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Why it's our game of the month (at the very least)

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Graham: Despite what I said earlier about no-kill decisions being more meaningful because of Mother Base, I still find I’m more likely to kill people in Phantom Pain than almost any other stealth game. What’s everyone else’s sleep-to-throatslit ratio?

Alec: I reset to checkpoint if it comes to that, though my ratings are still rubbish. I did a few kills pre-fultoning, when I didn’t realise how precious a kidnapped man can be, but now I get myself into all sorts of bother because I’m not prepared to take someone out permanently but I don’t want to waste a balloon on someone whose ratings are all Es and Ds. So the bastards wake up after a while and raise hell.

Adam: I am a garbage person and I kill anyone who isn’t within arm’s reach. Well, not quite, but I am leaving a trail of bodies. I try to be good but I am very bad. Also, I just love sniping and, yeah, I can tranq people but it’s not the same.

Alice: I’ve only gone bullet wild on two missions where I got caught out deep, deep inside enemy lines. I did try to Fulton those who were still alive, but only a few made it back. I do resent that non-lethal sniping is held back for so long. I can sneak deep inside bases unseen, knock everyone out, and escape in the shadows, but putting crosshairs on faces half a mile away and pulling the trigger is really fun in video games and I want to do it in this grand open world. The first tranq rifle is such a let-down. And, actually, lead to the first time I gunhurt a load of men – I’d blithely assumed it was silenced.

Also, thematically, during the course of this Verdict I snuck out twice. First to learn how to make bread, and then how to use our coffee machine. No one noticed. Nothing but S ranks, baby. (That S rank bit is not true.)

Alec: I snuck out twice too, once to help a toddler transform a toy car into a robot, and another to pluck some errant nasal hair. (Mine, not the toddler’s.)

Adam: I was so relieved when I finally got a tranq rifle for Quiet. Until then, every time I took her out I’d be watching people through binoculars and praying that their heads wouldn’t explode like rotten watermelons.

My worst moment involved interrogating a man, telling him to lie down in the dirt and then shooting him in the back of the head with a tranquiliser dart. Except I’d mistakenly equipped my shotgun. I felt like a proper bastard after that.

Alice: Oh! Wait! This morning I did accidentally kill a sleeping man. He was asleep on a bed, so I hopped up and kicked him in the face to stun then Fulton him. I learned an important lesson about kicking people in the face.

Graham: See, if I aggro everyone and force full combat, I do reload, but otherwise I’m more content to put people to sleep permanently with a bullet to the face or knife to the throat in Phantom Pain than I normally would be. I don’t know exactly why, but it might be simply because the AI are so good at causing you difficulty if they’re left alive to wake up, tell their friends, radio a neighbouring base, or man a mortar. I think perhaps I’m just a coward.

Alice: You can recover from alerting everyone. It’s a bit of a bastard, and I like that. They ring up reinforcements, put everywhere on alert, launch flares, send out the chopper, scour shadows… and somehow I find a way through it all, Fultoning a chap or two as I go. It’s really tense, and awfully fun. I think you’re missing out by not having everything go terribly wrong every now and then – what would Far Cry 2 think? My proudest moment was when a combination of sneaky preparation and a long battle of attrition meant that when the final outpost called for reinforcements a final time, they were told no one could come save them. Just you and me, pals.

Adam: Watching a base react to my presence is my favourite thing. You can pull their strings like a puppeteer, directing them from one place to another and seeing how they panic when they can’t find you or pin you down. It’s like upsetting an anthill.

Alice: Especially when your combat team has recently returned from a mission to fuck up their supply of flashlights.

Adam: Alice, you mentioned Far Cry 2 and I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen to me that The Phantom Pain reminds me of Far Cry 2 more than any other game. Even more so as you progress through the story missions. Do we know for sure that Clint Hocking didn’t wind up at Kojima Productions for a while? It would make sense. He has been everywhere else.

