Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review
Written Tuesday, March 18, 2014 By Richard Walker
Try as I might, I just can't get used to hearing Kiefer Sutherland as Snake. To me the character will forever be indelibly linked to former Snake voice actor David Hayter, in the same way that Kiefer's husky tones will always bring to mind Jack Bauer growling “previously on 24”. In Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Sutherland has very few lines, but what few utterances he does deliver prove somewhat jarring. Perhaps it's because we've spent over 15 years with Hayter as the voice of Snake or maybe it's because advancing age brings with it an increased resistance to even the slightest change. Whatever the case, it's not enough to diminish the enjoyment derived from Ground Zeroes, Kojima Productions' bite-sized prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Ground Zeroes picks up with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Peace Walker protagonist Big Boss/Snake, as he infiltrates the Guantanamo Bay-style American black site Camp Omega in the driving rain. This initial Ground Zeroes mission is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the game's content, though reports that it can be completed in less than two hours are wholly accurate. I finished the core Ground Zeroes mission in 87 minutes, to be precise, accomplishing a trifling 9% completion statistic upon beating it. There's a lot more to the latest Metal Gear Solid than meets the eye, with several fully-fledged 'Side Ops' unlocking once you've beaten the main part of Ground Zeroes, tried to figure out the identity of antagonist 'Skull Face' and attempted to make sense of its gobbledegook story.
”I learned this move from The Undertaker.”
This narrative-driven portion of the game sees Snake rescuing Paz and Chico from the heavily guarded Camp Omega, tying into the events of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. As ever, you have a number of tools at your disposal to get the job done, but what makes the game the most robust and playable Metal Gear yet, is the more conventional third-person shooter controls and mechanics, intuitive to any gamer worth his/her salt. As a result, combat is a far more viable option than it used to be in previous Metal Gear Solid games, with none of the clunky switching to a first-person camera to aim, instead using a more traditional aim and shoot system mapped to the triggers, not entirely unlike Peace Walker or MGS 4. Snake can even lie down and roll around like John McClane, firing off rounds like an action hero.
Of course, there's still an emphasis on stealth - as well there should be with any Metal Gear Solid title - and as such there's myriad options on that front. Metal Gear veterans will feel right at home crawling around, taking enemies down with tranquilliser rounds and then carefully dragging the body out of sight of patrolling troops. Snake can even grab enemies and pump them for information or have them lure fellow troops towards his location for an ambush. Alternatively, you can simply choke them into submission or murder them outright, as is your wont.
Ground Zeroes treads the perfect line between feeling like a Metal Gear game, while factoring in more modern action game sensibilities. In essence, it's the next natural step for the series and bodes incredibly well for The Phantom Pain. What doesn't bode quite so well is the relatively dour way in which Ground Zeroes' story is delivered. There's little evidence of the underlying humour and spirit that always made Metal Gear such a joy to play, leaving you with a sense that something integral is missing. And that final cut-scene moment (you'll know it when you see it), is something truly disturbing. It'll be forever etched into your brain. Nevertheless, having revisited the previous games in the series ahead of writing this review, this taster of what's to come could have benefitted from some of that old MGS magic.
”You've had too much to drink. I'll drive.”
Yet, it more than delivers on gameplay, with smart combat and stealth approaches proving equally rewarding. If stealth isn't your thing, there's a whole bucket full of havoc you can potentially wreak in Camp Omega, be it zipping around in jeeps or clambering into an armoured vehicle bristling with cannons. Don't be surprised if you find yourself getting shot to pieces for such brazen idiocy though. It's fun to mess around in Ground Zeroes, but you can still find yourself in a pinch if you happen to run out into the open like a fool. Guards can easily spot you from towers with their searchlights, while their vision is no longer limited to a short-sighted cone. Stand within an enemy's eyeline and you run the risk of raising the alarm, alerting the entire base to your bumbling presence.
With that in mind, Ground Zeroes introduces a few handy tools to aid you in evading guards. Spot enemies with Snake's binoculars or scope and you'll tag them, rendering them visible through walls. Natty technology for 1975, we think you'll agree. This proves essential, since Snake no longer has a radar to fall back on, but then nor does he have a stamina bar or psyche meter to take care of. Ground Zeroes pares everything down, serving up all the information Snake needs through his iDroid device. From here you can access your mini-map, set waypoint markers, see where sound and activity is emanating from, and call in choppers (to the sounds of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, if you like) to extract rescued prisoners from designated pick-up points.
