Continuing a diary/review-in-progress of MGSV [official site], from the perspective of someone who hasn’t really played Metal Gear Solid before. This entry contains possible spoilers for some early in-game mechanics, but no plot stuff.
I suspect the craziness of Metal Gear Solid V’s prologue is as much the ‘true’ MGSV as are the rather more sober missions, so I don’t want to making wild proclamations about how I’m now onto the real deal. However, the missions, with their wide-open stealth sandboxes, already feel like a reason to stay in the game, rather than just hoot uproariously at it from afar. The stealth is good. Good. And the game comes up with some smart, and funny, reasons why you would always want to play it as a stealth game rather than a straight shooter. And I don’t just mean the balloon-based animal abductions pictured above.
Seven reasons why the stealth is ringing my bell:
1) I have a horse with which to cross kilometres of open terrain if I so wish, but despite regular advice from Ocelot that I should ride my white steed, I almost always choose not to. The distances are huge, yes, but crossing them on foot doesn’t take that long, and it means I don’t have the fear of missing something, or that I won’t be able to approach a potential scuffle in the manner of my choosing. In other words, MGSV gives me this great toy, but then ensures that not using the toy is as compelling as using it.
2) Loud stealth, or the use of ostentatious distraction in order to make my way past the guards. Stuff like driving a truck off a cliff, thus luring the attention of everyone in a nearby encampment, thus enabling me to sneak right through the front door. Or turning off the power, so everyone heads over to the generator to find out what’s going on, and I pick off the slowest guys. It’s early days for me and MGS V, but I suspect it’s going to give me quite a few gadgets with this kind of stuff in mind later on.
3) Alright, fine, I can’t hold off any longer. The balloon-based abduction meta-game is as inspired a take on the gotta catch ’em all ethos which underpins almost every contemporary big budget action game as I’ve ever seen. It’s funny, for a start. It’s fucking funny. Where other stealth games see us hiding stunned enemies in dumpsters or tall grass (and of course you can do that here too), here you can choose to have them wrenched into the skies and carried back to your base by a tiny balloon/parachute. There’s that sudden wrenching noise, a woosh, a Wilhelm scream and then they’re up, up and away. Through methods which, probably mercifully, have not yet been revealed to me, these guys are then retrained/brainwashed to join my side, working as XCOM-style R&D or support staff, who can then build you better weapons and tools.
It hasn’t stopped being entertaining, especially when done in the middle of an incursion gone wrong – all these attacking enemies see their mate disappear into the clouds even as they try and gun me down. But it also performs such a profound purpose in a stealth game. I might have all these guns, but I have this powerful motivation not to kill. Killing feels like a horrible waste, because every one of those bodies could have been helping to increase the range of weapons and gizmos I could build. It coaxes me both into far more caution andinto far more determination. I want to fire everyone into the skies on a tiny balloon. It doesn’t just encourage completism, but it encourages me to play this sneaking game better. It’s inspired.
4) Balloon-based animal abduction. Joy of joys. I haven’t followed the previews all that closely, so I didn’t realise this was a thing. I saw a sheep, and I thought ‘I wonder if…’ YES. YES I COULD. YES IT WOULD. YES I DID. Into the skies, sheep. Back to base, to what strange fate I do not yet know (I had an explore of the base, but couldn’t find any sign of a petting zoo. Maybe later?) Initially I relied on stun darts to bring the sheep down, but that was getting wasteful so I tried sprinting after a fleeing flock and punched them all into unconsciousness, before strapping them to ‘chutes. Far Cry 3/4’s once-vaunted animal hunting and skinning seems so humdrum compared to this. Hell, any game which doesn’t feature balloon-based animal abduction is going to feel like a missed opportunity from herein.
Man, I’ve seen pictures of bears on parachutes on Twitter. Cannot wait. Can. Not. Wait.
5) On-the-spot resupplies. I have this vast military base at my disposal, and it doesn’t act as just a glorified trophy room or conversation hub. It works for me. If I run out of ammo, or balloons, or my suppressor wears out, I can order in more. It’ll be with me, carried from the Seychelles to my mission in Afghanistan, within minutes. But there’s a cost to it. All the resources I’ve been snaffling up from the battlefield, those hidden tubs of metal and gems and ‘biological material’ – do I burn through them so that I never run out of stun darts or parachutes? Or does it encourage me to be more conservative? What seems at first like a helping hand to the lazy or incompetent is, in fact, anything but: the act of spending causes a wince, and so I think twice next time.
I go for more avoidance, or more knock-outs, instead of spunking all my darts away. MGSV gives me everything, where other stealth games are miserly with ammo handouts, but by making me aware of the cost, it keeps me cautious. And when I do indulge, the sight of the parachute-bound crate in the sky feels like a gift, and a shot in the arm for my flagging spirits. The anxiety of what I’m going to do if the ammo dries up fades away: I can get back on with business. This world is mine.
6) Tricksy optional objectives. Every mission has a key, often plot-led objective – kidnap some dude, save another, get this or kill him. But there are others too, not necessary for progression, but which will grant bonuses from the base. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what the base can do yet, so haven’t enjoyed all the fruits of this (indeed, I’m a bit worried I’ve cocked something up and missed out on a reward, despite all the objectives being ticked), but I’m digging the challenges they throw at me. Tracking a van driver across a massive rocky desert, first having to locate him then having to lure him out and strap a balloon to him. His only definite stops are in well-guarded places, but observation and patience means I can set up an ambush. Then I have him. Then I have his van, too. There’s a lot you can do with a van.
Another requires the abduction of a commander. I know nothing about him other than the name of the area he’s in. The game doesn’t stick an icon over his head to tell me which of the dozen-odd enemies in that area is him. I just have to work it out for myself. Who looks different? Ah, there, a red beret. But he’s in a cabin, able to see the door, so I can’t just creep in. And his mates are everywhere. What to do, what to do? Think, that’s what. Lure, distract, prepare. Or, y’know, the other thing. This thing:
7) Cocking it up is not the end. Clearly, it’s better to never be seen, to move through a place that does not know you’re there, but there’s a lot of things you can do if you cock it up. There are ways to make everyone face the same direction, for instance. If you can slip away, and get behind them, you might be able to pick one or two off safely. In the example of the commander above, triggering the whole base into panic when I got spotted lured him out of his cabin to join the hunt. I hid inside a toilet until the place calmed down a little – which takes quite a while – then left my stinky hidey-hole to take him out as he walked back to his hut. That said, it’s not as if MGSV’s enemies neatly reset: the after-effects of getting spotted go on for quite some time, and reinforcements are often shuttled in. Mayhem is a valid path, but it is absolutely not an easy path.