Changing How You Play

I play every stealth game the same way.

I remain at a distance. I find the higher ground. I use a weapon with a scope; a bow and arrow if one is available, a normal sniper rifle if not. I crouch-walk around my target or targets slowly, attempting to pick off each enemy and objective in turn, such that no one ever notices anything is amiss until the instant when they’re killed. If they do notice and sound the alarm, I do not care; as long as they do not know where I am, and so can never fire at me, I continue until the job is done. It’s always this way. In the Far Cries, Crises, Splintered Cells and Rainbows Six; wherever possible, this is how I play.

I am playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain differently and I don’t know why.

It started with Ground Zeroes, Phantom Pain’s standalone prologue which arrived on PC last year, but I dismissed it at the time. That game’s island base has no higher ground, there is no way to begin a mission with a scoped weapon, and so I grouped it as a different kind of game. I noticed that I was killing the enemies I grabbed instead of methodically performing the no-kill playthrough I seem to always choose in games that necessitate close quarters – the Dishonoreds and Deus Exes – but I couldn’t work out why that was, either.

Now I’m in the open world of Phantom Pain and every single mission starts you on higher ground above the base you have to infiltrate. I’ve used my development team back at Mother Base to unlock and equip myself with a decent sniper rifle, and its range and accuracy are such that its entirely possible to remain at a distance and do the deed without having dirtying my hands.

But I don’t. I’ve taken to sneaking into bases, crawling on my belly or creeping on my hunkers, dealing with the tension of enemies who are right there and who could turn around and see that I am right here.

It can’t be the collectibles. Every game has diamonds and fuels and metals to collect these days, and I’m normally happy to ignore them. I do hunger for the music tapes, but I struggle to believe that Kids In America is a strong enough lure to change my entire playstyle.

It can’t be the sniper rifles. They’re at least as good as many of the games I’ve struggled through in this manner, and the AI deals with your use of them better than most other games. In Far Cry, a sniped enemy will cause witnesses to sound the alarm, pulling in reinforcements, but they and their new buddies will still stand in the open, shuffle pointlessly between cover, or walk slowly and visibly towards where they think you might be. Phantom Pain’s guards, by comparison, will at least move towards their ranged defenses. They’re a crack shot with the mortars, for example, as D-Horse’s charred and limp body can confirm.

My best theory thus far is that it’s because Phantom Pain’s world feels richer, denser, than most of its peers. Most of the territory between bases is empty desert, but the bases themselves are wonderfully designed. Guards have different secrets to share if you can get close enough to interrogate them, and they have different skills which can be employed back at base if you can Fulton them out of there. The terrain is always varied, even in a single area, featuring not just cliffs but ravines, bridges, multi-storey structures, bunkers, ditches and trenches, each one individually interesting to navigate. The machinery that make up those bases are exciting to explore and interact with, including power switches and portaloos, search lamps and sniper’s nests, machinegun turrets and sweeping cameras, alongside guard shifts and movement patterns that change with the time of day.

When people described Phantom Pain as “open world stealth,” I think I pictured in my head something like Far Cry 4’s wonderful outposts, with a greater degree of difficulty and punishment for failure to remain hidden. I think what Phantom Pain might be instead is an open world game with Hitman: Blood Money levels dotted around it. Sitting outside of those and sniping isn’t the most satisfying way to play; in fact, it barely feels like playing at all. It feels like cheating the game and myself.

Or maybe yeah it’s just the tapes.

This feature was originally published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.

60 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Blood Money has also come to mind, particularly with the Main Ops – each is a tightly-designed puzzle level.

    • koeklimas says:

      That’s exactly why I dislike the hitman games. They are not stealth games as much as they are puzzle games.

      • islipaway says:

        Yeah I really don’t get this comparison. This is the most open free form stealth focused game I can think of. In fact you can just armour up and go in guns blazing if you want, with the exception of bonus missions you can play the whole game that way. There are no puzzles with set solutions just an ever expanding range of tools that widen the possibilities of how to complete each mission.

        I’ve never felt MGS games where proper stealth games, they where puzzle games with stealth shells on. Until this one.

        • woodsey says:

          Blood Money ranges from puzzle-based solutions (find the poison here to put in the drink over here) to entirely freeform as well, though.

  2. caff says:

    I’m looking forward to the whole “RPS gang get together and compare notes in an anally retentive yet fascinating way” once they’ve all either completed the game, or become so disillusioned with the entire game / gaming world that they’ve gone to live in Papua New Guinea and farm cashew nut trees until the end of their lives.

  3. Dorga says:

    I think it’s, at least partly, caused by the desire to fulton guys combined with the early abscence of means of stunning guys from afar.

