You would often use words like stealth, survival and linearity to describe games of the Metal Gear series, although Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain took a different direction, offering an open world, action-adventure type of game with an emphasis on player choice. Instead of having to navigate dungeon-esque military bases/bunkers, for the most part you are pitted against the vast open setting of Afghanistan (and toward the latter parts, Angola). It can be a lot to take in, particularly as the open world can seem intimidating for long serving fans of the series. It is worth mentioning, that this is not the only Metal Gear game to make use of the ‘Man vs Nature’ trope, as we had ‘Snake Eater’ (My personal favourite), but only now with this generation of consoles have we been able to see a more fleshed out action-adventure game.
The game’s main story sequences plays out during main missions. Whilst main missions have clearly defined objectives, they also contain hidden objectives. Whilst a main objective might be to carry out an assassination, a hidden objective may be to collect resources located on the opposite side of the map to where the assassination is to take place. For the most part, it is really worthwhile just taking the time to explore, and I strongly recommend free-roaming in order to achieve everything. To reiterate the importance of choice, the game allows you to approach each mission/side mission however you like. You may decide to carry out a rescue mission at night time and on horse-back. Depending on the formation of the guards, you may wish to infiltrate an outpost by using non-lethal weapons, taking down as few targets as possible before carrying the hostage away to a safe zone. You will have to think one or two steps ahead, as mistakes can happen and enemies can request for back up. In this case, it might be worth taking care of communication equipment, in order to prevent comms between outposts. Or if you’re feeling particularly inspired by George ‘Dubya’ Bush, you can conspicuously roll up in a tank and blow the shit out of everything in your way to rescue the hostage and put him in the back (get in the van). The choice is ultimately yours, but choices taken can bring consequences, as the grade you receive at the end of any mission is determined by your play style. It is rewarding to receive an S rank with a codename of Foxhound upon completing a mission, might I add.
However, enemies do begin to take counter-measures to certain tactical approaches. For example, if you’re heavily reliant on Sniper Rifles, enemy soldiers will eventually get used to this and equip themselves more readily to deal with Sniper attacks. So it is good to be flexible in your approach, and I can attest to this having resorted to heavy armoury once AI started to get used to my standard pistol/assault rifle combination. Having said that, it is in the player’s interest to exercise a non-lethal approach on occasion, as the most skilled soldiers you encounter can be captured and sent back to strengthen your army.
Try to remember that you are The Boss. People are relying on you, most notably your in-game companions, aka buddies. Depending on where you take the game, you can have up to 4 buddies to choose from at any one time, with 2 being semi-autonomous. D-Dog is without a doubt best buddy. This dog can scout nearby enemies and perform devastating finishing moves when equipped with the right gear. If you are as protective of D-Dog as I was, then be prepared to send him back to Mother Base when things get tough, because seeing him get hurt is an experience you’ll want to avoid. You also have D-Horse who is your first buddy. D-Horse is used mainly for transportation over rough terrain, but there are times when you’ll be relying on your trusty steed to make a swift getaway from some intimidating looking enemies. You also have Quiet, the mute Sniper. She is very good at scouting and sniping faraway enemies. Quiet’s availability throughout the game will depend on choices made by the player. Make the wrong choice, and you will have to play the game without her support.
Assisted by Revolver Ocelot, you are charged with development and the day to day running of Mother Base. Here is where you will hold all of your collected resources, and captured soldiers from the open world. A well-developed mother base can assist you greatly during missions. For example, a highly skilled R+D department allows for a greater array of weapons to be made available for development. On the other hand, a below par comms & intel team will offer bad intel on things like positioning of enemy soldiers & weather forecasting. You can address imbalances between departments by redeploying recruited soldiers into areas of best fit. Each soldier you take back to mother base has his/her own set of strengths and weaknesses, so it is up to the player to manage them in the best way possible. You will also need to deal with recurring scenarios, as fights can break out and sickness can spread. You will be required to throw out trouble makers and quarantine sickly staff in order to quickly restore harmony.
Story-wise, Kojima offers more of the same dramatic, political-fiction as in previous titles. In Phantom Pain, we have antagonists who have been deeply affected by the casualties of war, seeking to assert their own ambitions. As the story progresses, you become more understanding of what motivates these villains and what they hope to achieve, making the latter engagements with them all the more meaningful. However, I’m quite certain the most significant plot in a MGS game is yet to come, with a veteran Snake taking on the role of a crazy ass bunker dad, having to deal with PTSD in a politically unstable United States being run by President Trump (okay that’s too real). But anyway, the game is available now for free on Playstation Plus, so hit the bloody download button.