Ground Zeroes is mechanically tight and robust, but what about the contentious issue of longevity? As previously stated, completing the game's main story mission is really only the beginning. There's a further four Side Ops to tackle once you're done with the Ground Zeroes mission, each taking place within the confines of the same Cuba-based Camp Omega map at varying times of day. Then there's the platform-exclusive Extra Op that can be unlocked by collecting all of the game's hidden 'XOF unit' patches, with PlayStation folks getting the retro MGS 'Deja Vu' mission, while Xbox players can assume the role of Raiden for the 'Jamais Vu' Extra Op. Of these, the old-school Snake mission proves to be the more enjoyable of the two, so given the option, we'd go for the PS4 version. For the reappearance of Psycho Mantis alone, it's certainly worthwhile.
Raiden gets his time to shine, but doesn't very much.
Despite no change in scenery for each of Ground Zeroes' six missions, there's a nice bit of variety in the objectives set before you. One mission you'll have to identify, track down and eliminate renegade threats patrolling Camp Omega, whereas another sees Big Boss shooting enemy troops from a helicopter as it swoops over the base. This latter mission culminates in the rescue of a so-called 'intel operative', who also happens to be a familiar face in one of the most overtly silly cameos I've ever seen. It's good to see that MGS hasn't entirely lost its surreal sense of humour. Each Side Op lasts around 20-30 minutes, but again, replay value is substantial.
Other objectives include a rendezvous with an undercover soldier to obtain classified intel, while another tasks Snake with rigging C4 to anti-air emplacements. In a nutshell, there's plenty to do in Ground Zeroes, equating to much more than simply breezing through the core narrative portion of the game. That's before taking into account the intrinsic replay value on offer, which thanks to how immediate the game is to play, is all the more enticing. There's a whole range of approaches to experiment with, from an all-out pure stealth run to the dumb balls-out combat method. Hell, I spent time dragging soldiers to a precipice and hurling them off the edge, because reasons.
Ground Zeroes' achievement list will ensure you invest extra time in the game beyond the initial story mission too, if the Side Ops weren't enough of a draw on their own. Tapping into the game's replay value, the list encourages you to take varying approaches for each mission and even asks that you rescue and extract every one of the captive POWs in Camp Omega. Collection tasks are par for the course, meaning you'll need to go out of your way to obtain every cassette tape and every XOF unit patch. Yet it's something you'll want to do anyway, if you want to see and experience everything Ground Zeroes has to offer. A by the numbers, slender list, for sure, but it's one that ticks all of the right boxes, even if it is deeply uninspired and lazy.
This is what you call a tight spot.
A bold experiment, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes proves to a degree that less can be more. A perfect aperitif for The Phantom Pain, GZ leads directly into the main event, whetting anticipation for what's to come. Six missions on a single map might sound like a paltry selection of content, weighed up against a full-priced release, but given the level of replay value Ground Zeroes has to offer, it's unlikely you'll feel short-changed. Camp Omega is designed in such a way that each playthrough poses its own challenges, ensuring that you don't feel too hard done by when it come to value for money.
If replaying the same mission multiple times sounds like a thankless chore, however, then Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes might not be for you. If you're prepared to mess around, test the boundaries and meticulously explore every inch of Camp Omega, then you're in for a treat. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a triumphant return for the series and an encouraging sign of what's to come. On the surface, it's an expensive demo, but it's the best damn demo you're ever likely to play.
Great music and effects, and Kiefer Sutherland does a grand job channeling Jack Bauer as the new voice of Big Boss, though his softer, raspy tones can't match Hayter's gruff and iconic performance.
Ground Zeroes looks truly stunning, especially during the rainy, muddy main mission. Daytime missions look slightly less visually accomplished, with the cold light of day showing up minor imperfections. Still, this is Metal Gear at its sexiest.
Arguably the best Metal Gear Solid game to date in terms of control and general gameplay mechanics. You don't have to 'learn' Ground Zeroes' controls. They're ingrained from every other third-person action title out there.
One story-driven mission and five additional objectives that garnish the game with extra exposition and detail. Granted, there's not a whole lot to Ground Zeroes, but you will want to play those six missions again and again and again. Completists and die-hard fans will also want to absorb every ponderous audio log and backstory-related extra too, no doubt.
A fairly meagre list of 15 achievements that smacks of lazy box-ticking. All of the bases are covered, but it's an uninspired set of tasks that someone could have knocked up in their lunch break.
On paper, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes sounds like an elaborate demo. In reality, it's a bigger game than it initially seems. Spend five hours with the game, and you'll be lucky if your completion is even nearing 25%. Play for eight or more, and you'll still be wringing juice out of Camp Omega. Be warned, at face value, this game is small, but there's much more to Ground Zeroes than meets Big Boss' one eye.
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