A Snake In The Open-World Sandbox
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots wasn't just the story of Solid Snake's final battle, but also a scathing satire of the video game industry that spawned him. Creator Hideo Kojima laced the landmark PS3 title with plenty of subtext about how the medium has become repetitive and creatively sterile, most notably by making the hero a decrepit old man, and pitting him against intentionally derivative foes controlled by an artificial intelligence incapable of creativity. With the upcoming Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, Kojima and his team at Konami have decided to finally take Snake into the modern era of gaming, taking him from his traditionally linear missions towards a more contemporary open-world landscape. Ironically, they're doing this by further exploring his past.
Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes takes place shortly after Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, 2010's absolutely stellar prequel. Once again, the role of protagonist is handed to Big Boss, the genetic father of Solid Snake and his fellow clones. In Peace Walker, the embittered Big Boss turned his back on his country and his ideals, instead starting a mercenary company and embracing only the battlefield. In Ground Zeroes, a mysterious organization called Cipher targets Big Boss' private army as a threat to global stability, thus setting in motion the secret war behind the entire Metal Gear saga. Everything else about the story, however, remains a tightly guarded secret, with only a few bizarre clues from the trailer to stir the imaginations of gamers.
The trailer from the 2012 Penny Arcade Expo featured several nods to previous Metal Gear games, such as Big Boss wearing the Sneaking Suit from Peace Walker, or the ending theme "Here's To You" from Metal Gear Solid 4 playing in the background. But though the atmosphere may be familiar, the scope of the game appears much, much wider than previous Metal Gear titles. Once Big Boss successfully infiltrates the Cuban prison camp where members of his company are being held, he ends up in an open environment that he can explore to his heart's content. The goal is still to remain undetected, or failing that, escape or destroy the pursuing enemy. But instead of one over-arching mission, or even a series of smaller missions like in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes promises an open-ended approach to how players complete the mission, or if they even choose to follow the main storyline.
Much is still unknown about Ground Zeroes, but each hint from Konami and Kojima Productions demonstrates just how large this game will be. For the first time in Metal Gear history, players will be able to commandeer vehicles, acquiring jeeps and tanks a la Grand Theft Auto. In addition to the rides procured on-site, players will also be able to call out a helicopter from Big Boss' Mother Base headquarters, providing a safe retreat or a needed burst of cover fire. Mother Base itself will be the hub world for the game, and the micro-management of Big Boss' army will return (with Kojima even hinting at a separate Mother Base app to remotely manage the game from a smartphone). There will be several environments to explore beyond the Cuban prison camp in the trailer, and each will feature its own night / day cycles. The traditional Metal Gear games have eschewed such modern amenities, but Kojima's finally applying his advocacy of Western game development to his most famous series.
How those features will work in practice, of course, has yet to be determined. The ambition of this wide-open sandbox game design could potentially backfire on Kojima, whose previous titles have all been linear with very tight focus. What's not ambiguous, however, is the quality of the graphics. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is the first game to use Kojima Productions' Fox Engine, a software framework that offers visuals beyond the vast majority of console games. The level of detail in the trailer was alarmingly lifelike, and this was all done using the in-game engine. The atmospheric effects were especially impressive, with the rain convincingly splashing across the rubbery, reflective texture of Big Boss' Sneaking Suit.
If nothing else, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes will be one of the most beautiful games on both the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Of course, the Metal Gear series has always provided plenty of surprises, and Kojima is infamous for keeping important details out of his games' trailers. If he could completely exclude any mention of Solid Snake's "replacement" in the demo for Metal Gear Solid 2, one can only imagine what's in store for us with his first open-world game.
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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