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Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes preview: No, it's not next gen

Kojima's MGS5 prequel is 2012's most exciting shock announcement

Amazingly, Hideo Kojima's stunning open-world Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes will debut on 360 and PS3. Its dazzling Fox Engine graphics tech may look beyond this generation's six-year-old hardware, but - typical of Kojima - the proof's been hiding in plain sight in an image of a horse in a boardroom.

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In March 2012, Kojima showcased Fox Engine's capabilities in a series of surreal tweets. The most striking is a photorealistic image of a horse in the Kojima Productions meeting room. To our surprise, Kojima confirmed the image was produced on current-gen during our interview at E3.

Ground Zeroes might not be as mysterious as speculation suggests...

Close up, the ten-minute debut trailer reveals a series of clever filters and effects - including global illumination, specular maps, normal maps and tessellation - that create impressive realism without asking 360 or PS3 to deal with an absurd number of extra polygons. It's a fitting metaphor, because MGS: Ground Zeroes might not be as mysterious as speculation suggests. Fans were quick to note discrepancies in two images of hero 'Snake' - most likely Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, not Solid Snake. In one image, Snake has a swarthy dark beard, in the other image he's wrinkled and greying - leading to speculation that Ground Zeroes' plot may involve multiple time periods.

Kojima was quick to dispel rumours, explaining Snake's greying is due to Fox Engine's powerful lighting effects. Either way, something curious is at play, with the trailer's inversion of the FOX / XOF logos and the release of flipped images of Snake. One image features the tagline 'From FOX, two phantoms were born' in mirrored writing.

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WHO'S THE BOSS?

It might be reference to Major Zero and Big Boss, the former 1960s FOX unit allies whose opposing interpretations of The Boss' will led to a philosophical split, and the formation of Militaries San Frontiers (MSF) and The Patriots. Bottom line: Big Boss believes in freedom, while The Patriots believe in control - two opposing methods of maintaining society's balance.

Ground Zeroes is open world, with Snake infiltrating a number of secure locations. You can approach bases from any angle, stealing and driving vehicles, or calling in a support chopper - using flares, like you'd throw a chaff grenade. Choppers provide supporting fire, but may get shot down in guarded areas. Neatly, your chopper has custom theme music (in the demo, Kojima uses Ride Of The Valkyries from Apocalypse Now). Beware: use too loud a song, and it'll alert guards.

Otherwise, it's vintage crawling, action and stealth, only with exceptional animations. Snake is seen targeting a guard with his silenced pistol (note the shoulder flip), and using a holographic overlay map via his I Droid device (Beta version 1.02), a bit like the radar in Dead Space.

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The setting's likely mid/late '70s, shortly after PSP's Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (1974). The caged boy is probably child soldier Chico (not Raiden, who isn't born until the early '80s), and the character 'rescued by a Belizean fisherman who found her drifting in the Caribbean' is likely Paz, the (*spoilers*) triple agent 'villain' of Peace Walker. Phew.

However, the trailer contains multiple reference to items released in 1979: the Walkman, a Black Hawk chopper, Apocalypse Now. Either way, it looks like Big Boss is trying to spring Chico from Camp Omega, a prisoner camp in Cuba. He talks to fellow MSF member Master Miller on the radio, and they refer to an upcoming UN inspection of 'Mother Base' - the soldier's haven from Peace Walker.

The scarred man might be Major Zero (though he's way less scarred at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4), Ramon Galvez Mena (KGB agent posing as professor in Peace Walker) or Hot Coldman (CIA chief and Peace Walker villain who believes machines are the future).

Think Borderlands 2 for secret agents, with visuals worthy of the next gen...

Our guess? It's set in the '70s, investigates the war between Big Boss/The Patriots and hints at the Les Enfants Terrible project, which gave birth to Solid Snake (and brothers) in 1972. Ye-es. Kojima did say his next game would be about 'love and family' (Big Boss and Solid Snake?), and deal with a 'taboo' topic (child soldiers?). Basically, think Borderlands 2 for secret agents with visuals worthy of next gen. After all, it's not like the flashing lights in the trailer indicate a DNA sequence flashback... right? As ever, the truth is as clear as a horse in a boardroom.

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