Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes was a tasty bite-sized chunk, but it was missing a number of gameplay features that players had come to associate with Metal Gear. There weren't any cardboard boxes or wacky bosses, and it was quite a grim game. It would be very easy to come away from Ground Zeroes and assume that Metal Gear lost its trademark surreal sense of humor. The Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain demo shown at E3 2014 not only puts those fears to rest, but it also gives us a glimpse at what may be the best Metal Gear to date.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain opens up nine years after the events of Ground Zeroes. Information about the plot is scarce and intentionally obfuscated. Our demo began with Snake (now known as Venom Snake) and a young Revolver Ocelot riding horses through Afghanistan. Snake's longtime friend Kaz Miller has been captured by soviet soldiers, and Snake must find him. According to Ocelot, if Kaz dies, their revenge will be impossible. Snake has to infiltrate the enemy camp on his first mission since the disastrous end of Ground Zeroes, and he is certainly worse for the wear. One of his hands was replaced by a mechanical prosthetic, and he's far more beaten up than he's ever been before.
The Phantom Pain brings over a number of the mechanics that die-hard fans may have noticed was missing from Ground Zeroes. One of the biggest mechanics returning to The Phantom Pain is the Fulton Recovery system, which was introduced in Metal Gear: Peace Walker. The system is how you capture soldiers and send them to work at your home base of Mother Base. You strap a parachute to their back and send them flying into the sky. The Phantom Pain reintroduces this mechanic but expands and redevelops it. Each use costs a small amount of GMP, which is the game's currency, and you can Fulton almost anything in the environment. In the course of the playthrough, we saw the player use Fulton on a jeep, a giant container of supplies, and an innocent sheep that was in the vicinity. Fulton recovery can be used as a quick emergency escape, so you can ride a container of supplies out of the area. Fulton Recovery can no longer be used indoors, and it now has a failure chance. Use it in an open area in good weather, and it will almost certainly succeed. Try it in a sandstorm, and the wind can blow it off-course and cause you to lose the transported item.
The Fulton Recovery system goes hand-in-hand with the return of Mother Base. The original Peace Walker Mother Base was destroyed at the end of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, and the rebuilt Mother Base is bigger and better than before. As in Peace Walker, you can use your captured soldiers to staff Mother Base. Soldiers can be assigned to Intel, which provides information on enemies in the environments; R&D to create new items that can be shipped to Snake on the battlefield; or artillery gunners, who can rain death upon Snake's enemies from a distance. All of these things also cost GMP, so you'll have to carefully decide when and where to use them. You can freely explore Mother Base. You'll be able to wander around the environment and meet soldiers and characters like Ocelot, and you can also engage in close-quarters combat (CQC) practice or some gunplay to sharpen your shooting skills. Mother Base will also be a target for enemy attacks, and you may have to engage in special missions to protect it, or you can purchase remote-controlled drones to defend it for you.
Snake isn't a slouch on the battlefield, either. A number of classic Metal Gear moves have returned with upgrades. Snake has regained his ability to knock on walls, but instead of walls, he can do it anywhere by using his new arm to simulate a knocking sound. The series-classic cardboard box also makes a triumphant return. Players can use the box to sneak around, pop out of it to attack enemies, CQC from the box, and even ditch it to distract enemies while you sneak around from behind. CQC has also returned but with brutal new environmental attacks that allow you to instantly disable enemies.
Snake will need all of these moves because the game world in The Phantom Pain is tremendous. The short demo put other Metal Gear games, including Ground Zeroes, to shame. The introduction of a horse isn't just for style; it's a vital way for Snake to traverse the environment. It allows for faster travel and can even be a form of stealth, allowing you to hang off the side to avoid detection. On the other hand, the enemies are also far more dangerous. They come in far greater numbers and have their own schedules which include eating and sleeping. You can potentially use this to your advantage by waiting until the enemies are vulnerable before sneaking in, but it can also backfire and leave you trapped in an enemy encampment with tons of foes around.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain did more in 20 minutes of gameplay to feel like it captured the heart and soul of Metal Gear than the entirety of Ground Zeroes. It's weird, it's wacky, and it looks like an absolute blast to play. The core mechanics are at once familiar and improved, and the gameplay is butter-smooth. The demo was running on a PlayStation 4 at a perfect 1080p and 60 fps, although the game is also coming to the PlayStation 3, Xbox One and Xbox 360. The Phantom Pain has no release date as of this writing, but if it can live up to the demo shown at E3 2014, it will be worth the wait.
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