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E3 2014: Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain Keeps Its Humorous Edge

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.

As you would expect out of an MGS game, you can either go in guns blazing, quiet and sneaky, or a mixture of the two. The team member running the demo opted for stealth, carefully weaving his way behind cover and out of sight before dropping the guards one at a time. Some he questioned for information, earning important intel about the area he was discovering. Most, though, he lifted out of the area with the fulton system, growing his own army with each hilarious yoink into the air. Just like in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, these new recruits can offer even more intel on various aspects of the game, as well as be assigned to various stations to improve your Mother Base stats. As your army and resources grow, you’ll actually be able to peg various new limbs onto the Mother Base however you see fit, so your home turf will likely look completely different from your friends’. Oh, and you can also air-lift vehicles and artillery, which will help strengthen your base against enemy attacks.

Similar to Red Dead Redemption, Snake has the ability to call on his horse at just about any point in the level, allowing him to get from Point A to Point B more quickly. He can also smoke a “Phantom Cigar,” a device that lets the player pass the time more quickly while watching the landscape. This can be useful for quickly memorizing patrol routes or getting to a nighttime infiltration without needing to sit around and wait for the moon to rise.

Another big return for the MGS series is the cardboard box, which our guide through Phantom Pain called in via air drop. You can set the air drop to land wherever you want, actually, which might be handy for, say, taking out an unsuspecting guard. New box-related abilities allow Snake to pop out and into the box without needing to constantly re-equip it, and he can even ditch the box and break for cover if he gets spotted by a guard.

Infiltration, as always, is full of options for the player to mix and match. You can keep low and crawl through a trench or stick to the shadows and sneak in through a back door. You could hide in a dumpster while a guard passes or use some new environmental CQC moves to slam his face into the wall. It’s your call.

The main demonstration ended with Snake freeing a hostage and being spotted by a guard. While shooting his way out of a tight spot, Snake took a moment to call in an air strike on the area, giving him only a handful of moments to hit the road. And that’s exactly what he did, snagging a nearby jeep and speeding away while hell rained down behind him.

There’s no telling when we’ll finally be able to actually get our hands on Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but at least we now know that the game is shaping up quite nicely. Look for it on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One…Someday.

Staff Writer for CinemaBlend.