Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Spins the Most Sprawling Snake Tale Yet

You’ve got to hand it to Hideo Kojima; the man has a penchant for the peculiar. The “Metal Gear” series’ legendary director made another splash with last week’s unique E3 trailer and gameplay presentation for the upcoming “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain,” and while we never quite know what to make of these things (even when we actually play the final games, in some cases), this latest promotional spectacle for Konami’s famed stealth-action saga was definitely attention-grabbing.

For the uninitiated, these games spin quite the involved, intricate story. You don’t need to have played previous “Metal Gear” games to enjoy “The Phantom Pain,” but it doesn’t hurt. If you feel like catching up, grab “
Metal Gear Solid 2 & 3 HD Edition,” “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD Edition,” and last March’s “Phantom Pain” prequel “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.” Special note: For anyone who ever thought “Peace Walker” was a fanciful side-story and not a mainline-series game… boy, were you wrong. Make sure you spend some quality time catching up on this excellent bit of “Metal Gear” gaming!

With that out of the way, here’s the gist of it in layman’s terms. Recent events left series protagonist and stealth operative Snake (otherwise known as “Big Boss” in some circles) in a decade-long coma. “The Phantom Pain” finds him on the road to recovery circa 1984, and hot on the trail of his abducted majordomo, Kazuhira Miller. Not everyone has taken kindly to the Diamond Dogs – the pair’s nation-agnostic PMC – and now, in the wake of Miller’s kidnapping, Snake heads to Afghanistan to make his house whole once again.

If you played “Ground Zeroes,” you generally know what you’re in for here, mechanics-wise. Snake has the run of a vast and open world, and enjoys the ability to mark enemy locations, once he surveys the area with his binoculars. This enemy-flagging system effectively supplants previous games’ persistent radar, and makes for a much more heads-up, eyes-open method of identifying, evading, and engaging threats. Snake’s usual bag of tricks returns; he can hug walls, crawl along the ground, hide in the brush, and neutralize foes with whatever mix of gunplay, tranquilizers, and close-quarters combat you find appropriate. This is, of course, a stealth-action game – which means that an out-and-out firefight usually doubles as a fast ticket to the game over screen.

Konami’s gameplay presentation put the metallic-prosthetic-arm-rocking Snake in the eye of an Afghan sandstorm, with his in-house interrogation specialist (and future series mega-antagonist) Revolver Ocelot providing radio support. En route to his objective, a horse-riding Snake hung to his steed’s side in order to avoid detection, utilized the aforementioned sandstorm for added cover, and capitalized on a cardboard box (“Metal Gear’s” trademark portable hiding spot) in a variety of new ways. For one, Snake can now pop out of the box, fire a few rounds (or tranqs) into an unsuspecting soldier, and resume his hiding position. Or, under pressure, Snake can dive out the side of the box to seek better cover.

Expanding upon “Peace Walker’s” support mechanics, Snake can also request supply drops and aerial strikes from Mother Base, the Diamond Dogs’ HQ. A well-placed drop can even knock out an unsuspecting enemy – and incapacitated foes can be press-ganged into Snake’s private army via the Fulton surface-to-air recovery system, which shuttles a snoozing soldier (or vehicle, or even
animal) back to Mother Base. As the havoc mounted during Konami’s “Phantom Pain” demo, Snake called for an air strike, hopped in a jeep, and hustled to an evac point as his troops carpet-bombed the enemy installation.

A quick helicopter trip later, Snake had free reign of Mother Base, which – unlike its menu-based incarnation in “Peace Walker” – is a grand, heavily customizable fortress where you can interact with Diamond Dogs personnel, improve Snake’s skills via combat training and shooting ranges, and even take up combat positions to fend off incoming attacks from rival armies. Of note to all you lovely “Metal Gear” conspiracy theorists: “The Phantom Pain’s” Mother Base architecture bears more than a passing resemblance to “Metal Gear Solid 2’s” Big Shell.

In terms of where “The Phantom Pain” will take Snake story-wise, we’re just as excited as everyone else to learn more. So far, it involves the following: a creepy, Glasgow-smiling villain who calls himself Skull Face; a mute, female sniper named Quiet; Snake’s habitual employment of fallen Diamond Dogs soldiers’ ashes as war paint; child soldiers who may or may not grow up to become series favorites Liquid Snake and Psycho Mantis (this
is a prequel to later-set “Metal Gear” games, mind you); and a protagonist who almost never speaks, despite beloved series star David Hayter giving up Snake’s voice role to A-list actor Kiefer Sutherland.

Konami and Kojima Productions are currently hard at work on “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” for Xbox One and Xbox 360. It can’t get here soon enough.