that can help with the map control by making it harder for your adversaries from reaching their objectives.
Because the card drawing doesn’t always bring what you need and the die is not always friendly, you can also sacrifice cards in combat or during perils to lower the randomness of dice throwing or even to burn the useless cards to make room for the next draw.
                The cards are a neat little system that adds complexity and thrill to the game without complicating the rules too much. They are as intriguing as they are easy to use and a lot of the game’s tactical choices and strategies rely on them. Aside of their in game use, the cards contain flavor text and their art style is so beautiful and gorgeously animated that I could stare at them for hours.
Preparing for war!


                To add more depth and more things to do on the map, each hero has his own individual quests with the first one starting as the beginning of the match and with the option for the player to select the reward. The following quest triggers when the first one is completed.
                The quests are pretty simple in task and don’t require more than going to a certain tile on the map and choosing between an easy to get reward or a dangerous one that can bring new recruits to your cause and involves rolling a dice to avoid taking damage.
The basic concept behind completing a quest is easy, but don’t get tricked, reaching certain tiles can be really hard. The map has enough dangers of its own, but things change with each turn, new perils might spawn, Rot creatures might attack, the King’s guards are on the hunt and other player’s might stop you either through combat or well-placed traps.
                The questing is simple in design yet might be harder in achieving and adds more substance to a match without encumbering the player with more complicated rules to remember. They are optional, but they are extremely rewarding and completing them brings you a few steps closer to the victory condition you aim for.
It's time for an adventure!


                Either because you play a wolf wearing a sword or choose to play a gigantic and menacing bear or maybe because it gives you a tactical advantage or you are just set on being the aggressor and want to win through force, either way, there is combat in Armello which can change the fate of a match and grant the victor Prestige he deserves.
                The combat mechanics are extremely easy to understand and the decision to go to combat is based on rather simple principles. Attacking or being attacked sets those involved into the combat screen where they face each other and roll the dices to see how much attack and defense each gain. The dice can be ruthless as in any other game that is based on this core mechanic and it’s the player’s job to ensure that they win the dice on their side. Through enhancing the combat stats, equipped items, cards ready to sacrifice and by taking advantage of the hero’s traits, the players can start with a considerable amount of attack and defense even before the dice has been cast. Luck can always be a factor, but Armello developers made sure that through your decisions you can bring the luck to your side.
                The combat can be solved pretty quickly and based on the HP of the hero’s involved and the attack and defense each has gained, a battle can end with a victor, a draw and even with two losers.
I know it sounds like the combat system is deprived of complexity, but there is more to combat than just going straight to battle. Opponents can be ambushed, forced into traps and even terrorized with spells and they can die even before combat or enter the battle in a moribund state. Directly facing the opponent is an option, but not always the best one and even with the weaker heroes you can win a fight through tactics and cunning.
Rotten Bane perish from these lands!
An eye for an eye...


                With all being said about Armello’s mechanics it is time to talk about the victory conditions. A match can unfold in different ways, but the ultimate goal is always the same: to take over King's Landing, errr… I mean to save the kingdom from its mad King and there are four ways, set in stone, on how to do this. The types of achievable victory tie directly to the way the heroes are designed to play and how the map objectives work.
                Starting with the expected victory through combat which requires killing the King and surviving the battle, each of the Armello’s victory conditions are somewhat different despite having the exact same goal.
As the king descends further into darkness his health starts decreasing and his rules worsen by the day.  The prestige dominant player has the King’s ear taking decisions on his own benefits, keeping everyone at bay while the King dies from the Rot corruption giving the crown to the one with the highest prestige. This victory can also be obtained if the King dies in battle together with its killer.
Rot plays an important factor in the game, not only it corrupted the King leading to his insanity and downfall, but it also corrupts everything in its path. But corruption can be managed and might be appealing for some. If the players choose to embrace it, they can kill the King by reaching a higher level of corruption and challenge him into a battle where they siphon the King’s Rot to their advantage. In such a scenario, similar to the combat victory, if the player survives and the King dies, victory is achieved.
The last alternative is a good option for the heroes with a smaller inclination for combat as it involves a great deal of hunting for map objectives. Spirit stones spawn every once in a while on the map, a hero that is pure from Rot corruption can gather them and upon reaching four they can use the stones to cure/banish the King and thus gaining the spirit stones victory.
                The number of victory conditions is decent, but the balance between them hasn’t reached a stabilized point yet and taking the Prestige path seems to be the easier way to win and by the time I’ve written this review I haven’t seen another type of victory in my matches (and I’ve played a few). But as any PvP game, finding the perfect balance takes time and Armello surely isn’t quite there yet.
Winning against the AI is so epeen!


