Thanks to the invisible handcuffs of the dreaded embargo, I'm not allowed to give you our score for Ground Zeroes yet. That comes in two weeks.
With that said, MGS: Ground Zeroes is one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I've had for a while. After using – and coming to rely on – the camouflage systems of MGS 3 and 4, it's interesting to get back to some old-school infiltration, and the open-ended nature of Ground Zeroes make doing so a joy.
In a lot of ways, GZ plays similarly to Far Cry 3, thanks to the prevalence of hostiles, the open nature of the stage, and your available choices within it. Your mission - well, one of them, which we'll get to in a minute - is to infiltrate a Guantanamo-style US blacksite, rescue your buddies from torture, and then get out.
To do so, you've got to navigate both the environment (there are far more options for exploiting vertical spaces, with rock faces and climbable buildings to hide on top of) and the guards themselves. There's no Soliton radar: instead, you tag enemies with binoculars. From then on you can see their movements just by looking in their direction, even through walls. There's also a 'Reflex' mode, whereupon getting spotted slows time and gives you a precious few seconds
Despite these new toys, the mission itself isn't overly simple or easy. The differences in both natural terrain and the buildings (encompassing simple tents to underground bunkers and massive control towers) need care and attention paid to them when executing your sneaking mission. You may be able to recover from being seen with Reflex, but with guards often working their (expansive) routes in pairs you'll probably not get both of them down before backup is called, especially if you're using a tranquiliser gun, an unsilenced weapon, or are seen just as you round a corner.
Besides, the actual stealth is as engaging as it always has been, made moreso by the superb engine that powers the game. The initial Ground Zeroes mission takes place at night, in the rain, and Snake is so beautifully animated, the world so well-realised - lovely weather effects tie in with exceptional sound design, superb texture work, and a solid framerate - that going loud feels rude.
It's a world that wants you to spend time working it out, and you won't need much encouragement to do so. Comparing it to earlier games in the series, it feels like the original two games' stealth via MGS3's more open play areas, navigated via an improved take on part 4's controls. Hiding in flatbed trucks, diving to cover in some bushes, calling in helicopter airvacs while hiding out from ever-advancing enemy patrol states: you'll do all this and more, and slight fiddliness of control and frustration at getting spotted aside, you'll enjoy every minute.
Which leads to the all-important question: just how many of those minutes will it take to 'finish' Ground Zeroes? Doing so took me, after a couple of fresh restarts thanks to my stupid brain, 63 of them. Which is some way short of the two-hour figure being bandied around, but Zeroes mission doesn't end there. After you've choppered out for the first time, there are five more Side Ops to plough through.
These take place at different times of day, and are presented as non-canon, 'pseudo-historical' events. One has you tracking down and assassinating two US Marines wanted by other nations for war crimes. Another has you meeting an informant before recovering a data cassette. When you're done there it's on to sabotaging gun emplacements and then an action-packed helicopter rescue of, erm, Hideo Kojima. Finally, there's a special mission on PS4 (Xbox One has a different stage) that renders parts of the world, including Snake, in sort-of '90s-o-vision.
Each of these has a different quirk to it, and each shows the flexibility of the engine and the environment. For example, the assassination variant - which feels like a Blood Money hit - is set in broad daylight, and although your enemies are still a bit dumber than they would be in reality (otherwise you'd be dead in seconds), it shows just how differently you play the game when the weather is against you.
The Side Ops aren't as in-depth as the actual prologue, but that they're there is something, and, like in Zeroes, it's just fun to dick about (if there's a king of dick-aboutable games, it's Kojima), snag the various collectibles, and try and beat your speed run.
Whether you think all of this is worth the money is, of course, up to you. But, personally, having played Ground Zeroes for some four hours or so I'm still eager to play it again.