Kojima Productions' Metal Gear series has always pushed the boundaries of graphical realism and fidelity, with each entry of the series setting a new bar for attention to detail and for what games can accomplish. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the latest entry to franchise as well as the first to have a completely open world, looks to continue this tradition. Also, you can watch horses poop. That’s amazing!
Of course, that isn’t the only amazing fact about the upcoming entry to the long-running stealth franchise, of which I got to see an extended demo behind closed doors at this year’s E3. When I walked away, I was left convinced that this would be the greatest Metal Gear yet.
The Phantom Pain follows up on the events of this year’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which saw Snake put into a coma, his comrades killed, and Mother Base destroyed. Awoken in 1984, Big Boss is tasked with gaining revenge for his fallen comrades, which must be begun by first rescuing his second-in-command, Kaz Miller.
Our demo began with a better look at what we saw from last year’s E3 trailer, with Big Boss and Revolver Ocelot riding together in the vast Afghanistan desert. I was skeptical when it was first said that Metal Gear Solid V would be a true open-world experience - instead assuming it would be broken up into a series of large areas like past games - but from what I could tell, The Phantom Pain was the real deal, taking place in an open area over 200 times larger than Ground Zeroes.
After trekking across the desert and coming across an enemy compound - itself at least the size of Ground Zeroes' Omega Camp - our demo player began by using binoculars to scope out and mark the location of enemy guards. Doing this revealed that the base was heavily guarded, and approach would be extremely risky. However, as MGSV’s Afghanistan has a real-time day & night cycle, players are simply able to wait until guards change shifts. Really - wait around long enough, and you can watch the guards change shifts, and even take breaks for naps. Players can fast forward time by smoking Big Boss’ e-cigar (complete with holographic smoke, I guess?), which according to Konami, “speeds up Big Boss’ perception of time.” A little contrived for a simple time-skip mechanic, but it definitely looked cool.
With time passed and guard shifts reorganized, it was time to approach the base. From here, gameplay was much more familiar to those who have played Ground Zeroes, as it appears to play virtually identical to the prologue. However, we also got to see a lot of the new additions that will be exclusive to The Phantom Pain. The Fulton Recovery System, which Big Boss can use to transport unconscious soldiers on the battlefield back to Mother Base, returns from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, but with a few changes. The Fulton icon now has a percentage next to it, which dictates the odds that the Fulton will even make it successfully back to base. For example, a sandstorm that dynamically came in to disrupt our play session could lower this percentage considerably, causing us to lose our Fulton extraction unit and its cargo.
Not only that, but the Fulton is now no longer limited to just people. Big Boss can also use the Fulton to procure enemy supplies, vehicles, and even wildlife animals to be transported back to Mother Base. Early on in our demo, Big Boss tranquilized a sheep, and sent it back to Mother Base. Later on in the demo, we went to visit Mother Base (which is fully customizable and explorable), and lo and behold, there was the sheep wandering around.
Back to enemy compound, our stealth intrusion also highlighted the return of Metal Gear’s classic cardboard box, but with some new tricks added. See, as useful as using a cardboard box to hide is, an endless frustration in older Metal Gear titles was being pretty much out of luck whenever an enemy saw it in motion, giving you little contingencies in case of this event. This has changed for The Phantom Pain. Now, if an enemy comes to investigate your clever packaging, you can either go on the offensive and pop out of the top of the box - like a stripper emerging from a giant cake - and take guard out. Or, and this is a favorite of mine, you can dive out the side of the box unseen by the enemy, leaving the confused guard with an empty box and you with another chance to remain undetected.
Big Boss can also call in supply drops from Mother Base, often to hilarious results, such as targeting the supply drop to come in on top of a guard, leading to a box of ammo landing on his head, completely knocking him out. This Metal Gear in particular seems to be making a point of being very dark and serious, so it’s a relief to see that the series’ penchant goofiness has remained intact.
Stealth should always be the main focus of a Metal Gear game, but that doesn’t mean combat is ignored. Expectedly, our demo indeed saw Big Boss’s cover blown and the base alerted. However, instead of devolving into a standard shootout, Big Boss instead called in an artillery strike as well as an extraction helicopter, escaping the base while eliminating his pursuers.
This is where the main section of our demo ended, although afterwards we got to check out Mother Base. According to Konami, Mother Base is completely customizable, and will look completely unique to each player. I’m excited to see how this pans out, though the demo did not give any clear details on how. More excitedly was when Mother Base’s alarm started to ring, signifying it was under attack. Again, not many details. Who was attacking? Why? Was this scripted or dynamic? Could this tie into MGSV’s competitive multiplayer mode, which has yet to be detailed?
I still have many questions about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but based on what I have seen, there is no doubt that this is one of the most ambitious and impressive game at this year’s E3. Of course, this is to be expected, as every entry in the Metal Gear Solid series has been a game changer in some way. Many fans were left disappointed with the relatively sparse Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, which served as a prologue to The Phantom Pain, but if The Phantom Pain is anywhere near as good as this E3 demo made it out to be, then it will all have been completely worth it. Frustratingly, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain still does not have an official release date, but I anxiously count down the days until it releases for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360.