                Armello can be played both in singleplayer and in multiplayer and while the AI does a good enough job to keep things interesting, the game truly shines in multiplayer where the competitive nature of board games and the cunning of other players make for tensioned matches. But considering the multiplayer should have been the focus point for this game, it is rather strange that most of Armello’s annoying problems come from it.
                Through its game mechanics and map design, Armello feels to aim for faster matches something that the more complex physical board games out there usually don’t have. Playing against AI sure makes the gameplay feel speedy enough not to spend hours in a single match, but the switch to multiplayer is shocking.
                When I first played in multiplayer I was caught off guard as I wasn’t expected such a slowdown in gameplay and I was lucky because I had enough time to finish the match that dragged for more than an hour. The problem stands in the design of multiplayer matches which doesn’t change at all from singleplayer. Matches against AI are fast paced as the computer takes decisions faster and the battles with other AIs are calculated in an instant, leading to turns ending quickly. But when players start to take decisions things don’t go as smoothly anymore and the game doesn’t do much to deal with this problem. The combat dice throwing and decisions taking can’t be fasten up, but the map movement can be dealt with in a better way. The timer for each player’s turn is huge for no apparent reason as the decision making isn’t as complicated in this game and doesn’t require minutes of thinking. This leads to the players which aren’t on their turn getting bored and losing focus in a waiting game that has to be repeated every other turn. I was caught tabbed multiple times as my patience ran out waiting for the other players which probably lost their patience as well and got caught tabbed as well (a vicious circle).
                To make matters worse in the multiplayer waiting game, Armello has no chat system so the players involved can’t communicate in any way other than through some preselected options (greetings spam!). This brings the interaction between players to a bare minimum, which is rather ironic considering the fact that board games at their core are social games.
                Playing against other players is a true challenge and the way this game should be played, but some of the mechanics behind the multiplayer are off-putting and are going to upset a lot of players to the detriment of this game. It is understandable that such a small developer doesn’t have the power to monitor an in-game chat, but a workaround should be found for this. The multiplayer matches’ speed is fixable and I’m hoping future patches will make things smoother as I really enjoy the challenge of playing against other players.
Darn!
Interaction...


                The overall gameplay of Armello might sound complicated on paper, but in reality is pretty straight forward. The mechanics have a smooth learning curve and they can be caught on the fly, but the finesse and effectiveness in strategy comes through exercise, being it against AI or the more competitive online play.
                The faster pace concept and the way the cards work favor short term tactical decision above long term planning giving the game a touch of deathmatch style battles, but not fully ignoring strategic decisions. But a board game gameplay, physical or digital, is intended to be as competitive as it is fun and Armello manages to touch both objectives but not without problems.


                When it comes to indie games that are on a tight budget the expectations from the technical part shouldn’t be too high. Armello clearly doesn’t have the greatest graphics and doesn’t come even close to that, but it makes up for it with its vivid colors palette which brings the fairy tale to life.
The art direction is impeccable, with a great antithesis in cute humanized animals with a cutthroat personality hidden underneath layers of puffy fur and mild faces.
                To the benefit of the game, the interface is clean and its design is easy to understand and pleasing to the eyes and with it comes the graphical feature that I love the most about this game: the cards. The cards’ artistic design is as impressive as it is amusing and the animations add a great deal of life to them making them truly unique and immersive to a degree that is unexpected from something that plays a rather mechanical role in the game (seriously, their art style is mesmerizing!).
                Armello’s graphics might not impress in a technical way but capture with great style the atmosphere they try to convey. This game is a fairy tale and there wasn’t a moment when I was playing it that I hadn’t felt this.
Darkness is coming!
Another day in this vicious world.


                In my last review I talked about the quality of sound getting better and better in the past years and this rule also applies to indie games. Armello’s music holds onto the magical atmosphere of the game. It’s rather soft at times but intertwines with moments of agitations building up the suspense for the growing aggression of the game’s action. If I wanted something more than this game has to offer through its sound design is a voice acting fitting for its great animal characters.


Cards...
...even more cards!


                As a digital board game Armello’s goal is clear. It tries to be casual enough to allow the players to get into the game with ease, but tries to be complex enough not to let its mechanics become boring after a short period of time. The game tries to reach for a wider audience and as a competitive game it deserves one, despite some of the more annoying problems that the multiplayer has to offer.
As a newly born world and lore, Armello only teases the players with its potential leaving them wanting more. The story options are limitless and I can’t stop myself what a positive influence a story mode could have on this game.
                Armello has the enchanting atmosphere of a fairy tale with the brutal gameplay of a deathmatch and the tactical decision making of a strategy, but with its fate trapped in the cage that comes with small budget indie development.


(This article is based on a press copy of the game provided by the developer.)


Pros:
+ Charming world
+ Awesome heroes
+ Lovely 2D animations, art style and UI design
+ Great music
+ Easy to learn
+ Good enough mechanics to stay interesting for a while


Cons:
- A small map with no configurations available
- Victory conditions aren’t properly balanced
- Slow multiplayer
- No chat
- The game is crying for a story mode




Nodrim

Monday, September 14, 2015

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Review!




                The Metal Gear series spans over twenty-five years of console gaming experience delivering a complex and confusing story that has been subject to countless retcons and a ton of media products to tie the story together and make it have continuity. Taking this into consideration the decision to bring this console exclusive series to the PC platform is rather strange, but welcomed nonetheless.
So, for me, someone who hasn’t played a Metal Gear Solid game before (aside from Ground Zeroes), playing this one and writing this review required a titanic background work to get myself familiarized with the entire story and to make some sense out of it. I watched streams, videos and read a lot and I’m still not quite confident with my overall knowledge of the franchise. So, naturally, this review will come from the perspective of a newcomer and I will keep my references and comparisons with other games in the series to a minimum as much as possible (especially when talking about the gameplay).

