Year of Release:2015
Before us gamers all lose weeks of our lives trailing round the galaxy discovering new planets and naming them Asscrackius here’s a look at a very different ‘open world’ game. No Man’s Sky has rather redrawn the map of what constitutes an open world: making the miles of open country in MGSV with missions dotted around in it look not so open. Nothing is procedurally generated here, everything has been placed with care and attention to detail by one of gaming’s auteurs, Hideo Kojima. Rather than an indie upstart, Metal Gear is gaming royalty. I’ve been onboard since MGS for the original PlayStation and count it as one of the three games, along with Doom and Final Fantasy VII, that sucked me into console gaming. MGS3 and MGS4 I also loved, though failed to finish the latter and thus missed the hour-long cut scene that concludes it. All are characterised by a labyrinthine plot worthy of Games of Thrones involving special forces, Cold War double-crossing, secret cloning and genetic engineering programmes, and shadow armies involved in vast decades-long conspiracies.
MGS, if not originating, has perfected the ‘sneak-em-up’ genre in which it’s possible to complete missions and maybe the whole game without resorting to gunplay. Guards can be tranquilliser or knocked out rather than killed. Bosses excepted of course. There’s little back-up and no Fire teams: it’s almost always Snake sneaking around a deserted warehouse/factory/oil-rig/hanger looking for the plans to some doomsday device.
MGSV has tweaked the format for the PS4, and it serves as a swansong for mastermind Hideo Kojima who has been ejected from the franchise he created. First confusing thing: there are two MGSV games. Ground Zeroes serves as a prologue – explaining some of the backstory to why in the main game, The Phantom Pain, you are in 80s Afghanistan and Africa as a mercenary leader. Ground Zeroes is cheap as chips, takes a couple of hours max to do, and will give you a great introduction to the MGS world. You can jump straight into the Phantom Pain, and I wouldn’t recommend playing Ground Zeroes except as a prologue as it’s very short.
Previous MGS have generally unfolded as one long story: epic cut scenes alternating with huge levels ending with boss fights. MGSV breaks up its story into 30 plus missions, most taking around 30-60 minutes and even more shorter ‘side ops’. Each mission is presented as a short film with credits and title screen. This makes the sandbox world function more easily – though in practice the main missions need to be undertaken in a linear sequence. As a gamer with limited time resources this is a welcome structure, enabling you to finish a mission in a reasonable time and know progress has been made. However, it does make the game feel ‘bitty’ – on the whole there are games such as the GTA series that manage to keep a story-arc going while enabling open world choice in a better way than MGSV does.
In-mission gameplay is classic Snake: you’ll spend most of your time on your belly crawling past guards before taking out those you can’t bypass with a tranquiller gun. Opening up with any noisy gun will generally end in your death, unless it’s a rocket launcher. Transport around the sandbox areas are by your faithful D-horse (yes you travel around by horse) or vehicles you commandeer. Mission objectives are extractions of prisoners or stray comrades, the location of a prototype or blueprint, or the C-4 enabled destruction of a facility. There is one innovation of genius. Away from the missions you are in charge of a rebel base that needs constant upgrading and new recruits. A Fulton balloon (think the House in Up) enables you to airlift people, animals, weapons, trucks…just about anything back to your base to add to its resources. Hooking a balloon onto a stunned guard and watching them go up up and away never fails to amuse. The base itself is another new addition – needing team and resource management, and being where you can upgrade the many weapons and items that Snake employs (including the legendary Cardboard Box).
I’m about 16 missions in and the gameplay has become second nature. There are many alternative ways to complete each mission, depending on your preferred style of play. Interrogate guards for key locations, immobilise every single guard so you can wander around at leisure, sneak past everyone straight to the target and out again without anyone knowing you were there. It’s a beautifully balanced and flexible game world. The guards respond to your style of play to up the ante: if you’re a night-time mission player then the opponents start sporting night vision goggles; too many head shots and they add helmets. The difficulty curve on the most part keeps you sharp without needing to grind. There’s time to usually ponder your next move – only in one missions so far have I been up against a time limit, and stopping and surveying usually bears dividends rather than rushing in.
There is an unfolding storyline of sorts, as you uncover the kind-of Black Helicopter organisation Cipher and their involvement in civil war in 80s conflict zones. But it’s hardly The Last of Us. Snake (Kurt Russell look, cigar and eyepatch still firmly in place) is the character.
It’s also not without controversy, which has centred on a female sniper you encounter relatively early in the game: sharp of aim she undoubtedly is, but also excessively skimpy of clothing. The game camera’s ogling is frankly embarrassing.
I’m hugely enjoying it – the visuals are pin-sharp and the open worlds of Afghanistan and Africa (maybe one more to come) are full of detail, from flora and fauna you can trap and pick to posters that can be ripped off the walls. If you’re a collector then MGSV will keep you happy for hours. There’s always a weapon to upgrade, a combat team to assign or a base extension that needs building. Me, I’m happy to crawl around in the bush, peering through my binoculars and wondering how to get into the compound that may or not hold the rogue scientist we need to extract.
Now can I wait to finish this before No Man’s Sky Pulls Me In?
Might suit people who like:
Sneaking and sniping rather than ‘spray and pray’ or ‘run and gun’, gadget fetishists, conspiracy theories, Kurt Russell in Escape from New York
Time Thief Rating:Three months In and still going strong