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Evolving Snake for the open world in Metal Gear Solid 5

Xav de Matos, @Xav

Last night, Konami invited press to Kojima Productions Los Angeles where components of Metal Gear Solid 5 are currently under development. As part of the introduction to the freshly opened studio, MGS creator Hideo Kojima presented what the publisher dubbed as the first live, in-game demo of Ground Zeroes, the so-called prologue chapter to the next Metal Gear.

The demo began with a familiar setting, expanding on a gameplay demo first revealed in September 2012. In the demo - which Kojima noted was designed specifically for the event - Big Boss infiltrates a stronghold in the middle of a torrential downpour.

Powered by the developer's new Fox Engine, the detail on display in the Metal Gear Solid 5 demo we were shown was staggering. Rain drops collide with characters, cloth and tarps realistically move along with the temperamental conditions around them, lights and shadows look outstanding. The entire demo appears to be running on early next-gen hardware; however, Hideo Kojima said that what we were seeing - which looked identical to the September 2012 reveal, available to watch after the break - was running on PCs that represent the power offered by the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Gallery: Metal Gear Solid 5 'Ground Zeroes' | 5 Photos

As Kojima's beloved franchise moves to an open world, traditional gameplay and systems required examination. One major shift in direction is how guards react to alerts. If Big Boss is spotted by a guard, time slows and players are given a moment to execute the adversary before they can raise an alarm.

It's easy to assume that giving Big Boss a free pass at being spotted could dramatically alter what it "means" to be a Metal Gear game; however, more of the system needs to be presented before we start firing off exclamations above our own heads.

"If we really bring in the old Metal Gear [alert system] where you can get spotted from anywhere, maybe that's a little tough," Kojima explained to press through a translator during a Q&A session after the demo. Other systems, however, remain the same: Bodies must be hidden from sight once dispatched, for example, otherwise guards will be on the hunt for an intruder.

The most jarring change during the demo was hearing the iconic character's signature one-liners come from new star Kiefer Sutherland. "Kept you waiting, huh?" Big Boss spews with a delivery inflecting on a different part of the sentence that we're accustomed to. It was weird.

Ground Zeroes is a more condensed open-world experience than The Phantom Pain, the main campaign of Metal Gear Solid 5. Think of it like the tanker mission in Metal Gear Solid 2. The Phantom Pain takes place nine years after the events of Ground Zeroes, which is set in 1975. The open-world in The Phantom Pain, Kojima says, is much larger in scope than the prologue chapter.

But Hideo Kojima clarifies that "open-world" for Metal Gear Solid 5 has a unique definition.

"It is open-world but maybe that's a little different from the generic open-world. We still have infiltration and the story will be based on the player's choice," he said. Though we pressed how much impact players and their choices will have on the narrative - a component that has always been firmly set by the game's writer, Kojima himself - we were given no detail on how these choices affect the story.

Evolving Snake for the openworld in Metal Gear Solid 5
Both Kojima Productions in Japan and Los Angeles (the studio's theater room seen above) make up the team developing Metal Gear Solid 5, with the newly-formed US team working on the game's online component. Due to the scope of the project, however, Kojima confirmed that some outsourcing for low-priority content (small, background objects was the example used) will be necessary.

"I think that's similar to other game studios," Kojima said on the subject of outsourcing.

"The reason we created the LA studio here isn't because we want to branch out our franchise or we wanted to have and advantage in the localization process." Kojima said the intention isn't to have two separate studios carrying the Kojima Productions banner, but to have both teams work in conjunction on the company's projects.

"I want them to kind of compete, but kinda co-operate and work together to form the true form of Kojima Productions," Metal Gear's creator added, through a translator.

The demo for Ground Zeroes showcased a number of interesting elements, like the ability to throw the magazine from a weapon to distract a guard with the noise. When Big Boss moves to cover and approaches a corner, the camera moves in tight at almost his shoulder as Big Boss peers around the corner. Ultimately, the stealthily playthrough we expected was halted when the demo's driver - creative producer Yuji Korekado - was spotted by a group of guards and forced into a gunfight.

Evolving Snake and the Metal Gear Solid 5 prologue 'Ground Zeroes'
As he took heavy fire, a red hue faded over the action. Moments later, Korekado ran around a corner to avoid shots and the hue vanished. It's unclear if this was specific to the demo, but the gameplay implies that health will regenerate automatically.

The run-and-gun gameplay demo wasn't what Kojima hoped we'd see, he said, promising that the TGS demo will be driven by someone that will maintain stealth. While playfully poking fun at Korekado for nearly dying, he explained that much of the producer's recent Metal Gear exposure was Metal Gear Rising.

"All he did was cut things," Kojima joked.

The current-generation version of Metal Gear Solid 5 looks gorgeous, even in its current state. Kojima noted that the major difference between current- and next-gen would be graphical fidelity and frames-per-second. The Xbox 360 and PS3 will run at 30fps, we were told. Fox Engine on next-gen hardware runs at 60fps.

Kojima Productions plans to reveal Metal Gear Solid 5 running on next-gen hardware later this month at the 2013 Tokyo Game Show.

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