MGS V: I Bless The Rains

Continuing a diary series in which an MGS first-timer plays The Phantom Pain.

On the one hand, the openness and rogue weather of Metal Gear Solid V’s second zone is a spectacular, tactics-altering change from the dusty, mountainous, barren Afghanistan I’ve spent dozens of hours in. On the other, no, it’s different, it’s not the same, it’s all weird, I hate it I hate it I hate it.

If you want to go into the game completely clean, the below piece spoils what that location is, but doesn’t cover any plot stuff.

The feeling, when I left Afghanistan for Angola in Africa, was that I had when I moved into a new zone in World of Warcraft, way back when. The space I’d been in had become so familiar, so peppered with recognisable landmarks and dangers, that it felt like home. I knew what was where and what the dynamic would be from almost anywhere. Admittedly, there was probably some Stockholm syndrome going on, especially in the case of the endless, dry expanse of The Barrens, but it was always sad to leave somewhere I’d spent so long in. Afghanistan was no different. This was a place I’d walked, ridden and driven across endlessly, its initially alien landscape slowly coalescing into somewhere I knew intimately. I’d been to the same bases time and again, liberated the same guard posts over and over, and I knew the particular challenges each offered on sight.

At the same time, slight ennui was setting in, and I was all too aware of the game’s shortcuts and limitations. Oh, that base I emptied of life half an hour ago is now magically re-staffed by people who don’t seem to have the slightest fear it will happen again? Oh, I’ve either got to call in an expensive chopper or go the massively long way around because Snake can’t work out how to climb up a rock only slightly taller than all the rocks he can climb up? Oh, that massive door which conceals [redacted] is just staying shut and my character won’t even try to open it until Plot O’Clock?

Perhaps I’ll be sent back for later missions, and the option to return is always there, but right now all that was left to do in Afghanistan was hoovering: cleaning up optional objectives, chasing S ratings or finessing my staff roster with endless balloon abductions. I spent a while doing this, before realising that I was falling out of love with the game. It had become about grinding, rather than about experimenting. It was time to go. That bittersweet mingled feeling of anticipation and regret I’ve experienced whenever I’ve moved house. Excitement tinged with loss.

So into Angola, with its lines of trees, unbordered crop fields, precariously open spaces and sudden, violent downpours. With its beached battleships and muddy inclines, with its waterfall climbs and oddly ‘Nam movie-like vistas, with its donkey herds and its grisly remnants of recent atrocity.

It wasn’t home. I don’t know its geography, and I don’t know where is safe and where is deadly, I don’t have the mountains as my shield but at the same time I don’t have them as my obstacle. It will be home, in time, but right now I feel destabilised. This is good, really. I’m exploring, testing, rather than following a routine again. I am here to learn the place, to see how new rules work when the land is flat and the rain is heavy, rather than merely to go through the motions in search of bonuses. I couldn’t even interrogate anyone until I’d found and abducted a relevant interpreter. All was mystery.

I miss the familiar topography of Afghanistan, but I needed to leave for my own good. I was killing the game by staying there. Oh sure, for some people the 100% rating – which absolutely requires grinding away at the same missions again and again – is a key part of the game, and exhausting Afghanistan is thus a necessary part of their experience. Not for me: I want wonder and tension, discovery and uncertainty. I don’t want to be a machine, I want to be a stranger in a strange land, and I want to be able to laugh rather than curse when things go wrong. Africa, then, was well-timed. It spirited me away from a machine life, interrupted the rising ennui that has seen me quit MMO after MMO.

So, back to Africa, back to a map I barely know. What disasters and triumphs await me in towns I’ve yet to visit? And how different will it feel now I’m regularly travelling with a buddy rather than on my own? This feels like a true second act, not a simple escalation. It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you.

31 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    MrPin says:

    First time I tried an interrogation in Africa and was told that I needed to find an interpreter first (of course)? I was totally mad, I had gotten used to being told the location of diamonds, resources and guards upon setting foot in a base. Brilliant stuff, being kept on my toes. I know exactly how Alec feels!

