Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
This post is part of a series. I mention abilities and tools but no story spoilers.
A lot of the time, MGS V is just a very good stealth game. You have lots of tools to distract, evade or take down your enemies, and they’re all very satisfying to use – just like Deus Ex 3. Its levels are encampments dotted seamlessly around a huge open world – just like Far Cries 2-4. Its layered systems turn failures into new challenges rather than end points – just like Invisible Inc. But none of those things are new, and MGS V sometimes feels like something that is.
Those times, for me, are not during some particularly great mission, or when some unexpected chain of events creates a cool story. They’re after: when the guards lie sleeping or dead, the cargo containers are ballooning skyward, I’m scampering out with the target (too weak to be similarly ballooned) slung over my shoulders.
Because what happens next is both incredibly mundane and incredibly unusual. I heave them into the back seat of a 4×4, get in the driver’s seat, and drive off. I bring up the map and tell my chopper pilot where to pick us up. Then I drive them there. Then I park, haul them out, carry them to the chopper, and put them in. Then the chopper flies off. Then I go back to my car, look at my map, and figure out where I’m going next.
None of these things are thrilling or even challenging, they’re just the things you would need to do if this was your mission and these were you tools. And that makes you feel more like an actual field operative than any other game I can think of. Instead of cutting to the next exciting mission or cinematic, it leaves you to deal with the basic mechanical business of getting things done and moving on. It’s more than feeling like the star of an action movie – it’s feeling like this is your job.
As I’ve started to figure out that this is what’s special about the game, I’ve also figured out how to maximise the feeling. Because it doesn’t always do this: main missions often do cut away, or force you to return to base. So now I drop myself at sunset, in whichever country has the most side-ops scattered across its map, climb in my car, and work through the night.
That means getting from each mission area to the next, sometimes through 3 kilometers of twisting, guard-infested roads. I mostly drive, cutting my headlights and offroading dangerously to skirt watchtowers, and enjoying the empty, dark stretches between. Other times I ride, hanging off the saddle to hide behind my horse as we trot past patrols in the shadows. And for the longest journeys, I sneak into an outpost’s delivery point, climb inside a stamped addressed cardboard box, and post myself to the next town.
That part is probably not a lot like a real commando’s job.
But it’s these between moments, staying in the world between objectives, that makes it work. It has all the appeal of methodically taking down the outposts in Far Cry 3 and 4, but the added sense of purpose from the side-ops makes a huge difference to the fantasy you’re living: you’re an agent with a job to do rather than a madman with a murderous hobby.
In fact you’ve got lots of jobs to do, and the more of them you do in one continuous marathon of espionage, the deeper you can sink into this other life. Last night I tranqed a whole airport to find a crucial blueprint, interrogated a lookout to locate a prisoner, incapacitated four heavy infantry with my bare hands, and stole a tank from under the noses of its sniper guardians. By the time I drove out to a remote shack to capture an interpreter, the sun was coming up. I tranqed him and one of his bodyguards at range, then snuck up on the last one and slammed him into the shack. For no practical reason, I loaded the target and the better of the two bodyguards into my jeep and drove to the nearest pickup point… then this happened:
Turns out the game sometimes auto-extracts people when you leave the mission area. Which is one of many signs that this sense of doing all the between bits yourself wasn’t a particularly high priority for the developers. But when you play that way, and when they let you, it’s really something special.
Drew: I really like how you worded this and it is also maybe my favorite part of the game. I have always been interested in real commando and special operations stories and that "doing your job" aspect is something this game gets across that almost no others do that is accurate to the real work.
Other examples: "Soldiers: Heroes of World War II" (one mission you had to scavenge for items to build a bonfire to call in a glider).
Also ARMA. There are fun co-op missions where you, for example, have to break out of a prison, secure transport, then move far across a map to an objective. I think it works pretty similarly (but ARMA's gameplay is not for all).
But like you say, this game almost seems to fight against those moments. Yet they're still there and I also loved them.
Britpoint: It's interesting how something you love about this game is one of my biggest complaints with it. Because I'd probably describe it in an almost identical way:
It feels like doing a job.
phuzz: OK TOM! I'll buy my first MGS game. Happy now?
(I don't know why I've even hesitated so long, the reviews from people I trust have all been good, and I did enjoy the Far Crys, and how can I resist attaching a balloon to a mans?)
Jabberwok: This sense of staying in the world is everything that I liked about Far Cry 2. I wish more games would attempt this sort of thing. I took similar pains to immerse myself in Skyrim; never using fast travel, stopping at inns for the night to eat and drink food for no reason, sleeping in beds instead of just waiting, etcetc.
Magnificentophat: Erm, the home page has the picture for this post as an angry medic, the background for the teaser text is a screenshot of big pharma, and the background for the whole home page is that bloodstained evacuation picture from a previous MGS V post. Is this normal?
Feel like I'm missing something obvious.
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Justice: Well, interestingly enough I ended up here simply by reading some random news event on the steam library page of MGSV. I have to say, I agree with what you say here. For me, it's about playing the game, rather than grinding though it for the ending, and, to me, that's the worst part: the ending. Now, this next part might be a bit far for some, but I really don't care if I hear someone talk about the end of a game. Sometimes, I've even predicted it for myself. I think, it's really about *how* you get there, and the events that lead to it. Doing your "job" as you say is really what makes it for me. I've already added 2 more command thingys and most of the specialized platforms to my base, and I've only just found quiet. (EP 11 I think) I have no idea how close I am to the end, but I hope I'm not far because I have a lot more sneaking around in a box, tranqing baddies, and lifting them off to my base to do.
Anyway, thanks for the good read.
Jazz From Hell: Yeah, I felt this like 3 days after release (I played like 5-8 hours per day cause I got fired on september 1st lol) I found myself making jokes about my new job as spy, I always like to infiltritate at 6 am because I feel like a responsible spy, working very early, trying to make missions as clean as possible and all that. I love MG5.
Doing your job in Metal Gear 5 | Joy Stick Report: […] This article was originally posted on pentadact.com. […]