Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – PC Version Impressions


Peter [Parrish]: Hello there, I’m … well, you just read my name. Myself and m’learned PC Invasion colleague Tim McDonald would like to talk to you today about Jesu … sorry, about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Specifically, the PC variety. The graphics options-ness, the FPesses, and definitely NO SPOILERS beyond the first hour or two of the game.

I’ll be representing the “I have an older PC, is Metal Gear Solid V going to make it explode?” and “help, I have an AMD card, is this one of those cursed games?” crowds, with my current i3-2100 / 8GB / 2GB 7870 set-up. I know, I need an upgrade. Maybe this Christmas, eh?

I’m also still using the 15.7 drivers because I haven’t bothered to upgrade to the new 15.8 betas.

Tim will be along in a second with his own Nvidia-centric specs, and then we’ll be getting deeper in to things. But here’s my brief capsule review of how Metal Gear Solid V runs on the PC: really fucking well.

mgs5 - ocelot

We will, Ocelot. We will.

Tim [McDonald]:

Kept you waiting, huh? Hello there, I’m the other one; the one who’s played this series before. I’m running with the “I have a PC that can still run some games on maximum settings, but the ones making a big deal about their graphics are problematic” crew, along with the “my computer mysteriously runs this game fine and I sort of feel like it shouldn’t” gang. And I have an Nvidia card, because I like most of my games to work without extra problems.

Peter: AMD CARDS ARE GREAT, SHUT UP. They’re just … temperamental. Like great artists.

Tim: I’m sure there’s a joke there about “dying before their time”, too, but I’ll leave it alone. Anyway: I’ve got an i7-3820 / 16GB / 2GB GTX 670. At least, I think it’s 2GB. I get very confused about that. And, yes, I am running the newest, shiniest Nvidia drivers, courtesy of an update last night.

My brief capsule review of Metal Gear Solid V‘s PC version is basically the same as Peter’s: it’s bloomin’ astonishing. There are a couple of issues with it (somewhat inevitably), but for the most part, I am thoroughly impressed with the PC version Konami have managed to push out.

Peter, shall we discuss the tweakables? That always seems like a good place to start.

Peter: Let’s do just that! Here are the main graphics options, also showing the settings I was using. You can click to make it larger if you fancy.

metal gear solid V graphics menu

Peter: As with Ground Zeroes’ PC port, there are quite a few things to mess about with. Plus some new ones like Depth of Field (which couldn’t be removed in Ground Zeroes). Motion Blur can be switched off too – something I always appreciate.

The majority of settings here (Textures, Shadows and the like) have Low, Medium, High and Extra High as their options. Others, like Effects and Post-Processing have Low, High and Extra High. ‘Effects’ is also frustratingly vague as a description. I believe it’s referring to events like fog, dust storm effects, explosions. Things with particles, basically.

The Frame Rate option allows you to lock to 30fps if you really want (or need) to, whereas Auto keeps it aiming for 60. Metal Gear Solid V is capped at 60fps, possibly for physics-related reasons.

I’ve not tested the 4K resolution support myself, but reading around suggests that it is indeed present.

Anyway, yes, lots of things to change, lots of potential scaling. From what I understand, and from what Nvidia have found in their own performance piece, the Effects and Post-Processing settings are the most demanding, with Shadows being the third candidate for turning down if you need to squeeze out a few more FPS.

So those are your lovely and capable graphics options. Tim, would you like to talk about control options, or is it time to mention chicken hats? Oh, and maybe show what graphics settings you were using too.

Tim: Er, all of the above. We’ll start with my graphics settings first, but with a disclaimer that I might’ve fiddled with a few minor things (Motion Blur, Depth of Field, and other “quality of life” stuff that some people like and some don’t) since taking this screenshot.

MGS5 Tim graphics 2

Tim: I probably could’ve just said “I put pretty much everything up as high as I could”, but I wanted to show some proof. And with those settings the menu looks all neat, and parallel, and stuff!

We probably should discuss the controls, though. This is a place where Metal Gear Solid V has pretty much copied Ground Zeroes, both in the controls themselves, and because the subset of menus is a little confusing. “Set Control Type” lets you choose whether your gamepad is using FPS-style or old MGS-style controls, or whatever. “Control Settings” has a bunch of little specific toggles and options, like whether you want the game to remember your aiming viewpoint when you switch between moving and aiming, or if it should always reset to the default. It also lets you choose if you want your horse to be radio-controlled, and no, I’m not making that up. Although I’m possibly being misleading.