                The Phantom Pain starts from an odd point. The intrigue which triggers the whole plot is a mission part of a different game. Ground Zeroes serves as a prequel connecting the action of Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain by relating the latter to a secret ending of the former. It’s an uninspired way to complicate a story that didn’t need further complications.
Ground Zeroes has a single story mission and various other story related information in the form of cassettes which expand and better explain the plot. The mission has Snake also known as Big Boss (Boss, Jack or John Doe) going to Camp Omega to rescue one of his fellow soldiers, a child by the name Chico, and the surviving traitor, the young girl Paz. During this time, an UN inspection is about to reach Mother Base, Snake’s private military base of operations, in order to verify if they posses any nuclear weapons. It’s a simple narrative to a complex plot. A man that should be a hero, Big Boss, plays by the rules of a villain forming a mercenary organization for the soldiers who want to escape the political system and got their hands on a nuclear weapon and now they try hard to cover this fact from the rest of the world.
                After rescuing Chico and Paz, Snake returns to Mother Base just to find it in flames as it was attacked by an unknown faction that was hiding under the banner of the United Nations. It is a rather ironic turn of events as Snake’s army pays the price for their trickery betrayed by one of their own. Big Boss, his right hand Miller and the remaining soldiers escape by helicopter just to be blown to pieces as Paz, who was on that helicopter, had a bomb planted on her in a rather peculiar place. The incident renders Big Boss comatose for nine years.
                It is 1984 and “V has come to”, this is how The Phantom Pain starts as Venom Snake wakes up from his long coma to a changed world. Hidden by unexpected friends for all this time, his awakening is such a big event which can’t stay hidden forever and not even a month after his comeback to the land of the conscious his hospital is attacked. Soldiers stream from all entrances and rush to find and kill the legendary soldier, while something of the supernatural lingers in the hospital hallways. Innocents are executed left and right and a man on fire doesn’t seem to make any distinctions, burning everything that stands in his way. Helped by an enigmatic character by the name of Ishmael, Big Boss makes it out of the hospital alive just to have a car crash and be saved once again, but this time by his old pal Ocelot. Outside the danger that his awakening has spawned, Big Boss sets sail south to Afghanistan to rescue Miller from the Russians and rebuild their old private military, but this time in the name of vengeance.
The prologue was one of the most confusing and spectacular introductions in gaming history and somewhere in the one hour long cinematic there is a basics tutorial hidden.
                With Miller saved and Ocelot on board, Big Boss starts rebuilding almost from scratch a base and an army while working hard to uncover the people behind the attack that took place nine years ago. The prologue raises many questions yet with Snake awake and safe the story itself enters a coma and for a long period of time the main missions won’t move the story forward but rather give a helpful hand in expanding the new Mother Base and increasing the ranks of the new private army now called Diamond Dogs.
                The story is split in two chapters which should bring the conclusion of two different stories that come together in the grander scheme of things. Chapter 1 serves as the ending story for Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes, while Chapter 2 is providing (in theory) the connection with the first Metal Gear game.
The missions are structured in an episodic format with each episode starting with character presentation and ending with the credits (basically stamping Hideo Kojima’s name everywhere). While this style is unique and appealing, the presentation does more harm than good as it spoils the mission content by presenting the characters involved.
Known in this game as Mute Snake.
A Hideo Kojima game!


                The narrative starts really strong, but the pacing is soon lost between the open world navigation, base management and unnecessary missions and many hours later after the memorable prologue the story miraculously comes back to life in a series of missions tied up like a TV show, but with the downside that “to be continued” in a video game can be a huge immersion breaker. Still, the story unfolds, the villain makes a strong appearance and things start to make sense, more or less. In a matter of a few missions Chapter 1 is over and with it most of the reasoning behind the narrative but still leaving a few loose strings. For a game that just regained momentum it seems reasonable that the second chapter should cash out on that. Wrong! The momentum is retained for a short period of time by delivering a short succession of cutscenes until the game looses the pace again in what becomes a lackluster story. Instead of unique missions the game forces the player into repeating some of the main missions and grinding through side ops and Mother Base progression in order to unlock the few true missions in this entire chapter. After dozens of hours spent waiting for answers, Chapter 2 comes to an abrupt conclusion without providing a real ending or being the expected bridge to the other games in the series.
                Not only there is a broken link between the narrative and the open world, which is common in this type of games, but it takes 30 to 40 hours to get some real answers about what is happening when the actual story content can be easily compressed in less than 10 hours. In all this time spent doing countless missions, the only way the story truly progresses, aside of the few cutscenes is through recovered cassettes.
                The cassettes add a lot of depth to the story to a point where they are more important than the high quality cinematics. It feels like Kojima Productions skipped on the production value by compressing as much as possible of the story into these audio tapes which could have been part of in-game cutscenes. This wouldn’t as bad, as the cassettes offer a good way of greatly expanding the story with minimal effort, but the information is delivered inch by inch and the cassettes bring revelations about the same time with the breaking point moments in the story.
                Kojima mentioned that the player is going to be at the center of attention in this game and take the lead through his choices and actions and that is true. There is a focus on choices, from the way the base is developed and the army is increased to a more serious level that has an impact on the story itself. The choices aren’t that obvious (or many in number) as most of them are part of cutscenes, but they add something new to a series and a genre that didn’t experiment much which such mechanics.
Some of the buddies that can join Snake in his mission for vengeance are part of the choices system. Quiet and DD the dog are recruitable by the player’s choice and the story can continue without them, but it will lose not only in value but in length as well.
                The buddy is a refreshing system and while optional to use it provides more tactical approaches while also expanding the story. By playing missions with them the buddies’ bond with Snake increases or decreases through his actions. Raising the bond level provides new command abilities that Snake can give to them helping him on the battlefield.
From the four that can join Big Boss in battle or the important characters that aid him from Mother Base, only Quiet has a truly developed story. There is even an explanation for Quiet’s cloths or more like her lack of cloths but is a little absurd even for this game’s over-exaggerated story. Her hypersexualization might be just a selling point, but it didn’t undermine this character’s meaning for me. I thought Quiet was interesting in her own way and I wished more characters were as in depth as she was even if that meant I had to suffer through some more nonsensical explanations about them.
This is how a dog should be in a video game!
A fantastic team!


