Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain may be soaked in simplicity
Will Konami soak us in blood or will we have to make that choice?
When I got the opportunity to witness live gameplay within the Konami Business office at Gamescom 2015, I was completely excited. They had a very cool set up and seemed dedicated to impress us. We were seated in a room with a massive screen and speakers, and were briefly told a bit about the game. Most of what we heard was about the new Forward Operating Base gameplay. It basically sounds like a great way to keep the game interesting for longer. It's a simple enough idea, players can gather materials in the game and send them back to their bases, then they can construct them as they choose and defend them. You will also be able to defend your friends' FOBs. The strange thing is that, despite all the information we received about FOBs and how cool it sounded, we didn't actually get to see any of it.
Instead what we saw was the fourth mission in the game, which according to the PR staff, was about 5-6 hours into the game. It all started with Snake on a chopper ready to be deployed to whichever mission he was sent on. The menus of the game seem very expansive and offering a lot of options, which might or might not be a good thing depending on how complicated it gets. The mission list displayed missions that were both available and complete, so it appeared as if one could replay missions as they saw fit. One cool feature of the menu was customizing your load out. You're not only able to select your weaponry, but customize the look of Snake. At this point you are able to select a decent variety of outfits that range from strict military to 1980's action movie awesome. This clearly excited the crowd considering some of the colors were too bright for the desert sun, so we agreed that the 1980's action movie awesomeness would be best. Snake had his pants covered in holsters and straps on, combat boots, and his scarred chest out covered in gun holsters. The variety of weapons were not bad also, offering silenced weapons, long-ranged weapons, and rapid fire weapons. You're also able to use your bionic arm or a military knife as close range options when you need to dispatch someone from up close.
All we were told about the current situation was that it takes place almost 10 years after the events of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and that Snake was trying to figure out what happened to him. After selecting the mission and one of several landing sites available, Snake leaps to the ground of some very rugged, dry terrain from the chopper where his horse garbed in Diamond Dogs gear is waiting for him. The game offers several modes of transportation which will definitely come in handy. Your horse is available to quick transportation between secured areas, and ATVs will also be available. The helicopter is there for dropping off and picking up. One would hope that these vehicles would play a bigger part at some point other than being ways to get around, but based on what we were given, no one can say for sure. In fact, from what we saw in this gameplay, it really isn't clear how bloody or intense this game will be at all.
Once landed, your mission is to scout out enemy bases and take down communications. The area is a very dry and rocky area, with a very middle east vibe to it. Another positive note is that the load times seem minimal at this point. The entire mission loaded within 15 seconds and was displayed as an episode or film introducing the characters in the mission and who the antagonists were. In this case it was soviet combatants. While there wasn't a lot to see, one can't argue that the game is extremely attractive. Lighting effects, along with shadow, make the intense heat of the dessert all but palpable. There's also a very cool field of vision effect that does a great job keeping your eye where it should be and giving a nice effect to the game.
Right off the bat, Snake is given the option of stopping enemy transports by using his horse as a tool. Riding ahead and leaving his horse in the middle of the road, then sneaking off into the rocks and brushy overgrowth, Snake is able to wait and watch for an opportunity. The vehicle stops and the driver honks his horn at the horse, giving Snake the chance to shoot him from a distance. Players can also choose to take out enemy soldiers by lethal or non-lethal means. Considering this is a stealth game, it might be better to kill enemies, but usually this involves more noise, so we saw the majority of enemies being taken out with the silenced handgun using sleep darts. This is where the very popular surface-to-air system comes into play. After knocking out an enemy player, or if you just want to terrorize a sheep, you simply need to click a button to attach a balloon to said ewe or soldier, then wait a moment after watching them hang suspended before seeing them shoot up into the great blue sky, their screams of terror fading away. A quick fact. This never gets old. It's extremely entertaining and sometimes the soldiers seem to question their god or the life they've chosen. You can send equipment and turrets back to your forward operating base for its defense, which makes it both fun and useful.
From what we were told, the maps are very random. Enemies and animals generate when the levels load and it's never the same. While we didn't see much in the way of soldier or animals in this play through, that doesn't mean players won't be given a completely different scenario. Unfortunately for how our maps generated, it didn't really leave the crowd enthusiastic. There were three guarded areas, two smaller stations and then a very run-down base full of decaying buildings and just a handful of guards. The majority of guards can be taken down with sleep darts from a very good distance. Guards won't always sleep immediately when hit with the sleep dart, and they will realize when they've been hit. They clearly show reactions by scratching the area or seeming confused. After a bit of time, or when you approach them, they will fall into a deep slumber. At this point, it's always best to send them on a balloon ride, lest they wake in time and know something's going on. Guards will naturally react to other guards being hit, which is where some of my complaints come in.
Throughout the entire demo, there was no moment of pressure or the sense of a deadline. Take down a guard with a silenced weapon, send them off into the air, repeat. When a guard does see his colleague has been struck by something, he does freak out a bit. However, they are sort of dumbfounded, not certain of anything. It's almost as if they are shocked that their old friend Ivan has been keeping his narcolepsy hidden from them. Most of the time it's all to easy to rush up to an enemy in this confused state and knock them out. If the enemy does happen to see Snake and a big red exclamation point tells the player that they've been spotted, then the game slows to a bullet-time crawl for them to react how they see fit. Shoot them, or if Snake is close, charge them and run the combat knife through their chest, it really didn't matter. Even at the end, when you're close to the main objective and your silencer breaks, there was no real change in tactics. Equipment does break down and requires repair, which could theoretically cause complications, but I really didn't get to see how. Originally you are told that there are three arrays for you to take out, but there's a communications room that has all the equipment. After setting off a grenade to take out an array and really not raising much fuss, Snake can plant C4 in the communications room, retreat a fair distance, and set it off if he wants to upset the one remaining soldier. After the explosion, backup isn't sent, a timer doesn't start, and you have the option of calling for pickup or taking out the last soldier for fun.
While the game gives you a lot of excellent features and combat options, it does feel a bit too simple and all too forgiving. At no point did I feel Konami would truly soak me in blood unless I played the game in a very unhinged way. I feel like this game has to be much cooler in other situations, but Konami failed in delivering action, intensity, and definitely more than a couple cups of blood. If the game doesn't deliver more than this, it's going to be tough to keep us interested. Then again, we always have story and our gameplay style in a new, very open world to keep the game engaging. Only time will tell how this game will be, and thankfully that wait is less than a month away.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain releases on Playstation 3 and 4, Xbox One and 360, and PC on September 1st.