Finally, tucked away at the very bottom of the Options menu, is Key Assignments. This is where you can actually redefine your keys… or, well, most of them. Some actions remain bound to other actions; as an example, C is crouch, while holding down C makes you go prone. You can change the crouch key to Z, if you want to, but that also means you’ll have to hold down Z to go prone. You can’t separate the two.

mgs5 controls

Tim: But, as with Ground Zeroes, it honestly controls just fine on mouse and keyboard. Yes, okay, it’s a bit fiddly moving Snake at times, but this is hardly a game for which you require a gamepad.

My only real complaint is that, while it does a good job of replacing the console buttons with the corresponding keypress for on-screen pop-ups (it will actually tell you to hold C to go prone, for instance), it doesn’t actually do this for anything involving movement. The mouse is referred to as the right analogue stick, and the WASD keys are referred to as the left analogue stick. Equally, any part of a cutscene that informs you that you can look around does so by showing a little image of a gamepad in the upper-right. It’s hardly a major problem, but for some reason it keeps breaking my brain. The game tells me to use the left analogue stick and press E to jump off a ledge, and my brain just implodes. That’s probably just me, though.

Peter, when we were idly chatting about this, you mentioned that there were a few control options you were pining for. Would you care to elaborate? And – as we’ve teased it, but not mentioned it – could you explain the importance of the chicken hat before we move on from the options?

mgs5 - glasses

No photos of chicken hats, but there’s this nice shot of product placement. Or… wait, is it product placement if the product wouldn’t even exist without the game?

Peter: Always happy to talk about chicken hats. But first … yes, there are a couple of control options I’d really like to have.

First, the ability to toggle whether the binoculars (and scopes) are brought up by just pressing a key once, versus holding it down. Having to hold down F for the binoculars all the time is a bit annoying, especially if you want to do quick-zooms with V as well.

I also wish the mouse did more things, like being able to cycle through menus or … well, working on menus at all, really. The mouse and keyboard otherwise seem pretty reasonable, those blind spots (and your mentioned controller prompts) aside. I’ve been using mouse and keys rather than a gamepad for now, partly in order to report on it here, and partly because I like having much greater control over aiming.

The audio menu is too sparse for my liking though. There should be separate sliders for voice, music and so on. Subtitles mitigate that to an extent, but bundling all the audio into one volume button seems like a slight oversight.

Nothing huge on that list, but a few quirks and things that can perhaps be altered with a patch.

Tim: Personally, I always put subtitles on. Even when watching movies, these days! Missing (or mis-hearing) an errant word really annoys me, so I guess I maybe don’t have the same problem you had. I agree that it’d be nice to have those options, though.

mgs5 chicken hat

Sorry for not having an actual image of the chicken hat. It’ll be a nice surprise for you.

Peter: Speaking of quirks; that chicken hat option. Metal Gear Solid V apparently has a sort of in-built easy (well, easier) mode. If you opt-in on the fowl headgear, restarting from a checkpoint on a Game Over will allow you to wander into guards’ field of vision up to three times without them actually seeing you. Also, you’ll be wearing a hat that looks like a sleepy cartoon chicken. Also also, you won’t be allowed to S Rank the level.

I love it. I don’t think I’m going to use it, but I love it. Reflex Mode is back from Ground Zeroes too (and also optional), but is far less entertaining than Big Boss in a dopey chicken hood.

Tim: I like to think that this is a reaction to our Ground Zeroes piece, where I specifically pointed out that one menu has literally no options aside from Reflex Mode. It’s like this is a great big “Oh yeah? Well have a chicken hat, then!” aimed at us.

I mean, it clearly isn’t, but… don’t ruin my dreams.

Peter: Yes, Konami are big fans of reading PC Invasion. When they’re not spying on or humiliating their employees of course! Ho ho … urgh.

Tim: I do want to quickly point one thing out that doesn’t work, although it’s not so much of a quirk, and that’s the internet stuff. Right now, Metal Gear Solid V‘s online… uh, isn’t online. Since installing it, I haven’t managed to connect to its online services once. The multiplayer isn’t available at launch anyway, but this does mean you can’t sync your Ground Zeroes save data to the game, and… I don’t know, there’s probably other stuff? It’s a minor thing, anyway, but worth noting.

MGS5 - Afghanistan

About seventeen hills and mountains, yes.

Peter: Tim, how did the game run for you in ultra-super-max-o-vision? Specifically beyond the Prologue bit, which I’m fairly sure is less demanding than when you get to glorious 1980s Afghanistan in Chapter One.

