“Ground Zeroes feels less like a full game and more like a proof of concept for open world stealth. Take this for what it’s worth; Kojima’s latest is sparse on plot but big on gameplay — if you’re willing to invest.”
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Platform(s): Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.
Let’s get straight to the major issue looming over Ground Zeroes – there just isn’t a whole lot to it. The cost-to-game time ratio is pretty low — even edging towards a glorified demo. The main mission plays out more or less as a tutorial, giving ravenous players just a whiff of story and gameplay. And all in all, the main campaign can be completed well under 60 minutes. Add the few extra side missions and collectibles and you can pad the clock to around 2 or 3 hours. This is somewhat mitigated if you choose PS3 or 360 over their next-gen counterparts, thanks to the lower price point.
On paper, this isn’t a terrible thing as Ground Zeroes provides a great look at Kojima’s new stealth mechanics. Gameplay is surprisingly fluid and controls on Big Boss are very responsive with a realistic nature to the movement that has a certain “heaviness”, grounding the aging soldier within his environment. There’s also little interruption from playing as menus are navigated in real time. But you’re vulnerable and left out in the open while you rifle through the map and menu so you need to mark relay points, enemies, and set up landing zones strategically. Even CODEC messages — a series staple for lengthy plot exposition — have been simplified to a mere tap of a button that pings a radio response.
Sneaking around the secretive Guantánamo Bay-esque base reveals simultaneously looser and tighter stealth play. Soldiers each have their own routines — patrolling fences, taking smoke breaks, inspecting vehicles, etc. — that lend a ton of believability while playing. Furthermore, the AI presents an honest challenge on Normal and ramps it up if you dare to play on Hard. Regardless of your skill level, encounters happen fairly organically whether you strive to be a ghost or run in guns blazing. And getting caught isn’t instantly game over (unless aiming for a high score) as there always seems to be an out (running away crying in my case). One welcome addition is that inadvertently alarming guards grants you brief slow-mo, giving you a moment to plan your next move. For me this meant dumping as many tranq darts possible into the startled soldier in hopes for a quick knockout. Veteran players will most likely scoff but rusty gamers will welcome the help.
You can also hop in vehicles, notably an armored fighting vehicle, which is awesomesauce because it opens up a ton of variety in tackling objectives and I’m really excited to see this play out in future MGS titles. In fact, during one play-through I decided to see how fast I could complete a mission. Of course this instantly lead to the alerting of everyone and their mother, in which I bolted for the AFV, complete with canons, and mercilessly mowed down the opposition and was then breathlessly chased to the extraction point.
Story-wise there really aren’t a lot of big reveals since the primary mission features extracting a couple of imprisoned comrades and wraps up with a big action cutscene. Fans in it for MGS‘s trademark goofy stories and melodrama will most likely be disappointed. Essentially, Ground Zeroes serves by bridging the gap between Peace Walker and the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Make no mistake, this is a fan-only game, as any newcomer won’t find anything meaningful or engaging from the paltry plot. And even then, Ground Zeroes is aimed at supreme die-hards hunched over the dim glow of a computer screen combing the deepest parts of the internet for any data about all things Metal Gear.
As a fan of the series, it’s a bit disheartening to think that this was released as a full(ish) game. I don’t mean to disparage the dev team, as I very much enjoyed the updated feel the “Ground Zeroes” and what will probably make Phantom Pain a fantastic experience when it releases in the relatively near future. Never-the-less, the main mission and extras can be completed in an afternoon. I hesitate to outright cry “CASHGRAB!” but this sentiment isn’t far off the mark. If I hard to hazard a guess, this release signifies a holdover for vocal raid fans while perhaps allowing feedback for future gameplay tweaks.
Whether this is worth the price is up to how much you’re willing to replay missions to get that covetous S rank. Bonus rewards are doled out based on your elite soldier skills and learning the unique patterns of the guards. And this is where the true heart of this small title lies — perfecting your abilities each time you make a run through the base, hoping to prove yourself in the leaderboards. Diligent fans should eat this up because it’s basically preparing you for the hopefully much grander The Phantom Pain. Furthermore, the unlocks can make revisiting some of the missions more fun, but there’s still only so much you can do with content.
One final note — I’m mixed about Keifer Sutherland taking over for series mainstay David Hayter. Granted, the overall VO is a drop in the bucket compared to the infamously long-winded cutscenes in previous entries and doesn’t give Sutherland much room to shine. He certainly has the voice for a battle-hardened and weary soldier — especially due to his time on Fox’s 24. Just throwing it out there, but I wonder if Kojima has some grander plan in Phantom Pain for a return of Hayter in some guest capacity. I would even harbor a guess that Solid Snake will make an appearance, with Sutherland voicing Big Boss and Hayter as Snake.
Despite the fun that can be had, the asking price is a bit steep for what boils down to a polished demo. For casual fans you should probably pass on a purchase unless on the cheap. However, it’s definitely worth a play through if only to provide a short glimpse at the future of MGS. If you love running boards, absolutely love Metal Gear, and simply cannot wait until Phantom Pain, perhaps Ground Zeroes will tide you over.