Looking over the small cluster of buildings in the Afghan desert, you prepare your binoculars. One, two, three guards patrolling; possibly more you can’t see. The red flag of the USSR billows in the wind above a particular building, right in the centre and modestly fortified. That must be where you need to go. Dismounting from your horse, you make your way toward the buildings. Right angles and peeking around cover are your best friends here, and the tranquiliser’s suppressor has limited use. Maybe it would be better to wait until night…
Eventually you sneak into the building. A radio is playing a 80s pop classic, and eventually you find your target. Go in guns blazing? That would trigger an alert, which is risky. Try to lure him out? Also possible. Or maybe you could tranquilise him, take him somewhere quiet and send him back to base with a Fulton Balloon, find out what he knows. Any option will work.
That’s a typical scenario during the first few hours of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Hideo Kojima’s long-awaited epic, which closes the loop around the Metal Gear franchise. We were recently invited to sit down and play through the first few hours of the game, which releases for pretty much every current platform in September. The newest Metal Gear game is unmistakably Kojima, and within a few minutes it was impossible to deny its roots. We were given complete access to the game and there are tons to talk about. Controller in hand, we started the game from the beginning.
Nine years after being seriously injured during the events of last year’s Ground Zeroes, Snake wakes up in a hospital bed to find his right arm missing, his body filled with shrapnel, and not a lot of things making sense. This is a long cutscene, but it’s all seen from the first person perspective, allowing us to move the camera around as the doctor explains what’s going on. Unfortunately, there is an attack on the hospital and Snake is guided through the hospital by fellow escaping patient Ishmael while the anaesthetic wears off. This is all playable and within minutes the stealth begins; we’re sneaking round corners, under hospital beds, and behind curtains to get by the armed troops laying siege to the building. Any cutscenes transition seamlessly into gameplay and aren’t very long at all.
The prologue is one of wackiest things to come out of the Metal Gear franchise, and fans will delight in seeing it play out. It’s a strange affair, and it answers a surprising number of questions. After a fiery exit from the hospital we are rescued by Ocelot, voiced this time by Troy Baker. We’re treated to a small Indiana Jones-style segment where a dotted line traces across a map to Afghanistan. During a montage Snake is handed a new bionic arm to replace the hook he had in hospital, and the bandages are removed, revealing a huge piece of metal sticking out of his head, which doctors were unable to remove. It obviously looks like a horn, and this is to do with the game’s theme – that Snake is becoming a metaphorical demon, eventually becoming the monstrous antagonist for Solid Snake to battle with later on.
On arrival in the Afghan desert, Ocelot tells us “How you do it is up to you,” and to “let the legend come back to life”. From there it’s off to save Miller. Snake sits on horseback with what feels like the entire country in front of him, the camera moves over his shoulder, and we’re handed control.