While writing the Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes review I felt like I was in video game boot camp. When Ground Zeroes opens onto the familiar menu screen, you feel right at home. Once you start the game however, more than Kiefer Sutherland’s voice lets you know this is not the Metal Gear Solid you grew up with.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is not a full game, nor is it priced as one at $30. As with the great majority of the Metal Gear series, there is an opening mission that is used to establish the story and familiarize players with the controls and rules of the game. Much like a good James Bond film, there is an exciting opening sequence followed by the opening credits and then the player starts what is sure to be a gaming experience that is unlike most games on the market. Ground Zeroes is simply the opening mission without the rest.
Ground Zeroes has one mission for you to accomplish which, depending on your play style, can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours. The mission is simple: rescue two targets from a U.S. prison camp on the south side of Cuba. How you choose to execute this mission is entirely up to the player.
Metal Gear Solid has built its reputation as a stealth action game with many gamers making it a point to make it through the game without killing a single enemy soldier. While that is certainly the preferred method of tackling the mission, you can also go in guns blazing with the only real penalty being a loss of score at the end of the mission. Even though this is counter intuitive to most long time fans of the series, it is astonishing how much freedom the player has to accomplish their goal without having to worry about fail states or being limited to what you can do in a given situation.
Other touchstones of the series are gone. Radar to give you an idea of where your enemies are has been replaced by a “marking” system that was introduced in Far Cry 3 and also used in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Simply find a target with your binoculars and that soldier is represented by a red triangle on the screen which you can follow. Gone also are the hard edges of walls and buildings which made a grid like feel of the environments in favor of a more organic and realistic terrain which Snake must traverse.
In many ways, the slow and deliberate pacing and movement of Snake has been replaced with a style of movement that is more akin to a traditional 3rd person shooter. For some this will be a welcome change, bringing the mechanics of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes up to par with modern day games along with a silky smooth 60 frames per second on the Playstation 4 which we reviewed the final retail build on. Others will perhaps find a sense of loss for the old control style. Apart from UI elements or graphical fidelity, one thing that Ground Zeroes does not have in it is a story.
Hideo Kojima, the director of the series since its days on the MSX, has always had a very clear and definite message to each of his games. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was a story about the controlling of information during a time when the internet was coming into its own. It was also one of the greatest con jobs in the history of the medium which illustrated in real life how information can be altered to mislead or indoctrinate the general public. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater dealt with loyalty to country, ideals and love as the game became the cornerstone for all future narratives in the series. Ground Zeroes doesn’t have a single codec/radio conversation outside of the initial narration leaving the game feeling empty and hollow.
Players of the other Metal Gear Solid games will tell you that the story played out by its wealth of almost ludicrous characters is as much a reason to play the game as the stealth action is. Even though Ground Zeroes is not the full game, unless you sit through all the backstory briefings available from the main menu, you will have no real clue who these two people you are rescuing are or what they mean to Snake. Or perhaps Hideo Kojima is pulling the night vision goggles over our eyes again.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a big open sandbox for players to hunt for collectibles, find hidden paths and tunnels, and participate in side challenges to unlock more goodies, but the game never felt like a complete package. The new graphics engine looks beautiful, and Kiefer Sutherland does a good job as Snake, but he is not David Hayter who voiced the titular character since he was given a voice in the the 1990’s leaving many fans dismayed at the actor’s replacement for the 24 star.
In short, it is a way for players to learn the new rules and mechanics and see what is coming down the road with the full game, The Phantom Pain which takes place after the events in Ground Zeroes. For $30, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes may be a bit more than some are willing to pay for a short mission. However for those who can appreciate it, the replay value is certainly there.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Platform: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed) | PlayStation 3 | Xbox 360 | Xbox One
Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: 3.18.2014
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Violence, Strong Language