- another chapter in the stealth saga that began 28 years ago;
- open world offering many different solutions for tasks at hand;
- Mother Base with many upgrades and customizable options;
- unique teammates providing supporting on the battlefield;
- base and army management options;
- a blend of spy movie gadgets, fictional technology and existing equipment;
- Hideo Kojima style easter eggs and humour.
Metal Gear, as a series, divides gamers into two groups. One of them outright worships it and the other one condemns it as an unplayable Japanese oddity without a second of thought as soon as they see the word “Kojima”. Unfortunately, the game’s marketing campaign only consolidated the latter group’s conviction about Metal Gear having way too much pompous speeches and way too much Japan. Luckily, this year’s E3 brought us a change of strategy: the new, 40 minutes long demo proves that the newest MGS is something more, and that this work by Konami may yet bring a revolution to the stealth game genre and a commotion to the game industry. Here are the most important facts about the upcoming Phantom Pain and it looks like a delicious treat not only for the series’ long standing devotees but for silent assassination fans in general.
A new enemy, a new base and a new army.
The story in Phantom Pain begins nine years after the tragic events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – the prologue released a year ago. Big Boss, the legendary soldier, one of the main protagonists of the Metal Gear series, wakes up from a coma and returns to the battlefield. This time, leading the PMC Diamond Dogs – his very own army for hire. In the course of the game his “hounds” will travel through cold war era Afghanistan and Africa while trying to track down the terrorist organization responsible for killing Big Boss’ companions. This description may be a bit short for a series that began in year 1987 but even those less familiar with the lore should have no problems following the story. All thanks to the creators’ policy of making the game significantly more accessible. You don’t have to know everything that happened up to this point to enjoy this game. Konami takes a shot at winning back the stealth and open world game fans that have been left in the dust, tangled in complicated plot twist and overstaying-their-welcome cut scenes, a few years ago. For this very reason, The Phantom Pain is not only a sequel to the warmly greeted 2010 Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker but aims to become its spiritual successor as well. This installment will focus on sneaking rather than exalted monologues the series has been recognized for since long.
Mother Base – the Skyhold gets better
The main focus of the game, other than waging a personal crusade against dubious military organizations, will be the management of your “fangs” and “tails” - the previously mentioned army and base. Before every deployment, you visit the Mother Base – your center of operations that can be upgraded and modified to suit your inclinations. The Mother Base will also allow you to assign missions to companions. As the campaign unfolds, your seaside stronghold will become filled with medics, spies, engineers and mercenaries under your command. Ordering them around, planning and upgrading your very own foothold on the dynamic geopolitical stage resembles the Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Skyhold. Except that The Phantom Pain will allow you to decide about the HQ’s layout and appearances as well. Even at its current stage, it seems like The Phantom Pain is going to steal the show from BioWare’s work. This, together with the (currently clouded in mystery) option to raid another player’s base outside the story mode, may just allow The Phantom Pain to get a clear knockout. However, the Mother Base doubles as a solid proof of your in-game progress and, what’s more important, the hub of your logistics allowing you to expand your fighting force. While the Peace Walker reduced it to a skimpy management screen, this time we can carefully observe army management from behind the scenes.
The Wild Geese walking the Dog on a Quiet day
Those, who haven’t felt the urge to properly equip and debrief themselves at the HQ, need to worry. They will get the chance to make some final adjustments aboard the helicopter heading for the drop zone. There are three things to do while getting ready for the mission: analyzing the map with your multifunctional iDroid, choosing you gear. and last but clearly not least, choosing your companion. A new feature in the series – the “buddy system” – will allow a partner of your choosing to support you on the battlefield. The fans of hide and sneak as well as demanding gameplay may rejoice - your subordinates are not just immortal NPCs controlled by an invariable AI. They act mainly on your commands. Moreover, each and every one of your companions possesses unique strengths and weaknesses – and ignoring those while giving them orders will get them killed in no time. During one of the presentations, the creators proudly revealed Quiet – a seductive female sniper, who will support you with her eagle eye and some supernatural powers. And in case the task at hand calls for a battle-hardened bloodhound, you have one. Literally. Diamond Dog (or D.D.) the wolf-dog is here for you. Other than Quiet and D.D., Konami introduced a steed, named promptly Diamond Horse, and promised many more to choose from while not giving any specific details about them. As the game’s main story progresses (and your roster grows abundant in humans and animals alike), you will acquire companions able to face even the most challenging missions. Your brothers-in-arms will become the living tools, necessary for you to complete the assignment. This also means you can replace them on-site during missions, in case somebody at the base forgot to give them ammunition or dressed them for North Pole, when you’re in Africa. However, such a move will not remain without consequences – switching companion may result in penalties, putting your budget in the red and your subordinates on a forced diet, which is a thing to be avoided. Lastly, there remains one, final question to be answered: how do I recruit them? The answer is somewhat long but simple: The Fulton surface-to-air recovery system. (STARS)
