Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a strange beast. It showcases exiting new gameplay for the Metal Gear series, boasts astounding graphics, excellent atmosphere, and plays like a dream. What then, might hold you back from purchasing such an excellent package?
To start with the bad: the area GZ deserves the most criticism is in the story department. Though technically a prologue for the next “proper” MGS instalment, MGSV: The Phantom Pain, Ground Zeroes only barely manages to qualify as a prologue – the major events that happen could be summed up in around two or three sentences, and the game feels even more like a epilogue to the last Metal Gear game, Peace Walker, than it does to The Phantom Pain. Speaking of which, what does the light plot offer? Well Big Boss has gone to Cuba in 1975 (one year after the events of Peace Walker) to rescue two of his compatriots – Chico and Paz, both originally appearing in Peace Walker. They’re both being held at Camp Omega, a Guantanamo Bay like facility in Cuba, and Big Boss (AKA Snake) must infiltrate and extract them. The events following set up the coming Phantom Pain in an admittedly grandiose fashion.
However, the problem is that for a game franchise that is so (wonderfully, I might add) often concerned with narrative there is very little that happens in Ground Zeroes that hasn’t actually already been revealed by series creator Hideo Kojima or Konami in interviews or trailers. Here in lies part of Ground Zeroes’ dilemma: a short game like this was going to appeal best to hardcore fans like myself, why have most of the plot already revealed, one or two character fates aside? It just makes it that much harder to justify purchasing this game at full price. The story that is presented is compelling enough, but given only a small snippet makes it hard to justify on that reason alone. Fans in the know will also be aware that Kiefer Sutherland (of Jack Bauer fame) has taken over the role of voicing Big Boss from long time actor David Hayter. Suffice to say that Sutherland does a serviceable job, but there’s just not enough narrative meat here to really gauge whether he measures up as well as the iconic Hayter.
To continue with the good: The other reason Kojima has released Ground Zeroes earlier than the Phantom Pain is to allegedly get the players used to the new way to play Metal Gear – does the Gameplay compensate for the lack of narrative content? Well, Metal Gear gameplay has never been better. Taking place in the open world Camp Omega, players are basically left to find the ways to complete their missions in whatever way they choose, though of course the stealthier the better. Big Boss’ transitions between standing running or walking, crouch walking or running, and crawling are all seamless and now occur on the fly. He can now dive instead of the awesome, yet ridiculous roll from previous games. Players can dive from crouching or walking to crawling, or dive across an area and keep the same movement type as before.
Third person shooting controls have been refined to allow you to see the effective distance of your weapons, and thankfully first person shooting is much easier and now no longer the mess it was in MGS4. CQC has also taken an additional upgrade with your options now clearly displayed to you when you grab a hold of someone, instead of having to remember absurd combinations to get guards to talk. Moving guards is also a lot easier now, Big Boss being able to sling guards (or rescued prisoners) over his shoulder for quick movement of bodies instead of dragging them slowly.
Metal Gear veterans will also notice some other big changes to the series – the iconic left and right item and weapon selection bars are now gone with the d-pad and controller buttons doing all your work for you in real time. Also gone are rations – Big Boss now regenerates his health. A controversial new addition called “Reflex Mode” also makes an appearance – when guards are alerted to your presence there is about a 10 second slow time even that gives you the chance to silence them before the alarm is raised. If all this sounds worrying to Metal Gear Veterans then do not fret – the gameplay is the best it’s ever been and despite the new additions and removals of old control styles the game feels better, and more intuitive than ever. Kojima says he’s finally realised the Metal Gear stealth gameplay he’s always wanted to create with each new game, but with this outing I think might finally achieved dream. And if you really don’t like the addition of “Reflex Mode” it can also be turned off at the main menu.
For all its boons the game is almost unforgivably short with the main mission, and only canon story content, clocking at between 90 minutes to 2 hours. The addition of 5 extra ops missions to hone your new gameplay skills on is welcome, but even then new content is exhausted in around a total of 4 hours. You can extend the time by a couple more hours if you’re intent on getting S rankings on all the missions on all difficulties, but that’s a tough ask for most players. To sweeten the deal Konami have dropped the price of MGSV: GZ to $50 retail (theoretically half the normal game price), and that does go some way to making the pill less bitter to swallow. If you’ve never played Metal Gear Solid and you’re looking to get into this seminal series I’d recommend the Legacy Collection if you’ve got a PS3 or the HD Collection if you’re on Xbox. You’ll find at least 3 full games and much more bang for your buck.
- Great refined gameplay
- Mission structures allow for player exploration and experimentation
- Only one story mission
- Story that is present is thin
- Cost does not justify purchase at release for most gamers
If the Phantom Pain is like a full game version of Ground Zeroes, as Kojima contends, the next Metal Gear game will be an instant cassic. However, even with this price drop, MGSV: GZ is a hard game to justify purchasing if you’re anything but the most hard core Metal Gear Solid fan – and if that’s the case you’ve probably got it already.