Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain proves forgiving to the stealth-deficient, broadening Snake's sandbox and challenging all styles of players with constant surprises.
There was a time not too long ago when exclamation marks wielded the power of life and death. The sudden trill as they sprout from an NPC’s head a foreboding knell as you run for cover, frantically patting your pockets, trying to recall which one you slipped your man-sized cardboard box into, and finding nothing but a half empty carton of cigarettes. Scuttling out of sight like a cockroach under the glare of a fluorescent kitchen strip may have been standard practice once-upon-a-time, but lying around in a coma for a decade can give a man an itchy trigger finger.
Lying around in a coma for a decade can give a man an itchy trigger finger. A minute later I’m drenched in blood and surrounded by so many bodies that I’m going to need a construction site’s worth of portapotties to hide them in.
I’m all for sneaking around compounds like a ghost, leaving only the whiff of stale tobacco in my wake, but inevitably I’ll cock up and quickly plummet from the lofty heights of silent-assassin to paltry headless-chicken. Blundering about cursing the heavens for scuppering up what was sure to be the perfect stealth run is something most of us are familiar with, but in that initial moment of panic when the world grinds to a halt as reflex mode kicks in, I make the decision to go balls out mental instead. I’m as good as dead anyway. A minute later I’m drenched in blood and surrounded by so many bodies that I’m going to need a construction site’s worth of portapotties to hide them in. Or one really big toilet.
Stealth has always been a part of the Metal Gear series, and there’s no reason you can’t creep your way through missions undetected like a fart in a sewage plant, but luring unsuspecting marks into a trap by firing off a few rounds and lobbing a grenade into their midst, while simultaneously setting off the C4 you planted in the comms room on your way in, is great fun.
You could argue that the advantage of the covert approach rewards you with intel on resources and elite soldiers, as you drag new friends off to a quiet corner for a chat. On the other hand, if you’ve done a half decent job of scouting the area, you’ll have spotted patrols, weapons, and vehicles - all of which can be pilfered - and even marked a few potential recruits for Mother Base after analysing each soldier’s area of expertise with an upgraded int-scope. There’s no point wasting a fulton on some gimboid who only signed up because he wandered into the wrong tent on Career Day. And besides, once you’ve slaughtered everyone, you’ll have all the time in the world to leisurely pick through captured outposts to ferret out resources.
There’s a fallout effect for everything you do - from how you go about eliminating targets, to infiltrating a base. For example, If you switch off a generator, someone will come to investigate, turn it back on, and return to their post. If you opt to destroy it, they know someone’s playing silly buggers and report your act of sabotage. With enough forethought, any scenario can be tipped to your advantage, and as your arsenal expands to encompass a diverse collection of lethal toys, it would be remiss not to find some unsuspecting playmates to try them out on.
The enemy soldiers operate like a hive mind, syncing their actions over the airwaves, but as soon as you cut off a base from the outside world, the dynamic shifts to your favour. Set a few explosives, fulton off their mortars and turrets, destroy their radio, and go full on Rambo. You’re already au fait with the rakish bandana after all.
As soon as you cut off a base from the outside world, the dynamic shifts to your favour. Set a few explosives, fulton off their mortars and turrets, destroy their radio, and go full on Rambo.
Almost anything that’s not nailed down can be sent to Mother Base, and scoping out command posts soon becomes a busy window shopping session as you eagerly start showering the place in markers, highlighting the assets you want to get your hands on. Investing in R & D back at your base is essential if you want to start airlifting vehicles, mechs, and heavy weaponry to be used in the FOB mode - that I didn’t get a chance to play. Although strategically leaving the odd turret gun and mortar in place to use on infantry and tanks saves on supply drops which use in-game currency, and it’s all about keeping Mother Base out of the red. You need to be penny pinching until you unlock the combat unit that can be sent out on their own assignments, bringing in a much needed cash flow.
Whichever approach you adopt, it’s best not to become too reliant on it. Word soon gets around about your preferred tactics. After completing a slew of missions under the cover of darkness, I ran into a pair of soldiers kitted out with night-vision goggles, rearing up out of the shadows with gleaming red eyes, like some Kafka-esque monstrosities. If basking on a sun-drenched rocky outcrop sniping people’s heads off is more your speed, they’ll soon wise-up and start wearing helmets.
Adapting your playstyle is positively encouraged, both when roaming around in your downtime and as a key part of mission objectives. Each episode can be replayed and the plethora of gameplay options was highlighted fairly on. After wrapping up a straightforward elimination job, the checklist that appears only once the assignment is complete, revealed the multiple ways I could have dealt with my target, from a bog standard assassination, to sending him shooting into the stratosphere, dangling from a Fulton, as an addition to Mother Base.
Everything about Kojima’s last Metal Gear game is different, while retaining the essence of what makes it undeniably his. As early as the prologue, you’ll be introduced to some batshit crazy goings-on and wonderfully Kojima-esque touches throughout; from laugh out loud moments of sheer absurdity to more subtle touches like the swarm of flies that collect around you if you failed to realise that there was a shower at Mother Base, and spent the first few episodes being driven slowly mad by their incessant buzzing. The Phantom Pain is unmistakably an Hideo Kojima game, regardless of what the box art omits.
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain launches for PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on September 1. The multiplayer suite, Metal Gear Online, launches October 6 for consoles and hits PC in January 2016.