I started Phantom Pain this week.
I love the prologue mission. There's so much stuff in that opening hour that just shows the stuff that I think Kojima is great at. This constant juxtaposition of kind of gritty realism and absolutely bonkers off-the-wallism. The creepiness of that little red-headed floating thing in the straight jacket and gas mask? The fire whale and unicorn? And even though there's some stealth stuff, it's not undo-able for me. That part where you have to hide under beds that the guards are shooting through - it's tense to me, but I can do it.
Ugh. I'm so bad at this game.
The first little mission I had to do was to get intel from that tiny village. So I take my time, case it out from afar. I can find two guards and tag them. I go around the village and approach from the side I think is clearest. I make it in - seeing a third guard in the process - but manage to get into the room w/ the intel. As I'm reading it, that third guard pops into the room. Thankfully, I manage to take him out and now I panic and flee out the door alerting other guards in the process. There doesn't seem to be too many, and I figure out how to get my horse to come pick me up and we take off. So, mission accomplished though it's certainly not clean.
So now that I've got that intel, I know where they're keeping Miller prisoner, so I head to another bigger camp/village thing. From the distance I start looking for guards and tagging them. There's one... another... third... hmm, oh another... and five... and dammit, six, seven, eight... Okay, awesome. How do I approach this then? I know: like a total moron! Right. Here's a brilliant idea - I'll just start shooting a shorter range gun from way up here in the hills then - instantly alerting all eight of them in the process! So now they're launching missiles at me up in the hills! Excellent. Such a good idea. I'm the best.
It's dark out so I figure maybe I've caused a distraction and can sneak around the side of the camp without them noticing. This almost works except there was a ninth guard I never saw over on the outskirts of the camp who sees me approaching now and he lets the others know. I take one guard out and I'm pretty sure at least badly hurt another but run out of ammo in the process. Meanwhile countless bullets riddle my body as I jump back on the horse and haul it back up the hill. They don't even try to stop me because, well, I think they felt bad for me at this point.
There's so much stuff that's awesome about The Phantom Pain, yet I fear I'll never get to any of it because missions like this just aren't something I can deal well with.
But I retried that mission to rescue Miller. And this time it was a success. Sloppy, but still. This time I went way around the right side of the base and did my best to slowly work my way to where he was being held. Of course my best is still bad when it comes to stealth so I was spotted by someone. I'm not sure who, as I thought I tagged everyone. Oh well, fight or flight time. I hugged a wall and started firing back. I'm not totally sure how I survived the two grenades that were tossed my way, but I just barely did. Once I had a clear path into the building I ran in and got rid of the couple of guards hanging out in there, and then waited for the rest to come in. The best was the last one who patiently waited for me outside of a closed door. I guess he planned to surprise me, but since I had tagged him it was no surprise. I kicked the door open and took care of him - earning an achievement for securing a base in the process. Which felt good because well, I'm bad at this game so any minor victory is a major one to me.
Actually, getting rid of all those guards was a blessing in disguise. It meant I could haul Miller out of there without trying to sneak around or have another gun fight. Eventually we were ambushed by Skulls though. That was bad. We took off on the horse and made a getaway on the helicopter. Then I finally got the Mother Base setup. So yeah. Some early progress now.
A Hero's Way
Okay, mission three took me like an hour... but still. I did it. In this mission I had to "eliminate" a certain dude in one of those big camps. Now, the suggestion was that he had some good intel so I'd be better off kidnapping him than killing him. So that's what I hoped to do. I spent a long time trying to come up with a feasible approach. I tell you I surveyed every side of that compound from afar. This explains why the mission took me so long. I was literally spending a lot of time just circling the damn place and trying to find my target, and trying to find some way in that wouldn't get me super killed.
I had tagged about a dozen guards but still hadn't found the target. And then I faintly heard it: "we're the kids in America/woah-oh-oh...," dammit, there's a radio playing inside that little shack. I figured he must be hiding out there, but I couldn't get a good view. So I made a trek around the opposite side of the outskirts so I could try to spot him. I make my way up a small cluster of rocks and sure enough there's movement in that shack. Zooming in, it's confirmed. I've found our guy.
Alright so now what? There are over a dozen guards around this compound. Several right outside his shack. One with a spotlight adjacent to it. And oh no - he's apparently got a friend guarding him inside. Y'know what? Change of plan: I'm just gonna really eliminate this guy instead.
It's at this moment that I realize that a sniper rifle would be greatly appreciated. But oh well. I move my way in to try to get a better shot. I make my way to a small building and hide behind it. I start crawling closer. There are at least three guards patrolling right around me. I nervously inch my way from makeshift cover to makeshift cover. I'm finally close enough so that I can see him through the window. I wait.
