In March of last year, Konami released the controversial Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, the prologue chapter to the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. It was controversial for several reasons, the main one being that it felt like a $40 demo, consisting only of a single main mission that could be beaten in about an hour, along with a handful of side missions that took place in the same level.
I mention all of this because in my two hours or so of hands-on time with The Phantom Pain, my biggest takeaway was how much I was reminded of Ground Zeroes. Only instead of infiltrating a military camp on Cuban soil, I was riding around a mostly empty desert, until I was eventually able to infiltrate a military camp on Afghanistan sand.
Now, before we go any further, let me just be clear that I liked Ground Zeroes. It was overpriced for the amount of content that it had, for sure, but I loved the open ended approach to stealth. I loved the feeling of being initially dropped into an unfamiliar setting, scoping out the environment from afar, gathering intel by interrogating enemies in the field, being able to spot my own landing zones to extract my targets once I pick them up, and having the freedom to hop into a vehicle even if it almost always ended in disaster.
All of these things that I liked about Ground Zeroes were present in my hands-on time with The Phantom Pain, but along with everything I disliked as well. Mainly, the repetition of getting placed in the same environment, but with a different objective over and over again.
The Phantom Pain differs from all of the previous numbered Metal Gear Solid games in that it adopts an episodic mission structure as opposed to the traditional method of linear storytelling. Once you gain access to Mother Base, an offshore plant turned headquarters for Snake's personal Private Military Corporation, the Diamond Dogs, you'll get the opportunity to choose between several main missions and side ops, each with their own objectives and rewards.
Of the four missions that I ended up playing, each of them took place in Afghanistan, and regardless of the objective, they all basically played out the same way. I would ride my horse to a waypoint set on my iDroid, stop at a spot that overlooked the base that I needed to infiltrate, mark all of the enemies that I could see, and then proceed to carefully crawl my way over to wherever I needed to go, sticking a tranq dart into any enemy that I couldn't crawl past. Sometimes I would have to locate and extract a high value target, another time I had to assassinate a specific enemy that I had to first identify with my binoculars, and lastly was a mission that involved some tactical demolition.
If that sounds familiar, it's probably because each of those types of missions was already something that you could do in a side-op in Ground Zeroes.
It's also worth mentioning that the game absolutely does not hold your hand when it comes to finding out the location of the target that you need to extract. Your iDroid will give you a very rough estimate of where the target is located, but it's up to you to search the compound extensively in order to find the target, a fact that I'm sure I'd have appreciated much more had I not been under time constraints to play through as much as I could.
After finishing a mission, you'll return to Mother Base and can spend your hard earned funds, otherwise known as GMP, to purchase new weapons, items, and so on. You can also fully explore Mother Base and even customize it to your liking by bringing back items from the field using your Fulton recovery device.