    • Kitsunin says:

      Yeah, it’s a surprisingly powerful moment. You’ve spent long enough in Afghanistan that you develop the muscle memory. Then, simply going through the motions, all you hear is gibberish. Then you realize why and there’s a simultaneous feeling of “Crap!” and “Duh!”

    • koeklimas says:

      Imagine my frustration. I am Dutch but I actually speak Afrikaans. I don’t need an interpreter! Just let him speak! Snake, Ek kan praat vir jou!

  2. turth says:

    The location is called the “Angola-Zaire Border” (but it’s obviously set in only Angola) so just call it Angola not Africa ffs. Africa is continent comprised of many different countries. It is not a country.

    • Synesthesia says:

      the computer voice always says “central africa” when you leave for it, but otherwise you are correct.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      And generalising Middle-East, Asia, Europe, America or “The Pacific” when really talking about a sub-set of countries or even a single country.
      Australia is the only continent people use correctly, for some reason.

    • Shadow says:

      Thing is, when did anyone claim Africa is a country? The “Angola-Zaire Border Region” is still Africa, so referring to the place as such is not incorrect, even if the playable area doesn’t encompass the whole continent.

      Sure, there’s a slight pattern disruption in that Afghanistan is referred to as such and there’s no mention of the Middle East, but still.

      Well, to be honest, the Afghanistan part is only a portion of the country, so if you were to rage about the lack of precision, you could level the same complaint on the Middle Eastern country.

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        It’s about abstraction, and I think, expectations on peoples shitty geography skills by the makers.
        Nitpick: Afghanistan is in the southern Central Asia, not Middle East.

        • Shadow says:

          My mistake. It’s just outside the bounds of the Middle East.

          • Press X to Gary Busey says:

            I’m not blaming you. I’d probably call it Middle East too due to the post 9-11 media reporting.
            My geography teacher in 2002 made us do a project about the region around the time UN/NATO invaded the country. Probably the only reason the fact is even in my head.

      • turth says:

        Yes, you can refer to Angola as simply “Africa” and still be correct. The thing is though that no one ever does that nor should they. If this game were set in Canada do you think it would make sense for the author to refer to it as “North America”? No, no it wouldn’t. It would awkward phrasing and completely out of place especially if the game specifically states that it takes place in Canada.

  3. Kitsunin says:

    But if the location is a spoiler, then the header image…

  4. Jeeva says:

    I had the exact same issue with feeling like I was grinding away, after mostly mastering the stealthing and shooting that I’d use regularly. My playtime has gone downhill as a result, really. Hm.

  5. Nereus says:

    I was going to wait for a sale on this game, but I absolutely LOVE African settings in games. Had I known you could play in Angola I would have bought this day 1. Guess I need to put aside some money for next week’s budget now, thanks RPS.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      “Far Cry 2 had the best depiction of part of Africa in a game”
      Discuss.

      • turth says:

        *Sigh*

        Y’know games like Far Cry 2 and Resident Evil 5 annoy me because instead of taking place in specific countries and giving gamers a chance to learn about new cultures, they decide to perpetuate stereotypes about the specific part of an entire continent (in this case: Black Africa). You want to set your zombie game in a country in Africa? Fine! But be specific about which country instead of vaguely describing the setting as “West African Country No. 45” or whatever. Depicting your setting in such vague terms further emphasizes stereotypes about Black Africa.

        Tl;dr: Don’t paint all of Black Africa with the same brush by being vague or non-specific about your setting of your game. At least make the attempt at being specific even if gamers will still incorrectly describe said setting as just “Africa”. >_>

        • Nereus says:

          Resident Evil 5 had its problems, and problems I’m not going to bother defending because there were definite questionable design decisions.

