I‘ve chosen late evening for my helicopter to drop me in the hills of North Kabul, Afghanistan, and to the south of the base I’m looking to scope out with my binoculars. I struggle to pick out my enemies, but they’ll have trouble spotting me in the darkness too. I’ve knocked the guards in their watchtowers unconscious, but another of their number have spotted their comrades’ bodies unceremoniously plonked into a portable toilet and now everybody is on high alert.
My target is a Russian Spetsnaz General who’d been committing atrocities against the local population with his scorched earth policy but I was struggling to find my way in to his hideout as his defensive force were on the lookout for their unknown assailant. Luckily, as I waited in the tall, rough desert grasses my patience had paid off: a sandstorm was sweeping in. Risking running straight into an enemy, I somehow managed to infiltrate the base with my surprised target, along with a cassette tape of Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America’, now in my possession. But my enemies have discovered me now the storm has subsided, and I can only make a beeline for my horse with my 1980s pop blaring into the night as my extraction team await mine and my prisoner’s arrival.
And that’s precisely what makes Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain‘s open world so special. This moment could’ve played out in hundreds of different ways. I could’ve chosen to initiate my assault in broad daylight guns blazing. Maybe I could’ve searched out intel from neighbouring villages, taking a truck driver captive that I had just learned would be driving into the very heart of the base. Kojima Productions have completed revolutionised their already venerable series, and it’s absolutely for the best.
It’s up to you how you rebuild your forces after the tragic rollercoaster of a conclusion in Ground Zeroes. Main missions are presented in an episodic form alongside free-form side operations that are all based within a series of gargantuan environments, and you can even choose the order in which you complete them. Your stealthy hijinks then interlink with each other, showcasing an astonishing level of detail. For instance, I accidentally chose a mission that involved destroying enemy communications, only to be relieved to find out that the Russians couldn’t call for reinforcements in a later mission once I’d been discovered.
Gone are the days where you must sit through 45 minute cutscenes – now you choose the direction the story takes, and tell it though your gameplay choices. The rich alternate reality Hideo Kojima and co is far from absent though, extensive backstory can still be found via cassette tapes and in-world collectibles.
It’s not just the storytelling that’s been revamped either: the gameplay and its myriad mechanics are life-consumingly deep. Take Mother Base for example; your base of operations is essentially a game within a game. In the wider world you identify and procure raw materials and skilled soldiers to improve your team, constantly upgrading your gear and weaponry to even further broaden your options in the field. All the menus and features in the game can be a little daunting at first, but new toys are drip fed to you nicely so you can get to grips with things at a steady pace.
And, on top of all this, the game is astoundingly beautiful. Exceptional draw distances decorate a horizon that appear to continue on forever. The game looks just as good in the depths of night as it does in the sunny rays of midday and its the perfect place to immerse yourself in the deep, atmospheric gameplay.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a supreme sandbox that will be remembered for decades to come. The depth of its gameplay and the level of detail that has been squeezed in will constantly amaze you as you plough through the 100+ hours required for you to see everything this wonderful game has to offer. Kojima Productions have produced the best game in the series, and have done so not by subjecting you to endless cutscenes, but by allowing you a deep, inventive range of tools to tell your own stories, where only your creativity is the limit.