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20 essential tips for Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain
(Image credit: Konami)

Keep these Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain tips in your mind in the same way Venom Snake keeps that shrapnel inches from his brain. MGSV is unlike any Metal Gear you've ever played before - there are massive open environments to explore and a whole mercenary operation to build up and manage alongside the main story, so it can get quite complicated. Don't worry though, as The Phantom Pain is well-paced, unravelling its various systems slowly over time and gradually acclimating you to this beast of a game. But if you find yourself completely lost and you're looking for a little guidance, here are some handy Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain tips that should help you get your bearings relatively painlessly.

1. Your Int-Scope is your most important piece of kit; use it constantly

Right after the bizarre, mind-melting prologue mission, you're dropped into Afghanistan to seek out your old partner, Kazuhira Miller. Revolver Ocelot goes over a few basics with you before setting you off into the open world, including how to use your Int-Scope - which is just a fancy word for binoculars. Your Int-Scope isn't just a good way to look at distant places; by scouting out enemy and weapon emplacements, you'll tag them, marking them on your heads-up display for the duration of the mission. Tagging is a godlike boon, allowing you to keep track of troop movements even after you die or restart from the latest checkpoint. Use your Int-Scope constantly.

2. Don't worry about exploring until you get the Fulton

During your first mission, you'll probably get a twinge of wanderlust, as the wide-open deserts of Afghanistan beckon you to explore. But don't worry about that too much at first, because you're missing several vital skills and pieces of equipment to make the most of your excursions into the field. Just focus on your initial mission: find Kaz, and extract him via chopper. Once the mission is over, you'll be introduced to Mother Base, a massive, off-shore military facility, granting you the ability to research new gear and use Fulton balloons to conscript soldiers. That's when The Phantom Pain finally begins to open up, and exploration becomes a little easier.

3. Kills don't detract from your score as harshly here

In previous Metal Gear games, kills were greatly frowned upon, as even a single execution could completely ruin your mission ranking. The Phantom Pain bucks that trend: kills don't affect your final score nearly as much, giving you a bit more freedom in how you approach the game's myriad missions. Speed and stealth are the two things that matter most to attaining the elusive S-rank, so as long as you're quick and don't get spotted, you can usually leave a pile of bodies in your wake and still get a great mission score.

4. Find the interpreter as soon as you're able

So here's the thing: Big Boss kind of forgot how to speak Russian, thanks to the shrapnel embedded in his skull, and Revolver Ocelot isn't a great interpreter. This is a problem if you want to interrogate any of the soldiers you find milling around Afghanistan, as you won't be able to understand a lick of what they're saying. When you finish your first Main Op (after completing the Mother Base tutorial), you'll unlock the Side Op list which includes a crucial (yet optional) mission: find and Fulton (aka attach a balloon to their torso) a Russian interpreter. Do this immediately; this not only lets you comprehend what they're saying over the radio, but it also allows you to gather intel on hidden items and highly skilled soldiers when you hold them up.

5. Fulton EVERYONE when you first start out

Thanks to the events of Ground Zeroes, Big Boss' military empire has fallen apart, meaning you'll need to help him rebuild his army one person at a time. Now's not the time to be picky; knock out any soldier you can find with a tranquilizer dart or CQC, attach a balloon to their belt with the Fulton, and send 'em back home. Eventually you can upgrade your Int-Scope to analyze soldiers and see their rankings, allowing you to be a bit more choosy with who you Fulton, but don't worry too much about that until Mother Base nears capacity. Oh, and be careful not to Fulton anyone when a patrol's nearby, as enemy soldiers can and will investigate why their friends are being hoisted into the air by a giant balloon.

6. ...but don't bother trying to Fulton artillery or vehicles yet

While you can Fulton smaller animals and people without much issue, you won't be able to snag the many artillery cannons and vehicles you find until you upgrade your balloon a few times. Don't worry about this too much at the start, because it'll take you a several hours before you get to that point. Just keep a mental note of where you find them for later.

7. Keep an eye out for a tiny puppy

There's a cute wittle puppy running around Afghanistan, and once you find him, you can strap a Fulton balloon on him and send him back to base. This pup is DD, and once he grows up, he'll become one of your buddies on the field, helpfully marking enemy locations on your HUD. But he's not always in the same spot for everyone; I found him on a hill as I headed toward base #24 on the map, while someone else I talked to said they found him in a completely different spot. Just keep your ears perked up for high-pitched barks while you explore, and you'll find this friendly canine eventually.

8. Tell people to lie down and they'll stay down practically forever

There are a couple ways to incapacitate enemies. You can shoot them in the head (either with a tranquilizer dart or a bullet if you're looking for a more, ahem, permanent solution), you can get up close and CQC them into submission, or you can sneak behind them and hold them up by aiming at them with your weapon of choice. By holding down L1/left bumper, you can extract info from your hostage, make him call his friends over, or force him to lie down on the ground. That last option is a doozy: once they're down on the ground, they won't get up at all unless they're spotted by another soldier or you raise the alert status by getting caught. It's a really good way to keep soldiers out of your hair without wasting any ammo.

9. Ditch your horse about 150m away from your objective

Ocelot tells you to use your horse constantly during your time in Afghanistan, but your stallion is loud as hell and can be a bit unwieldy on uneven terrain. Make sure you dismount and leave your horse behind around 150m or so away from your objective, so you can make the rest of the trek on foot. It's slower, but you'll be much more quiet and more maneuverable without him.

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10. Don't try to tranq a bear with your starter pistol while on foot

Yes, you can tranq and Fulton the animals you see, building up your own personal zoo back at Mother Base. And yes, that even includes bears. No, your starter tranquilizer is probably not strong enough to take one down without a few upgrades behind it. Besides, you can't Fulton it without a more powerful balloon anyway, so it's best to just run if you see a massive grizzly barrelling toward you.

