"Let the legend come back to life."

Ocelot's words carry on the desert wind. Boss sits on the edge of the cliffside, staring at the Afghanistan landscape ahead. It's been nine years since Boss has seen any action, and the situation for his not-so-merry band of mercenaries has worsened every day. As he sits on his horse, contemplating the situation, we're left to wonder just how different this Metal Gear Solid will be from its predecessors.

Make no mistake, there's a lot of things in The Phantom Pain that you've seen and done before in a Metal Gear Solid game. That said, while the core concepts and mechanics of stealth and combat remain the same, there are a lot of new ideas in place in this sequel. Gunplay and melee combat appears to be identical to that found in Ground Zeroes, so Snake was able to make some short work of enemies, even when spotted. Where engaging the opposition finds fresh blood is in the way you can use the iDroid to signal in for some assistance. Artillery strikes can clear out sizable chunks of the map. You can also call back to Mother Base to get some intelligence reports from captured soldiers. Additionally, supply drops return from Peace Walker, though now you can also target enemies with your crates to knock them out from above.

Since supply drops return, you can also guess that the Fulton Recovery system makes another appearance. Recruiting unconscious or unaware soldiers (or vehicles or animals [yup, animals]) to fill out the Diamond Dogs roster is going to play a major part in Phantom Pain. Not only will these new hires help you out in the field by offering some advice, but they'll also be responsible for defending Mother Base from attack. Unlike Peace Walker, where you simply sent people to Mother Base and managed everything from a menu, Mother Base is a real place you can visit and explore. It's also completely customizable to your own standards. Firing ranges, hand-to-hand combat arenas, vehicle storage, helipads, mounted guns and drones can all be placed wherever you like. It's still a little strange that the soldiers you capture from the field of battle are so eager to salute Boss when he arrives, but the evolution of Mother Base management is a welcome one.

As for those attacks? The producers on hand were mum on just what that meant, but did offer that both threats met in-game and online would take any opportunity to strike the place where Boss lays his head. That's a new wrinkle we weren't aware of, but without any explanation of what it means, we don't know what to really expect. Hopefully we won't constantly be under siege from other players eager to strike while we're trying to enjoy Phantom Pain's many missions.

Kojima Productions
Kojima Productions

One of the other smaller twists on a familiar Metal Gear trope comes in the form of new cardboard box interactions. No longer is the cardboard box just a means of sneaking around; it's also a fully functional combat machine. Well, kind of. Boss will be able to pop out of the box to fire at unsuspecting enemies without having to unequip and re-equip it all the time. Also, if Boss gets spotted from a distance and needs to evade detection, he can dive out of the front of the box. As long as he's not been spotted, the soldier will just head to his last known location (where the box is), and Boss can make a quick escape to a new hiding spot to snipe that curious mercenary. For the first time, the box is a legitimate option for sneaking around beyond showing off one of Metal Gear's more silly aspects to friends.

If you've ever played Bethesda's Fallout or Elder Scrolls series, you know that you can pause the game to wait a certain amount of in-game time. Phantom Pain includes an element like that now, too, with Boss' e-cigar. Since smoking is bad, but Boss still likes a good stogie, he'll have the option to equip this e-cigar (complete with virtual digital smoke). While smoking, you can advance time to better suit your needs for infiltrations. Want to wait until darkness? Just fast forward the clock. Want to observe the guard patterns to see when the shifts change? Just fast forward the clock. Everything happens in real-time, meaning the weather and shadows will change accordingly, just at a quicker gait. In the brief hands-off demo, we got a sense of how it worked, but weren't really able to discern just how useful it will be beyond changing the day/night cycle. Still, it's another new tweak to the core gameplay which should offer some interesting strategy options.

Oh, and the horse poops. Because of course he does.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will be available on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One whenever Hideo Kojima says it will.