E3 2015: Metal Gear Solid V Wants to Master Open-World Stealth

With a long, complex legacy and a more complex story, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain may be the game to finally end the story of the Snakes by bringing it full circle. Although this isn’t the first time he’s said so, visionary director/producer/writer/designer Hideo Kojima may finally leave his beloved Metal Gear series behind after The Phantom Pain. Needless to say, that puts Metal Gear Solid V on the path to be the best, largest, and most ambitious Metal Gear game to date. From what we’ve seen so far, that may just be the case.

Starring the renamed Punished “Venom” Snake, formerly Naked Snake or Big Boss (not to be confused with Solid Snake), Metal Gear Solid V will be about advancing through open environments, doing missions and accomplishing objectives to combat Cipher, an organization which struck a blow against Snake’s previous mercenary group Militaires Sans Frontières in the Metal Gear Solid V prologue Ground Zeroes. All the while, players will be building up a new organization, recruiting troops they find out on the field and acquiring resources to improve their armaments and resources. Heading a new private military company called Diamond Dogs, Venom Snake seeks to build a new free army, upgrade his headquarters of Mother Base, take vengeance on Cipher and likely even more as the story unfolds.

Metal Gear Solid V plans to be many things: open-world, customizable, flexible, dark, funny, epic, heartfelt, cinematic… and it plainly seems to accommodate all those things together into a freeing stealth experience. For starters, as an open-world game, Metal Gear Solid V will not be that large, nor will it have a giant continuous area. Instead, the game treats you to patches of land in different countries where a large range of missions and operations will take place and can be initiated.

To start things out, players will often find themselves in a helicopter which will act as a sort of mobile command center. From here, they can deploy to an open area and do missions therein. Side operations and primary missions co-exist in an area, and can be tackled at the same time. The way this works is players typically deploy from the mobile command center, where Snake sits with his selected buddy. The buddies, at least that which have been revealed for now, consist of either the mute, bikini-clad supernatural sniper Quiet, the loyal eye-patch-wearing D-Dog, and the mechanized, multifunctional D-Walker. An interesting thing to note is Quiet’s demeanor towards Snake can change depending on how their relationship progresses over the course of the game. When deploying to an area, players will have a wide variety of customization options to go through. For example, the weapon loadout can be customized to a great extent; colors, insignias, attachments, even parts from different guns can be used to customize a weapon to your liking. Vehicles can be painted as well, and decorated with custom emblems. Speaking of, if the player so chooses, they can even deploy to an area in a vehicle and even then they can choose from deploying in a nice variety of different types of vehicles and different vehicles of each type, tanks included. Since players can recruit other soldiers in the field, either by rescuing them or abducting them, they can also once again deploy as a recruited soldier. Though it is unlikely always the case, playing as Snake is again optional. Each one of the soldiers at Snake’s command have unique skills and different stats in different areas which will determine their effectiveness in areas like combat and stealth. People who have played Portable Ops and Peace Walker will be familiar with this feature. Once players have selected a loadout (which may be upgradeable and seems to consist of two primary weapons and a sidearm), a vehicle, a deployment time, and a buddy, they will be dropped off on the map. Buddies, it should be mentioned, have their own customizable loadouts. These are not as intricate as say… Snake’s, but there are options, for example D-Dog can be given a stealth suit with a stun rod.

Once deployed, players may notice that there is no mini-map or radar. Instead, players will need to go into the menu to view the map, which is also where mission start points will be marked and where the side ops zones are laid out. The selected buddy will also accompany you and aid you in general and specific ways. D-Dog, for example, can spot out and mark enemies for you and attack or distract someone at your command. If he has the stealth suit on, D-Dog can even mount the targeted enemy’s shoulders and stick a stun rod into his face. Meanwhile, D-Walker, a ride-able smaller-sized mech, can be a mode of loud or silent transportation, but also a mobile turret. On the map, missions and side ops are indicated differently; side ops are a general area while missions have specific start points. Side ops range from a variety of things and can hold more than just an asset. A side op to capture a soldier with a specific skill can also contain a hostage with another special skill which can aid in your R&D back at Mother Base. Along the way, resources, blueprints, music tracks, and many other things can be collected to benefit the player and Mother Base, encouraging the player to explore. Speaking of, there are many development trees for different weapons and tools, including the attachments that go with them. Getting a blueprint, be it from some scared soldier or on a table, could mean unlocking the next upgrade for your favorite rifle.