  4. Rizlar says:

    My best theory thus far is that it’s because Phantom Pain’s world feels richer, denser, than most of its peers [..] The machinery that make up those bases are exciting to explore and interact with, including power switches and portaloos, search lamps and sniper’s nests, machinegun turrets and sweeping cameras, alongside guard shifts and movement patterns that change with the time of day.

    This rings true. My memories of MGS1/2 are of exciting, beautifully observed and detailed environments where you want to look in every cupboard and crawl under every object simply because there is so much to see and to play with. Interacting with the guards was just fantastic, beyond anything I’ve seen in games before or since.

    Haven’t played the later ones but Phantom Pain looks very tempting right now.

    • Rorsk says:

      Mmyeh.
      I know I’m gonna anger a lot of people saying this but your memories are pretty guilded. The environments, sure, were detailed but the interactions with the guards… Maybe great for their time but half-decent by today’s standards. Splinter Cell trilogy did stealth so much better, and yes, I said trilogy for a reason.

      Deus Ex HR’s guards’ AI is laughable but it had a certain charm to it and is one of the reasons you could do some pretty stupid shit in that game. ( link to youtube.com )

      • Buggery says:

        To be fair, leading guards around by footprints (admittedly only in the beginning of MGS in that single area) felt pretty damn amazing. Being able to observe, then tamper with their patrols… Or hold them up in MGS2.

        Agree though – Splinter Cell 1, 2 and 3 are some sorely under appreciated titles. 1 for reinventing stealth mechanics in a way completely differently to MGS (particularly notable for how you couldn’t leave any bodies out, anywhere), 2 for adding more of everything, 3 for being one of the best stealth titles ever.

        • aleander says:

          Ugh, I’ve always kinda looked away from these, because Tom Clancy (I truly despise his fiction — it’s almost an opposite of Kojima, where he’s a good storyteller, but the stories he tells tend to be rather, for lack of better word, evil).

          Things I hate is particularly the “America is great, military is great, environmentalists and pacifists are naive tiger-cuddlers who want to kill all humans” tendencies, so maybe if Splinter Cell is light on this it would be bearable though. One day I’ll have to try :-/

  5. thebigJ_A says:

    I’m having trouble breaking the habit of restarting every mission if I’m seen and there’s a full combat alert. I think it’s because the grade is reduced, often by a lot, in that circumstance.
    Also it’s because I often feel it wasn’t my fault. Oh, that chest high wall just like the others? You can’t jump that. This little bump in the ground? You’ll slide back if you try to walk over it. This ledge will have you just fall off rather than grab the lip like most others etc. it doesn’t feel like the rules are consistent.

    It’s too bad, because otherwise in having great fun. I just end up using the same weapons and items forever.

    • mwoody says:

      I’ve fallen in that rut myself. Though last night I decided to just say “ah screw it” after setting off a few base-wide alarms (why did I assume Quiet’s tranq rifle was silenced) and getting killed by a heli and having to restart at a checkpoint, and I ended up S-ranking the mission.

    • iucounu says:

      You’ll probably do a lot of the main missions twice over or more, so it doesn’t matter very much if you get a D the first time round. It’s a more fun game if you keep in mind that you can come back and ghost it when you have a sense of how to do it (which is very Hitman: Blood Money, really. It ought to have ripped off the limited saves idea from BM rather than used the checkpointing system.)

    • Serenegoose says:

      It actually isn’t. You get docked points. Like, let’s round it up and say 10k points in total for being as loud as possible and forgoing every possible bonus.

      But being as loud as possible probably gets the mission done real fast, right? Time bonuses, can be as much as (in a recent mission I did, just running in and shooting the target in the face and then sprinting for extract) 120,000. So when you think about it, sitting in bushes and toilets and bins waiting for patrols to pass and sneaky routes to open up is eating into this massive bonus you have waiting for you for being fast. In exchange for a piddling few thousand points. Not worth it, if the S rank is what you’re chasing.

      • thebigJ_A says:

        But if I’m TRYING to be super sneaky, I just had my cover blown after sneaking around for an hour, so no speed bonus and I just got a ‘C’.
        The grade is minor, though. For a stealth game, there aren’t all that many tools for being super-sneaky. Look at the tech tree. Like 80% of the toys are for when things go pear shaped or you go in guns blazing.

  6. SuicideKing says:

    My favourite activity in FC3 was arrow-ing everyone, then running up to collect the arrows. Killing snipers with arrows was particularly satisfying. Heavies were a problem, until the brilliant fire arrow came along.

  7. islipaway says:

    It reminds me of Project IGI but I suspect that game had a lot less going on than my rose tinted view lets on.