11. Keep an eye on your available upgrades, and start building stuff right away

As you acquire soldiers, complete missions, and gather resources and GMP (the game's currency), you'll continue to unlock additional gear and equipment upgrades. If you bring up your iDroid, you can pick and choose what you want to research no matter where you are. At the start, if you see it, and you have the funds to build it, go ahead and build it. Things like smoke grenades, horse armor, and Int-Scope upgrades are vital as you build the foundations for your stealth-based empire.

12. ...but don't spend too much at once, or you won't have any GMP when you need it

Everything costs resources, from bringing gear into the field with you and abducting soldiers with your Fulton balloon, to requesting supply drops or even summoning your chopper to exfiltrate you from the field. If you don't have the resources, you can't do any of these very important things, so don't go overboard researching stuff you don't exactly need at the moment. Otherwise, you'll find yourself out of ammo and without the GMP to safely get yourself resupplied.

13. Call for supplies if you need 'em

When you start The Phantom Pain, you can't carry a whole lot of ammo, and your suppressors are incredibly weak, breaking after just a few shots. If you're not too great at aiming and shooting yet, this becomes a problem - especially since the tranquilizer doesn't come with a ton of darts. Luckily, you can hop into your iDroid anywhere on the field and summon a supply drop wherever you are. It costs a little GMP, but it's a great way to top off your supplies without putting yourself in danger. Make sure you get to the box before the enemy does, though, or your drop will be wasted.

14. The cassette tapes are where much of the backstory is located

You'll likely notice that The Phantom Pain's story feels somewhat sparse in comparison to other Metal Gear games. Sure, the intro's exciting, but once you get through a couple missions, you'll find the focus swings heavily onto its gameplay. If you're finding yourself missing out on all those codec conversations and long-winded monologues, don't worry: just listen to your cassettes. After completing each Main Op, you'll be rewarded with a ton of these recordings, which do everything from fleshing out the political backdrop, to revealing new details about old comrades. You can listen to them while hanging out in your chopper or taking on missions, so be sure to find some time to listen to them all.

15. Explore bases thoroughly and steal everything that isn't nailed down

You may be laser-focused on completing mission objectives, but don't forget that the various outposts and bases you explore are filled with tons of stuff to grab. Radios play 1980s hits that you can steal and listen to on your Walkman, posters adorn the walls of many buildings around Afghanistan, and rooms are filled with materials you can use to build additional gear and even new platforms for your Mother Base. If you're lucky, you'll stumble across POWs to rescue, or even weapon blueprints to give you an edge in battle. Don't just gun it straight to your objective and bail; take some time to look around a bit, and you'll find a ton of goodies, ripe for the taking.

16. The R&D platform should be your first priority when expanding Mother Base

After you've got a few missions under your belt, and a few upgrades completed, you'll unlock the ability to build new development platforms. These will grant you access to tons of additional features, and upgrading the ones you've already built allows you to assign more soldiers to each station. The first one you'll want is R&D, so you can start building bigger and better weapons and items, though you'll also want to build a Base Development platform so your crew can find and process materials while you play. You likely won't have enough materials for any of these when you first unlock the ability to construct them, so keep an eye out while you're sneaking around Afghanistan for additional supplies to bolster your Mother Base ASAP.

17. Know how to use your Phantom Cigar

Unlike other Metal Gear games, time progresses in a realistic fashion in The Phantom Pain, and guard placement will change as day shifts to night (and vice versa). There are benefits to both - it's easier to see during the day, but you might have an easier time sneaking around at night. You can choose what time you'd like to drop into the field from your helicopter, but if you're already mucking about, there's an easy way to change the time of day: simply puff on your Phantom Cigar. It uses the wormwood plants you'll pick up in the field, and by taking a drag on your e-cigar, you'll cause time to move forward quite rapidly. When you're done, simply unequip it by tapping left on the D-pad. Voila, time travel.

18. Blow up the anti-air radar (and anything with glowing lights) for an edge

As you infiltrate the encampments strewn about Afghanistan, you'll likely notice some larger pieces of equipment with blinking lights on them. The enemy uses radios to report in with one another, communication satellites to send messages to nearby bases, and power generators to run the lights. These can either be turned off or blown up, and will disrupt the enemy temporarily. Sometimes, you'll also find a giant anti-air radar just hanging out. Destroying it will permanently take it out of commission, and give your helicopter a new landing space nearby. Be mindful of your surroundings, and take advantage of whatever opportunity you get to cripple your foes.

19. Find delivery manifests to open up fast travel

The Phantom Pain doesn't tell you this until you've found your first leaflet, but some of the outposts you come across will have a yellow, triangle-shaped sign with a delivery manifest attached to it. Grab that, and you'll be able to use it as a fast travel point. Simply hop in a box, wait in the designated area, and you'll be whisked away to any other spot on the map you've unlocked. That way, you won't have to hoof it across the hot desert for miles, or summon your chopper if you want a faster way to get around.

20. Don't be afraid to run away

Metal Gear Solid 5 is hard. The enemy AI is brutal, and enemies will work together to counter your strategies at every turn. If you get spotted, you can only take a few hits before you're down for the count. So don't be afraid to run away, wait for the enemy's alert status to drop, send for some more supplies, and get your head back in the game before you make another attempt. Or, if you'd simply like a do-over, hit "Restore Previous Checkpoint" in your Options menu.

David Roberts lives in Everett, WA with his wife and two kids. He once had to sell his full copy of EarthBound (complete with box and guide) to some dude in Austria for rent money. And no, he doesn't have an amiibo 'problem', thank you very much.