Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes established the start of a new era for the Metal Gear Solid series. It was also pegged as a primer that would introduce players to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's style of stealth. Having just watched over 30 minutes of gameplay from The Phantom Pain during a live demo, I can honestly say that Ground Zeroes left many of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's most unusual aspects off the table. Some mechanics from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker are reintroduced in The Phantom Pain, including the Mother Base system, but there's also a wealth of brand new mechanics to discover. Some are ridiculous and goofy; some are impressive displays of aggression. All told, The Phantom Pain is the most complex Metal Gear Solid game yet, and I can't wait to dive into it headlong; under the cover of a cardboard box, of course.
The demo started the same way the trailer did from E3 2013. Ocelot and Snake ride on horseback into a sandstorm in the middle of Afghanistan with the aim of infiltrating a Soviet-controlled base to rescue their comrade, Kazuhira Miller. This scene takes place relatively soon after Snake awakes from his nine-year coma following the events in Ground Zeroes. At one point, Ocelot hands Snake a canteen of water, but he struggles to grasp it; Snake is learning how to use his new prosthetic arm, but clearly hasn't gotten the hang of it yet.
The pair stops at a cliff that overlooks a small canyon. Ocelot remarks that Snake has three days to rescue Miller, or else they'll lose their shot at revenge against those who destroyed Mother Base at the end of Ground Zeroes. For the moment, Snake needs to infiltrate a base to gain information as to Miller's whereabouts, but after that mission (which was designed specifically for E3 in this case), Snake is free to tackle the remaining Soviet bases however he sees fit. Meanwhile, Ocelot will return to the new Mother Base in order to provide aid to Snake via radio and oversee the expansion of their base. After Ocelot hands Snake Miller's sunglasses, control was handed over to the producer who was running the demo. The camera rotated behind Snake, and then, his horse defecates. The producer clarified: "Your horse will defecate. That's a feature."
Snake then rode into the desert, which was dotted with wildlife and dilapidated, dusty structures. He approached a building guarded by a tandem of Soviet soldiers. He then tranquilized one of the guards and proceeded to hold up and interrogate the other. Then, I caught the first glimpse of the return of the Fulton recovery system from Peace Walker. Essentially, Snake can incapacitate a soldier, attach a helium balloon to his back, and in a matter of seconds, the soldier will jet into the sky on his way back to Mother Base. Once there, hostages are indoctrinated into the Diamond Dogs, Snake's private military organization.
Then the demo took a comedic turn. Apparently, the Fulton recovery system can be used to abduct a number of things--not just humans. Sure enough, I saw a goat, a storage container, and a military SUV hoisted into the air via balloon. Depending on the weather conditions and your surroundings, there's the chance that the recovery won't go as planned. You're given an indication of the success rate in the form of a percentage, which is typically around 80% in good weather. Interestingly, rather than call for a helicopter when you want to be evacuated to Mother Base, you can take a seat in a vehicle, or hop on top of a container, and use the Fulton system for a quick escape. However, if you try to do so in a sand storm, there's a chance that you'll be thrown off course, and likely die as a result.
Your horse will defecate. That's a feature.
A minute after attempting to recover a person, animal, or thing, you receive an indication as to whether your package was safely delivered back to base. If the recovery was successful, you earn GMP, which you can use to build up Mother Base and order airdrops in order to acquire new items and weapons in the field. If you're feeling brave, you can order the airdrop to fall on top of an enemy, but you run the risk of disrupting order in crowded areas. During the demo, Snake called in a cardboard box, a mainstay of Metal Gear games. You still use the box to sneak around, but you have a couple of new options when it comes to dealing with enemy forces while in disguise. Snake can temporarily pop out of the top of a box in order to encounter enemies, rather than shed the box altogether. He can also pop out of the side of the box and sneak away, leaving it as a decoy for a curious soldier.
After the presenter snuck away from his box, he went around a building and spotted a nearby enemy. It was then that he demonstrated Snake's new method of wall knocking; the technique that beckons nearby guards. Rather than rapping his knuckles against a wall, Snake spins his prosthetic hand at the wrist, which emits sparks and a series of audible clicks and clacks. You no longer need a wall to knock. However, Snake was leaning against a wall, and when a soldier came around to investigate, Snake scooped him up by his neck, turned 180 degrees, and slammed the soldier's head into a wall. Similarly, when you're hiding in a dumpster, you can pop out and wrench an enemy inside, incapacitating him.
Then Snake approached the base where he hoped to find information regarding Miller's whereabouts. Sure, Snake can mark guards and track their movements, but there are some guards that remain out of sight. Always the man with the plan, Snake has a way to monitor the movements of soldiers over the course of an entire day. How does he do this? By smoking an e-cigar, of course. Yes, it's absurd, but while Snake puffs away on his smokeless cigar, which emits fake, holographic smoke, time passes unusually fast, and you can use the iDroid to keep track of different patrol patterns. Once you've got a good idea of where soldiers like to go, you can set multiple markers and use them as waypoints to steer yourself clear of harm's way.
After employing the usual sneaking and close-quarters-combat tactics, Snake winds up in a room with a document related to Miller's location. Rather than steal it, he scans it with his iDroid device, forwarding it back to Ocelot at Mother Base for analysis. With his mission complete, Snake exits the building, but is quickly spotted. After dashing out of harm's way, he uses his iDroid to call in an airstrike on the base to eliminate traces of his infiltration, and the enemies on his tail. He also summons an escape helicopter a few hundred meters away from the base, and steals a vehicle in order to make his initial escape. Eventually, the chopper comes to his rescue, but as Snake flies away, enemy reinforcements begin to close in. In some scenarios, they can fire upon the helicopter, but in this case, it was a clean getaway.
Then, Snake arrived at Mother Base. Here, I got to see the results of all of his hard work. Every player's Mother Base is built to their own specifications, and contains all of the people, items, and yes, animals, that were recovered from the field. At one point, after roaming around his domain, Mother Base came under attack, but this was where the demo ended. Snake hopped back into a helicopter and took off, but not before brandishing the Kojima Productions badge, which he proudly attached to his harness.
For a demo of a game that I thought was a well-known quantity (from a gameplay perspective), there was a lot of new information to absorb. The bottom line is: in The Phantom Pain, Snake and Mother Base are intertwined, and one cannot survive without the other. The extent of this complex relationship relies on the player's willingness to participate, but given the ease at which you can build up your resources in the name of protecting your back, it doesn't seem like this will be too great of a distraction from the main game.