Ah, Kojima. If there's one man guaranteed to spice up the dullest E3s - and this one has mostly been about as exciting than the average teenager's Facebook post - it's him. True to form, the Phantom Pain's showing was the best thing I saw at this year's show.
The demo (hands-off, of course) was a runthrough of Snake's mission to rescue Kazuhira Miller, who is being held in Afghanistan by the Soviets. Obviously Rambo was busy, so it's Snake's job to get into the network of small outposts dotted by the mountains and get his man out.
The Phantom Pain's world is roughly 200 times bigger than Ground Zeroes, and this mission showed off the abilities Snake will have to use to navigate the terrain. Horseback riding (and hiding - you can hang off the side of the horse to disguise yourself) can be used to cover the ground more effectively, and the iDroid can be used to mark your path via a series of waypoints.
As with Ground Zeroes, the binoculars are an integral part of your arsenal, and they're even more handy here. As well as being used to mark targets, they also show sleeping enemies, helping players find the most opportune time to sneak into the base. A day/night cycle sees guards change shift, creating opportunities and Snake can skip to a time in the future by using his...e-cigarette. Yes.
As with Peace Walker, acquiring troops for your cause (and Mother Base, which I'll get to in a minute) is one of your primary concerns. The Fulton recovery system - a deployable balloon that is then hooked by passing aircraft - can be used to snaffle soldiers, vehicles and even goats. These all add to your resources, enabling research, development, and expansion of the base itself, which is dictated in appearance and content by the player's decisions. That said, you'll have to look after it: Konami mentioned that making enemies online will see the base 'invaded', and you'll have to fight off attackers with ordinance you've stolen from the battlefield.
Intel also plays an important part: grunts taken from the battlefield can be called upon to furnish Snake with information about his current surroundings, which in this instance was highly-guarded routes around Miller's location. You'll also be warned about incoming sandstorms and other changes in weather, which can either help or hinder the mission.
The Mother Base element is a nice addition to the main series, but as ever it's the fieldwork that is the star. Kojima Productions' attention to detail is legendary, and the good work continues here. Snake is tremendously well animated, lending weight and credibility to the world. The playing field is also meticulously well designed, with optimum sneaking lines to be found and used, guard patterns to be learned and exploited.
It's classic Metal Gear Solid, only expanded and made more open-ended. New additions like the cardboard box Snake can burst out of (either from the top, to surprise enemies, or from the side to escape them) and the artificial limb's noise-making mechanic all feed into an experience that gives you the tools to complete it any way you want, from total stealth to calling in artillery strikes to cover your escape. It's the best thing I saw at E3.