Tim: If you’d asked me this five hours ago, when I’d barely started in Afghanistan, I’d have said “absolutely perfectly.” It generally looks great – there are a few foibles, with the grass and vegetation unlikely to be competing with the verdant foliage of The Witcher 3 – but the general effect is really rather picturesque. At no point (so far) have I looked at a wall and gone “Holy shit, that texture looks like it was pulled straight out of Metal Gear Solid 1“, which hasn’t been the case with a few other games of late. Not only that, but it flew along at 60fps, with no frame drops even when gazing wistfully/manfully/Snakefully towards the distant Afghan mountains.

Then night fell, and with it, the frame rate.

MGS5 - Night 2

Alas, poor frame rate. I knew him well, Peter; a fellow of infinite smoothness, of most excellent speed…

Tim: It’s not the worst frame rate drop I’ve ever seen, and it’s still perfectly playable, but it’s definitely noticeable. At times, night makes that 60fps drop to 55 or so, which is… well, it’s fine, although it’s bizarrely noticeable. The lowest it hit was about 40. That’s still well within playable range, but I do find it a little odd.

At a guess, it’s probably down to the lighting effects, but I’m honestly not sure. I’d have to do a bit more testing to check specifics. Maybe things like barrel fires don’t actually project any light during the day, but when night falls, they do? Maybe it’s the calculations of extra shadows from all the spotlights and flashlights? No idea!

On the other hand, occasionally dropping to 40fps when I have the game ramped up to its absolute limits is hardly a big problem. I can totally live with playing it like this, but I’ll probably just lower a few graphical options to eke out a few more frames.

That said, I do wonder if it’s doing something a little weird with frame delivery. There are a few occasions when that seems slightly off, or it’s dropping a frame that it shouldn’t be. It’s really hard to explain in text, and I don’t remember this from Ground Zeroes, but even when FRAPS tells me everything’s haring along at a consistent 60fps, it occasionally feels like it’s going a little bit lower than that for just a split second. Not quite micro-stutter, but…

metal gear solid v (7)

This is a shot from my (Peter’s) rig. You can tell because it looks slightly worse.

Peter: I had a similar experience. Splendid-o-vision 60fps (which, even given I’d turned some things down to Low/Medium, is extremely impressive for an open world on my older box), until I started poking around the first village at night time. There were a couple of spots, and I think when we discussed this they sounded like the same spots, where it would dip down to the 40s for a bit.

Tim: It’s interesting that we had the exact same issue, actually. I wonder if it’s an engine thing? It just seems odd that both of us, with different specs and different settings, drop from 60 to 40 at the same place.

Peter: Like you, I don’t really know why. This happened to me with Ground Zeroes a bit too, but it tended to be during obvious hectic moments. Here, yes, it’s either a specific lighting effect or weirdly demanding flames on barrels (I remember the bonfires in Dark Souls being oddly taxing on performance, so you never know) … not sure.

Tim: Ah. Yeah, I don’t remember this with Ground Zeroes. Okay, maybe it really is just a coincidence that we’re wearing matching frame rates, then. How embarrassing.

Peter: Again though, not a massive problem when Metal Gear Solid V looks rather magnificent and is basically saying to my five or six year old PC “Oh, you want an open Afghanistan at 60fps most of the time? Sure, why not!” I’m sure I’ll run into frame rate problems in more densely populated areas, or during sand storms, or whatever, but that’s to be quite expected in light of what my PC can cope with. Overall though, I’m thoroughly impressed.

The FOX Engine really is quite something, and it’ll be an absolute disaster if Konami end up just shelving it when they get bored with making videogames (which, honestly, looks like something that could be in danger of happening). That 15.8 beta driver might help me eke out another frame or two here and there as well, I just haven’t got around to trying it yet.

So, uh, before we conclude with another round of (mostly) praise for this PC version, do you want to approach any of the madness that occurs in the Prologue to this game? It’s going to get slightly spoilery for those who haven’t played that first hour. But … wow, that’s a bizarre opening. Or maybe it isn’t. I’ve only really played Ground Zeroes.

metal gear solid v (6)

No, this isn’t from The Evil Within.

Tim: I really, really love the Prologue, for so many reasons. It manages to do the tutorial stuff of “by the way, here’s how you go prone or go into cover” quite sensibly, because Snake/Big Boss’ body isn’t quite working correctly thanks to the coma. He hasn’t moved in nine years. He’s got shrapnel embedded in him. It takes time (and drugs) before he can even walk; the very first thing you can do, once things get more playable than “you can look around a bit”, is to crawl forward and repeatedly knock over stools and tables in your lengthy quest to stand up.

