Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

September 07, 2016

Breath in, breath out. The sights on my tranquilizer pistol hover just below the rim of the soldier’s helmet, trained squarely on his nose as walks his route. Breath in, breath out. I have two, maybe three seconds before he turns the corner, and I’m left aiming at his ear, covered of course by the damn helmet. Those were new - it’d taken them maybe five missions to figure out that my preferred method of infiltration involved headshots with my tranquilizer pistol, and they’d adjusted accordingly.

I wait another second, and then a faint cough erupts from my pistol. The tranquilizer finds its mark, and the guard goes down instantly. After double-checking for any wandering patrols, I move up, and attach a fulton balloon to the guard, which will transport him back to base for… let’s call it, “re-education”.

This mechanic, called “fultoning” (which, by the way, is a real thing), doesn’t just apply to soldiers, either. In earlier segments of the game, you’ll be limited to people and animals, but the balloon really hits its mark after some upgrading - vehicles, even tanks, can be lifted up into the air and added to your arsenal. There’s another added bonus to this upgrade - instead of being forced to hammer tougher vehicles and mechs with rockets or other explosives, you can choose fulton them out of the battlefield, provided you can sneak close enough to do so.

The balloon lifts its snoozing payload, and zooms into the sky… and a shout erupts. It’d been spotted by another guard, one stationed on a guard tower, who I’d thought was turned away. Sloppy, I think, as I dip back into the shadows and ready the tranq gun again. Luckily, the guard hadn’t been quick enough to shoot the balloon down, so there’s still one less set of eyes to worry about.

There are two kinds of Metal Gear Solid players - the patient ones, who plan their routes, memorize the patrols, and identify every inch of the target area before making their approach, and the impatient ones, like me, who specialize in “improvisation”. Mostly out of necessity.

So I improvise. If the guard was allowed to so much as touch the call button on his radio, the outpost would know something was up. Reinforcements could be trucked in, and guards would be more alert. I could’ve disabled the radio communications for the outpost, but that would’ve required an explosion, and I was at least attempting to be stealthy.

I fire another dart, and a ding echoes as the shot bounces from his helmet, startling the soldier. Damn. I can’t put him to sleep from this distance or angle - but maybe I can offer a distraction from the mysterious man-balloon.

My options now are limited. I can wait it out, and just wait for the alert level to drop; this options I rule out immediately. See the paragraph about being impatient. I could probably kill the guard with my rifle from here, but another soldier might see him go down - plus, I’d favored the non-lethal approach thus far, and didn’t feel like deviating. Normally in a stealth game, those are the two options: hide, or fight. Not so, with MGSV.

And so I settled on a plan B. Or rather, plan C. For cardboard.

The cardboard box is a major mainstay of the Metal Gear Solid series. It’s essentially a mobile hiding spot, and can provide some much-needed cover in more open areas (and even allows for fast travel across the map, by way of ‘delivery points’) - but it can also be an extremely flexible tool in the right hands.

I don the box, but instead of hiding, I start crab-walking left and right, within the guard’s field of vision. The guard, incredulous, catches sight of me. I can hear a faint “What the...” as I slowly shuffle behind a nearby corner, and wait.

Radio static

“CP? This is Delta 3. I think I saw a cardboard box moving on its own. Please advise. Over.”

“This is CP. Stop screwing around. Over.”

I smile. It’s a real testament to this game’s flexibility that it allows you to cloak yourself not only in obscurity, but also in absurdity. I stow the box, and continue my infiltration.

The rest of the mission - a standard rescue-the-prisoner affair - went off without a hitch. This was one of the games many “Side Ops”, or missions that were separate from the primary story missions. That doesn’t mean they’re inconsequential, though - many of the best upgrades, mercenary members, and blueprints (used to upgrade equipment) are obtainable through these side missions. They’re also very well designed and varied, so I never felt like I was just “grinding” - and if that’s still too structured for your taste, you can always roam around the map as you please, capturing guard posts and outposts to hone your stealth skills.

Coordinating with your companion is simple, and can turn a tough situation into an impressive takedown

Overall, MGSV’s departure from previous Metal Gear Solid games into the “open world” style is a resounding success, and suits the franchise’s gameplay well. From the expansive mission areas, to watching your offshore “Mother Base” grow and develop, MGSV hits all the right notes when it comes to scale, as well. The map is large enough to hold secrets and provide varied environments for missions, but isn’t so large - or sparse - that traversing the whole thing on foot is a pain. Content-wise, though, the game is enormous - the sheer volume of equipment (for both you and your various companions), base-management, and staff-management options can be overwhelming, a fact that isn’t helped by the less-than-intuitive menu screens. In a time dominated by underwhelming releases and overwhelming dlc prices, though, this is a good problem to have.

Sleep grenades are a great way to take down an entire driving patrol with minimal exposure

All of the gameplay aspects of MGSV are very solid, and I can recommend it based on those alone. As for the story, I’ll say this - it’s Metal Gear Solid. If you’re a franchise fan, you’ll no doubt appreciate seeing younger (in some cases, much younger) versions of characters you’ve become familiar with, but the game does a mixed job of merging past and present stories together. Most notably, Revolver Ocelot may as well be a completely different character - this may have been a conscious decision, to ground the character since he’ll be one of your main allies, but it’s still incongruent with his earlier appearances in the series. The narrative is as campy as ever, and antagonist is as self-indulgent in his philosophical ramblings as any foe from the series.

Probably the lowest point in the game is a sequence during which the villain explains his grand plan - the dialogue was so unintelligible, and dragged on for so long that I actually stood up and walked around a bit waiting for it to pass. Here the double-edged sword that is Hideo Kojima’s storytelling style cuts deeply into the game, and the scene crosses the border between campy megalomaniac rant and self-indulgent look-how-deep-this-plot-is droning. It’s irritating, but not enough to detract from all of the positive things MGSV brings to the table. The gameplay is fun and feels natural in the open world, the boss fights are as eclectic as ever, and the whole experience feels deep, polished, and well-executed.

As a bookend to one of the most-loved and longest-running series in gaming, MGSV delivers, and I can highly recommend it to everyone. Newcomers to the franchise may have a better appreciation for the game’s narrative and characters if they begin with another title in the series, but the refined gameplay ensures that anyone with a taste for open-world stealth will be more than satisfied.


While plagued by terrible menus and some rough narrative moments, MGSV presents a great experience nonetheless with the most mature gameplay the series has seen.