I've never been crazy about the "Metal Gear Solid" games. It's difficult for me to really get into them as the outside perspective reveals a daunting franchise with a lot of story already in place. This isn't always the case as a number of the games can be played by themselves, and it's not always the plot that keeps you coming back but the gameplay. I say all that so you'll know I'm not slanted when I say that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has an epic scope and is shaping up to be one of my most anticipated titles of the year.
Picking up ten years after the previously-released Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, the game takes place in the Russian occupied territories of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The player assumes the role of Snake (aka Big Boss) who is newly-equipped with a robotic arm and rides the landscape of the Middle East on his horse, who he is capable of riding side-saddle to further hide himself from enemy soldiers.
The demo we witnessed saw Snake tasked with securing information from a heavily-guarded compound about 900 meters away. Yup, the game is big enough that locations can be that far away. In fact, the map for "The Phantom Pain" is roughly 200x the size of the "Ground Zeroes" map. It's a giant open world espionage simulator with a dynamic weather system and defecating horses, which is a good indicator that creator Hideo Kojima knows exactly what players want to see in his games: serious simulators with detailed plots, as well as poop.
One of the key gameplay components is the Fulton Recovery System, which players will recognize from some previous "Metal Gear Solid" games. Using a series of balloons, Snake is capable of transporting enemy soldiers, vehicles, and equipment back to the Mother Base. This works to the player’s advantage as it allows them to gain more soldiers for the "Diamond Dogs," who they can then turn around and use to aid them with the likes of airstrikes, utility drops, and helicopter extractions.
Fancy gadgets yielding funny moments aside, the stealth gameplay of "The Phantom Pain" is the primary selling point. Fans will be pleased to know that the trademark cardboard box is back in "The Phantom Pain," but the developers have added some new functions to it. The first we were shown was Snake sneaking up on a nearby guard and popping out of the top of the box and getting a clean shot off. Another feature, that was even more impressive, was when Snake's cardboard box was spotted by a nearby guard (indicated by a light reflection in the direction of the soldier) and in a new found way to escape, Snake simply leaped out of the side in one quick move, leaving just an empty box for the guard to find.
As the demo reached its climax, Snake had found what he was looking for, but it was too late as the soldiers in the compound had already discovered his intrusion. With stealth being completely out of the equation, Snake set for an airstrike to come into the village and darted out a window, securing a nearby jeep, and driving to the safer area where he had previously set for his helicopter extraction. To further expand on the open world warzone, you're not 100% safe just by getting on your escape helicopter. There's still the possibility of enemy combatants engaging you in the air. They've really thought of everything here.
Following the end of the mission, we were shown what "Metal Gear Solid" players have only heard about beforehand, Mother Base. Consisting of a series of platforms out in the water, Mother Base is the totally customizable home of the Diamond Dogs mercenary group and just because you're not out on the plains of Afghanistan, doesn’t mean you're safe either - enemies can attack you on your base (depending on who you might have angered in your missions) in addition to the weather taking a turn for the worst.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes what I love about stealth combat games and combines it with the jaw-dropping details of an open world sandbox. I haven't been this jazzed about a game in this franchise since 2004's Snake Eater. Longtime fans of the "Metal Gear Solid" series will be pleased with the latest additions to the game while newcomers will be welcomed by a new and exciting change of course in the long running franchise.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will debut on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One upon release. You can watch the E3 2014 trailer below!