Seven Reasons Why MGS V’s Stealth Is A Joy

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.

More soon.

38 Comments

  1. colw00t says:

    One of the best refinements MGSV has versus previous entries is that the ranking system doesn’t actually penalize you for going lethal, either. You lose out on the “no kills” score bonus, and probably on the “no combat alert” bonus, but a headshot is worth 1000 points regardless of what type of gun you’re using.

    Killing doesn’t detract from your rank – getting SHOT does. That’s a great bit of fine-tuning – encouraging expert play in either direction.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Although killing does prevent them for resisting you any more, it also obviously prevents you from press-ganging them into your staff. So even that has a counter-balance.
      Injuring people, knocking them out, then attempting to zip them into the sky is also more likely to fail than less improvised non-lethal methods.

      • colw00t says:

        Yeah, based on my few hours with the game so far they really seem to have struck the balance just about perfect. Lethal play is faster, easier, but carries less long-term reward. Since some of the best unlocks are tied to S-Ranks (I assume, anyway, that’s how Peace Walker worked) setting it up so you can S-Rank with either lethal or nonlethal is really nice.

      • Nogo says:

        There’s also the downside that dead bodies cause alerts. Sleeping or stunned guys just get a “Oh Dmitry, always sleeping facedown in the sand.”

        • hungrycookpot says:

          “Oh Dmitry-17, always sleeping face down in the sand.”

          “Shut up Dmitry-9”

          “That’s it, I’m telling Captain Dmitry!!!”

          There are a lot of soldiers named Dmitry, is the point I’m trying to make.

  2. Eight Rooks says:

    Captured soldiers/animals/liberated prisoners get picked up by a plane, I assume, not carried the whole way by the balloon? Yeah, I know, I know, it’s MGS, but the Fulton Recovery System is a real thing, so I assume the fictional version is supposed to be the same in broad strokes. Other than that pedantry/nit-picking, a very enjoyable read, Alec. Great to see someone new to the franchise enjoying it this much.

    (IIRC there’s actually a mission in Ace Combat: Assault Horizon where you’re doing a Fulton pickup from the plane’s perspective, and it’s much more “realistic”, too – manoeuvring a long mechanical arm to snag the target in heavy winds – though disappointingly you’re just the gunner for that one.)

    • colw00t says:

      After the “woo-hoo” scream as they skyrocket up into the sky, there is a “neeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaowwwwwwwwwwww” sound as a plane that you can’t see presumably scoops them up.

    • Ringwraith says:

      You have to pay for everything you extract and it comes up as “Fulton Recovery Expenses”, so I would assume so, and it varies depending on how heavy the object is, and you pay regardless of whether or not it was successful or not. Especially as it takes a while for them to actually arrive back at base, as you’ll notified when your latest batch of people/animals/resources/plants arrives.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        Ha, I didn’t notice the expense was different. I got a bear at one point, but was too busy giggling to check the details (and running from the Russkies, since I’d worn out my suppressor putting the bear to sleep).

        Also I’ve only played a few hours but I got a crow at one point and it didn’t require a Fulton. I know, I know, resources are “transported” without you seeing anything, but still, I was creased up laughing imagining Snake sticking a comatose bird in some random pocket.

        • Ringwraith says:

          The plants you collect don’t either.
          Or cans of fuel or crates of metals.
          I’m now imagining Snake getting back to base and emptying his pockets with a comical drawn-out sequence, produces entire petrol cans and crates of materials.

          • BalkanOkami says:

            Thank you for that hilariously winning mental image:

            Lint, lint, paperclip, can of petrol, tin of “biological materials”, lint…. Love it!

            Oh, and regarding the Fulton retrieval method… there’s actually a taped conversation between Big Boss and Kaz from Peacewalker (which used the same Fulton recruitment mechanism) where they playfully argue (with several fourth wall nods) over the practicality of the system, and why they’re using helicopters for retrieval instead of planes. Layers within layers!

    • Eight Rooks says:

      EDIT: And also, you may have missed it, but Miller tells you at one point that, uh, apparently an NGO wants you to liberate animals from warzones and will pay you for it. There may be a petting zoo later? But for now, parachute all the things for fun and profit, apparently.

      • Ringwraith says:

        This is the best part, there’s a justification for extracting every animal in sight, and you get paid.

        • Press X to Gary Busey says:

          I just imagined PETA extracting a mink farm with balloons. It was a good imagination.

      • Jinoru says:

        There is a zoo platform at MB to make yes.

    • BlackMageSK says:

      In Peace Walker there’s a tape where they discuss this. They actually use a helicopter to pick up the balloons to cut costs and have a faster response time.

    • Synesthesia says:

      It’s a helicopter fulton! It’s in the description for the aircraft that drops you into the level.

  3. thekelvingreen says:

    When playing Syndicate I used to have fun persuading everyone on the level — except the Atlantic Accelerator — so I’m looking forward to doing something similar in MGSV.

