Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes Hands-Off Preview

Along with taking the wraps off of his new Los Angeles studio, Hideo Kojima took some time to demo Metal Gear Solid 5 for the attending press.

The presentation was the first live gameplay demo of MGS5, and it took place within the “Ground Zeroes” prologue portion of the upcoming game. The demo was very similar to the trailer shown at PAX Prime in 2012, but where that cinematic left off, a new live mission started. In the cinematic, we see the unknown, ravaged man at Omega Base, a man Hideo calls “Skullface” for now, as he goes through the base, eventually stopping to talk with the imprisoned Chico (the child solider). Skullface then boards the chopper, collects and dumps his troops XOF badges over the side (including a peculiar-looking red XOF badge), and flies off into the night. We also see Big Boss scaling the cliff wall outside the base, and this is where the demo begins.

The demo mission is a relatively simple one: Find the red XOF badge inside the base. It’s clear from the beginning that Ground Zeroes is an introduction to the FOX Engine, as well as the new open world style that Kojima is using. Ground Zeroes, like The Phantom Pain, is open world, albeit on a smaller scale — this is all taking place in a small, defined military base, not out in the wilderness. Kojima starts by showing Big Boss at his best: stealth-ing around while neutralizing the opposition. From scaling guard towers and subduing its occupant(s), to hiding bodies in the shadows, Ground Zeroes seems to combine the classic, beloved elements of the Metal Gear Solid franchise with a new take on the beautiful world Big Boss is traversing.

Combat has been radically altered, however, and the same can be said of the UI elements. The MGS franchise has always put stealth first; sneaking up on your enemy from behind, choking him or her out in silence (killing if necessary), and hiding the evidence afterwards. The initial approach is the same, but your choices during CQC are now three-fold: Kill, Subdue, or Interrogate. While it will surely vary later in the game, Boss doesn’t find the patch without squeezing the information out of an unsuspecting guard first. If sneaking is out of the cards (or you get spotted by accident), the Alert Status will still be there to greet you, although the feature is very different from MGS entries past. If you alert a close-by enemy, the Alert Status is delayed by several seconds of slo-mo bullet time, allowing you the opportunity to quickly silence the would-be canary before reinforcements are called. It’s an extremely violent transaction, as these scenarios typically ended with a bloody, graphic bullet to the head of the enemy.

The UI in Ground Zeroes is very minimalist, with action options appearing when they’re available, while your map and inventory stay tucked away until activated. The lack thereof makes for an even sharper cinematic experience, with no informational clutter in the way of the action.

Eventually Big Boss finds the patch, at which point the mission shifts to evade and escape. The producer playing the demo was caught off-guard by a patrolling solider in his blind spot, however, so the “evade” component quickly changed to a run-and-gun strategy. Even better? Big Boss can freely use vehicles now; after grenades towards the nearby reinforcements, Big Boss takes off in a typical military Jeep, rolling it down a hill before tuck-and-rolling out and calling for an extraction.

After the 20 minute gameplay demo was over, Hideo Kojima fielded questions from the attending press, along with Art Director Yoji Shinkawa, and “Quiet” actress Stefanie Joosten. I’ve included some of the more interesting paraphrased answers below in bullet point form.

  • The demo was played on a PC, and locked at 30 fps. The current-gen systems will play Metal Gear Solid 5 at 30 fps, while next-gen consoles will play at 60 fps.
  • Does Bullet Time make MGS5 too easy? Kojima says that bullet time helps in Omega Base, a relatively small military base, but the feature won’t be as helpful (or exploitable) in the larger open world of The Phantom Pain.
  • If Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain are both in Metal Gear Solid 5, why separate them? Kojima stresses that Ground Zeroes is a prologue; an opportunity for the player to familiarize him/herself with the new open world design.
  • Will the FOX Engine be licensed to schools? Not at this time, says Kojima. Right now MGS5 is the priority, as is getting the FOX Engine into other Konami studios (think id Tech 5 being used by various Bethesda studios).
  • Kojima on the UI: “We wanted to give players a photorealistic experience…I’m still not satisfied with the UI, though.”
  • Polygon asks for clarification on Kojima’s recent comments about cosplaying and Metal Gear Solid 5 characters: “Maybe the phrase ‘erotic’ wasn’t really correct…What I’m really trying to do is create unique characters. One of those is, of course, Quiet. She’s a really unique character, I wanted to add that sexiness to her. It wasn’t really supposed to be erotic, but sexy.”
  • Joosten elaborates on the costume: “Of course, I was surprised to see Quiet’s outfit at first, but you know it fits in the Metal Gear universe, I think…Mr. Kojima has his reasons for deciding why Quiet has her reasons for wearing what she’s wearing. Players will just have to look forward to that.”
  • Kojima on developing Metal Gear Solid 5: MGS5 is the most difficult game he’s ever developed because of the open world design, an he hopes MGS5 raises the bar on open world games.
  • On how the open world affects narrative: Player perspective is now influenced by player choice. This is not a linear experience.
  • Shinkawa on his working relationship with Kojima: I show him a sketch, he critiques, and his notes are reflected in the next concept. Kojima is “usually right” with character design suggestions. Shinkawa will do a character concept before locking down an actor, and he will change the concept later based on the actor or actress being used.

While I take everything that’s “hands-off” with a grain of salt, I can’t help but be enamored with Metal Gear Solid 5. The open world design addresses the single biggest problem with Metal Gear Solid 4: too many cutscenes. MGS4 was a fantastic overall experience, but a so-so video game. MGS5 will keep the cinematic flavor established in previous games while reducing the number of moments you have no control over. Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain focus on player choice in a vast, unforgiving world, and that’s a trip I’m very interested in taking. And to top it all off: Ground Zeroes looked absolutely stunning, even at 30 frames per second. I can only begin to image what MGS5 looks like on a next-gen console at double the frame rate.

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