E3 2015 – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Hands-On Preview: Become a Phantom

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is quickly approaching its release date. Despite some issues with Hideo Kojima and Konami, the game is moving right along through development, and large crowds would often gather at the E3 booth to watch a demonstration. We managed to actually play a stage from the campaign, and have our thoughts below.

Grab Some Popcorn

When I got to the station that I picked to play the game on, I put on some headphones so that I could hear the game over the noise of the show. I also grabbed the controller, before the cutscene that I was watching started playing for a couple of minutes. The thought then occurred to me — “I’m playing a Metal Gear Solid game; it’s going to be at least a few minutes before I will actually be controlling Snake.” Sure enough, Snake and his partner were chatting it up while on horses, though it was a mostly one-sided conversation.

Without giving away any plot points, you find yourself in the Middle East, trying to rescue someone without knowing exactly where they are. You’re left alone with many square kilometers to travel, but at least you have a horse. While most people will feel more comfortable on foot, the horse is a faster method of travel in between enemy outposts, and even through them if you’re feeling daring enough. You have the option of hiding on one side of the horse as you ride past, which isn’t the best stealth option but might work in a pinch from a distance. A long distance.

I decided to try and take this mission as stealthily as I could. I came upon a small enemy encampment within a few moments. I tried to take a path to the left, but before I even saw an enemy, he saw me. This initiated a sequence where time slowed down, and I had just a few seconds to aim and try to tranquilize the enemy before he was able to call for backup. I missed, and he started to call backup. However, calling backup does take some time, so I was able to put him down while he was in the middle of this call. Once he was down, I waited around to see if any other soldiers answered his half-plea for help. Thankfully, only one enemy came, and I quickly took care of him.


To Fight or Not to Fight

Since I knew the general location of my extraction target, but not the exact location, I made getting as close to that waypoint as I possibly could. While the other character tried to guide me in to one enemy base, I opted to skip the entire village and ride my horse over a hill on my right. To my surprise, it worked. I was able to completely skip dealing with at least six enemy soldiers by simply going over the terrain. I was quickly running up to an enemy turret site, so I stopped my horse and crouch-walked over to get a better lay of the land. Once again, the terrain was my friend. I headed to my left on my horse, just out of sight of the enemies, whom I had tagged with markers just to keep an eye on them, should they spot me. 

Okay, two locations down, and so far only those first two enemies have spotted me. After a couple hundred meters, I finally came upon the main enemy stronghold. It was a collection of stone buildings on mostly unkempt ground, with no distinct markings telling me where the captive was being held. Time to get my bearings again, and GAH! What’s that bright light?! Oh, just a spotlight…Ah, that’d be my cue to get down. I began crouching around the base, trying to stay as low and quiet as possible. Once I felt relatively safe, I began to move around more quickly again. This was a mistake, because an enemy right above me heard my shuffling, and went around the corner to investigate. Thankfully, I had tagged him ahead of time, so I could see his every move. He was down before he even knew what hit him. I dragged his sleeping body into some thick brush, just in case there was a patrol that I didn’t know about, and backed away from the area where the searchlight was looking.

After only a couple more minutes of snooping around and taking out two or three more enemies, the Konami representative gave me a massive hint, which was the location of the hostage. This was only because we were on limited time, as it was 5:30 during a show that ends at 6. My play style with Metal Gear Solid is slow and methodical, and I could tell that the game does allow for this, just that E3 doesn’t. So, with the target’s location now definitively known, I headed inside and up a flight of stairs. After a relatively quick cinematic, I was now carrying this hostage on my back. I opened a door upstairs. Mistake! Someone was right there who I had not seen before. The game entered that slow motion mode again, and I unfortunately did not have a clean shot. He was able to get a call in for reinforcements, and they came in full force this time because the hostage had been taken.

Sometimes It’s Best to Run

Sprinting out of the building, I came under fire. I could not run as fast as before, but Snake’s sprint speed even when carrying a grown man on his shoulders is still a good enough speed to escape the gunfire. Once out of the enemy’s line of sight, I was able to call for my horse and put my comrade’s injured body on the back. I begin to ride out to the landing zone when these things show up. I don’t think I’m at liberty to describe what they are, but they are menacing and likely to kill me in a short amount of time. Sure enough, my first encounter with this new type of enemy results in the hostage’s death, and I have to start over at a thankfully well-placed checkpoint. After sprinting on my horse for a few intense minutes, I finally make it to a clearing and am able to get myself and the hostage on a helicopter. I get behind a minigun loaded on the chopper, just in time to hear my horse get slaughtered. Poor thing. The demo ends without me having to fight anything in the air, and I am awarded a B grade for my performance on this mission. Not bad.

This feels like the Metal Gear Solid game the fans have been waiting for. There’s multiple ways to finish any mission, or indeed any part of a mission. Stealth is the preferred way of doing things, and enemies aren’t so easily fooled into thinking that a noise they heard was nothing. They stay in alert mode for quite a while after a search is called off, and often move in groups which makes your job that much harder. Snake is equipped with a lot of high technology, such as his iDroid, bionic arm, and more. Oh, and the cutscenes are well-timed, full of nuance, and intriguing. Visually, this level was mostly kind of a bland desert palette, but it makes sense given the location. What was there was very detailed, even at high levels of zoom, and the game kept a steady high frame-rate. There’s a reason why the Metal Gear Solid franchise has retained such a devout following, and The Phantom Pain is looking like it will wear the Diamond Dogs badge well.