                The Phantom Pain’s story might be shallow in content but stays true to the series through its almost incompatible concepts that are somehow put together in a functional way.
This techno fantasy is set in a world very similar to ours where the technology of the Cold War is mixed together with futuristic gadgets and weapons in a mishmash that can hardly be taken seriously. To make the contrast of unrealism even more prominent a few supernatural elements are thrown here and there making the technological antithesis look plausible compared to them. Yet, this quirky lore and the story heavily derived from Japanese animes hides a deeper meaning that comes to surface only when necessary hiding back in into the silliness afterwards.
                The Phantom Pain might be over-exaggerated beyond repentance, but this is just an exterior shell covering the taboo subjects that this game addresses which barely any other video games dare to. Ground Zeroes had the player go through Camp Omega in Guantanamo Bay, a mirror representation of Camp X-Ray, standing as a image for detention facilities from which there is no escape no matter if one is guilty or not. The subject is so touchy and bares so much political connotations that I’m not even sure I can continue talking about it without taking a political stand (so I won’t). The Phantom Pain continues this quest of tackling sensitive political and military subjects the best way a video game could do. Cold blooded executions, torture, experiments on humans, the threat of nuclear weapons and child soldiers are some of the edgier moments that the story bluntly presents spread between piles of meaningless stuff designed to relax the player’s mind from the brutality of this game’s world which is a mere reflection of our world.
Stolen innocence...
War...


                The story delivers a level of cinematography matching high quality movies with many moments of epicness but poorly sectioned all over the game. The mix of mystery, supernatural and reality does make it intriguing, but far less enjoyable for someone who isn’t familiar with the saga. The story length doesn’t serve its scope and I think many diehard fans will feel betrayed by what should have been a prequel to Metal Gear 1 and the following titles, but it’s more (or less) an underachieving sequel to Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes.
The many characters that were probably expected by the fans to be seen in this game developing alongside Big Boss are nowhere to be found and the few that actually made it into the story are mostly undeveloped.
Yes, there is a twist in the Kojima style which is more twisted than one could imagine, but not unforeseeable for the fans with a more conspiracy oriented mind (there are details related to it everywhere). But as it is shocking it’s underwhelming at the same time and it left me with a bitter taste.
                Make no mistakes, the story has its moments, but it can’t keep up with hours of traveling and tedious missions. Chapter 2 completely runs out of steam as the developers probably run out of time and/or money delivering one of the most immersion breaking moments I had in an AAA game to date. As it is proved by the Collector’s Edition for PS4, the final mission was cut out, depriving the players of the final boss battle and closure for the story (luckily the last cassettes are brilliant). There are other things in the game that feel they would offer more than they actually do (e.g. gear walker), hinting that there might have been more content excluded than just the final mission, but this is just a speculation.
                For a franchise that has become legendary through storytelling, over the top plot twists and its fantastic characters, I felt disappointed by what Metal Gear Solid V had to offer and the way Big Boss becomes the villain of his idealistic story is far less grim than how I envisioned it to be (if that way actually exists at all in this game).
A demon!
Why do they keep building these things!?


                So what does The Phantom Pain have to counterbalance a story that doesn’t fully deliver? A gameplay so Solid that is going to be remembered in the history of gaming.
Over two decades of action stealth gameplay experience refined in what truly is the apogee moment of the genre. The perfect blend of stealth mechanics and action shooting is what makes The Phantom Pain truly fantastic and the most innovative game in years.
                 The open world setting gives the player new tactical options that a based level design couldn't do, opening up most of the missions to 360 degrees approaches fit for each player's style with no restrictions. 
The map design is excellent and puts at the player's disposal every tool necessary to make sneaking around possible from each direction with a possibility for escape if things go south, while still having a perfect layout for violent shootouts if the player so desires. It's a shame that there aren't more big camps on the map, because the few ones are brilliant in design and their greatness doesn’t completely pale away even after doing several missions in the same area.
                While the open world does help by providing a platform for better level design, as its own it doesn't have much to offer. You can free roam the countryside of Afghanistan or Africa and move from one objective to another or capture enemy camps, but the bulk content is much easier to access through the game's menus than going there by foot, on horse or using the slow moving car (seriously, Snake runs faster). The world on its own looks amazing and creates an immersive feeling with vivid nature and beautiful landscapes subject to dynamic weather changes and a day - night cycle. The various types of wild life (and plants) that inhabit these lands further enhance the immersion while serving as mission objectives and an extra way to acquire some spending GMP (cash). But there is no true sense of discovery, as the realistic design of the world has everything in the open without offering more than you can see marked on the map. So don’t expect the style of fantasy RPGs with hidden caves and lost treasures, because there’s nothing there aside of lost gems.
                All in all, the world is beautiful, but its potential is far bigger than it serves in the game and feels like another wasted opportunity to make The Phantom Pain an even better game. But such is the current trend, open world games are better received by the public and more and more developers take a liking in doing vast maps with a total disregard to the quality of the overall content that has to fill these maps.
I wish more levels were like this one.
Peaceful.