It’s basically an hour-long interactive cutscene that gradually introduces you to movement, cover, and shooting, but holy shit, what a cutscene.

I’m going to be brutally honest: I felt Metal Gear Solid 4‘s cutscenes were massively bloated and in desperate need of a decent editor. Ground Zeroes‘ stuff was stylish and well-directed, but a little bland. But this? This was awesome – and I mean that literally. I was in awe. It goes on a little bit too long and the “what the holy shit is happening” wears off, but still, it’s quite something. Harrowing and bizarre in equal measure.

mgs5 - oh dear

Unfortunately, you’re an unnamed extra in a hospital massacre. Your odds aren’t great, mate.

Tim: The less I say about it, the better, because there are honestly a number of surprises in there. Yes, even if you remember the reveal trailer for the game when Kojima was trying to convince everyone it wasn’t Metal Gear Solid. It quite artfully played with my expectations on a couple of occasions.

Also, it established a few mysteries which will doubtless be answered by the end of the game, which already has my brain whirring away to connect the dots, but any theories I put here would constitute spoilers. Also also, it quite neatly establishes the game’s darker tone by kicking off with an awful lot of (actually quite brutal) cold-blooded murder. And then a fiery demon man turns up and starts hurling fireballs, and there’s a giant doom whale, and a unicorn, and I swear to Christ I’m not making any of that up.

But in true Kojima form, it’s not without little environmental moments of amusing silliness, like when I realised that the bandaged guy I was following is wearing a hospital gown, and thus you can see his bottom and his bumcrack from the right angle. I giggled.

mgs5 - bum

Yes, this is the same section of the game as when the chap in the screenshot above is brutally executed in front of you while begging for his life.

Peter: I’m pretty sure it does a zoom-in on his bumcrack flap at one point, as if the game is telling you “yep, that’s the guy I’m looking for – I’d know that small portion of arse anywhere!” Also he’s a total prick for suggesting we run for the stairs while Big Boss is still unable to reach a kneeling position.

Tim: Please don’t ever use the phrase “bumcrack flap” again.

Peter: For a while during the prologue I thought maybe Metal Gear Solid V was all a trick and Kojima was actually releasing a mash-up of PT and Resident Evil or something. Demon men? Floaty children in gas masks? Mass murder? Alright then.

Tim: On the plus side, if fiery demon guy and gas mask child (who may or may not have appeared in a previous title in the series) are anything to go by, the weird boss squad of this game will be a lot better than the rubbish ones from MGS4.

Peter: Yes, it’s very “have a tutorial” and no, you don’t actually do much during it (at the end you get to shoot some people, but it’s mostly just pressing forwards), but it’s such an amazing collection of horror and strangeness that I kind of love it too. And then a bit later on you’re gallivanting about in Afghanistan on a horse with all the freedom in the world.

Tim: Seriously. If I was told it was a horror game, I could believe it. There are some serious The Evil Within and FEAR vibes going on in parts of that prologue.

I want to quickly mention the pre-prologue bit, too; there’s a pair of little cutscenes before you even reach the main menu, and they’re also really well done. They establish the mood and themes, remind you of what happened without being patronising, and hint at future events. I like.

Peter: After Ground Zeroes turned out so well, I always had confidence in Metal Gear Solid V being a bang-up job too. That’s proved to be the case. A few control option oddities aside, this is another fine PC effort. Maybe not quite an S Rank, but well on the way there.

metal gear solid v (3)

Two thumbs up! Or .. err .. well … gosh, this is inappropriate.

Tim: That’s pretty much where I’m at. On the one hand, I’m hard-pressed to call it “outstanding”, because it does have a couple of little irritating (and somewhat obvious) flaws and foibles. On the other hand, it’s a really bloody good PC version, and it requires absolutely no faffing about to get it to run nicely. No controller needed. No external programs needed. No horrible optimisation. No 30fps lock. Just install it, click Play, put your hands on your mouse and keyboard, and enjoy a game that you can almost – almost! – believe was designed specifically for the PC, instead of just being an extraordinarily good version for the PC.

Obviously, this is based off of just a couple of hours of play, and I’ve probably got at least a dozen more hours of cutscenes ahead of me, let alone the actual game. I’m going to devote my time to it, though, and we’ll hopefully have a full review up before too long. I can’t speak to the quality of the game, and my positive early impressions could totally fall apart as things move forward… but right now, we’re looking at the port, and the team who made this have done themselves proud.