Walking out of the Konami booth at E3 2014, having just seen a 20-minute gameplay demo of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, one thought kept running through my mind: This game looks like the Metal Gear Solid I was hoping for, but feared would not be delivered.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a series breaking from the norm and taking new paths, but after playing Ground Zeros and experiencing that darker (and more controversial) take on the MGS brand of storytelling, I was feeling a bit apprehensive about what The Phantom Pain would have to offer. The MGS series has always tackled mature subject matters and violence, but it’s usually done with an oddball sense of humor running through the middle to keep things from getting too “real.” Ground Zeroes, while easy on the eyes and controlling like a dream, was pretty much devoid of that trademark Hideo Kojima je ne sais quoi. The trailers for The Phantom Pain, too, have lacked anything resembling a sense of humor, instead boasting images of Big Boss smearing the ashes of a fallen comrade on his face, brutal knife fights, gravel-voiced monologues and an up close look at a man taking a bullet to the temple.
Again, I could be on board for a more serious take on the MGS series, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t hoping for some of the good old-fashioned goofs the series has become known for over the years. I mean, yes, Metal Gear is about war and death and all, but it’s also a series featuring giant killer robots, a couple cyber ninjas, poop jokes and a man doing cartwheels while covering his genitals.
Five minutes into a closed-doors session with The Phantom Pain, however, and the room was chuckling at the sight of a horse answering the call of nature while the man running the show spoke about an open, living world that is “truly next gen.” The horse poops, folks. Next gen is officially here. Later in the show, as we watched a tranquilized goat being hoisted into the air via fulton recovery system to be added to our “army” back at Mother Base, it became apparent that, yes, there will still be grin-worthy moments peppered throughout this darker MGS campaign.
The demoed portion of the game would be familiar to anyone who caught last year’s E3 trailer, featuring Snake riding into battle on the back of a horse in the middle of the desert, sliding to the side of the saddle to sneak up on unsuspecting guards and blindly bounding through a dust storm that swept into the area courtesy of a random weather cycle. After chatting up a younger Revolver Ocelot, Snake began his quest to free his old friend, Miller, from enemy forces.
Just like in Ground Zeroes, snakes iDroid device is going to be an integral part of gameplay in Phantom Pain, letting the player set waypoints, scout the area and even tag guards. The area being shown off, a desert town with a few additional farmsteads on the outskirts, looked to be about the size of the prison players can explore in Ground Zeroes. According to the team at Kojima Production, the Phantom Pain map is about 200 times the size of that initial locale.