Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Hands-On Preview

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the final Metal Gear directed by Hideo Kojima and possibly the last epic AAA project from Konami. While the reported conflict between the brilliant game designer and the Japanese company is still shrouded in uncertainty, it is clear The Phantom Pain will be the end of an era and a bittersweet send off for the fans, completing the circle of decades filled with Metal Gear games ands stories.This is my last hands-on preview of a Kojima-directed Metal Gear Solid game.

I assumed my seat in the private meeting room in front of a screen and quickly plucked a PlayStation 4 controller into my hands. After all, I only had about half an hour to get through as much of the demo as possible. At the start of the mission, I was greeted by opening credits, like at the start of a television episode, including the welcoming sight of Hideo Kojima’s name. Then what I saw was a very familiar scene to me: Big Boss/Punished Snake and Ocelot riding on horses through a sandstorm.

Anyone who’s been following Metal Gear Solid V would likely recognize the scene since it’s the start of the explosive E3 2013 trailer which debuted at Microsoft’s Xbox press conference that year. If that doesn’t jog your memory, it’s the trailer that included the theme "Sins of The Father" sung by Donna Burke, also known as the "WHOA-HOA!" song. A part of me slunk into disappointment–I was anticipating to experience a different, later part of the game where Mother Base and the buddy system came more into play. "At least this will keep everything simpler. On the bright side, I’m be more familiar with where to go and what to do," I thought to myself.

Snake’s objective here is to rescue his right hand man Kaz Miller in Afghanistan. Ocelot pointed out the general direction of the village where Kaz is captured and other points of interest, using the sequence to get me re-acquainted with the in-game binoculars. Once I looked at everything he wanted to show me, Ocelot left me on my merry way to save my comrade. And the quickest mode of transport there is on horseback.

The Phantom Pain’s horse is easy to steer and control, allowing the player to go from a steady trot to a galloping sprint. Stealth is an offered option even on horseback – Snake is able to hang on the side of his horse to avoid detection. I was able to get off the horse at any time if I wanted to explore the Afghan environment or slowly and methodically take out enemies that posed a threat. A simple button press calls my horse to Snake’s side when I’m ready to go, especially in the situations where I mistakenly alerted foes to my presence and needed a quick getaway.

In traditional Metal Gear Solid fashion, there are both lethal, bombastic and non-lethal, stealthy approaches to overcoming foes. Equip Snake with an assault rifle and run into an area gunning down the opposition can be fun but is a risky tactic. Firing one unsilenced gun shot typically grabs the attention of all enemies nearby, as they will alert their allies via walkie talkie. You better be a good shot, know where cover is, and pack enough ammo when going with the action movie method.

The preferred way is of course to slip through areas and silently defeating adversaries in Snake’s way as needed. You can sneak behind an enemy, use close quarters combat to knock them out or grab them first to interrogate him or her for information before knocking them out cold. For more distant takedowns, I used the silenced tranquilizer pistol, which achieves a one-hit KO with a headshot. Series vets know the importance of concealing any unconscious bodies otherwise patrolling. The quickest and easiest way to hide a body is an option introduced in Peace Walker – the fulton recovery system. Snake attaches a rapid-inflating balloon to a KO’d enemy, causing him or her to fly up to the sky for retrieval by an aerial vehicle that returns to Mother Base. Enemies captured via fulton are turned into Snake’s allies and help grow Mother Base’s capabilities.

Each Metal Gear Solid game has generally been regarded one of the best-looking games on their respective console generation, pushing the graphical envelope at the time of their release. Such a claim may not apply this time around but The Phantom Pain still looks great for an open-world adventure with a lot of attention to detail made on objects and environments. Not only is the massive scale of the world a major undertaking for the Kojima Productions team, but so is the inclusion of dynamic weather and day/night cycles. I appreciated the gradual, seamless way the day would turn into night, changing the mood and tactical options available. As with Metal Gear Solid V’s prologue chapter Ground Zeroes, The Phantom Pain runs at full HD 1080p resolution at a smooth and consistent 60 frames per second.

Before I knew it, my allotted time as Punished Snake came to an end right before I could save Kaz. I usually take my time with Metal Gear Solid games, so playing a timed hands-on was a teasing experience. But what I saw showed a natural evolution from the foundation laid out in Ground Zeroes. Kojima has taken a lot of elements that have worked in past entries, notably Peace Walker and expanded and refined them further. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain may be an open-world game but it has greater focus and purpose than others of its kind. Its narrative portrays a sense of urgency with game design to motivate players forward. I want to build my Mother Base, develop new weapons and gadgets, and find and train partners like Quiet. The maps are not littered with distractions to lead you astray, so rest assured Snake won’t be running and gunning aimlessly around an open world. I don’t believe we can imagine everything in store for us once the final chapter of the Metal Gear arrives. Please surprise the world once more, Kojima-san.