    What I feel it does really well through the first half is how much is reveals and the feeling of awe/dread you get at the ever increasing scope of what you’re expected to accomplish. Then going back to the earlier missions you struggled with first time and absolutely nailing them as you’ve learned how to play the game better. It feels good to actually improve at a game as it goes on through skills learned rather than improving stats removing challenge and I can’t think of any other game that’s done it recently.

    Then it all falls apart when you have quiet with a tranq rifle and can just let her do her thing while you fulton everyone away.

  8. MattMk1 says:

    Jesus, I’m starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Yet another instance of someone gushing about how rich and varied and interesting the MGSV world is, and I just don’t see it.

    I put a solid weekend into it, and was bored to tears. The world is empty. It’s drab. Each base *is* packed with a lot of clutter and tons of enemies… but so what? You don’t get to play with any of it! Every time you try to do the fun thing, as opposed to the smart thing of picking off the enemies one by one and giving them balloon wedgies, the alarm goes off – and the enemies respond identically once that happens, by making it even harder to play stealthy.

    I also really disagree about the AI being “smarter” than in most games. The AI as such is not smarter, the canned enemy responses are just more conservative and tactically sound. But they’re still not realistic, or genuinely clever – they’re ordinary AI morons (as they must be to let one man without superpowers deal with 20 or 30 enemies), just more frustrating to deal with. I much prefer the merry gung-ho idiots from the Far Cry games – their reason for being is for me to slaughter them in entertaining ways: with brush fires, tigers, elephants, silenced sniper shots setting off a series of gas explosions… and the AI is designed in a way that supports that quite well.

    The AI in MGSV seems to me to be designed to punish the player for getting caught. But getting caught almost never results in failure – you can still push through, and the only consequences is that an arbitrary, meaningless (as far as I can tell) score you get at the end is lower.

    Actually, all this is making me think about replaying Alpha Protocol again. The mechanics were garbage, the graphics mediocre, but the NPC interactions were great and holy shit, so many of the different ways you could do a mission actually mattered. The difference between perfect stealth and blasting your way through was huge.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      I partly agree. Enjoying it immensely, but so many of the systems just don’t work. Most weapons are useless, the world is mostly empty, Mother Base is silly large for no reason, the upgrade tree is thoroughly redundant. I’m having great fun, but I’m playing through every base the same way, with the same weapon setup as day 1, and doing great.

      • islipaway says:

        I suspect motherbase is so large that it gives you time to listen to the tapes while sitting in the chopper going between platforms. At leasts that how I killed the time when I wasn’t messing with the upgrades. Alternatively you could look at quiet’s cartoon boobs and she will smile at you and show you her butt. Sigh.

        • thebigJ_A says:

          You do know you can instantly transport between platforms by getting in your box and sitting on the delivery platforms just like in the main game maps, don’t you?

          I pity anyone who takes that twenty minute, uselessly windy trip because they think they have to. (Though I do take it once in a great while just for the scenery)

          • islipaway says:

            I’ve wasted so much time.

          • dysomniak says:

            I’m 70 hours in, just finished the FOB tutorial and still haven’t gone back to complete Mission 21, 39% complete – and I had no idea there were delivery platforms on MB.

          • islipaway says:

            I used the ones in the main map and I knew they were on Mother Base, I just assumed they were for getting new loadouts dropped in, because there’s no traffic between then it never occurred to me they would work the same way as the ones on the main maps. Maybe because they are much smaller? Hmm. I kinda liked the heli rides as a chance to do stuff like examine development trees and listen to tapes anyway, I don’t honestly feel I’ve wasted the time… much.

    • Geebs says:

      I’ll try to explain why I enjoy it so much, in the hope that it encourages you to “get” it; of course, if you still don’t like it, that’s fine!

      Once you get a bit more geared up, getting caught becomes much less of a problem. Your mission ranks won’t be great, but you’ll have much greater control of the chaos that ensues, such that dealing with alerts becomes a total blast.

      For example, you can attach C4 to a bunch of stuff in a camp and wait until you need a distraction, then trigger it just when a guard is about to see you. You can leave a guard in plain sight in one area, then go and accomplish something in another. You can run away from guards, then double back round a corner and hold them up. Instead of waiting for an alarm to stop after you run away, you can head straight back in and ambush the reinforcements.

      MGS5 has taken some of GTA’s mechanics, in that you can just keep escalating things but still remain in control of the situation. The simulation gets more interesting and reactive, and you get more toys to play with, the more you mess around in it.

