Game of the Year 2015 — Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear

This is PC Gamer's overall 2015 Game of the Year, chosen by the staff through voting and debate, with commentary written by its biggest proponents. We'll be posting the rest of our awards and personal picks daily as we approach the end of the year, and you can find them all on our main GOTY page.

Samuel Roberts: As a friend of mine put it recently, it was always the systems that made Metal Gear special, not the story. But the time of MGS as a story-heavy series truly ended with MGS4—this is a new era of Metal Gear, one where the focus lies on user-generated stories by throwing together systems in two massive open worlds. Its suite of toys starts big then just expands over the course of many sidequests, offering players more and more options with which to mess with enemies. I’ve called in airstrikes on bears, stuck numerous tanks on balloons, and patted my dog for reassurance while being hunted by mechs, helicopters and soldiers. It’s so good that I can’t quite believe this game has been made in my lifetime.

This is so far ahead of other action games—Kojima Productions retained the series’ detail and sense of humour but found more ways to convey that with unscripted moments. The game is so thoroughly divorced from the boring story that you could entirely enjoy the game without it. It’s left the likes of Assassin’s Creed looking tired in its wake. Metal Gear is the king of sandbox games, and this was the perfect time for the series to come back to PC.

One of the best stealth games I’ve ever played.

Andy Kelly: One of the best stealth games I’ve ever played. Metal Gear Solid V is a rich, complex web of interlinking systems tied to slick, responsive controls. Gazing across an enemy base at night in the vast Afghan desert, planning your attack, and adapting as things inevitably go wrong is the most fun I’ve had this year in terms of pure play. It’s an incredibly polished, tightly-designed game, with imaginative gadgets that let you mess with the AI in endlessly entertaining ways. As a Metal Gear fan, the story was a letdown and felt weirdly half-baked, but in light of that amazing stealth sandbox, I can’t really complain.

Metal Gear Solid 5 man and his dog

Phil Savage: Metal Gear Solid V might not be the most obvious choice for a PC publication's game of the year, but I think it's the right choice for PC Gamer. If you look at our last two GOTY's—Spelunky and Alien—I think the theme is expertly crafted worlds that house surprising, delightfully emergent systems that clash together in chaotic and playful ways. The Phantom Pain is definitely that. Like Andy, I'm a huge MGS fan, but I've barely touched the story. My time has been spent wandering Afghanistan, completing side-ops and liberating resources. It's an excuse to slip in and out of outposts, planning out routes and approaches, and being forced to improvise when things go wrong. It's an amazing world to manipulate, and filled with so many toys that every visit promises something new. It's both an expertly crafted stealth game and a fun, satisfying action game—rewarding both the meticulous and the frivolous with an expanding, upgradeable set of toys that make both styles equally gratifying.

One of my favourite feelings in gaming is when I realise that I’m not a slave to the game’s logic, but my own.

Chris Thursten: I hadn’t touched a Metal Gear game in over fifteen years, so The Phantom Pain’s weaknesses as a sequel (or prequel, I suppose) didn’t mean much to me. Instead, I was surprised to encounter one of the best systems-driven stealth games in years, one where creativity is relentlessly rewarded and encouraged and also where there is a dog with a knife who stabs people. One of my favourite feelings in gaming is when I realise that I’m not a slave to the game’s logic, but my own. Games cut so many corners that it’s easy to assume that certain things just won’t work: blowing up a vehicle that is later scheduled to rescue a key target, for example, would probably cause an insta-fail in any given Call of Duty. Here, the game is designed to react to that, to shape itself around your decisions rather than force you to change to suit it. For that reason, it’s in another league.

Tim Clark: Between it’s ultimately anti-war message and Kojima’s own tendency towards melancholy—“I should shop for a new leather jacket; a new leather jacket will protect me from the loneliness carried on the wind”—I’ve always felt a twinge of sadness while playing Metal Gear games. None more so than The Phantom Pain, which by the time it arrived we knew would be Kojima’s swansong on the series. But what a way to go. In the seven years since Guns of the Patriots, Kojima’s team had found a way to marry his story-heavy style and deluxe hide-and-seek mechanics with an actual, rich, open world setting—and for it not to be a confusing mess. The proof is in the side missions, which in another game might feel like repetitive filler, but here actually end up being some of the tastiest marrow. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of setting my Blackhawk down a couple of klicks from a Russian base, to the booming strains of Health’s “Die Slow”, and then ghosting in to kidnap some S+ rank schmuck. That we will likely now never get to see what direction the game’s DNA might have gone in next is a crying shame. But I suppose few video game series get to end on such a spectacularly strong note, either.

For more, read our original review of Metal Gear Solid V.

Samuel Roberts
Former PC Gamer EIC Samuel has been writing about games since he was 18. He's a generalist, because life is surely about playing as many games as possible before you're put in the cold ground.