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Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain — Thoughts from the first 40 hours

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is a massive game — so voluminous, in fact, that we want to spend a little more time with Big Boss and friends before we publish our review of Kojima Productions' open-world stealth game. After more than 40 hours playing The Phantom Pain, there's still so much more to experience, so many side operations and mission objectives yet to be touched. The game tells us that we've seen a little more than 40 percent of what The Phantom Pain has to offer.

We've played a handful of memorable boss battles, a few confrontations that will be familiar to Metal Gear Solid fans and some that buck tradition. We've played dozens of missions that show off the breadth of The Phantom Pain's sandbox playground and, as we've grown Big Boss' arsenal and developed the game's headquarters, Mother Base, learned to approach the game's stealth-based missions from new perspectives.

We've bonded with our dog, acted like a monster, and rethought our approach to stealth operations over and over and over again. It's been a fascinating journey so far, unlocking all the stealth and combat options that The Phantom Pain has to offer.

The Phantom Pain, we've learned, also adapts to all the skills, weapons and technology that Big Boss acquires over the course of the game. Missions near the end of the game throw all-new challenges at the player; old strategies that players may take for granted can quickly become useless in the face of smarter, stronger, more situationally-aware enemies. Big Boss gains some powerful skills and allies in the game — he can call in deadly airstrikes, command his sidekicks to skillfully slay his enemies for him — but he's by no means indestructible. The game finds new ways to surprise me, dozens of missions in.

Polygon has already written at length of our initial impressions of The Phantom Pain, so if you're looking for in-depth, mostly spoiler-free impressions of the game's first dozen hours, check out our hands-on preview from this spring and our write-up from E3 2015. And for a longer look at the game's wealth of tactical options, check out the 30-minute video demo from Konami.

Beyond our initial impressions of the game's first dozen hours, I've come to appreciate how important (and how enjoyable) the game's buddy system is. Having sidekicks like D.D. the dog, Quiet the sniper and the personal transport known as Gear Walker can drastically alter how you approach a mission. The game's Mother Base simulation system, in which players manage staff and build up their headquarters, is more vitally important to gameplay than I'd previously appreciated. If you don't pay close attention to Mother Base and its staff, resources and technology, you'll suffer for it. Learn how to manage Mother Base early and effectively, and you'll be rewarded.

The Phantom Pain's story is, like other Metal Gear Solid games, complex — and frustrating in that complexity. It can be clumsy, silly and puerile, but we're still hooked. There are dozens of audio tape conversations we've listened to to flesh out the backstory, with dozens more still to soak in. Without a doubt, this game has series creator Hideo Kojima's touch throughout, a fact we're reminded of the dozens of times the game says The Phantom Pain was directed and produced by Kojima.

We'll have more thoughts on Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain in Polygon's full review, coming soon.

The Phantom Pain: Gamescon Trailer