                At core, Metal Gear Solid is a stealth game and the 5th installment in the main series and doesn’t go away from this course, but stealth is truly challenging in a realistic way only when the AI actually can match the player’s possibilities to sneak around.
                The AI in The Phantom Pain has probably the most advanced behavior I’ve seen in recent games. It acts in a natural reactive way and makes for memorable gameplay moments. The guards’ routes seem set in stone at first, but when they detect something funny going on, they act in progressively alarming ways which reaches a maximum when the alarm is triggered. The guards spotting range might not be the greatest (the game is full of blind guards), but they do react to movement and sound by checking the location of the disruption and inspecting the surrounding areas. When things go crazy and the bullets start to fly even Big Boss is in danger as the enemies group up fast while calling for backup and spray bullets left and right even if they don’t know his actual position. Running away from a camp in full alert doesn’t necessarily mean that you are out of the woods. The enemies even use the defensive equipment of their camps shooting flares to light up the area during night time and firing mortar shells to get you out in the open, but when out of the mortar range you are out of the danger as no enemy feels the need to pursue further (lazy guards!).
                The overall behavior is impressive and is only diminished by a few factors. The backup doesn’t increase in level as the threat persists and taking out everyone sets off the alarm level of the area.
Another problem is related to the sniping playstyle which in cooperation with Quiet can obliterate many of the game’s harder areas without the guards having a clue about what’s going on ( the AI has very few ways to combat this kind of strategy).
But probably the biggest problem comes from the fact that triggering the alarm doesn’t mean the impending doom it should in a stealth game. Make no mistake the enemies can kill you rather fast if they spot you as they usually outnumber you and their shooting is good enough, but the situations where you are put in difficulty are easily outweighed by those when you can overcome your mistakes.
                The reality is that the hybrid gameplay that MGS V has to offer is negatively affecting the stealth and it shouldn’t have, but the benefits of the advanced combat systems cannot be ignored. Even so, this game should be harder than it is even without using the Reflex Mode which slows time on detection and difficulty needs some tuning and I wouldn’t mind a New Game+.
I'm almost out of the woods!


                The Phantom Pain has incorporated such a wide variety of features and mechanics to make the stealth and combat as fluid and enjoyable as possible with the option to swamp quickly from one to another.
The movement system goes outside of the basic standard of standing up – crouch – prone and comes with even more stances that can be useful at any given them (similar to a degree to ARMA 3). For the verticality of most of the levels Big Boss is agile enough to jump over small obstacles or to lift himself above them and if necessary he can even climb on cracked walls and mountainside areas. Incorporated with the sneaking around style comes the silent takedowns and the Close Quarters Combat which is much more elaborated than I expected and works wonders with Snake’s mechanical arm. But sneaking around doesn’t mean you can’t carry guns and with them you can take hostages which can be questioned for information and even used as human shields which trigger a surprising behavior from the enemy soldiers (I’ll let you find out what).
                But for those that are looking at The Phantom Pain more as an action game and aren’t so interested about the stealth mechanic, your preference hasn’t been ignored. In fact, it was thoroughly added in the game as a complete option to work from the beginning to the end. The cover system works great and the world design doesn’t let you down at all on this. You can run from cover to cover while being shot at and riposte back through 3rd person shooting or a well done first person camera designed for accurate aiming.
                Stealth and combat mix and match throughout the missions, both being viable options for completing the game. But even if one chooses to focus only on stealth, battles will come as the game has few but quite epic boss battles that will require more than Snake’s sneaking talents. And for such occasion and many others like that, the game has you developing through Mother Base an astonishing amount of weapons, gadgets, upgrades and tools so you have the firepower to turn everything into ashes or the tools to go unseen.
An explosive snake!
Try to guess my position!


                The Mother Base serves as a sanctuary where story can evolve in an easier way, but it also comes with a series of constructions, researches and upgrades to keep the player busy for several hours. It isn’t (completely) mandatory but it sure is helpful and unlocking cool items does make the game even more fun.
                The Fulton recovery system is the main tool that will help with the expansion of Mother Base by allowing the extraction of resources, equipment and personal on the battlefield which is automatically put to good use for Diamond Dogs by Miller and Ocelot. The recruits are split into a multitude of categories based on their aptitudes and they will help grow the Mother Base and with it provide even more cool things.
The Fulton system is as quirky and fun as its usage is unrealistic, but it does something that many open world games failed to do in the latest years. It speeds up the game by skipping on the grind of having to go through an elaborate action every time just to extract something in a more realistic way (unlike Far Cry 3 & 4 who has us deal with the animals skinning animations all the time). The Fulton recovery system wins precious time that can be spent elsewhere and it does its job perfectly (but then you have to wait hours for the helicopter to take you in and out and all that time goes to waste either way).
Because why not!?
Measuring skill with binoculars!