I think you should all go and play for the rest of the day. I want to know which missions you find particularly tricky. I was talking to a friend who has finished the whole damn game and every time we discussed a particular mission, we realised how different our approach had been. There are a couple of tricky ones where we’d resorted to the same tactic, having been frustrated without our idiosyncratic attempts, but on the whole, we’ve managed to succeed and fail on our own terms. Which is hugely impressive.

Graham: I’ve had one S Rank so far. Or at least, until a few minutes ago. My second S Rank is that I’ve been playing this game while alt-tabbing over to this conversation.

Alice: I have also been doing that. I’ve just rescued four donkeys for my zoo, and intend to steal this tank. Or maybe ride it into the heart of this base and destroy everyone.

Alec: Oh man, sounds like there’s so many parts of this game I haven’t even seen yet. I can’t wait. And I really, truly cannot believe that the game I’ve been most excited about it maybe a couple of years is a Hideo fluppin’ Kojima game. How did this happen? How could it happen? I think I have to fire myself from RPS.

Graham: I just added Quiet to Mother Base. I feel like I should close the curtains or something. Bleurgh.

Like Alec, I haven’t kept up with the console Metal Gears. Until Ground Zeroes, the last one I played was the first MGS on PSone. Perhaps that’s given me a skewed perspective, but for all its strengths, and the extra distance it goes in its systems, the stealth in Phantom Pain seems very familiar from other recent western games. Is that because Ubisoft has taken from previous Metal Gear games or is it because Phantom Pain has adopted liberally from the Far Cry 2s, Splinter Cells, etc.? Because to me, that seems to be what has made a Kojima game so great – even though it also feels unfairly dismissive to simply say, “Aye, it’s borrowed some of the good bits from other good games.”

Adam: I’m not going to answer that question directly but one of the things I love is that all of these weird callbacks are there – perhaps most obviously the cardboard box which is even introduced with a sort of gag – and the whole game is still shot through with an identity that’s very much its own. And yet all of that is working within a world that does seem to borrow the best of the rest. The way it all fits together is astonishing though, to the point that I’ve given up on second-guessing reactions. I just assume things will work in a logical, credible, legible way when I experiment with them. And more often than not, they bloody well do.

Alec: The open world is very different to a Far Cry, much more organic, much less a series of icons on the map. The locations are places you go to and then find out what to do and how you could do it, rather than with a very specific intent or series of actions in mind. And the illogic of the fultoning becomes logic very quickly. But yeah, the essential hide’n’sneak mechanics aren’t a million miles away from a Splinter Cell or Deus Ex. It’s just that they feel so much less mechanical, somehow. This always feels like a guy trying to cross a vast militarised desert undetected, rather than traversing a series of clearly ‘designed’ maps.

Alice: Everyone’s quiet. Are we all alt-tabbed playing now? (I got cocky Fultoning a man from a bustling village and am now enjoying Consequences.)

Graham: I think I might have found the “medical strut”.

To wrap up then, our review called this the best stealth game ever made. In terms of those that are open world, yes, I can see it heading in that direction – though I want to play it more. Does anyone else feel similarly?

Adam: I’ve played for hours and hours and hours, and can still go back to the first area and have fun making mischief. When The Witcher 3 stomped all over open world RPGs I thought that’d be the year’s peak for big polished thank-god-they-exist genre extensions. Phantom Pain has done something similar; recalibrated my expectations about This Sort of Thing.

Alec: Honestly, it feels like the realisation of what Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry ¾ tried to do, but without the faintly frustrating hollowness. I haven’t yet felt frustrated in MGSV, or as though I’m doing grindy Mickey Mouse work for pointless trinkets. For all the lurid fantasy, it has this internal logic and this solidity. It’s almost an immersive sim in the desert, and by God do I want to spend a few dozen more hours living on my wits there.

Alice: I like it a lot. It’s really good. And I’ve almost perfected Big Boss’s emblem with “RIOT GIRL” over a totally kvlt inverted pentagram.

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Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about videogames.

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