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Big Boss vs Best Boss

An MGS Virgin Plays The Phantom Pain, Day 5

I quailed at even the idea of bosses in MGSV [official site]. It’s my desert, leave me alone to do my thing, and that thing most certainly does not involve filling something big with as much heavy ordinance as is possible. A couple of encounters with the teleporting zombie super-soldiers known as The Skulls had already left a bad taste in my mouth. While stealth, or at least avoidance was possible to some degree, they were exactly the sort of bullet-sponge nightmare I was afraid of. Would this be pre-Director’s Cut Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s bosses all over again? I would be abandoning this game halfway through, of that I was increasingly sure.

Then I met Quiet. Spoilers for an early boss fight follow.

To get the inevitable out of the way: I absolutely agree with Adam about how skeezy the character's presentation is (both narratively and visually). With crushing inevitability, my partner entered the room during one of the merely lascivious early Quiet cutscenes, and this confirmed her every suspicion about videogames and their audience. I miserably tried to show her sheep-ballooning and A-Ha, but it was too late: the damage was done. At least we shared contemptuous laughter when I told her about the plot's ridiculous, cynical attempt to justify the outfit. It’s such a damned shame. And, as we went into this problem in depth yesterday, that’s all I’m going to say about it for now.

What I am going to talk about is how brilliant the boss fight in which you first (well, not quite first – that’s her as the hospital assassin in the introductory cutscene, right?) encounter your mute buddy-to-be is. There’s so much about it which is so much about what MGSV does best.

For a start, it’s something you stumble into rather than are simply pointed at. While exploring the Northerly area of the map, you might receive radio messages from Ocelot or Miller – I keep forgetting which voice is which – about a mystery sniper who’s been making everyone’s lives hell. All we know is the Russians are afraid of her, and that she’s… somewhere. Out there.

Which isn’t enough to prepare me for my ride across the desert suddenly being interrupted by a shot, a cutscene, and a declaration that I’ve just begun Mission 11, complete with those self-mythologising HIDEO KOJIMA CREATED THE WORLD IN SEVEN DAYS opening credits. Mission 11 wasn’t even listed as an option until now. It’s just fallen from the sky. And now a super-sniper wants to put a bullet in my skull.

The location is perfect. Towering ruins, the former site of something spectacular now turned into a nightmare of camping spots and open spaces, this huge football pitch of distance between me and her. I have to cross it, or at least some of it, for any of my weapons to be of much use. I do have a sniper rifle, almost never used due to my dedication to non-lethality, but it’s an entry-level one which just doesn’t have the range necessary to pick Quiet off from opposing sides of this shattered temple-land. I have to find a way forwards.

And that involves learning, without any real instruction. MGSV is at its best when it doesn’t tell you what to do, when you observe, experiment and practice until you find a rythym of your own, and this mental map of possible strategies. Quiet will score a near-lethal headshot if you raise your head above cover for more than a couple of seconds. But you have to do that, because she’s so far away that the only way to keep track of her is to ‘mark’ her with your binoculars, making her health bar visible.

So you figure it out. The glint of her scope tells you roughly where she is. You remember the patch of rock or crumbling pillar. You hold your head up for just long enough that she fires, but not for long enough that it hits you. Then you find that rocky spot again, you zoom in, you wait an agonising second and –ping- you’ve got her marked.

Now do it again, only with a bullet instaed of binoculars. But you can’t, because your rifle doesn’t have the range. So coax her into firing, dash forwards, do it again, and then, and then maybe you can score a shot. And then she turns invisible and scurries away, and you have to do it all over again. Second time she does this, you notice the cloud of dust. And you track that dust, and you don’t lose her, and you get another shot in. Learning, practicing, improving. A half-hour marathon of endurance and patience, of timing and precision.

You can, I’m told, win the fight very quickly by ordering supply drops onto Quiet’s location, cracking her skull and removing the need for all that forward movement and precision shooting. Never mind that this didn’t actually work for me – she dove out the way seconds before the drop landed, because she is the only other smart human in the game so far – I know I’d have missed a memorably tense fight if I had. A redemptive boss fight.

An extremely personal one, too. Where most boss fights just feel like a war of hit point attrition against some mechanical monster, this felt like two people trying to outwit each other. Grand masters locked in final competition. She targets, I duck. I shoot, she runs. Each second-guessing the other. She doesn’t talk, but if she did I’m sure she’d tut rather than scream whenever I hit her. She’d tut if I died, too: this is as much a game to her as it is me. She doesn’t want to kill me, she wants to play with me.

When I finally met Quiet, having defeated her (my first S rank too!) I felt I already knew her, from our time spent in this nerve-wracking stand-off. How could I kill her, when Miller ordered me to? She was my dark mirror. She was the only one who understood. That couldn’t end so soon.

Going into MGSV, everything I’d seen of Quiet in marketing and social wittering had me convinced that there was no way I could possibly have her on my team, that it would be too embarrassing and distracting and I did not want my game to be that. Now, I feel like I have to have her as my buddy. She’s my only equal, after all.

The other boss fights aren’t going to be like this, are they?

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