Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Be stealthy. Sneak in, complete your mission and sneak out without anyone realising you were there. Be crazy. Launch some rockets, blow-up stuff and run in guns blazing to get the job done. Be your own “Boss” and do things how you see fit in The Phantom Pain. This feature presentation of Metal Gear Solid V, continues where Ground Zeroes left off and with more of everything.

Pros

The following pro points from Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes also applies to The Phantom Pain: the audio, the AI, the on-rails shooting and the ability to replay completed missions.

The Phantom Pain takes the open world-ness of Ground Zeroes and expands it to gigantic proportions. It might not be Skyrim or Just Cause 2, but there are still very large areas to explore. Main missions have an area that you cannot leave, but outside of missions, can free roam a region and do whatever you want, including completing side-ops.

The introduction is really something. All the cutscenes being skippable can save time if you start again, but you must still play through some very slow moving parts. It is very long, but makes for a very good beginning for the game.

The graphics have improved since Ground Zeroes. Not sure what they did, but everything looks more realistic.

The ultimate in stealth technology returns in Metal Gear Solid V; the cardboard box! I absolutely loved the cardboard box in Metal Gear Solid 2, for the humour and for its effectiveness. The weird thing about The Phantom Pain is, rather than having boxes lying around, you summon them and they drop from the sky, even indoors!

Time flows continually unless you pause the game. Be careful where you check your map or information. A patrolling enemy may bump into you. On the plus side, waiting for nightfall to sneak around in the dark is a workable tactic.

Sneaking around is fun, but stealing a rocket truck to launch rockets at the enemy and rushing in to extract a prisoner makes for more creative fun. Vehicles and fixed weapons provides for more ways to get jobs done.

Learning to play The Phantom Pain is much easier than Ground Zeroes. Everything is explained as you play the game and with greater clarity. For people new to Metal Gear Solid, I recommend learning the ropes with The Phantom Pain before going back to Ground Zeroes.

You get a horse and a dog! What’s not to love. There are also other buddies you can call to your aid and each has different abilities. Animals are cooler though!

There is an interesting online mode of play called FOB missions. You build a FOB (Forward Operating Base) and you can try an infiltrate other players’ FOBs to steal stuff (or people). Other players can do the same with your FOBs. Unlike normal missions, there is a 30-minute time limit and you cannot pause. Plus, aborting the mission before completion means failure and there are penalties that go with it.

Cons

It does not look like anyone plays the Metal Gear Online part of the game anymore. I did not try it out many times, so it could be that I look around at the wrong time.

When I have the joystick plugged in, it stops the mouse from working. There is no option to disable the joystick, so I have to unplug it to make the game playable. Annoying!

Other Points

The following other points from Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes also applies to The Phantom Pain: being a points game, having side missions on the same maps, having checkpoint saves with only one save slot and continuing the interesting but confusing story.

Apart from FOB missions, there are also special online tasks and rewards for the single-player component of the game. Unlike HITMAN, if you play The Phantom Pain offline, you still get access to all the single-player missions and side operations.

There is a lot of base management. Research weapons and upgrades, assigning staff to jobs, managing resources. It felt like X-COM. Everything is explained in-game, but I just cannot remember what is what. The system works well and I am sure some people will welcome the extra variety to the game. Personally, I just wanted to quickly get into the action and found the whole management thing a bit in the way.

The Phantom Pain no longer deducts points for kills like in Ground Zeroes. Instead, you get bonus points for not killing anyone.

You can select other people to play missions. It was a bit weird, because all the dialogue still refer to you as Boss or Snake, even when you are not.

There are no difficulty settings for The Phantom Pain. Because of this, I found it to be more difficult than HITMAN 2.

There is no PDF manual for the game. There is an online web manual located here: http://mgstpp-app.konamionline.com/manual/pc/eu/en/index.html

Biases

According to the game, I have only completed 26% of it.

I only played a little bit of the FOB missions component of the game.

I bought Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience and played Ground Zeroes before starting The Phantom Pain.

HITMAN (2) was the only recent stealth action game I played before MGS V. I did enjoy HITMAN a lot.

A long time ago, I had great fun playing Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a third-person stealth action game where you play as an exceptionally skilled soldier known as “Snake”/”Big Boss.” Your mission is to sneak into a military base to rescue a couple of people. Ground Zeroes is also a prelude to the much larger Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

Pros

Very nice graphics. Everything looks excellent.

The audio is also excellent. It certainly helps since you need to listen in on conversations and figure out enemy movements by ear.

The map is completely open, similar to HITMAN. Where you go and how you go about completing your missions, is up to you. I don’t remember Metal Gear Solid 2 being open like this.

Cutscenes blend seamlessly with the playing sections and really boosts the atmosphere of the game. Some cutscenes are quite lengthy, but they can be paused, or skipped entirely to get straight into the action.

