Like many, I’ve taken pleasure trying to deconstruct the cryptic marketing surrounding Metal Gear Solid 5 ever since Ground Zeros and The Phantom Pain were revealed in 2012. Anyone wishing to be unkind might point out that the delivery of this message has--at times--been lost in translation and proven just as hard to follow as your average MGS plot.
In typical Hideo Kojima fashion, the Metal Gear Solid creator revealed a little of his hand this week only to make what’s still unknown about MGS5 even more intriguing, or frustrating depending on which side of the fence you sit. We now have a vague spring 2014 launch window for Ground Zeroes, but a release date for The Phantom Pain remains unannounced.
Charting a rescue mission that sees users infiltrate a Cuban prison camp, Ground Zeroes will lay the foundations for MGS5’s story. Its primary function however, according to Kojima, is to act as a bridge between the linearity of existing series entries and the open-world environments of the upcoming fifth instalment.
Priced between £20 and £30 depending on how it’s bought and for which platform, it’s not cheap, so players will expect much more than a short burst of action. Thankfully the hands-off demos shown to date suggest there’s plenty to be excited about. By embracing open environments, MGS is taking its biggest step forward in years, and Ground Zeroes offers a glimpse at how this evolution will shake up the series’ traditional gameplay, albeit in a more confined location than those we can expect to see in The Phantom Pain.
While early showings point to Ground Zeroes being an exciting next step for the franchise, the proximity of its release to The Phantom Pain may yet prove problematic. If there’s not a significant gap between launch dates, Konami could have its work cut out to dispel concerns that Ground Zeroes is just a cynical cash-grab opportunity.
It’s true that series devotees would lap up two MGS servings in quick succession, while more casual fans could always skip the prologue and just pick up the main course. But what would definitely work in Konami’s favour is a scheme enabling Ground Zeroes buyers to access The Phantom Pain at a discounted price, whenever it’s released.
From a creative perspective, putting some distance between the two launches would also enable Kojima to gauge fan reaction to the series’ new gameplay systems and channel that feedback into The Phantom Pain’s development; that’s assuming the self-confessed auteur hasn’t already locked down his final vision for the game in precise detail.
The nature of Kojima’s games and the way he markets them are designed to stir up intrigue and debate, but the reason behind the separate releases of Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain may ultimately be quite simple. Kojima, as he alluded to in this week’s Ground Zeroes launch window announcement, is merely taking the steps he deems necessary to help him best oversee the evolution of a series he has directed for 25 years.
He said this week that he wants to “ease players into” a new era of Metal Gear Solid. While intrinsically linked, perhaps Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain just work better as standalone pieces. The former is Kojima’s cross-generational MGS release, MGS 4.5 if you like, while The Phantom Pain will mark the series’ true next-gen debut, regardless of the fact that it'll also be released on PS3 and Xbox 360.