After playing Konami‘s 2008 release of Metal Gear Solid 4, no one would blame you if you assumed that that would be the end of a very detailed and storied franchise. Well, that was the original intention behind that game. All the mini-storylines were all tied up together and the series seemed to finally be complete. However, in 2012, the world was presented with a trailer for ANOTHER Metal Gear Solid game, this time titled Ground Zeroes.
Speculation regarding possible storylines, characters and gameplay was rife for a couple of years. Who was the burnt-faced villain? Who was the child prisoner? We also had the David Hayter and Kiefer Sutherland saga to keep fans talking. The criticism did not end there. Gaming magazine Game Informer revealed that the game was only two hours long.
Now after years of speculation, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes has finally been released.
Ground Zeroes is set in 1975, (one year after the events from Peace Walker) with Big Boss (aKa Naked Snake from MGS 3) as the lead character. He is still the leader of the Militaires Sans Frontières group (MSF) with Kaz Miller as his lieutenant. Big Boss is infiltrating an American black site within Cuba called Camp Omega, which is occupied by US Marines. His mission: rescue Peace Walker characters Paz Ortega Andrade (an agent for Cipher aka The Patriots) and her younger brother Chico, a child soldier of the Sandinista National Liberation Front.
After the events of Peace Walker, Paz was found and rescued by a Belizean fisherman and somehow ended up at Camp Omega, in the hands of the newest villain of the series, Skull Face. His plan was to interrogate Paz to find out the whereabouts of Cipher leader Zero. Her younger brother Chico travels to Camp Omega to rescue his sister but is subsequently captured too.
We also have the sub-plot of the UN carrying out a nuclear inspection on MSF’s headquarters “Mother Base” (which you build yourself in Peace Walker). Miller is concerned that they will find Metal Gear ZEKE (seriously, just play Peace Walker) and MSF will be open to extreme criticism from the rest of the world. This said inspection is happening while Big Boss is carrying out his mission in Camp Omega.
For the sake of a spoiler-free review, I won’t divulge any information about the ending however, once again, we are treated to twists and turns and again, after the credits, we are left on a cliff-hanger with the usual title screen accompanied with mysterious dialogue to keep us wondering what could possibly happen next.
In terms of a Metal Gear storyline, this is fairly straight forward and to-the-point story. Detractors will reason this with the game’s short length and they would have a valid point. Although Ground Zeroes is suppose to serve as an intro for the main upcoming title “Phantom Pain“, to ease a potentially new audience to the series, this aim is undermined by the fact that you really need to play the PSP title Peace Walker before you entertain this title.
The beginning of the game sees Big Boss standing outside the base. Straight away we are introduced to the essential tool throughout the game – binoculars. This piece of equipment is used to replace the infamous radar function. Miller walks you through the concept of using the binoculars to scan the area which marks any enemies. Once enemies or targets are marked through the binoculars, they are highlighted on the screen at all times. If you have played Hitman: Absolution then straight away this will be familiar to you.
Another feature which is familiar to the Hitman title is the indicators/arrows which shows you were the attention from enemies is coming from. This essentially replaces the old Metal Gear cliché of “Huh? What was that noise?” or “Hmm? Someone there?!“.
The codec is also introduced from the off, however, in Ground Zeroes it is very much minimised. Much like Peace Walker, the codec calls are brief one or two liners from Kaz Miller. In the past, the MGS series has been criticised for it’s extremely lengthy codec calls and it seems like Kojima Productions has taken heed. Now with a simple press of L1, Miller will deliver a few lines of advice or just a basic reminder of your end-goal.
The enemy AI is smarter than ever. They are now organised into teams (Delta, Alpha, Zulu etc). This now means that once the alert is down, that only applies to a specific team of the enemy. Zulu could still be in full alert while Delta are searching for you at the other side of the camp. This also leads to the next change to the enemy from previous games – there is no longer a counter telling you how much longer you have in alert or evasion. It is all based on the enemy radio.
Enemies are also more curious than ever. If they see something suspicious, not only do they have a good gander at the area in question, they also check drains or potential hiding areas with a flash light. Enemies no longer have a restricted line of sight. They can see Big Boss from quite far away, especially if it is during the day in the harsh sunlight. Once you are caught, the game slows down Max Payne-style and this gives you a window of opportunity to nip the potential alert mode in the bud before word gets out. Initially, this does seem like a bit of a cop-out however, this will be a welcomed feature for brand new players of the series who may want to be eased in gently.
Another new feature which has been included in Ground Zeroes is the iDroid. This is a device which Big Boss uses to check his mission parameters, intel, map of the area and the ability to call for an extraction chopper. The extraction chopper is a new addition to the series. This is the function used to complete the mission/game. Once you are about to achieve your goals, use the PS4’s touch pad to open the iDroid and select one of the areas available for the extraction chopper to land. This can be scuppered by the enemy attacking it with anti-aircraft missiles.
CQC is back and again Snake can sneak up on enemies, grab them from behind and carry out three different tasks: choke, stab or interrogate soldiers for information. This can be useful because the enemies can spill the beans on the whereabouts of armaments, collectibles or information on the base, hoping in vain that divulging this information will save their lives.
We no longer have rations, noodles, cola, psyche, stamina or even a life bar. It is now a regenerative health system with nothing more to judge it on but the screen changing colour. As a regular MGS player, this is a bit of a disappointment because I have spent the last two games handling stamina and psyche as well as my life bar. Now it is completely gone and it takes away from the MGS experience.