The AI is excellent. It makes for a difficult game, but not to the point that the enemies have super powers.

There is some on-rails shooting. It sure makes for a good break from all the sneaking around. The only bad thing is, you still lose points for kills.

Completed missions can be replayed. So, if you want to try for a higher score or complete other objectives, you can.

Cons

My favourite action in Metal Gear Solid 2, hiding in boxes, is disappointingly missing from Ground Zeroes.

New players to the world of Metal Gear Solid may find it difficult to learn how to play Ground Zeroes. There are hints on how to play, but there are also things that are not explained. The old fashioned learn the keys and experiment procedure is required to figure out everything. Alternatively, play The Phantom Pain first to learn everything, then return to Ground Zeroes.

It only took me 2 hours to finish the one and only story mission. That is very short considering that I was just bumbling around at the start. Not a surprise though, since Ground Zeroes is only a prologue game.

Other Points

The plot is presented with background reading material, cutscenes, general dialogue and cassette tape recordings. There is a lot to digest and can get confusing at times. Confusing, but interesting, just like Metal Gear Solid 2.

There are side missions that take place on the same map, much like how HITMAN works. Not sure if this makes Ground Zeroes worth buying without The Phantom Pain, but it is still good fun.

Also similar to HITMAN, Ground Zeroes is a points game. You will lose points if you alert the enemy or kill non-targets. Of course, if you don’t care for points, the game does allow you to have fun and just go on a rampage.

The game uses automatic checkpoint saves and there is only one save slot. You can only return to the most recent save slot if you die or want to reload. The checkpoints are at set spots and each time you go to those spots, it saves.

Biases

The only other MGS game I have played is Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I liked MGS 2 a lot.

HITMAN(2) was the most recent stealth game that I enjoyed before Ground Zeroes. HITMAN kept popping into my head while I was playing Ground Zeroes.

I got Ground Zeroes as part of Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience. I got through the story mission of Ground Zeroes before starting The Phantom Pain, but then went back and forths for a while, before leaving Ground Zeroes.

Grid

Grid, also known as Race Driver: Grid is a racing game from 2008 that is kind of half simulation and half arcade racer. Start as a race driver for hire and work your way up to have the most successful racing team.

Pros

Everything looks good. Not as good as newer games, but it is good enough for me. The car damage looks particularly good.

The car damage model strikes a great balance between realism and fun. With enough damage, your car’s performance will degrade. It is also possible to render your car undriveable, whether that be by continuous damage or crashing too hard. Lucky for me, repairs are automatic and do not need to be paid for. Here is a replay video showing a Ferrari F430 turning into a semi-open-wheeled racer. Unfortunately, the audio failed to record.

The sound is also good. I don’t know how the real cars sounds, but they sound good in the game and each car has its own sound. The speech from the guy that tells you information while you are driving and your business manager also sound good.

To keep things interesting, there are different event types including drifting, demolition derby and even the 24 hours of Le Mans, which only runs for 12 minutes. There is enough variety of cars and tracks for the different events. Just don’t expect it to be as big as Gran Turismo.

Flashback is a nice helper feature for those that want to use it. It allows you to go back in time about five seconds to alter your driving. Avoid a crash or take a corner quicker. That is what flashback is for. The number of flashbacks available are limited by the difficulty setting and there is a cash bonus for not using them, so choose wisely.

Cons

Grid is the most keyboard unfriendly racing game I have encountered so far. I don’t think the driving assists does enough to help digital controls. The steering is also way too sensitive compared to other driving games. I could still win most races on the easiest difficulty of basic, but it still made me feel like playing other racers instead.

The music is downright annoying. Thankfully, there is a separate volume control for music. I turned it down to 0%.

There are some replay camera angles that shakes so much, you cannot see anything. Codemasters are probably trying to give a realistic live TV view of the race, but I think it is just pointless in a game when you can show off the good graphics with pristine clarity.

I have won all events except for the very last head-to-head race. Playing with a keyboard, the only way I could win races was by setting the difficulty to basic. The last race’s difficulty is fixed to the hardest. It does not look like it is possible to win with the keyboard. Some people might say, “go get an analog controller.”  I prefer to say “go get another game.”

Other Points

Outside of career mode, there is the standard pick your track and car and simply race. There is multiplayer capability as well, but I think the online servers are dead and I did not have an opportunity to try out LAN play.

No pit stops, not even in the 24 hours of Le Mans race. Of course 12 minutes is short enough to finish in one play session. As this game is not aiming to be a ultra-realistic racing simulator, I do not hold this as a con point.

You buy cars with race earnings, but there is no buying parts and tuning cars.

Although keyboard driving is terrible, navigating the menus in the game is very well done. There is no mouse control at all.

For some strange unknown reason, the manual is not available from Steam any more. For those that are interested, you can get the English manual from here.