When tackling an objective, buddies can automatically mark the enemies for you. Though there is no radar, marked targets stay marked and show through walls. This makes it so you need to be much more aware of your surroundings, a concept many have tackled in Ground Zeroes. Snake is more mobile than before, and coupled with the open world and open-ended nature of the missions, it will overall be a more versatile Metal Gear game. The controls are still of the Metal Gear nature though, so some may need to unlearn some common 3rd person game control schemes and get used to some quick menu hopping to get things done in real time. When getting up to an enemy, there is a wide range of options like in previous games. Interrogating and knocking them out seems to be the ideal method of dealing with an unaware soldier, since if the coast is clear you can use the Fulton Recovery (a balloon that shoots them into the sky) to almost immediately extract them and add them to your ranks. Speaking of, the Fulton can be used for enemy armaments and even their vehicles. Likewise, armaments can get dropped in for you if you need a change in loadout or vehicle.

Things like supply drops, Fulton Recovery, and upgrades especially, all cost points called GMP. Upgrades cost large amounts of GMP, while using the Fulton costs smaller amounts of GMP. At times, you’ll have to spend money to make money. You have a limited amount of Fultons, though from how gameplay has been presented lately, using it when you feel like it will not be met with punishment. However, as logic dictates, the Fulton can be spotted and shot down.

Since the levels are made to seem more organic and realistic, the stealth opportunities will be more different than before. Mainly, there are  open areas, so sneaking up effectively will be about getting to know your terrain and keeping a distance. Fortunately, the presence of buddies serves to make you aware of enemies more easily. On the bright side, an open area also means that running away or repositioning when you are spotted is much easier. On the other hand, an enemy’s pursuit is harder to lose when there are less corridors and walls between you and them. Being spotted will likely be noticeably harder than before, at least starting out. For those who get caught often, the feature from Ground Zeroes where time slows down and you are able to fire a few quick rounds upon being noticed is back. Players will likely get more and more accustomed to the maps available, as well as how to take full advantage of Snake’s increased range of movement and aiming. There does not seem to be a penalty to using buddies, or really any reason not to since you can tell them to hold position somewhere or come to you. Even if they get taken out, buddies are automatically extracted, so for the first time, Snake may not be consistently alone on the missions.

There is plenty of personality in every turn, Quiet hops, D-Dog pees, and the D-Walker can lay some smack-down on an unaware enemy. The areas are dense with content and dense with detail. The codex calls do not seem to be present, at least not yet, but intel is fed to you by request to fill up the audio void. Since Snake seems to be making more sounds during gameplay than the cutscenes preceding it, it is also nice to have the option to play the songs you collected along the way. Snake lends an extra bit of subtle personality in how you pass time by smoking a cigar while he waits. Fortunately, it does not look like you can be spotted while smoking either, at least at a distance.

Refreshingly, The Phantom Pain seems to be much more about playing a game than watching it. With more freedom than before, it will be interesting to see how large the mission areas themselves will get, especially when compared to the space traveled to get there. The game world, people especially, will get accustomed to your exploits and strengthen themselves against your tactics. This may also mean though, that there are areas you will find yourself revisiting.

Things have opened up in Metal Gear Solid V, even more so than Ground Zeroes, and the Metal Gear formula is adapting around it. That is not to say you may no longer walk through a stronghold in a cardboard box, but it seems far less likely than ever that you would do that given all the options at your disposal. Do you explore the area and find your way to the objective, relying on your intel and your wits?  Do you interrogate an enemy soldier on where to go and then leave the enemy stronghold to re-enter from a different angle? Or do you cause a ruckus, get the objective, and then call your extraction chopper to high-tail it out? The choice, as is a bit new for the series, is yours. Metal Gear Solid V is, needless to say, doing a lot of new things. But from the looks of it, everything new is done quite well and is built off of something reliably old. With this latest installment in the series, Metal Gear Solid V looks to be a very different game than before but nevertheless looks good for it so far, all while running at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second on a PlayStation 4.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will be out on September 1 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.