Hands on: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Danger lurks around every corner in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain looks to be a massive culmination of the beloved action-stealth series.

Last year Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes really impressed us with how it shook up the established series formula by opening up the gameplay into a more flexible, open world style. That brief prologue was just an appetizer, however, for the main course this September: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. I had the chance to don my cardboard box and try out one of its early missions. While I can’t tell you anything about the story yet, I can confirm that Phantom Pain delivers on the promise of Ground Zeroes.

I climbed the stairs and walked in on an apparently off-duty guard, whom I reflexively knocked out with a tranquilizer dart.

I was dropped off on a ledge overlooking the rocky desert of Afghanistan. The horizon stretched out in front of me, an enticing and expansive landscape I was eager to explore. That would have to wait for another day; I had a rescue operation to complete. One of my former comrades was captured by mysterious operatives and was being held in a nearby facility. Some intel in a nearby village pointed me to his exact location, which was necessary if the extraction was going to be as precise and surgical as I intended it to be (Spoiler alert: It was not).

Where most prior Metal Gear games would drop you off right at the mission location so you could get right into the sneaking (and inevitable frantically running and shooting), here it leaves you in the desert with a horse (though no sign of the wolf), point you in the right direction, and leave you to it. Good reconnaissance becomes absolutely vital, fundamentally altering the rhythm of the game.

I gave the village a wide berth, riding around to the other side where a ridge overlooked it so I could get a better view with my binoculars. Zooming in on a guard tags them both in your view and on the map, so it pays to take your time and try to scope out everyone. That’s the advice I would have given myself if I could travel back in time to a few minutes before I walked right into a guard I’d missed hiding behind a wall. Fortunately, when the firefight broke out, there were only a handful of soviet soldiers with terrible aim hanging out in that sleepy village, so they were quickly dispatched, and I found the intel that pointed me to where exactly my target was being held.

From there it was onward to a much more heavily-guarded fortress for the rescue. The lack of a clear boundary for mission areas means that you have to be cautious when making your way across the map. Myopically focused on my target in the distance, I bungled around a corner and right into a guard post, and before I could react my horse was dead on the ground, followed shortly thereafter by me. I only had one hour to play, but I could already feel how immersive the game gets in full swing. The open environment and ever-looming threats make Metal Gear Solid V feel simultaneously expansive and intimate.

The second part of the mission went more smoothly, aided by the fall of night, which arrived just as I approached the facility. Under cover of darkness I was able to slip past the perimeter defenses undetected and into the building where I knew my target was being held. Keep it together, Snake. I climbed the stairs and walked in on an apparently off-duty guard, whom I reflexively knocked out with a tranquilizer dart before he has a chance to react. Good — this was how things were supposed to go.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Things turn south, however, when another guard happens upon me stashing the body of his colleague in the basement. Caught unaware, my less timely and elegant response results in a hail of bullets, the alarm raised, and a mad dash to complete my objective. Fortunately, I was already close, so I simply had to run upstairs and take the prisoner.

The first segment would not let me grab the intel while the guards were still after me, meaning I had to take out the entire village before moving on. Here, however, I was able to have a full cut scene of dialogue with the prisoner while a guard was literally standing a few feet away outside a window. It was somewhat immersion-breaking, but I was nevertheless relieved that I could throw him over my shoulder and book it out the door without having to kill dozens of Soviet soldiers. I threw him on the back of my horse and took off to the extraction point. The ensuing chase took a decidedly Kojima-flavored turn toward “..what?!”, which offered tantalizing hints of the insanity to come in The Phantom Pain‘s story.

If you loved previous Metal Gear games, you’ll feel right at home in The Phantom Pain. All of Snake’s tools and tricks for both stealth and guns-blazing combat are easily accessible through quick menus, empowering you to play in any style you choose. It all feels fluid and intuitive enough that the game gets out of your way so you can just focus on being a cinematic badass. There were a few cut scenes during the segment I played, and Kojima’s signature, overwrought dialogue is back in full force, striking that balance between serious and silly that makes it classic Metal Gear. The game also makes fantastic use of the PlayStation 4 hardware, with a deep draw distance and beautifully detailed textures.

If this really is Hideo Kojima’s last hurrah with Konami and his genre-defining franchise, he will be going out on a high note. Playing this all-too-brief demo whet my appetite, and I can’t wait to dig in when Metal Gear Solid V drops on September 1.

Highs

  • The open world promise of Ground Zeroes realized on a grand scale
  • Most visually-impressive Metal Gear game ever

Lows

  • Unforgiving to players not already familiar with series’ gameplay mechanics
Product Review

Not even the promise of nostalgia can save the PlayStation Classic

The PS1 era was home to many great games that are worth revisiting. Unfortunately, the PlayStation Classic is a collectible that capitalizes on the cute mini aesthetic but falls short everywhere else.
Gaming

How you can share your best gaming moments with friends on the PS4

Check out Digital Trends' quick guide to everything you need to know to save your outstanding PlayStation 4 gameplay moments, share them online, and transfer them to your computer.
Gaming

These are the best Xbox One games available right now

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From 'Cuphead' to 'Halo 5,' the best Xbox One games offer something for everyone.
Deals

Play ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ the best way with a Switch GameCube controller

If you're a longtime Super Smash Bros. player, then you know there's only one true way to play. Alongside the recent launch of the new 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,' Nintendo has brought back the iconic GameCube controller.
Gaming

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.
Gaming

The hottest Nintendo Switch games you can get right now

The Nintendo Switch's lineup started off small, but games have steadily released as the console continues through its second year. Here are the best Nintendo Switch games available now, from Super Mario Odyssey to Fortnite.
Product Review

‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ is an ode to gaming that lives up to its name

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a loving tribute to Nintendo and video game history. It’s a terrific multiplayer fighter that also has plenty for single-player fans to love this time around.
Deals

Check out the best Green Monday deals for those last-minute gifts

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone, but that doesn't mean you've missed your chance of finding a great deal. We're talking about Green Monday, of course, and it falls on December 10.
Gaming

Itching to fight in an online match with friends in 'SSB Ultimate'? Here's how

You can play online against your friends in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, but it isn't quite as simple as you might expect from a multiplayer game in 2018. Here's how you can do so using the Battle Arena system.
Gaming

PlayStation Classic hacked in less than a week to play games via USB drive

Hackers have already managed to crack the PlayStation Classic, with programs now available to allow users to play additional original PlayStation games on the system via a USB drive.
Gaming

‘Fortnite’ adds sword from ‘Infinity Blade,’ which disappears from App Store

Epic Games has added the Infinity Blade melee weapon to Fortnite just as it pulled all three games in the Infinity Blade trilogy from sale. The games are still available to download if you bought them.
Gaming

How you can give your PS4 a fresh start with a factory reset

Learn the many ways you can factory reset your PS4. From reverting your settings to factory to doing a full wipe and reinstalling the latest PlayStation firmware, we cover it all here, step by step.
Gaming

Still trying to unlock your main in 'Super Smash Bros. Ultimate'? Try these tips

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is Nintendo’s biggest entry in the series to date with over 70 characters to unlock, but the process can feel tiresome. Here are our tips to unlock your roster as quickly as possible.
Gaming

How to make a clan in ‘Destiny 2’ and where to go from there

Want to know how to make a clan in 'Destiny 2'? Here's everything you need to know, including how to design your clan's banner, earn extra loot, and help other players with guided games.