Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is unlike any main instalment in the series before it. Kojima Productions' latest title presents a vast open-world full of possibilities, and if players don't know the basics, straightforward missions will capitulate quickly.
Here, GameSpot presents a handbook offering nine key survival tips for any would-be infiltrator. Take a look at the advice below, and feel free to offer your own strategies in the comments.
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[Though there are some minor details regarding a single side-quest, this MGSV guide is spoiler-free.]
1) Marked Men
Dropped into the enormous open-world of Afghanistan, this time without the comfort of the series' iconic Soliton and Sonar radars, MGS5 leaves players more exposed than ever. No longer can you scout enemies by following dots on a viewfinder; everything now hinges on your own in-game perception skills. Which means that the most important advice for all beginners is to use your binoculars more than any other item.
As soon as you notice even the slightest hint of enemy activity, immediately equip the binoculars by pressing R1, and locate your target through the scope. It takes only a few seconds, and once you spot an enemy, they will be permanently tagged. The benefits are significant; once tagged, enemies will be outlined in red, and even if they walk out of view or stand behind obstructions, a silhouette of their position will still be viewable from any angle. Tagged enemies also appear on your iDroid map, giving you a far better understanding of your surroundings.
2) Eyes Upright
Getting into the habit of equipping binoculars is a crucial step for beginners, but understanding how to make the most of them is equally important. The majority of enemies who blow your cover will be the ones who you didn't tag, so it's crucial to scope out areas from a vantage point where you can see as many people as possible. That means you need some height.
Fortunately, the sands of Afghanistan provide numerous areas of high altitude, be it the crest of a hill, the edge of a cliff overlooking a base, or even atop one of the enemy's own outposts. Never underestimate the difference a few meters can make; even clambering onto the rooftops of an outhouse-sized prison cell could give you just enough of an angle to spot an enemy behind a wall.
3) No Russian, No Intel
Be aware of the Side Ops available in the Missions Tab of your iDroid device. One of the earliest tasks available is to capture and extract a Russian soldier who also speaks English. Though it is technically an optional side-quest, this should be considered a priority-one operation. Capturing this target alive will give Big Boss and his team a Russian interpreter. Without him on your side, you won't be able to interrogate and extract information from any other Russian soldiers.
4) Talking Points
With a Russian interpreter on your team, it's time to re-evaluate the rules of engagement. If you spot a lone soldier, exposed and broken from the pack, tranquilising or assassinating them is still a viable option, but even better is capturing them in a choke hold (sneak up from behind, without being detected, and hold R2 when at close range). Here, you can force your victim to talk by holding a blade to their throat. The intel you extract ranges from useful to invaluable, with intimidated guards pointing out persons of interest, or the location of more exotic weapons. Once you have the info, you can choke enemies out, or if you like to indulge in your sadistic side, quietly stick a blade in their heart.
5) From Dusk Till Dawn
Before each main mission begins, MGS5 takes players to a load-out screen where Big Boss can be equipped with primary weapons and hand pistols, as well as other useful items. But perhaps just as important is the time of arrival option, which lets players fly into the Afghanistan map at either 6AM, 6PM, or as soon as possible.
Without a doubt, entering a mission at dusk is the most useful of these times. Granted, it's not the best way to appreciate the game's striking landscape, but in the shade of night, the chances of being spotted decrease significantly. At night, the Russian guards' line of sight is diminished to the extent that Big Boss can sometimes freely sprint across areas he would usually have had trouble sneaking into.
(As an aside, there's one fascinating enemy flare weapon that fills the night sky with daylight--you need to see it.)
6) Dark Horse
Your trusty Diamond Horse, given to you by Revolver Ocelot at the outset of the Afghanistan missions, is an invaluable companion. Summoned by pressing L1 and selecting the whistle command, D-Horse allows you to traverse the vast plains of Afghanistan at speed.
However, more surprising is how useful your steed can be for stealth. Pressing the X button when on horseback allows Big Boss to hang onto D-Horse from one side, in a way that makes the horse look unmanned if viewed from the opposite side. This can be a particularly easy way to walk straight past guards in plain sight without sending off an alert. It's not completely straightforward--guards will fix their eyes on D-Horse as it trots past--but few infiltration methods are as time-efficient as this.
7) Go Off-Road
In typical Metal Gear style, triggering alerts from guards will rapidly escalate the proceedings into an all-out war. Whilst going '90s-action-hero on enemies does carry a cathartic charm, constantly getting into battles will slow your progress significantly. The safest and easiest way to avoid this is to go off-piste, completely avoiding the main roads on your way to the next objective. It's not the most scintillating option, but certainly useful if you need to rest and decompress.
8) More Useful Alive
There are few things more disgracefully satisfying in Metal Gear Solid 5 than a clean, merciless headshot. However, the non-lethal approach of capturing enemies will be far more helpful in the long-term.
In the opening hours of the game, Big Boss will be given about a dozen Fulton surface-to-air-recovery chutes to use in every mission. These are baffling devices that propel unconscious enemies to the heavens as though they were weightless (even more baffling is that the concept isn't completely fictional.) It's quintessential Kojima-logic, of course, but also a quick and clean way of capturing enemies for your Mother Base.
As you begin to accumulate incarcerated soldiers (all of which, fortunately, appear eager to work on Mother Base), you can start assigning them various duties based on their skills. Open your iDroid, go to the Mother Base tab, and select staff management to do this.
Although you probably didn't sign up to Metal Gear to take part in micro-managing NPCs, it can help field-ops significantly. The more people you have on your R&D team, the more weapons they can research and manufacture for you. Alternatively, more manpower in your intel team will offer deeper information about Afghanistan.
9) One Bullet Method
It is inevitable, in every first run-through of a Metal Gear game, that you will be spotted, alert guards, and trigger a manhunt for you. However, both Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain offer a tiny grace period to dispatch any guards who spot you. This slow-mo reaction time is called Reflex Mode, and lasts about three seconds. While the amateur instinct is to blast away at enemies during Reflex Mode, panicking like this will not end well. Just stay calm, line your crosshair on the enemy's skull, double-check it's in the right position, and fire once.