There’s something about Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain that’s hard to really explain (not for lack of trying though). It could be the same factor that many felt was missing in Ground Zeroes – or it could be the one thing that ensures many diehard fans don’t recognize their beloved franchise. Regardless of what this factor is, Kojima Productions and Konami set out to prove at Gamescom 2014 that Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is a full-fledged game and not some over-priced demo. The 30 minute demo, which also revealed facets of the multiplayer Mother Base Invasion mode, has only recently become available to the public.
The gameplay showcased will no doubt make you question the so-called “gritty realism” of the series. Horse poop causing vehicles to spin out of control? A Fulton recovery system which allows you to pretty much swoop anything up into the sky, including hapless sheep? Cardboard boxes that fold out into pictures of pretty women that distract guards? Then again, Metal Gear Solid has never been known for its believable elements. Remember the GEKKOs from Metal Gear Solid 4? How about all the cloning experiments and virtual reality nonsense? An arm that possesses some one?
"If you simply sneak around the base and aren't caught, acting like a ghost, you'll win. And that in itself is the essence of a Metal Gear game."
So yes, the gameplay elements are a little odd to start off with. However, what becomes interesting is how they’re utilized. The objective of this demo wasn’t to wow the world with brand new gameplay or locales. It wasn’t to create some sort of dramatic set-up – which the E3 2014 trailer more than managed to do, even if it did go too far for some people. It was to illustrate the open world elements of The Phantom Pain and how they mesh into Metal Gear Solid. This isn’t a Grand Theft Auto title and you won’t be undertaking fetch quests for kindly old ladies. And if you could, then there’s certainly some way that Kojima has thought of to integrate this into the context of Metal Gear Solid.
The sneaking elements were outlined more heavily in this demonstration as well. The AI is seemingly capable of learning from Snake’s tactics and come up with different counter-measures. If you shoot too many enemies in the head with tranquilizer darts, they’ll start wearing helmets to protect themselves. If you have a habit of attacking in the day, there will be more sentries positioned throughout the base in question during that time.
The evolution of counter-measures isn’t even over a fixed period of time – as soon as you disable the base’s power in order to make sneaking easier; the enemy will radio in for back up and a helicopter to provide an overhead spotlight. It’s these kinds of touches and elements that keep the game from becoming predictable. The best part is that you’ll slowly begin to mix things up and invent new ways to fight off foes in order to succeed down the line. Alternatively, you could go for the temporary advantage and make things tougher in the long run. All of this returns the focus to sneaking though. If you simply sneak around the base and aren’t caught, acting like a ghost, you’ll win. And that in itself is the essence of a Metal Gear game.
"Will it make for a compelling, Metal Gear Solid-esque opera in story terms? Hopefully Kojima also has that laying in wait for us to discover and experience as well."
Speaking of mixing things up, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain may have some rather odd gameplay features but they can be used for awesome feats. That Fulton air recovery system? It can also be used to get you to higher places or even to attack and destroy helicopters. It’s unbelievable as a gameplay element but believable enough within the context of the world. It’s not a separate thing that no one else notices and it plays into your strategies. Can you imagine enemies finding ways to counter the Fulton?
The multiplayer, at this stage, looks a fair bit gimmicky. Essentially, you can use all the materials and resources salvaged from missions to beef up security in your Mother Base. You can also invade other Mother Bases in order to steal resources. Right now, the game type feels like a healthy mix of Watch Dogs’ hacking missions and the current mechanics of Phantom Pain. It’s not blowing us away at this point but it’s not a major point of contention either. This could be because there is some actual thinking and lateral judgment that has to be made when sneaking. Once again, you’re reward for playing in the stealthiest way possible (or just coming up with new and inventive ways to succeed).
As it is now, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is on the right track. However, it’s still too early to call. Most developers would introduce new missions – Kojima simply revealed a new way to replay an old one. This isn’t a problem in gameplay terms but it does make it a little too early to really judge the game. If anything, it proves that you should never fully judge a game the first time you see it. There may be tons of hidden elements waiting to be discovered. Will it make for a compelling, Metal Gear Solid-esque opera in story terms? Hopefully Kojima also has that laying in wait for us to discover and experience as well.