To get the game to display in 1920×1080, I had to manually edit the file hardware_settings_restrictions.xml and remove the lines:

<data>
<res mem=”270″ maxWidth=”1280″ />
</data>

After that I could set the resolution to 1920×1080. The file hardware_settings_restrictions.xml is located in the <Grid install folder>\system\. For more information see this discussion.

I highly recommend playing with the 8 Ball & Prestige Packs DLC mod and the GRID World DLC car mod. The first mod adds extra cars plus the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst, Australia. The second mod makes the extra cars available in career mode.

If you are really game, you can try my Mt Panorama in Career mod. It is a simple mod that adds the Mt Panorama track to the demolition derby event and all the Global Racing League events except for the Drift GP event. The tracks listings do not display properly, but the races seem to work fine.

Biases

I got Grid for free.

Test Drive Unlimited and Screamer are the only racings games I have played recently.

As stated above, I have completed all events except for the last head-to-head race.

Titan Quest Anniversary Edition

Be like Perseus and fight a Titan. But you are not a demigod so you have to work your way to be powerful enough. Welcome to Titan Quest. Having just got off the boat, you find the local town under attack. Save the town and start your quest to discover the origins of the monster attacks. Fight your way through myriads of monsters and level up with better abilities and equipment.

Pros

Being the good action RPG that it is, there are plenty of fights, loot and customisations.

A tutorial help box appears on the right side when you encounter a new feature in the game. The help box does not take up much space so you can try things out while the box is opened. These tutorial boxes can be turned off for experienced players and can also be opened on demand to get help at a later time.

Overall, the audio including the music, sounds good. The ambient sounds are particularly good in my opinion.

There is an automatic pick up items action similar to Sacred. Unfortunately, it only picks up gold, potions and relics. There is no option to pick up everything.

Even with the large play areas, there is plenty of fighting to be had. Each time you load a game, monsters are respawned. This means you can always get into the thick of the action quite quickly.

Once you have finished the game on normal, the next difficulty level is unlocked and you can take your character through the campaign again, but with higher level of monsters and equipment. There are three difficulty levels to get through.

There is a shared stash mechanism between all your created characters, much like Torchlight.

Upon reaching level 2, you get to pick a mastery which determines what skills you get. Each time you level up, points are given for you to spend on acquiring and improving skills. You are also given points to level up your general attributes like health and dexterity. What makes Titan Quest even more interesting is being able to pick a second mastery at level 8, effectively dual classing your character. There are 9 masteries to choose from (10 with the Ragnarok DLC) which gives a great variety to play with.

This is one game where I definitely cannot say “It’s all Greek to me!”. With a name like Titan Quest, I thought the entire game revolved around Greek mythology. That is what I get for buying a game without reading the description. Colour me surprised when I discovered that the game spans four acts with Act I being in Greece, Act II being in Egypt, Act III starting in Babylon and ending up in China, and finally Act IV in the… I won’t spoil it. There are also more acts in the form of DLCs that take you to more locations.

Each act is wonderfully fleshed out with their own environments, monsters and quests relating to their respective localities. I am not familiar with all the stories, but the game feels like it digs deep into each area’s mythologies.

Everything in the game looks good. Not as good as Marvel Heroes, but that maybe just my Marvel bias.

With the very brief time in multiplayer games, I can see that Titan Quest would be great fun with a dedicated group of friends. There are no separate multiplayer campaigns or areas, but the difficulty level adjusts to the number of players in the game, which is good. Loot is shared, so some sort of organisation of who gets what would be good for the party.

Cons

I have no con points for Titan Quest.

Other Points

The story is not spectacular, but it is better than Torchlight. Having an interest in Greek mythology probably made it more interesting for me too.

There is a day/night cycle, but like Sacred, I am not sure if it does anything except being a cosmetic feature.

Titan Quest automatically saves your game when you exit. There is also a manual save feature for just in case the game crashes… I think. You cannot create save game slots to reload later like Sacred, so it is just one save per character. Everything about your character gets saved, except for your current location. Locations are saved at checkpoints called rebirth fountains. Loading a game always spawns your character at the last activated rebirth fountain.

If you die, you leave a tombstone at the location of your death and respawn at the last activated rebirth fountain. As a consequence, you also lose some experience. You can reclaim some lost experience by going back and touching your tombstone.

Titan Quest is not an open world game like Sacred, but it has so many side quests and large play areas that it does not feel so linear like Torchlight.

Biases

I have always liked Greek Mythology. Never studied it in detail, but the stories were fascinating, both the historical ones and the completely new made up ones. No surprise that Clash/Wrath of the Titans movies are on my favourites list, along with The Odyssey (1997 miniseries)

I enjoyed playing Torchlight, Sacred and Marvel Heroes before Titan Quest.

I have completed Titan Quest with a defense/nature character on normal difficulty. For this review I have been mainly playing with a new hunter starting from scratch on normal difficulty.