Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes has been officially revealed, and as you would expect, it raises a lot of questions. I can’t wait to find out about the following aspects.
New info and my reactions:
What I love about recent MGSV news: Slow motion alert warning system – Lens flare caution system – Less cutscenes – Vehicle damage — Marking enemies with binoculars – Improved interrogation options – Pretty much everything.
All of these changes in MGSV are wisely tailored to the “open world”, especially the interrogation and lens flare stuff. In an open world, knowledge becomes much more important than a linear game. Therefore, interrogating should rightfully be a big part of planning your moves! Likewise, lens flare is a perfect solution for notifying players in an open world; draws your eye to the source of potential danger without being too obstructive.
Slow motion when you’re about to be discovered is very important. Without constant little checkpoints, dying could be much more punishing. You could be travelling for 40 minutes before you reach a hostile situation, and do you want to throw all that away on one accidental discovery that you could have avoided with a little extra warning?
The only really troubling thing being reported is the red screen for damage, and possible quick health regeneration. I don’t want auto-regeneration! Make us earn it somehow. (Even though I did enjoy the “lay down slowly recover to full health” system in Peace Walker. So it might be fine.)
On to the old questions with a few answers. New stuff will be bold and blue.
How much freedom do we really have?
Ground Zeroes is supposed to be an “open” game, where you can go anywhere your eyes can see. This is a huge deal, even without the ability to extract yourself via helicopter and go to a different part of the world whenever you want. The possibility of approaching your mission target from any angle, using any method, and improvising whatever crazy strategy you can think of is nothing short of a wet-works wet dream.
But that’s all just theory. Games like this always boil down to a couple of key mechanics, which define what you can actually do, as opposed to what you can theoretically do. In theory we should be able to parachute from our helicopter onto one of the rooftops, break open the ventilation ducts, crawl into a storage closet, and disguise ourselves as a janitor, walking around with a broom in our hand as we stroll past the guards. However, without those mechanics in place — parachuting, breaking vent covers, crawling through ducts, or disguising — we can’t do any of it. That’s just one example. A more pressing question is, can we cut wire fences? Can we climb over them, or under them? If not, Kojima and his team can create choke points wherever he wants, and ultimately we’ll be forced to take a limited path to our objectives. Or how about the ability to dive and swim freely? Without good swimming mechanics, you should expect to see convenient little streams in the way, over and over, blocking our path. When the rubber meets the road, what can we do?
Speaking of rubber meeting the road, we can steal vehicles now! But again, the big question is what you can do with them. The Grand Theft Auto games have physics for handling awkward terrain, ramps, rolling, collisions, and more, which is why getting in a car really gives you the feeling of empowerment. Can we climb on top of vehicles freely as a way of reaching rooftops? Can they smash down wire fences, or will they get awkwardly hung up on stuff? Can we shoot the tires, bust the windshields, hide bodies inside them, and otherwise use them as a core gameplay element, or will they be nothing more than tough-looking golf carts? We’ve seen Snake hiding in the back of a truck, but not a lot more. They can be damaged, including punctured wheels, making them harder to drive. Let’s hope there is more to it than that.
When done correctly, an open-ended format in a stealthy action game results in the Commandos series, or the better parts of the Hitman series, where freedom and creativity trump the developers’ impulse to manage our experience. When done poorly, the player feels restricted to pre-planned solutions and choke points, defeating the whole purpose of an “open” system in the first place.
I guess my biggest concern is that, like so many games before it, Ground Zeroes will abandon the idea of true openness once the story heats up, and resort to narrow corridors and hectic pacing for the sake of creating a challenge. Restrictions are challenging, but they’re not nearly as much fun as empowerment. Try to imagine the final stage of Ground Zeroes right now. Will it be the classic “stripped naked and forced to run for your life” scenario, or will you have everything at your disposal, including plenty of free time? Will it be constant explosions and arena-style boss fights, or could it finally present the Ultimate Infiltration Scenario?
Peace Walker introduced mechanics for calling in airstrikes and item drops, which this game is strongly hinting at already, but it also had more items and tools than we knew what to do with, so that in the end the only thing holding it back was the size and design of the areas themselves, which were linear. Small sections connected by loading screens made the game feel small, even though it had huge amounts of options. Will Ground Zeroes truly give us the freedom to explore, experiment, and exterminate — sans frontieres?
Inventory and Customization
Peace Walker is an amazing progression of the Metal Gear series in so many ways, but one of my favorites is the customization options before the start of every mission. Instead of sticking to the “on site procurement” of past titles, we pick camouflage, items and weapons before heading into an area, forcing us to think strategically. I never liked the idea of carrying 200 items and weapons around with me, so this was refreshing. Ground Zeroes is obviously a sequel, but which path will it choose? According to new reports, the game has a minimalist inventory wheel of some sort that pops up and lets you customize and swap items, without displaying them in the corners of the screen or anything. This sounds good, although we don’t know how much can be carried. We do know that enemy weapons can be pulled out of their hands and used against them, however, which suggests there’ll be no more waiting to find the one gun in the facility that’s not ‘ID locked’ or whatever.
Will Ground Zeroes turn Peace Walker‘s customization and inventory style into a new tradition? I hope so. One thing I can’t figure out is why, logically speaking, Big Boss wouldn’t be able to take all his gear, outfits, and weapons from Mother Base with him on his new missions, but that’s a problem for Kojima to answer in his own way.
Related to the inventory, I wonder whether there will be any “pause” while selecting items, as this could make a huge difference in gameplay. I’m pretty sure the new reports are saying there’s no pause during weapon switch. Shrinking the amount of stuff you can carry eliminates a lot of menu-fiddling, but picking items has always been an easy “pause” button. Unlike PW, this game has no co-op (that we know of) so it shouldn’t be a technical issue.
Any personnel/base management elements?
Flying around the world in a helicopter is cool, but it would be a whole lot cooler if Mother Base was still under our management. Even if you forgot about R&D, recruiting, and sending soldiers out on missions, you could still have training areas, intelligence reports, enemy interrogations, and even “defend Mother Base” missions.
If I had to guess, I’d say that the “upcoming inspection of Mother Base” will limit what we can do there, but we’ll still have options. That’s absolutely fine, as long as the game’s focus still gives us something interesting to plan between missions. This is highly unlikely now, considering we know about the destruction of Mother Base, which leads up to the premise of The Phantom Pain. But perhaps in TPP we’ll have some?
How will radio/support work?
This may seem like a stupid question, but think about it: we’ve never seen a massive, open Metal Gear game before, so this may be the first time the radio system won’t be able to suggest exact solutions. The codec apparently works similar to Peace Walker, in which you hear the answers in real time, but they’re not as long or in depth. Fine by me. It ties into the game mechanics and creative solutions again: if we manage to get ourselves stuck in some crazy area we probably weren’t supposed to be in, will the game still be able to point out solutions? Sandbox games happily let you squirm, but what will happen here? (Really, I doubt this game will let us get stuck anywhere, because the controls will be too limited.)
Personally, I hated the support characters in Metal Gear Solid 4. Give my apologies to Rose, Otacon, and Drebin, but they were all boring as hell. Peace Walker had better characters, but they didn’t offer much conversation. The game didn’t pause during radio transmissions, and I don’t expect Ground Zeroes to either, but perhaps Kojima will compensate for this by once again making the mission briefings wonderfully in-depth (and entirely optional).
Graphically and design-wise, Ground Zeroes easily looks like the most ambitious Metal Gear ever, which is saying a lot. Let’s hope the game takes after its handheld predecessor and pushes every feature to the limit.