The horse pooped.
The hands-off theatre demo shown at E3 2014 for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain starts off with an extended version of the trailer shown at the Sony press briefing and then dives into a familiar bit where Ocelot is leading Snake to a desert crest, monologuing his kerchiefed heart out as he explains the situation out here in Afghanistan. This is also where a tutorial is offered but skipped for the sake of the demo’s time slot.
And then, as the Konami-staffed player begins to trot down the dusty path with Snake riding his steed, the horse poops. From conversations with other people in other demo sessions, that was no a random event but instead scripted, and knowing that, it seemed to set the entire tone for what The Phantom Pain would be: more Metal Gear Solid.
We ride on down a bit and horse stealth up (a new mechanic you’ve seen in past trailers where Snake leans off to one side, lowering his profile and reducing his chance of being spotted) close to a wall where on the other side stands some guards. After using Snake’s sparking mechanical arm to lure one dude over and a wall to crush his head, he sticks up another and gets some choice information regarding a storage container nearby.
This is where we are introduced to the Fulton recovery system, something you may recall from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. (For those of you unfamiliar, it’s an awful lot like the Skyhook implement in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, both of which are based on real US military technologies.) In exchange for the in-game currency of GMP, you can Fulton away pretty much anything back to Mother Base.
This includes any enemy soldiers you subdue to staff your operations, the aforementioned storage container full of materials, and even a sheep that happens to wander by at that moment. It’s all up for grabs and it all goes back to Mother Base, another element introduced in Peace Walker.
And while so far it seems like a lot is brought in from Peace Walker, The Phantom Pain actually has a lot more in common with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes from earlier this year. In fact, it appears to handle exactly the same as Ground Zeroes, which should be no surprise. That was effectively an appetizer as much as it was a proof of concept for the sweeping changes brought to fruition in The Phantom Pain, mechanics and all. Consider that the area available for this game is “200 times the size of Ground Zeroes.” Yeah.
We then make our way to a point overlooking our actual objective within an enemy camp. Using binoculars, Snake can tag any enemy and keep tabs on him through walls and various states of existence. Busting out the Phantom Cigar, an e-cigar that “heightens Snake’s perception of time” (with holographic smoke!), we go through a couple days and watch on the map as we track the movements and schedules of our tagged foes. We can see when they sleep, when they go on duty, and when they just meander, all while the time of day dynamically changes.
But now it’s time to actually infiltrate the compound, an area itself nearly the size of Ground Zeroes in its entirety. Going about and taking out one guard at a time, we are treated to the other new systems of The Phantom Pain. At any time, we can staff those back at Mother Base to do our bidding, including research and development. In this case, we have the classic cardboard box studied and delivered to us out in the field.
Snake jumps into the box only to emerge in the actual cardboard box. But it has become quite the advanced piece of technology. For instance, you can pop out of any given side at any time. Go up top and you can pop a dude in the head with a tranquilizer and then drop right back down with no one the wiser, eliminating the old hassle of equipping and unequipping over and over again. Or, if you get spotted, you can dive out of one of the sides to cover, leaving the box as a decoy and allowing you to go around to get the drop on your would-be capturer.
We go around, CQCing people in the face and whatnot and Fultoning everything and everyone in sight (which works on vehicles as well, but unsurprisingly fails to succeed indoors and in poor weather). Eventually we get our objective, recovering an unexpected hostage and gathering the expected intel. Unfortunately, a guard spots us and now it’s time to fight and escape.
Utilizing Mother Base once more, we call in an airstrike while we flee in a stolen jeep to the rendezvous point, which the demo player impressively showcases behind him while not crashing into anything. We hope in the helicopter, which can still be attacked while on the last leg of any exfiltration, and dash off to Mother Base.
And here we are shown the expanded role of the sea-bound headquarters. Rather than being a largely conceptual entity in Peace Walker, Mother Base is now a fully operational and walkable thing. Everything you Fulton will be back here and waiting including the jeep and the sheep we previously balloon’d as well as the people you have no working under your stead. They will go off on their own missions while not improving their skills at the base, firing rounds at the shooting range and practicing their CQC.
All the raw materials you collect will also be used to expand your base. The one we see in the demo is several platforms large with another being built out at sea, but everyone’s starts at one platform and will eventually become unique to everyone else’s Mother Base. You can build defenses like armed UAV drones as well as set up Fulton’d missile launchers and the like.
The defenses will come in handy when, obviously, attackers come. Yes, those that you piss off during your time in the field will come after you at Mother Base, but those that you befriend will also come to your aid as well. It adds an interesting meta, concurrent consideration to all the tactical espionage you engage with during the story missions.
What’s not clear, however, is if this will become a hindrance or a nuisance or similar, having to constantly dip out to make sure your Mother Base isn’t falling apart. It’s also not clear if exploring the massive space of the game’s map will happen organically or if it’s open world in the same way Batman: Arkham City is an open world where some filler enemies occupy you between singular set pieces that basically function as isolated levels.
Really, a lot remains unanswered about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but much of it seems promising. Ground Zeroes is the mechanical basis of this game, and Ground Zeroes is easily the most amenable of the franchise to control and actually play. And it’s full of super serious nonsense coupled with weird Kojima humor, the cherry on top of a horse-pooping sundae. We’ll see how it shapes up when it releases…some time?