In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Sam puts aside the main quest in Metal Gear Solid 5.
After I reviewed MGS5 in September, I needed a break from the game after about 50 unbroken hours with it in four days. I came back to The Phantom Pain a little later and hoovered up some bits and pieces I wanted to do, like finding the tent in a misty valley that plays recordings from doomed Silent Hills PS4 demo PT, or extracting specialists I knew I needed for certain weapons, or finally making the most of my extensive military vehicle collection by firing sky rockets at everything. The Side Ops give you compelling reasons to keep playing MGS5 long after the credits.
This past weekend I returned to MGS5 once more, during the launch week of Fallout 4, naturally. I played 16 hours of Side Ops at a gentle pace, and somehow it made me love MGS5 even more now than when I reviewed it. And I gave it 93%. By not being coupled to the urgency of the main story, the Side Ops give you scope to properly experiment with Snake’s toybox in how you tackle enemy bases, and manage to bring out the best in the game as a result, even if the objectives tend to be rote compared to those in the story. Usually you can completely fashion your approach to a situation, unless it’s capturing a bear—there you’ve pretty much got no option apart from firing 30 tranquiliser darts at its head without being gored to death. Even then you could lose your temper and call in an airstrike on the bear, I suppose.
In retrospect I was doing the Side Ops a disservice by rushing between. I’d always finish one, jump back in the helicopter and head to another drop point at another part of the world to do another. But really, Side Ops should be completed in geographical order rather than in the numerical order they’re presented as within MGS5’s iDroid menus. They’re meant to be treated like sidequests in an RPG like Skyrim—a natural detour in your journey around the world, a breadcrumb trail to lead you between adventures. The helicopter is too easy an option in MGS5’s world, even though it’s a necessary one, and removing the journeying aspect reminds me a bit of how I ended up using the cabs in GTA 4 too much instead of enjoying the city.
The Side Ops are what make The Phantom Pain a great open world game. You’re meant to enjoy the drive between quests with your excellent dog in the passenger seat, or galloping there on horseback—it’s a much more comfortably paced way to enjoy MGS5’s two colossal environments than always running for chopper pick-up points. Sometimes I pull over to collect plants, or shoot four guys guarding an outpost in the head, before climbing back into my jeep and running over a goat. It’s the best fun, and tells me that MGS5 doesn’t necessarily reach its full potential until you’re out of the gauntlet of main story missions.
They can also be genuinely rewarding in a way that sidequests frequently aren’t. It’s not unlike a Kojima Productions game to bury its secrets quite deep, but most of the coolest unlockable weapons are buried outside of the main story. I’m a long-time Kojima Productions fan, and for ages I’ve wanted Snake to wear the unlockable Jehuty robot hand from Zone of the Enders that allows you to drag enemies from a distance towards Snake. I’m not one for spoiling things with walkthroughs, so I only just unlocked that this past weekend—turns out you need to dart and extract a legendary bird (not the Pokémon kind) from next to a waterfall before you can research it. Obviously.
Stumbling across that reward on my travels felt cool, if a little bit abstract, but the more time I spend doing the Side Ops on these long journeys, the more convinced I am that this is the way the game is meant to be played. MGS5 needs nothing more than the vaguest excuse for exciting things to happen: turn up to a place whenever you want, however you want, with the guns or ally of your choice and see what happens. The Side Ops are pure MGS5. There are well over a hundred of them.
I could play this game forever.