Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is interesting in that it feels like Kojima making a proposition to the gaming world. “Here’s the variety you can have with a single well-designed location and systems.”
The weather and time changing the way the game plays is fantastic. You go from the low-visibility (for both you and guards) of the rainy, nighttime hurricane in the Ground Zeroes mission to the calm sunny day of the second mission. It changes the feel and the approach to very similar infiltration tasks.
With some scripting alterations you can create a surprising amount of gameplay variety in the engine as designed. It doesn’t always work out great, I will say the third mission which is mostly just a helicopter turrent-gun style sequence is generally boring. Not because it’s badly done, it’s competent, but it’s an over-familiar kind of game mission at the moment and this one has nothing to really differentiate it.
Still, this is a proposition I’ve been behind for a while. Tight, smaller-space locations with strong design can hold a huge amount of variety, and with a focused visual development can often look more convincing than the vast repeat-necessitated landscapes that many games (lots of which I love) have to use.
I’ll always bring it back to Shenmue, such a formative game for me, because the first game had a very small, even for the time, playspace overall. Yet it was, outside of some textures and understandable models that repeated in the real world, largely unique. Every street was it’s own street, every shop a full location for itself, even if you never have need to enter it in the course of a straightforward linear playthrough. The abundance of detail gave the small location character in a way very few games ever manage and a sense of reality that broke through the now-dated graphics and complemented what Yu Suzuki was attempting to create.