This is the tense part. I know that even with a silencer his friend will notice when I start shooting. So I have to make this count. But I'm still not really quite close enough to make it easy on myself. Oh well, let's let it ride. I open fire and the target goes down while a bunch of dudes swarm me quickly. There's bullets flying at me from every direction and as I turn to run I realize that the target isn't actually eliminated. It's just a flesh wound. Ugh! I turn back towards him - and as my luck would have it - he hasn't gotten smart enough to get out of the window. I finish the job and book it with no real escape route planned.
I whistle for my horse just as a giant sand storm kicks in. I have no idea if this is a scripted event or if I'm just really lucky, but it totally helped save me, plus makes for a cool story. I can hear the soldiers scrambling to find me amidst the chaos, but they fail. As my heart rate slows I find a spot to chill long enough to call for a heli-Uber. I can still hear the confused and upset guards off in the distance as I make my way to the rendezvous.
Tackled mission four, and with that one I feel like Phantom Pain has officially clicked with me.
This was the mission that involved taking some satellites out of commission. On paper, this sounded like a fairly easy mission. But it's me, so things just aren't going to go smoothly. More on that later... I started the mission out by finding a little puppy friend. Good stuff. Then I started my trek towards the camp I was looking for. I stumbled upon a small lookout that had two guards chilling. Miller tipped me off that one of them was speaking English so he'd make a good translator. I went around and clipped both of them with tranquilizers and whisked them off to Mother Base. I'll admit, I was pretty proud of myself.
I hopped back on the horse and continued towards the objective. On my way there it dawned on me that I really wish I had a good sniper rifle. And then it dawned on me that I could just use the iDroid to develop one and have it delivered Amazon drone style. So I did just that. Yes! Okay, yeah I'm starting to make more sense of this game and its possibilities.
So I made my way up to a good lookout spot and tagged the three satellites, along with a bunch of guards. I started to consider how I'd go about taking out the satellites when - oh crap - apparently I didn't hear a guard come up the hill behind me and discover me. Cover blown; time for bloodshed. The new sniper rifle came in quite handy as I started picking off guards below. They sent backups and I just kept whittling down their numbers until the base was all mine. I had Mother Base deliver me some C4 and took care of the satellites.
Admittedly I'm still trash at stealth. But at least it seems like I can bungle my way through these missions, which is nice.
Here's what I mean about the game finally clicking with me, though. It occurred to me that Phantom Pain is basically what I had wanted from Breath Of The Wild. It is a huge sandbox of possibilities. It does present you with the ability to tackle problems as you see fit. There isn't necessarily a "right" way to do anything. But the difference is that there is actually a structure to Phantom Pain that was lacking for me in Breath Of The Wild. Eventually I just grew tired of asking "where should I go next?" in the Zelda game, whereas The Phantom Pain kind of combines the best of both worlds for me.
Over The Fence
The mission I had left off on was was an extraction. It was pretty straightforward. Not super challenging. And yet I screwed it up enough that I was offered a Chicken Hat, which I proudly wore like the dunce I am. I don't know what to say other than every time I thought I knew the layout and where all the guards were I'd stumble upon another who would freak out and alert everyone else.
Where Do The Bees Sleep
I spent about an hour attempting to find "The Bee," a weapon which was the goal of Mission 6. First off, it took me a long time to even get where I was going. I took lots of detours around mountains and bases and whatever. Finally I was able to sneak into an underground hideout, mostly thanks to a windstorm that conveniently supplied me some cover. There were a couple of guards hanging around down there and I was jumpy and ended up drugging them. I took off down deeper into the complex in search of The Bee but ugh, I didn't think to hide those drugged up guards so they got discovered. So now I'm down in this hole and doing my best to hide from a whole camp of dudes that are searching for me. It was at this point that my wife asked if I was ready for dinner and this felt like a relief.
I have decided that I have a special love/hate relationship with The Phantom Pain. I have a certain appreciation for how open the game is; for how much is possible; for how you can approach it as you wish. I love the music and the atmosphere. Not that I've played all of the Metal Gear games, but this must be my favorite. And yet, I'm also really bad at it, which makes it a game that I just can't focus on for as long as I'd like. If I feel a ping of frustration, then I need to give it a break, else I risk losing that feeling of what I love so much about it. It feels like a game that I can come back to and play missions in spurts rather than really committing to binge-playing it. So for now, Phantom Pain, we're on a break.