No Fulton – no go
The Fulton STARS was one of the key elements of Peace Walker, albeit its reception was not exactly warm after one of the presentations overdid it while trying to advertise it. Nevertheless, there is no avoiding acquisition of random boxes and animals the “lighter than air” way. The balloons will bring unconscious or incapacitated enemies to the Mother Base, where they can decide if they want to join you or not. Some part of your army will have to be assembled this way since campaign progress will most likely provide you with only a handful of subordinates, exactly like in the Peace Walker. Other than the personnel, the STARS can be used to acquire valuable resources and vehicles or even as an improvised elevator, if the player has the wits and reflexes necessary. The balloons can be used to recover prisoners (that’s almost their intended usage), albeit with a risk. If the enemy spots the balloon, it may get shot down. Furthermore, since your position just got revealed to the enemy, you can expect angry, armed guests shortly after. To master the Fulton balloons, as well as the abundant variety of other gadgets the series has been praised for, will be essential for getting the job done. To sneak up on a larger group of enemies use a decoy. Using the same decoy in other circumstances may bait a guard patrolling the perimeter into getting pushed off a cliff, or even getting knocked down the aforementioned cliff with a well aimed throw. Although the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater could be placed somewhere between James Bond and McGyver, in Phantom Pain you can rely on somewhat larger devices than he used to. As the commander of Diamond Dogs you may request a tactical drop containing a jeep or even a small mech if things get complicated during the mission. The drops are optional – veterans of the genre will most likely prefer to wait for the nightfall, when tired enemy soldiers gather by the campfires and the patrol routes change.
The Devil’s in the Detail
One of the most interesting additions in Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots was the iPod, allowing us to listen to music tracks from various installments of the series and podcasts the creators prepared for us. This feature will return in MGS V. It just needed to be adjusted accordingly – this time we will be listening to audio cassettes. The cassettes will be distributed throughout the game world and will contain classic, licensed 80’s music. Acquired tracks can be set to play as the default music aboard the helicopter, or just listened to in your free time. For example, dropping off the helo while listening to Europe’s The Final Countdown? That, my friends, is the sound of awesome, in case you ever wondered.
It's good to rely on darkness but you can't order the nightfall. This may have posed a problem for those of lesser patience since the in-game time flow is close to real life. Luckily, there is a gadget for that as well – an e-cigar, that will keep you busy while waiting for the dusk (and enable time compression at the same times). This feature is not to be underestimated since time of the day and changing weather conditions will have a significant impact on guards’ behavior and gameplay. Sandstorms in Afghanistan may help you get into heavily guarded outposts or may render Quiet, laying in wait for a clear shot, completely useless. The Phantom Pain concentrates on the vast, open terrain and many ways it offers to approach your target. The devil’s in the detail, as they say, and it’s the people fond of experiments, who will get the most of those details. The unique customization expresses itself heavily in things like i.e. attaching a stunner to the characters’ artificial limb. While the creators do seem to prefer the stealthy approach, they haven’t forgotten about the players who are not afraid to make some noise. In the game’s arsenal you will find pistols, shotguns and assault rifles that can be customized to your heart’s content (You can attach a Desert Eagle silencer to an AK-47, for example.). The customization mechanics in Phantom Pain is a crossbreed between that of Borderlands and the one from Army of Two. What is somewhat surprising is that, although the game is set for release in September, we don’t really know much about the specific guns it will feature. However, if the past gives any indication, there is no need to worry since the previous installment featured an armory that left nothing to be desired.
The perfect blend of sandbox and stealth?
Vast locations, companions, base economy, vehicles, weapon customization – the new Metal Gear Solid aims high and brings a lot to the table. To spice things up, it will be the last cooperation between the peculiar, however most definitely talented, Hideo Kojima and Konami. Kojima himself declared, that The Phantom Pain will bring a closure to all the yet unresolved threads and form a final link connecting the gaps in saga’s complicated chronology. The players themselves focus rather on the carefully designed gameplay – me, being a big fan of the series, included. The Metal Gear Sold V is a stealth game aiming to win over even those, that have never seen Shadow Moses or haven’t read all the conspiracy theories concerning The Patriots. Let’s just hope, that this one last shot won’t end up as a dud – I, personally, find this to be highly unlikely. It may well be the candidate for the game of the year.
Last update: 2015-07-14
Jordan Debowski | Gamepressure.com