You can now steal and drive enemies’ vehicles. This somewhat brings an element of Grand Theft Auto into the mix as you can drive around and run over US Marines and fire any of the vehicles weapons. The only gripe I have about this function is the controls. L1 is used for codec calls, but it is also used to fire vehicles’ weapons. Therefore, whenever I am using a vehicle to conceal myself and purely out of habit I press L1 for a codec call, it fires the canon and gives my position away!
Ground Zeroes looks absolutely spectacular. The rainy night time atmosphere feels as realistic as possible. The lighting in the game is really impressive however, Hideo Kojima seems to have caught the JJ. Abrams bug with the excessive lens flare. At first, this comes across to serve as purely as an aesthetic feature but once you delve into the game more, you realise that there is more to the lens flare than meets the eye. It can either serve as a hindrance to your sight by blinding you or, in terms of surveillance cameras, basically wave a huge flag to let you know there is a camera ahead of you by showing off it’s green or red light.
During the daytime, the game looks equally as impressive as the contrasting rainy night time. The sunlight looks fantastic either during the day or at sunset.
Character textures are detailed. Even when you use your binoculars to see in the far distance, the detail is just as impressive hundreds of yards away then it is up close.
The presentation for a Metal Gear Solid game is typically cinematic and over-the-top. Fans of this style will not be disappointed and just like MGS 4, cut scenes blend into the game-play seamlessly with no drop in detail. The only criticism people may have with the presentation is the shaky camera style, but this can be disabled in the options menu.
As noted before, the life bar is gone. So to measure how close Big Boss is to death, we have a burning film-reel effect that appears on the screen along with the-now typical screen-turning-red effect.
The sound in Ground Zeroes does not disappoint.
Throughout the few hours of the game, we are treated to a whole plethora of sounds from the environment around us. From the lashing rain, to the footsteps of nearby marines, to conversations that the marines have between themselves to vehicles approaching from the background, everything sounds fantastic.
Due to the nature of the game and the exclusion of any radar function, the player will start to rely on the sound from the game to make any judgement calls on what their next move should be. If you don’t have a lot of enemies marked by your binoculars, footsteps, coughs, sneezes, vehicle engines are what you listen for to try and gather your bearings on the situation. This is especially true when you play the game with headphones on. The sound is so detailed that you can get a rough idea where any noises are coming from.
One of the big talking points leading up to this game is the exclusion of Snake’s signature voice David Hayter and the inclusion of Kiefer Sutherland. Sadly, as predicted, Kiefer Sutherland’s voice as Big Boss just isn’t the same. It creates a bit of a disconnect from the player and Big Boss as a character seen from previous games. In MGS 3 and Peace Walker, Big Boss was voiced by Hayter. Although Richard Doyle performs Big Boss’ dialogue in MGS 4, he is only seen for one scene and is much older than he was in previous titles.
The music within Ground Zeroes is composed by long-time Metal Gear music contributor Harry Gregson-Williams, who uses the Peace Walker score. We also have an inclusion of Wagner‘s classic “The Ride Of The Valkyries” too. Sadly, there is no classic MGS riff but we are revisited to MGS 4‘s “Here’s To You” song in the beginning of the game.
Throughout the game, Big Boss is equipped with a Sony Cassette Walkman, which is used to listen to cassettes collected by the player throughout the various missions. These tapes are recordings from Chico during his time at Camp Omega. The style of these tapes is basically an audio version of the movie “Cloverfield“.
Once you complete the main Ground Zeroes mission, you unlock six other missions which are based on Camp Omega. They are a mixture of rescuing prisoners, finding secret agents or sabotage their air defence system so that an air-strike can take place. Then there is simply going into Camp Omega all guns blazing via a helicopter .
There is also some collectibles within the game. These come in the form of cassette tapes and XOF badges.
During the rescue missions, there is more than one prisoner that you can rescue so if you are a perfectionist, you can replay the mission and try and get a full house of POWs.
At the end of every mission, you get the classic MGS mission report. It breaks down how many people you killed, how many alert phases you triggered, your play time and overall rank. This gives the short title good re-playability and somewhat adds to the value of the game, especially if you are a perfectionist or a trophy hunter.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a very enjoyable gaming experience. It is packed with graphical detail. It sounds fantastic and it has great gameplay with many variables on how to complete the missions at hand. The game makes you use most of your senses and forces you to think. However, the option to be brainless and go in all guns blazing is there too so it isn’t too restrictive. The story isn’t too heavy like it usually is and lengthy codec calls are no-more. There are many welcome additions to the gameplay and the espionage theme of the series has become a lot more polished and complex.
However, this game is trying to be suitable and play to both galleries: the hardcore MGS fan and the brand new audience member.
The short length of the game is basically trying to serve as a demo for the upcoming Phantom Pain title but at the same time, the story elements involved require you to have played previous titles in the series. If you haven’t played Peace Walker before, you will either be confused by the story or simply do not care for the characters. I would highly recommend that you play Peace Walker from the MGS: Legacy Collection first before you pick this title up.
Having said all that, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is not worth it’s price, especially if you’re not a long-time fan of the series. Konami did lower the price after the initial outrage of the game’s length, but the price drop should have been slightly steeper. My initial game-time was 2 hours and 36 minutes. Other side-ops took me between 10 minutes to 50 minutes. Yes, that adds some decent replayability but with all these added up, it still does not constitute the price that the game is being sold for. If you are a hardcore MGS fan, this game is a must. If you are moderately interested in Ground Zeroes, buy it when there is a sale. If you are a first time player of the MGS series then I highly recommend purchasing the Legacy Collection first, because Ground Zeroes will be lost on you.
If Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is an indication of things to come from the series then Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is going to be an absolute classic. It’s just a shame that Ground Zeroes is so short.
This review is based on a digital copy of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for the PlayStation 4 provided by Konami.