      If you want an introduction to the sort of stuff you can get up to, have a look at chip and ironicus’, or superbunnyhop’s let’s plays of MGS3. I had no idea of the variety of different sorts of play in MGS until I saw those, and the games became more enjoyable because they gave me lots of new ideas for things to try out.

    • KenTWOu says:

      Jesus, I’m starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with me.

      Nah, you’re reading the man who didn’t play Far Cries, Crises, Splintered Cells properly.

      • Jediben says:

        Sedate goats. Attach c4. Wake goats. Herd goats into enemy outpost. Watch guards pet goats. Detonate.

        • KenTWOu says:

          Far Cry 4: wait for an eagle, place C4 on him while he’s attacking you or your buddy in co-op, hide, wait till he attacks someone else, boom!

    • OmNomNom says:

      Exactly what I’ve wanted to say but have failed to put so eloquently.
      There’s something missing from these open world games so far, i really enjoyed Shadow of Mordor and Far Cry 3/4 but i tend to get bored before i complete them as theyre all quite limited in challenge and end up being collect missions or an exercise in manipulating bad AI.
      MGSV might be game of the month for many but i can’t see it becoming game of the year once the initial appeal wears thin, there just isn’t enough replayability.
      It’s a collection if decent parts that mesh together badly but look impressive enough on the surface that so many are rating and praising the game before they’ve really got to the (lack of) meat.

  9. Crabtipus says:

    I play most stealth games like a crazed lunatic, just brazenly murdering everyone.

  10. trn says:

    Another MGSV article? Talk about flogging a dead horse (armour).

    Ok, I usually play all games the same way: sniper /ranged. No armour, high dps, roll, yadda yadda yadda. Completed Baldurs Gate in a party of one with boots of speed and a bow and arrow – that sort of thing.

    When I played Mass Effect 2 the first time I played as a Sentinel. I had such a good time and I still rate this as one of my favourite games ever. I have been having an existential crisis ever since.

  11. Not_Id says:

    Enough with MGS ffs guys!

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Hey hey hey now. Be fair. They didn’t post an article on MGSV last Wednesday. They have some catching up to do if they’re going to meet their quota.

      (In all seriousness, the MGSV coverage has been excessive. It’s had an article devoted to it almost daily – sometimes twice daily – since the game was released. It’s great that you’ve all been enjoying it, but please bear in mind that despite appearances, a significant number of your readers aren’t playing it, and would appreciate slightly more diverse content.)

      • aoanla says:

        In fact, to judge from the weekly “What are you Playing” posts, most of the readerbase isn’t playing it, so…

        • Geebs says:

          Sample bias. We’re all playing it too much to bother to reply to the “what are we playing” posts.

        • noodlecake says:

          Yep. Definitely +1 to the above comment. MGS:PP is incredible.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      That’s the game of the month for you

    • GWOP says:

      Heaven forbid you not click on an article that doesn’t interest you.

  12. Stimpack says:

    I’m forcing myself to play MGS V differently because the majority of the equipment in the game is lethal. I don’t want to miss out on most of the items in the game in favor of the tranq gun or the couple of NL versions.

  13. JimThePea says:

    Weird thing about MGSV is the stuff like Air Support, Stealth Camo and the Fulton Ballista, stuff that’s so OP that it won’t let you get an S-rank on missions where you use them, stuff we can only assume was put in the game to aid those for whom even the chicken hat could not help or to lubricate the tedious grind of doing 157 (mostly) uninspired Side Ops.

    Still, the game offers a huge amount of freedom in terms of how you approach problems, calling in a vehicle drop to block a road so I can Fulton a tank from behind? Lovely. It’s never as satisfying the second time around though, maybe that’s why the simple challenge of conquering a base without sniping or shortcuts is so appealing.

    • Premium User Badge

      Mungrul says:

      That’s a rather expensive way of stopping vehicles!
      Myself, I just park D-Horse in the middle of the road, and sprint behind the tank in question while they’re honking their horn. There’s something satisfyingly ridiculous about stopping a tank with a horse.

      Either that or I use decoys. Decoys are a bit faster to get back into position than D-Horse, and can be thrown. Very useful for the mission “Backup, Back Down” and its Subsistence version later on.

      • Premium User Badge

        Mungrul says:

        Gah, it’s not a Subsistence version, just a hard mode. Bloomin’ edit.

  14. Easy says:

    I whoooped with joy when I score my Kajagoogoo tape! Too shy shy hush hhh… damn that guard almost caught me.

  15. BirdsUseStars says:

    The ability to get close enough to check a guard’s shoe size without getting detected makes it so much more rewarding to get in close than in a lot of other games.

