Okay, here's the deal: I played some of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain during E3 2015 but, unfortunately, how much of that experience I can share with you is kind of tricky to determine. I signed a pretty detailed non-disclosure agreement before jumping into my hands-on demo and, at this point, I think Konami holds the rights to my first-born child if I reveal too many details here.
I'm not unfamiliar with NDAs in this industry, but this might be the first time I've had to sign one before playing a demo at a convention. Half of the point of shows like E3 is to build hype for upcoming games but, to a degree, my hands are tied here. (No, seriously, being partially bound was included in the NDA).
So why am I bothering to tell you all of this? Because I want everyone to understand why I have to be so damn vague in the coming graphs. I can't discuss the story, the cutscenes, specific items and gear, mission details or names of characters and stuff like that. I'm happy to abide by these guidelines, but they seem kind of odd considering the fact that the section of gameplay I had the opportunity to dive into has already been shown in pretty thorough detail in previous videos of The Phantom Pain.
But rather than try to understand the complex ins and outs of this industry, let's try to have a chat about what I played during my last appointment of E3, shall we?
For folks who have already played Metal Gear Solid: Grounds Zero, you already have an idea of what to expect out of The Phantom Pain, only lots and lots more of it. The controls and flow are identical as far as I can recall, including the remapped button layout and smaller touches like the action slowing down briefly when you've been spotted, offering a chance to take out an enemy before they call for help.
For my mission, I headed into a desert with little more than a suppressed auto rifle and a similarly sneaky-sneaky pistol at my disposal. By now, you've likely seen the new binoculars in action, giving Snake (I can say his name, right?) a fantastic way to scout the terrain before heading into the fray.
After getting used to riding a horse, I guided my trusty steed (We'll call him Gary, for the sake of protecting his identity) up to a cliff overlooking an enemy outpost. Crawling on my belly to keep from being spotted, I used my binoculars to get a gander at the road ahead. Enemies and items of interest, like mortars and mounted guns, are automatically tagged when you get them in your sights, marking them on your screen permanently. This means that you no longer have a mini-map on the screen, which also comes with the added bonus of removing any sort of HUD from the screen completely.
I'm a big fan of this style of scouting, putting the responsibility on the player to determine how prepared they want to be before heading into an area. I like to get a feel for the lay of the land, personally, not wandering into a collection of buildings before I feel confident that I know who is there, what kind of firepower they're packing and where I might run into them as they move around. Again, it's a neat way of personalizing the experience and rewarding preparation.
Once I had my enemies located, I scurried down into the outpost and dispatched the first soldier with some rapid-fire CQC. Snake's flurry of fists seemed more brutal than in previous games, as well as more varied. While I smacked this particular guy repeatedly until he went night-night, for instance, a soldier was taken out more quickly later in the level as Snake simply slammed him to the ground.
With one of two guards out of the picture, sneaking up on the second from behind and pegging him in the head with a tranquiler proved no problem.
The next stop on my whirlwind tour of the desert was a small town, home to an objective that I probably can't discuss at the moment. Standing between me and my prize were a number of guards patrolling a tightly clustered group of adobe buildings.
Gameplay from here on out was standard Metal Gear fare, including crawling through trenches, hiding in dumpsters, knocking on walls to draw enemies closer to me, climbing up to better vantage points and the like. As is typical when I play these types of games, everything was going great in the stealth department...Until it wasn't. I always try to play MGS as sneakily as possible, but I consistently fail to notice one guard or linger in an area just a little bit too long and then, boom, I'm in a firefight. The combat felt great and—sacrilege, I know—I actually prefer the transition to the standard left trigger to aim, right trigger to shoot.
Everything about The Phantom Pain feels dialed in, which is something fans of the series have also come to expect. It looks great, it sounds great and the controls work well. I frequently blundered my way through hectic situations in the demo but, once I've spent a couple of hours with the full game, I'm sure everything will fall right back into place.
The big map offered several opportunities to become distracted from the mission, too, including interactive pieces of equipment, collectibles and the ability to gather resources (be they soldiers or equipment) for future use.
I really like how the environments open up the gameplay options, too, giving the player plenty of freedom to determine how they are going to carry out their mission. Glancing over at another player's screen, for instance, I saw that they chose to run from location to location and keep a low profile while I opted to steal a truck. I'm sure charging around on Gary would have worked just as well, too.
There was one big moment in the demo that I really wish I could discuss, but I agree with Konami on this particular count that it's probably far better to experience for one's self than to have it outed three months before the game launches. Suffice it to say that it's as street rat crazy as you would expect out of the Metal Gear series and resulted in Gary and I fleeing across the desert.
So, there you have it...Sort of. What I can tell you is that, as a fan of the series, I'm very happy with the changes—as well as the aspects that were left the hell alone—in The Phantom Pain. If you want to know more, it looks like you'll have to wait for the reviews to start rolling out around the game's launch on Sept. 1.