  4. dongsweep says:

    Alec – they are not being brainwashed. I decided to listen to some of the tapes and they are surprisingly full of a lot of information and context. If you take a listen to At Mother Base 2 – Big Boss, Back to Life it states that all these soldiers have heard of the fabled Big Boss and would follow him with almost no convincing, the issue is no one knows who he is or what he looks like. Once they are brought back to Mother Base and are taught that he is Big Boss they quickly support him, happily.

    Surprised they put that in a tape, without that information I was thinking they were brainwashed or something as well. It adds a lot of context and adds to the guilt you may feel when you kill one instead of incapacitate.

    • Sin Vega says:

      “They’re not being brainwashed! They just all, to a man, spontaneously decide to switch sides because our Glorious Leader is such a super awesome guy. Now, return to your home, citizen. You will be safe there tonight.”

      • Nogo says:

        They’re all mercenaries to begin with.

        I just assume DD offers fantastic health and retirement plans.

  5. Geebs says:

    Alec, you need to be doing more hold-ups.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      You know, it just occurred to me that he might not even know he can. MGS doesn’t tend to bluntly tell you that’s a thing.

      …which I love.

      • Deadly Sinner says:

        I know it took me a few hours to figure out that you can hold people up, and I’ve actually done it in previous games.

        Of course, holding people up is important for interrogations, which you want to use if you don’t want to miss stuff.

  6. Kaeoschassis says:

    “7) Cocking it up is not the end”

    This has always been one of my favourite things about MGS. It encourages you to take more risks – to TRY. You don’t go for the safest, longest, dullest way every single time. You come up with crazy ideas and you go for it, because if you cock up, whatever happens next will be every bit as interesting, and not an instant game-over.

    Well, not usually, at least.

  7. darkath says:

    The horse is great. you can put him in the middle of the road to stop convoys thus allowing you to pick out your targets.

    Provided you set up some C4 at a Perfectly Safe distance, you can even stop tanks !

    • Blad the impaler says:

      I tried blowing up a couple of tanks with C4, setting it on the ground. It didn’t work. I was then shotted by said tank. Do you have to place it directly on the vehicle – is there a sweet spot?

      • darkath says:

        Engine is at the rear and easily catch fire. If you set 2-3 doses of C4 well in the middle of the road and detonate them when the tank’s rear is directly above them, the tank will either blow up or catch fire then blow-up.

        Alternatively you can first destroy the tracks (although there doesn’t seem to be a visual indication they are destroyed or not) so that it doesn’t move anymore and then place the C4 directly on the rear of the tank (be sure to prone until you’re next to the tank)

  8. shagen454 says:

    Definitely do not think the game was overly hyped…. 6 hours in and I can see that it delivers. The game runs so smooth, GTA V promised 60 fps, but on my computer I had to drop settings significantly, same with Witcher 3. All of those ports still had menus and shit still stifled in the console world. At least this game delivers high quality graphics and definitely plays at 50-60 fps on my system (though GTA V and Witcher 3 have more details and shit going on at all times), but MGSV still has bullshit unwieldy console menu controls and some silly game controls for PC (at least none of those were as bad as Dark Souls II). As a console port there isn’t much more to complain about… looking back on Witcher 3’s bullshit PC controls, this game is impeccable except for the damn menus.

  9. the_r says:

    What would you recommend? Keyboard & mouse or XBox controller? On one hand mouse is obviously more precise, but it just feels wrong to play MGS without a controller :).

    • darkath says:

      With a controller you can control your walking speed easily with the stick. Which is essential when you’re sneaking around.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        My favourite is to use the controller for general large-scale moving about and such, and use the mouse for precise aiming and the like.

        Is that an option in this?

        • darkath says:

          Yes just keep both your Mouse/Keyboard and controller plugged at all time, you’ll be able to switch instantly (just disactivate the rumble of the controller)

        • CallMeIshmael says:

          I’ve been told that there’s fiddly conflicts between having a M+KB setup and a pad plugged in at the same time, so be warned. I’m not sure as to the exact nature of said conflicts, though if they’re the same as Ground Zeroes, it’s related to button prompts showing up as 360 prompts when on keyboard and a visible mouse cursor on the screen. At the moment, I’m playing Phantom Pain on the PS4 while I’m waiting for a new graphics card to arrive – my old one’s demise was most ill-timed.

          • darkath says:

            The on-screen prompts automatically change when you start using another device. So if your mouse move by a millimeter the keyboard prompts will show for a second.
            The glitchy part people have noticed might be because i think the controller has priority : If you don’t move/press any button for a bit, the prompts automatically default to controller as long one is plugged.

      • Vodka, Crisps, Plutonium says:

        I, myself, wouldn’t agree walking speed easily in sense of precision. Especially, if you have in use the controller for a year or more, you can never know at what exact moment left stick will decide to fling your character from sneaking to running at full speed towards patrol of shocked enemy soldiers.

        I find more convenient option to have a walkmode-button (seriously, Ctrl+WASD has made my walk through the Blighttown wonky bridges a breeze)

  10. Mr Propellerhead says:

    “I had an explore of the base, but couldn’t find any sign of a petting zoo. Maybe later?”

    Was mutton on the dinner menu?