  16. guyal says:

    I had a similar experience – got a sniper rifle, did one early mission by sniping, but concluded ‘I can keep doing this, but the missions take longer that way, and I’m going to play MGS, I should at least try it the way it was designed – up close and personal.’ Took me a while to figure out the play style, but I’m enjoying it a lot

    • islipaway says:

      I think sniping is a valid play style, there’s the risk you won’t get to the guy before he wakes up, or you miss and it all goes to shit. Also if a truck turns up to a camp full of sleepy guards it’ll beep the horn and all your work is undone. All the things like outposts and unranked side ops give you the freedom to try out different play styles without feeling you’re going to be scored badly. The S rank seems to be mostly down to speed, I’ve killed people and got S rank I’m pretty certain. Though it may have been in missions where you’re encouraged to kill. Thing is you can really play pretty much every mission in any way you want, you’re never forced down one path until the later reply missions where there are rules like you have to get all of your equipment in the field, no reflex or you can’t be spotted at all.

  17. TobleroneRoloCombo says:

    I just wish crouch-walking wasn’t such an endemic thing in stealth games. In reality… all it does is decrease mobility. And cause back pain. Nasty back pain.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Been thinking this myself recently. It’s odd when you think about it, I mean it’s really not that hard to move quietly and fairly quickly without doubling over like you’ve dropped your contact lenses.

      Sort of related: I’d like to see a stealth game where guards can’t magically detect that the player’s footsteps are those of an intruder. The Hitman games are the only ones I can think of that get this right – unless you’re acting suspiciously (which includes crawling around like a weirdo) you’ll mostly be left alone.

      • TobleroneRoloCombo says:

        The Arkham games were some of the worst in this respect, as it made crouch-walking faster than regular walking (in addition to being more quiet.) The fact that it’s a third person game just solidified the awkwardness, making it look a bit silly at times.

        I guess there hasn’t been much improvement in the way of sound since the original Thief. Sure, they’ve made it more refined, but it still generally comes down to the same-old noise-levels attributed to various actions, where exceeding the limit puts nearby guards into alarm.

    • MrStones says:

      Ha you just reminded me of MGS:4 where old Snake would get back pain from too much crouched walking and would either have to pop some painkillers or lie down for a bit.

    • Ringwraith says:

      Crouch-walking here doesn’t really make you quieter, you can just as quietly walk behind someone, it’s more about being a smaller target to see. For example sprinting in the distance will get you spotted outright almost immediately as opposed to moving lower or slower.
      Plus if you’re trying to be sneaky during the day you’re going to be crawling everywhere instead of crouching.

      Basically you’re going to be looking at Snake’s bum a lot. It’s just going to happen.

    • Universal Quitter says:

      On a similar note, why can’t my sneaky super-spy carefully step AROUND obstacles, without breaking stride, instead of knocking over every piece of ceramic and glass in a two meter radius?

      In my real-life, I shouldn’t be better at creeping around in a dark room without bumping into things than an expert jewel thief, trained assassin, or special forces operator.

  18. 1Life0Continues says:

    Hoping for a Fail Forward on this one.

  19. LennyLeonardo says:

    I’ve recently fallen in love with the water pistol. You feel really vulnerable (you’re defenseless when restraining a guard, moving bodies, and popping out of dumpsters) but silently severing communications, then cutting the power and watching the chaos: totally worth it.

    • aleander says:

      Apparently you can squirt in the enemy’s face, temporarily disorienting them. Haven’t tried that yet, though.

  20. zapatapon says:

    I love the way the different starting spaceships in FTL force you to consider and adopt play strategies fairly different from your favorite one. It’s eye-opening.

    (…This was an effort to stay on-topic while veering away from MGS, for which I have little interest)

  21. Dr.Ded says:

    (a bit off topic but…) I actually like how empty the world feels between bases. We’ve gotten so accustomed to games compensating for our deficit of attention by filling every square inch with interactive objects. Go out for a nature walk and tell me how many things there are to interact with in a meaningful way. Basically, besides being beautiful, nature is mostly pretty boring and empty…in MGSV, and in reality.

  22. Erithtotl says:

    I’m having a great time with this which is the first MGS game I’ve played.

    I will say this though, it seems like most stealth-action games (MGS, Deus Ex:HR and Dishonored) encourage you to do non killing strategies. But at the same time, all the cool tech, gadgets and powers center on how to kill people in new and exciting ways.

    I’d like to see a stealth game where the vast majority of tech and abilities were centered towards different non-killing approaches. As it is, if I don’t get into a firefight every once in awhile, I feel like I’m not really getting the most out of the game.

  23. rabbit says:

    was very, very happy to find rebel yell & kids in america available :)