Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain teaches you to stop and smell the soil.
If you want to play Metal Gear Solid V stealthily, you’re going to spend a lot of time in the dirt. Of course, sometimes you’ll mix it up and get up close and personal with mud, grass, or concrete, but the point is that avoiding detection requires you to emulate Snake’s animal namesake. It makes for a slow, methodical experience that forces you to pay attention to the game’s intricate mechanics and the subtleties of its open world.
As Jorge Albor pointed out a few weeks ago, Metal Gear Solid V's introduction isn’t afraid to show you what it means to sneak. A huge portion of Snake’s escape from the hospital happens on the ground. Sometimes you can’t stand up due to Snake’s physical condition, and sometimes you just shouldn’t stand up due to the scary men with guns chasing you. Some call it tedious. Trying to remain unseen means you have to take things slow and low. However, if you pay attention during this forced slowness, you end up with a deep knowledge of how stealth in Metal Gear Solid V works.
The sheer number of ways that there are to hit the deck in the game speak to how important that action is. You can press the crouch button to duck. Hold it, and you go prone. While prone, you can sink even lower to the ground (and impersonate a corpse) by pressing the action button. While moving, you can hit the dive button to instantly go belly first to the ground. While on the ground, you can shimmy forward and shoot with your arms out front. You can back yourself into a sitting position and aim while leaning backwards. Pointing your gun and clicking in on the right stick lets you do your best impersonation of a rolling pin. Even a legendary prankster like Kojima doesn’t include all of this stuff as a joke. All of it is important to understanding the game.
When you’re hugging the ground, you’re learning about the world. Patterns in long enemy patrols slowly become apparent. Guards will nod off or get distracted during conversation. You hear them talk about politics and their own feelings about the nations that send them to war. The sun moves across the sky and sheds different light on your path forward. You notice animals that live in this landscape and plants that you can harvest. You think about yourself and your relationship to the environment. Am I the same color as the dirt? If not, I should fix that. Is my cardboard box the same color as the dirt? I should probably fix that too if I want to stay hidden.
Time continues to move even when you’re glued to the floor. If you find yourself hidden in the shrubs, praying for a sandstorm to obscure your mistake, you can pull up your in-game computer, direct your troops across the world. reassign your workers to research new material, or do some shopping at mother base. It’s as if the designers knew that you’d be spending time quietly hunched in a corner. Even when you’re doing your best impersonation of a rock, you’re making progress and seeing how the larger environment fits together.
When your low profile starts to feel normal, it heightens the feeling of danger that ensues when you’re spotted. As enemies pour in and searchlights put you in the spotlight, the feeling of synergy with the landscape disappears. Bullets fly, mortar shells start to fall, and you do something that feels weird: you stand at your full height. Maybe you even bust out a rocket launcher and add to the chaos.
It gets hard to see everything through the all the dust, blood, and fire, but one thing is clear. You’re in a strange new place, even though you’re just a few feet higher than where you started.