Now playing – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

On playing a certain Cyberpunk 2077, I was left wondering: is my brain wrong? Has it opted out of retaining memories, and instead replaced what actually happened with a great big pile of What Did Not (happen)?

I’m there, playing through emergent encounters in CD Projekt Red’s mix of bugs and beauty, and I’m thinking: “Metal Gear Solid V did encounters significantly better”. But I can’t be sure. It’s been some months since I’ve played Kojima’s Konami swan-song, and a few years since I’ve played it with any real commitment.

Maybe my mind has indeed become more selective with the truth it chooses to present to me. I need to go back and play again, to be sure, to know if I do know what I’m talking about. That’s the reason I’ve been playing Metal Gear Solid V recently, definitely just that, and not because I only need the slightest of slight excuses to play one of the greatest games of all time.

So I set up the situation: pick up where a save, from early 2020, left me off: the middle of the desert in Afghanistan, covered in blood, a horn protruding from my head, ammunition 70% spent, wearing a tuxedo. Of course. I decide to head to a prisoner rescue mission one kilometre that-a-way, powering my journey using legs only.

So far, so as I remember it. Heading up the nearest sand dune, I suddenly remember one thing needs to be handled before getting to a combat instance: mucking about. Mucking about is key to enjoyment in open-world games, and MGSV allows a lot of it. So I spend five minutes surfing dunes in a cardboard box, the sun beating down on the blood still caking up my formal outfit.

Surf decidedly up, I get back to business: 950 metres that-a-way. On the sprint, I come across a small guard post – a checkpoint looking out for mercenary/private army chiefs with horns and tuxedos sprinting through the desert. They may be on the lookout, but they don’t see me.

It’s a chance to remember my old skills in the game, as well as a chance to be distracted, again, mere seconds after the surf incident. It’s short and slight, but still so satisfying to scope out the area, to pick the troops off one by one – tranquillising them, of course – and retrieve their unconscious bodies to send them home in the hopes of ‘convincing’ them to join Team Tux. I am done here, but I am emboldened: this is what I remember. This is fun.

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Always put aside time to muck about otherwise you’ll never get the most from anything – in games, life, anywhere. Maybe don’t try box surfing in a combat zone, though.

The rest of the sprint goes by without incident until I arrive at the mission area proper and begin my scouting. I set up my companion Quiet in her favoured sniper’s nest – she’s wearing clothes, because I want her to, because I am not a weird pervert – to aid in the quest to See All The People.

It’s a few minutes, I figure I’m done, I move in… and suddenly stop because I realise I’m right next to the communications array for this particular base. One bit of C4 later, there is no ability for this unit to contact the outside world, so no chance of them radioing in for reinforcements. Emergent.

Alas, setting off C4 has done that thing of ‘alerting guards’, because explosions make sound and fire and stuff, and they’ve all seen it. The radio becomes frantic, alarmed, and troops start making their way to my playground of plastique to find out just what’s happened.

It’s fine, I accounted for this, so I start to make my way in a loop around to head incoming soldiers off from the side, tranq them, and bundle their bodies up through the personal wormholes I can create in the sky, and no, I am not making that bit up. It’s not what I initially planned, but it’s a new plan I’ve come up with along the way.

Which immediately gets thrown in the bin, as I am seen by a troop neither I nor my companion had spotted. I try to get off a shot to put him to sleep before he alerts anyone, but it’s too late: he’s fired a shot. Everyone’s heard it. They’re on high alert.

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It doesn’t have to be a-ha blaring out from the chopper, you can also use Midge Ure’s cover of The Man Who Sold the World, among others. Because of course you can.

This was not my first or second plan, true, but screw it – plan three is on the go. Quiet starts popping out tranquillizer shots of her own, the defending troops don’t know whether to head towards me or her, and it’s all a grand old mess both on my side and theirs. Thing is, they don’t know I’ve messed up my plan, and I can adapt.

Firefights, sleep grenades, flanking, and distraction swiftly show themselves to be useful tools, and I maintain the approach of not killing a soul. I even break out the Hand of Jehuty – a robotic attachment themed around Zone of the Enders that allows you to rope a dope from a distance – which stuns them.

Metal Gear Solid V is great. Everyone’s unconscious and wormholed away, I’ve picked the area clean of items and objects – even stealing a couple of trucks for good measure – and I’m on my way, the helicopter approaching to extract me blaring a-ha’s Take On Me from its built-in speakers.

As I sit in the chopper, flying above the combat zone and away to safety, counting my new troops and planning to sell the items I’ve nabbed, three things dawn on me: one, I wasn’t wrong about how great MGSV’s emergent scenarios can be; two, this game is magnificent; and three, I’ve forgotten to rescue the bloody prisoner.

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