                The resources and personal extracted from the battlefield are mainly invested in a research system which is highly progressive and complex enough to require a good chunk of gaming time just to unlock some of the higher tier items. The time spent through countless staff management and research menus is given back in many more hours of uninhibited fun. The huge variety of weapons, gadgets, armors, buddies upgrades and weapon customization give you the opportunity to prepare yourself and your buddies to tackle the challenges ahead as you see fit. From the obvious non-lethal weapons, to deadly snipers and powerful rocket launchers the game has it all. There is even a water pistol for those who could find such a gun (toy) useful. I would say that the number of unlocks is overkill, but I don’t mind it even one bit and with it comes the biggest challenge in this game, which is to stay true to the stealth playstyle, because there are so many distractions that are almost impossible to resist. Even if the sneaking around goes wrong, you can rectify the situation by calling some artillery strikes which combined with the helicopter’s cover support can wreck havoc into the enemy base and if this isn’t enough you can always ask for a tank but expect your mission score and GMP to go downhill fast.
                The research system does prolong the game’s length in an artificial way especially because it’s a waiting game with some researches taking up to 4 hours and maybe even more. But it’s important to see what the developers did here. Considering that Metal Gear Online 3 should come soon on all platforms (Q1 2016 for PC), this immense number of combat options is most likely to be featured in the competitive version of the game and why not introduce it first in the base game.
This is just the beginning!
A beast!


                Growing the Diamond Dogs doesn’t mean only new tech, later into the game teams of soldiers are formed which go on off-screen real time based missions that can bring more GMP, resources and glory for Snake’s private military. It is an easier to avoid some of the madly grind for resources in order to fully expand the base and what comes with it. The more qualified soldiers can even take Snake’s place in missions and some of them are more skilled than him at particular jobs which makes them more suitable for certain missions.
                 Mother Base and the research system are forced to a point on the player, but reaching that point is easier than some might fear, so there is no need to worry that you will have to go through a “Facebook “ style mini-game in order to progress further into the game. I sincerely think that the game can be finished with the bare minimum in terms of research and I won’t be surprised to read soon about players who did just that. But as an overview about this whole base management and unlocking system, The Phantom Pain did the best job so far with such a feature that has been more often seen in non-management video games and it deserves praising for that.
                My complaint with the base doesn’t come from the huge list of things you can do with it, but rather from what you can’t. In the style of great RPGs, sanctuary areas have become common in games and with that in mind I was expecting a better social experience from this one. You can ease drop on some soldier’s conversations, move around and salute your soldiers for moral and find lost diamonds which can be converted into GMP, but expecting more than that is setting up for disappointment. The conversations you can listen upon are few and they get old quick, you can’t even enter the base quarters and outside of the main cutscenes there are little story details that can be found rendering Mother Base rather lifeless for a place that can easily hold over 500 soldiers.
                Because of the static and lifeless design there aren’t many reasons to go back to Mother Base aside of the regular showers that keep you combat ready and the mandatory story visits. Taking in consideration that the base grows huge when properly expanded, after understanding how things works I avoided going back for as long as possible spending most of my time in the ACC (helicopter) or on the battlefield reinforcing the legend (!).
It doesn’t help that the navigation can be complicated, speaking either about the base itself or its endless research menus which by the way have no mouse support (…). Taking a tour with the helicopter or driving through it with a car is more about enjoying the view than an effective way of traveling in between platforms, luckily there is a delivery system.
Going on foot and exploring every nook and cranny of the base takes time and can lead to dangerous moments and even death. There is a lot of verticality to the base and a lot of dangerous climbing, jumping or walking on edges. It’s like the base was designed by a Prince of Persia fan. The only true advantage for a detailed exploration of the base is in the preparation for the FOB multiplayer mode, but more on that later.
                Mother Base serves its purpose very well and I’m sure many players will spend hours and hours developing anything it has to offer. I’ve spent my share fair of time within its research menus and despite praising it for its management mechanics I still feel is a wasted opportunity to do something even greater (not the only missed opportunity).
The architect of this base skipped on school...


                The overall gameplay in Metal Gear Solid V tends to favor the completists. The game has so much meaningless and filler content that managed to leak even in the main missions.
The main missions don’t differentiate well from the optional content and have very similar objectives only in greater numbers. They also have hidden secondary objectives that are made visible only after completing the mission once, forcing another replay in order to fully complete the objectives and reaching the 100% completion of the game.
                The Side Ops are usually faster and simpler and have one predetermined objective that can be completed in various ways depending on the play style. The number of Side Ops exceeds 150 but lacks badly in variety. Most of the Side Ops are about destroying stuff, killing soldiers or rescuing prisoners with few exceptions which are not Side Ops per se and serve as main missions in disguise.
                The missions, being main or secondary, have you circling through areas which you have visited before and by the end of the game you have seen every major area in the world several times. To make this bearable, the AI adapts to the player’s tactics and once visited an area receives defensive enhancements like antipersonnel mines, decoys or the soldiers even start to wear helmets to counter your headshots and night vision goggles to better spot you in the dark. All these enhancements are welcomed, but an already explored area still remains an explored area despite all the new additions and this recycling is detrimental to the game.
                Despite its questionable quality, the content is in spades and it ties up nicely with the Mother Base progression system as it awards GMP and multiple possibilities of obtaining more materials. But such content is something that completists will enjoy the most and the average players might grow to hate.
This is new!
2015, the year of copy paste content...


