Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes preview: streamlined stealth

By Andrew Yoon, Sep 06, 2013 12:01am PDT

Easily the most striking aspect of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes are the graphics. Even on a PC supposedly spec'd to the current gen, the game looks absolutely incredible. The character models, the special effects, and the open world environment scream "next-gen"--with the occasional texture giving away its current-gen limitations.

But beyond the glitz, Ground Zeroes demonstrates a radical departure for the Metal Gear series. The game's signature stealth action has been significantly streamlined. However, in an attempt to become more accessible, it's hard not to worry that the game may have lost some of its soul.

The real-time gameplay demonstration we witnessed from Kojima Productions' new Los Angeles studio takes place in the same locale as the game's impressive introductory video. However, this time, there's a Kojima Productions producer actually driving the game, controller-in-hand.

Ground Zeroes is an open world, so players are tasked with exploring the environment to find their objective. In this special demo, Snake has to discover a hidden red XOF emblem. To do so, he'll have to interrogate a soldier for the info. From his vantage point, he can use his binoculars to mark various enemy units. Once highlighted, they'll appear on the HUD. As he looks through the binoculars, the voice over will provide additional intel on whatever he's looking at.

As he makes his way towards the enemy camp, he climbs up a guard post's ladder. He then grabs the unsuspecting soldier and drops him to his doom--Uncharted-style. Snake then moves back down towards a gate which he can lockpick by simply hitting the Y button. After making his way inside, he hides in the tall grass, waiting for a lone guard to come by. By grabbing the soldier, he has the option to interrogate his hostage, and then a choice between a lethal and non-lethal takedown.

There are some clear concessions to modern third-person shooters, with Snake able to take cover easily by pressing Y. There's also clear warning signs before you get detected. Dramatic lens flares will warn when you could potentially be spotted. When a guard can see you, a white circle appears on the screen, pointing to where the guard is. Finally, if you do get caught, the game automatically drops you into a slow-mo sequence, where you can kill the guard to avoid moving into the alert stage.

Perhaps most distressingly, if you are caught and start getting shot at, you must simply find cover and wait for your health to regenerate. (Do note, however, this demo was being played on an easier difficulty.)

It's clear that Snake is a far more agile hero in this iteration, although the simplicity of the stealth and the concessions towards more forgiving play feel somewhat antithetical to the series. Hearing Keifer Sutherland say "kept you waiting" certainly added to the feeling that something wasn't quite right.

Still, it's hard not to be impressed by the visuals, the cinematic presentation, and the potential afforded by the game's open world. Being able to plan your attack and approach each level with a variety of tools and vehicles is exciting. And, it was especially thrilling to see the demo end with Snake running away from alerted guards, calling a rescue helicopter to pick him up. Kojima Productions promises a look at a more difficult playthrough at Tokyo Game Show--one which will hopefully alleviate some of my nagging fears that MGS may have gone a little too mainstream with Ground Zeroes.

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