Preview events offer only brief glimpses at very big games. Who knows how any given game will pan out in its final form? The most we can say is This Could Be Good.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Developer: Kojima Productions
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release date: 2015?
Snake sits with his back arched in the saddle of his majestic white steed. He’s ready to ride alone in the harsh Afghani desert, like some mythical military cowboy, to take out a squadron of well-armed soldiers and rescue a hostage. The music swells, the camera pans dramatically behind horse and rider, and for a moment, this feels like a modern take on a John Ford movie. That pristine image, however, is ingloriously ruined when Snake’s beast of burden lifts its tail and takes an enormous shit all over the rocky soil.
The Metal Gear Solid series has always concocted a strange brew that mixes the deadly serious with the sublimely silly. After all, these are games where the badass hero counts “scooting around in a cardboard box” as a primary trick in his arsenal, and conversations between characters often break the fourth wall.
The horse poop incident is just one of many indications that this Metal Gear isn’t likely to be mistaken for humorless docu-drama. In the demo, Snake attempts to avoid enemy detection by riding sidesaddle on his horse like a camouflaged rodeo clown. Once off his mount, he shoots one guard with a stun gun and straps a balloon around the man’s downed body. As the enemy emits a strangled yelp, he rockets skyward—he’s now Snake’s prisoner, set to be whisked away by an overhead aircraft. This so-called Fulton recovery system, a real personnel-retrieval method that first appeared in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, turns Snake into the world’s most unlikely property thief. There are no grand pianos around, sadly, but he can attach balloons to military jeeps, crates—even sheep—and they are captured for removal to Snake’s base of operations. Later in the demo, Snake returns to his home, a massive floating platform in the ocean, to see the captured sheep wandering the base among armed guards. As you approach, the soldiers salute you and the wooly creature bleats its appreciation.
But perhaps you want to dispatch an enemy by dropping something on them from a plane instead of sending them up? Just enter a menu in which Snake takes command of his Diamond Dogs organization, invest some points into research and development, and request a crate of supplies. The cargo you just ordered can somehow be targeted to drop from an aircraft and land on the head of an unsuspecting enemy combatant. Amazon will probably use a similar system someday against customers who let their Prime subscription lapse.
Speaking of deadly cube-shaped objects, the cardboard box is back and better than ever. You may have one airmailed to you in the battlefield, where you can employ some of the humble carton’s brand-new features. Snake can wait until a trooper wanders over to his hiding spot and pop out of the top like a Jack-In-The-Box with guns blazing. If someone spots the box first and wonders why a large packing container is moving autonomously in the desert, Snake can burst out of the side and roll out undetected. Look, I know what you really want to know: Does Metal Gear Solid V contain magical psychotropic cigarettes that fools Snake’s awareness of time and acts as a way to fast-forward the scene from day to night? The answer is yes.
Consider that this is a game whose trailer ventures into ultra-grim Zero Dark Thirty territory. There are scenes of prisoners being tortured in a way that recalls Guantanamo Bay and members of a militia of some sort training child soldiers. The E3 trailer is so intense that Snake literally rubs the ashes of his fallen squadmates all over his face—a visage grizzled to the point of absurdity with rough scars, his signature eyepatch, and a piece of shrapnel literally embedded into the side of his head like a misshapen horn. So if the 20-minute E3 demo is any indication, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain turns up both the human drama and jarring humor to outrageous new highs.