                In retrospective, the complexity and attention to gameplay details is mind-boggling and after dozens of hours of playtime The Phantom Pain will still manage to surprise you. The base rule seems to be that if it seems possible than it probably works and more often than not it does. It is a fascinating experience that still has me hooked 30 hours after I finished the main story and I still discover new things.
                The supply box falling on your enemies head or even on your own was already a classic before the game launched, but having sleeping enemies drowning in a puddle of rain water is as amazing to discover as it is morbid. This kind of delicious details can be found everywhere enriching the gameplay experience and there is no point for me to spoil the fun of finding them by yourself.
                The almost absolute focus on gameplay mechanics rather than story or missions is a strange tradeoff that Kojima Productions made. In the long term it might serve the game better as the strong gameplay adds a great deal of entertainment while increasing the replay value to a degree and helping with the multiplayer. But I don’t think it was the best decision to be made as the fun I had testing all the cool stuff in this game still didn’t wash the taste of disappointment the story and missions design gave me.
Talk! or I'll make a human shield out of you!


                While Metal Gear Online 3, the team versus team competitive multiplayer, is still in the works, The Phantom Pain does have a multiplayer mode which is advertised as massive but is more of a 1v1 arena with an unfair advantage for the defending player which has all the players that accepted the terms of agreement hooked to it. This mode is competitive enough and can be a lot of fun if you are online when things happen to your FOB or vice versa when attacking someone else’s FOB.
                FOB or Forward Operative Base is a replica of Mother Base but in distant waters meant to redirect the potential damage that the main base could take in the story. The first FOB is totally free and can be upgraded with in-game currency and resources. In the eventuality that you want to expand your operations even more, you have to spend real money on MB coins in order to purchase licenses for new waters or wait a huge amount of time until you receive enough premium currency from daily log-in rewards.
                The FOB works on exactly the same upgrading principles as Mother Base, the only major difference is that you can configure a security system for it the way you like and develop a series of devices that can boost up your defense. An FOB can be attacked by other players while you are offline and when that happens you have to rely on the defenses you’ve set to protect your assets. When online, you can jump in as soon as the alarm goes on (if the servers allow you to) about your FOB being attacked and fight alongside your soldiers to stop the intruder from stealing your resources, personal and defensive weapons while he tries to reach the core of your platform and end the match.
It helps to know the design of the base no matter if you are the attacked or the defender. Climbing on pipes or crawling beneath obstacles might be slow but it helps avoiding the ever on duty guards and other traps that are lying around waiting to be triggered. As soon as the alarm starts, things become more intense than in the singleplayer so stealth is the best bet to win an FOB infiltration.
                There’s an online ranking system split in multiple leagues that makes things more competitive and some computer calculated battles that have players militaries facing each other’s based on their combat resources.
                The FOB mode can be a good deal of fun and I’m enjoying it greatly, but I’m quite confident it isn’t on everyone’s taste. Having resources stolen by other players while not online surely pisses off some people and while creating an FOB it doesn’t seem there is a way to stop it. Even if you play offline, you can still get attacked, the only difference being you that can’t defend yourself.
The servers aren’t helping either, they have been unstable for more than a week and they still go down all the time. To be able to defend your FOB you have to be connected to the servers, but being online slows everything down considerably as the game’s menus load way slower. There is also the problem of balance as the defender has unlimited lives, a greater vantage point at spawn and an entire base of defenses while the attacker has one life to overcome the challenge. The mode also has some mechanics that haven't been completely thought through and make things more annoying than they should be. 
                The FOB mode might need some serious tweaking, but despite its problems, I think that it's a good way to prolong this great game’s life until the actual competitive multiplayer kicks in.  It works in tandem with the game’s story and provides some extra challenging sneaking or combat scenarios with a PvP component and it’s the best playground to test your newly developed toys!
This again?!


                I’ve already filled 10 pages worth of words about what this game has to offer in terms of story, gameplay and the features adjacent to them. What about the technical part?
Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain are the first games developed using the Fox Engine and here I hope they aren’t the last. The graphics rendered by this game are incredibly clean and provide a sense of photorealism despite not being close to that.
                The landscapes of Afghanistan and Africa are beautiful even if much of the areas are barren, I don’t know if is the setting that hasn’t been used often in video games that makes me perceive things differently, but I love the visuals of this game. The effects, while not many do add to the immersiveness of the landscapes and the rain I’ve experienced in The Phantom Pain is probably the most impressive. Seeing everything washed away by water and Snake’s cloths soaking wet gave me the uncomfortable feeling of being rained over myself.
But The Phantom Pain is a game where the cinematics shine the most and Fox Engine showed its true strength by providing realistic facial expression with many moving muscles and eyes that could say more than words (no wonder they skipped so much on voice acting!).
                What is impressive and took me completely by surprise is the world’s physics which is more developed than I expected. There’s a lot of stuff that can be destroyed and the pre-rendered physics look spectacular working great with the overall graphics while making the world feel less rigid and monotone. The animations do their job as well, with few mishaps, and Snake’s different stances and movement is fluid and eye pleasing.
                Metal Gear Solid V’s graphics look superior on PC compared with any other platform, the textures have a higher quality, the view distance is bigger (expect pop-ups) and there are more settings to further enhance the visual aspects. But being developed for old gen and current gen consoles the game visuals are automatically dragged down and this is a shame. It’s obvious that Fox Engine can do a lot more than it shows in this game, especially when it comes to the textures and mesh quality which isn’t close to 2015 standards and there’s more. The graphics menu does lack a basic setting like FSAA. The frames are locked at 60fps to prevent physics artifacts which is an upsetting issue for those with gaming monitors.
                Even with average quality textures and without taking advantage of all the latest technologies the world that Fox Engine has created looks amazing nonetheless and The Phantom Pain is one of the better looking games of this year.
Immersion at its best!
A cool looking killing machine.


