September sees the release of the latest – and maybe the last – installment in the Metal Gear series, and Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is set to be the most expansive adventure yet. Coming to consoles in September with an enhanced PC version following closely behind, it's a massive helping of tactical stealth action spread across enormous open worlds.
If you've played Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, then you'll have had a taste of what to expect from The Phantom Pain. Developed as a prequel to Phantom Pain, Ground Zeroes introduced a raft of new features to Metal Gear Solid – most notably its huge, open environments that require you to use vehicles in order to get around them – and Phantom Pain refines and expands them massively.
Once again it's the Metal Gear character formerly known as Big Boss who takes the spotlight for Phantom Pain, and this time around he's going by the name of Venom Snake. Nine years have passed since Ground Zeroes, and he's spent pretty much all of it in a coma, but now he's awake and back in business, leading a mercenary group called Diamond Dogs.
Set in 1984 against a background of the Soviet-Afghan war, Phantom Pain takes Snake from Africa to Afghanistan on a mission to get revenge on the people who wiped out his forces after Ground Zeroes and put him in that pesky coma. Naturally there's a lot more to the story than a simple revenge mission; this is a Metal Gear Solid game, after all, and deep, labyrinthine plots with plenty of supporting characters are all part of the fun, and along the way Snake encounters a unit of warriors robbed of their past, present and future, and unearths a plot to create a super-weapon even more powerful than the Metal Gear system which kicked the whole series off in the first place.
The big draw of Phantom Pain is going to be the massive areas in which the action takes place; up until Ground Zeroes, Metal Gear Solid games dropped you into relatively small and linear levels, but now the game pans out on a much larger scale. Ground Zeroes provided a delicious taste of this grander vision, but Phantom Pain is going much, much bigger, with a play area around 200 times bigger than its prequel, with a variety of environments and weather conditions as well as a real-time day and night cycle.
With a bigger world and subsequently bigger missions, Phantom Pain's tactical espionage operations become a lot more unpredictable, but thankfully Snake has a lot of help on his side. He of course has a huge range of weapons at his disposal – plus the ability to research and build new weapons and equipment in his Mother Base – but he can also call on helicopter support and commandos to scout out enemy territory to give him a strategic edge.
Snake also has two AI companions who can give him a hand along the way if they're recruited to his team. There's Quiet, a mute sniper with supernatural powers, who can mark out enemies in Snake's path, as well as distracting them and taking them out with a well-aimed bullet, and then there's D.D., an orphan wolfdog found by Snake and trained for him by another Metal Gear mainstay, Ocelot. D.D. can join you on missions to sniff out and attack enemies, as well as helping find useful items nearby.
As you'd expect, Phantom Pain favours a stealthy, tactical approach to every mission and encourages the use of non-lethal weapons, particularly since you can fire downed enemies into the sky using the Fulton recovery system and recruit them to your side. There's also a wealth of upgrades and customisations available, enabling you to add things like a stun-gun to Snake's prosthetic arm or simply pick a cassette to play in the helicopter dropping you into the combat zone.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is undoubtedly the biggest and best-looking entry in the series to date. You can also score yourself a free copy of the game by purchasing a new qualifying graphics card with NVIDIA’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain GTX bundle. And in a game where stealth is key, graphics are going to play a huge part in the experience.