          But Far Cry 2 was done really well. The voice acting was a little off, but they used South African voice actors to give a more authentic feel. It could be argued this is racist, since the setting for the game is central Africa (it gives no specifics and only refers to itself as Unnamed African Country, or U.A.C.), now whichever way you go with this you risk racial accusations. Stage it in CAR or Cameroon? Why are the voices not French, or at least English with an Afro-French accent. Stage it in D.R.C.? The parts of that country that isn’t mostly forest has settled down considerably. You’d be doing it a disservice by perpetuating the Congo Wars as still being as serious as it was, both for minimising the seriousness of the Congo Wars damage to the region, but also for catering to the “Africa: starving, poverty stricken, and more dirty AK-47’s than you can shake a stick at” trope. Uganda could have been possible, but I suspect the relative stability (homosexual rights aside) of that country would have made it a poor choice for a civil war conflict. They could maybe have set it in DRC DURING one of the wars, post-independence or one of the Congo Wars. Hell, they could probably have set it in the Belgian Congo and taught a lesson about what the Belgians actually did to the people there. This is possibly a misstep, but you run the risk of upsetting a party either way – portray Belgium as the genocidal slavers under King Leopold II that they almost certainly were? Could upset Belgium and possibly other European countries. May even get labeled as racist towards Belgians. Stage it during the Congo Wars and you run into intra-continental tensions. To date I’m not sure that countries like Uganda have issued apologies for their actions during the Congo Wars. Should The Far Cry 2 team have pulled one African country down while pushing another up? There’s racial problems with that too – and if there’s two regions where racial divides have been catastrophic, one of them is certainly Central Africa.

          As for gameplay, it was the best Far Cry game, because the world felt dangerous. It felt, justifiably, like you were caught in a civil war. You were not the white super-soldier that wanders in and decimates the local population for whatever contrived reason (hell, you get a choice of who your character is – including a Mauritanian if I remember, and a Haitian of clear African descent). Not all Africans were actively trying to harm you, in fact the malaria aspect of it has you helping quite a few as part of the game design. There were also white (south African by the sounds of it) members of the factions that you work for in destabilising the country. I’d say roughly 50% of the random mercenaries attacking me in the open world were white also.

          I loved Far Cry 2, if that isn’t apparent, and there are a few problems with it but nothing that warrants it being lumped in with a game where black people appear to be feral, and terrifying not because of some kind of zombie virus or whatever, but because they are black.

          • Nereus says:

            Also, if you played the game, you would have known you were not playing white saviour because the whole narrative is very shades of gray in terms of morality.

  6. renner says:

    for real though, wherezat Toto cassette

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      It’s in there, so I’ve heard, but I don’t know where. I’m set on finding Dancing in the Dark, personally.

  7. Porkins says:

    Weather Modification for rain in Afghanistan = Pure Bliss

  8. Sinjun says:

    A true second act, indeed… if only it had a third act.

  9. Henas says:

    I must have missed something…I’ve played around 40 hours, finished mission 22, but I don’t have access to a ninja suit and lurid coloured weaponry.

    Is it a part of weapon modification that I haven’t unlocked yet?

    • flightsix says:

      Actually – you do have the ‘ninja suit’. You need to play as one of your combat team, not BB to enable the head gear.
      Weapon modification will be unlocked once you acquire a weapons specialist – look at the top right when selecting a mission and it will tell you the potential skills you can acquire throughout the mission, I think you can find the specialist in one of the later missions in Afghanistan (Mission: ‘Back up, Back down’ maybe?)

  10. hamilcarp says:

    This kind of writing is what I come to RPS for

  11. drygear says:

    I was starting to lose interest. Afghanistan was starting to feel like a lot of corridors and I was getting bored with it. Then Angola with its wide open spaces and more varied locations rekindled my love for the game.

    I wish the song referenced in the title here was in this game. It would fit in well on the soundtrack.

    Speaking of the soundtrack, my current helicopter song is “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” by Public Enemy. It’s weirdly appropriate!