                Music and sound design are getting better and better in video games and this year proved it more than ever before with games like GTA V, The Witcher 3, Batman: Arkham Knight or KHOLAT. The Phantom Pain makes no exception from this rule and it has to offer one of the most amazing and fitting soundtracks.
                With the action taking place in the first half of the 80s, the music of the period delights the ears of Big Boss as he steals cassettes from enemy camps (he doesn’t like to pay for music). Classics like A-ha – Take on me, Europe – The Final Countdown, Asia – Only time will tell, Kim Wilde – Kids in America or the cover of Midge Ure for The Man Who Sold the World are just a few examples of the tasteful and nostalgic music of a different period. And if you need a pick me up while going to combat turn the helicopter speakers to a maximum while playing Ride of the Valkyries and let the epic feeling take you to war. All these songs I knew and I loved way before this game, but the ones that truly haunt me are Quiet’s theme song and Donna’s Burke Sins of the Father which I’m set on listening at least five times a day for the foreseeable future (I’m slightly weird I guess).
The sound effects are equally impressive (the sound of the helicopter’s door closing impresses me every time).  and varied enough not to make the huge amount of weapons sound way too similar But as with Ground Zeroes the game lacks in audio settings and there is no way to turn the volume down on some of the sound effects and the overlapping sounds can cause a lot of problems during cutscenes.
                The voice acting is at the highest quality, even if it comes in a rather small quantity than expected from such a game. The majority of the time voice acting means Miller and Ocelot spaming through the radio communicator explaining for the thousand time to Snake what he has to do (they repeat themselves so much like Big Boss is some kind of idiot that doesn’t get it), not to mention they speak over cassettes which is the most annoying thing. But aside of the annoying parts, there is a lot of dialogue at the highest voice acting quality.
The voice work of Keifer Sutherland is really good despite the fans being upset that David Hayter didn’t reprise his role as Snake. Truth be told, Keifer does sound a little too common for this saga as his voice is extremely known and has been featured in all the media, but considering his lines during cutscenes can be counted on fingers this fact is ignorable.
                I have to say that the sound complements the cinematic presentation of the story in the best way possible and some of the sound effects combined with the visuals on the screen gave me actual goose bumps and will probably do it again if I’d have to play through that again (oh man, those sounds when chased by the guy on fire or the metal screams of Sahelanthropus!).


LET THE WORLD FEAR US ALL!
I'll hide this from Miller and glue it on my cardboard box!
Chapter 3 was named Peace?!


                I’m seeing myself forced to press the brakes on this article, I’ve been going on and on for several pages and if this article doesn’t convey most of the things I have to say about this game I don’t know what else would.
                The Metal Gear Solid series is where Eastern and Western cultures collide in a video game designed for the both worlds. The military advanced western world meets the quirkiness of the Japanese culture in a game which is as enjoyable in gameplay as it is terrifying in thematic. The blend of anime silliness, stealth play, violence and over-exaggerated story with many serious underlinings is something that I enjoy greatly (being an anime fan myself).
                Gameplay wise The Phantom Pain is an extremely addictive drug that won’t let you go off your seat and it could easily be considered a masterpiece of the action stealth genre. It is a shame that the story doesn’t truly deliver at the same level of quality as the gameplay and it will probably disappoint fans and non-alike. The slow paced and short narrative with a passive protagonist and fillers missions are what is holding this game back from reaching its actual potential taking away from its greatest merits. A strange feeling of sorrow fills my heart imagining how this game could have been if it combined its hollywoodian level of cinematics with a story at the caliber of Arkham Knight. But realistically speaking, the pressure of twenty-five years of Metal Gear with a story spanning over 50 years of in-game action could be a burden for any video game that could try to fit in such a timeline and it sure was for The Phantom Pain.
                To be fair, the last time I played a game for 15 hours without major breaks (don’t judge me!) I was a boy and here I am a grown man that took four days off work and played the crap out of this game, through its good and bad moments, and doesn’t regret doing so one bit.
                I don’t want to jump to hasty conclusions but it seems fairly obvious that the fall out between Kojima and Konami took a big toll out of this game, leaving The Phantom Pain limping over its missing content and unfinished story. And I’m not here to bring Kojima at the rank of a hero and revere him (and I think no one should if history taught us anything), but I tend to believe that he planned a far better exit with this game than it turned out to be, but such is the fate of today's game developing.


Pros:
+ Extraordinary gameplay mechanics
+ Beautiful and reactive open world
+ Good sound design, voice acting and an amazing soundtrack
+ While not up to date, the graphics look good and are supported by physics
+ The story addresses taboo subjects that aren’t often seen in video games
+ The best base management system seen in a non-management game
+ A ton of weapons, upgrades and customizations
+ Detailed AI behavior
+ A fun and competitive multiplayer mode (FOB) with great potential but still in need of tweaking

Cons:
- The story is short, slow paced and unfinished
- A ton of repetitive content and a smaller number of quality missions
- The open world setting is far from being fully exploited
- The difficulty needs some tuning
- No mouse support for menus
- Barely any audio settings
- Unstable servers
- Could use a New Game+




Nodrim