Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
I want to start this off by saying that I will NOT be delving too deep into the madness that is the Metal Gear Solid Story line. It is long, convoluted and so confusing that by the end it would probably sound more like an MIT graduate thesis rather than a video game plotline. That being said, I wish to convey to you, my dear reader, how great Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is.
The Metal Gear series has a history of doing things a little differently than the rest of the industry (if it's for better or worse is sometimes up for debate). Whether it be more or less starting the Stealth-Action genre single handedly, or including ending cutscenes in their games that can drag on for over an hours' worth of exposition explaining everything from human cloning to nanotechnology, you have to admit that Director Hideo Kojima is not afraid to try new things. Ground Zeroes, based solely on its existence as a game, is in itself, an interesting step (whether it's forward or backward is also still up for determination). Ground Zeroes is what I have taken to calling a “PreLC” this being a play on words of “DLC” of course. More or less the whole existence of Ground Zeroes is to wet the metaphorical whistle of the audience for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It is a DLC for a game that hasn’t been released yet. A standalone prologue, if you will.
The story of Ground Zeroes takes place in 1975, which places this game third chronologically in the series, taking place between Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Located at (totally not Guantanamo Bay) Camp Omega, an American base/prisoner of war camp located in Cuba. You play as Big Boss while he’s working for Militaries Sans Frontieres. Big Boss is infiltrating Camp Omega in hopes of extracting two of his Mother Base operatives, Chico Valenciano and Paz Ortega. The story of Ground Zeroes is heavily reliant on the fact that you’ve played Peace Walker, a game that I haven’t played. While I’m sure I might have missed some points and references, there is a helpful screen on the main menu that you can flip through 11 pages and read up a bit on the backstory of Peace Walker, which is an immense help for someone who hasn’t played it.
Just based on how Kojima presents this game is reason enough to play it. Let me get this out of the way early…HOW DOES THIS GAME LOOK SO GOOD?!?! I know that every reviewer tends to say that every new triple-A game that comes out is the best looking game to date. But I can say with all the honesty and sincerity that I have in my body, Ground Zeroes looks damn near to photorealistic at some portions. The rain spatters perfectly off of the ground and off of Snake himself. Lights reflect the rain that is falling. The ambient sound design is top notch which is just what you would expect from a Hideo Kojima product. Hearing said rain spatter and the wind howl all around Snake makes the player feel deeply ingrained in the world.
There was one instance in my playthrough where I was sneaking behind a number of guards (of course on the edge of my seat with excitement that I was going to be caught) and off in the distance I heard a guard cough. Now this might not sound like much on its own, and I didn’t even think much of it. Until I crawled closer so a group of guards and heard the same guard cough and sneeze. This is when I realized that one of these guards had a cold…are you kidding me, Kojima? This blew my mind. You may be asking: why is something so frivolous so mind blowing to me? It comes back to world building. Kojima and his team could have easily more or less copy pasted guard after guard around the entirety of the camp and not a single person would have complained. Kojima productions went the extra step and gave the world life and those inhabiting it a personality all their own. It is impressive and helps you understand the time and effort that Kojima put into the game.
Presentation: 10/10: I almost feel like a fraud giving something a 10/10 because I feel there is always room for improvement, but in my opinion Ground Zeroes has no issues or errors that need to be pointed out. My biggest issue is that David Hayter doesn't voice Big Boss as per usual, who has voiced Big Boss since MGS3, but is instead voiced by Keifer Sutherland. Who does a fantastic job voicing him, but I am picky and liked how Hayter played the role. Graphics, sound, and story all come together in one big beautiful experience.
Game play wise Ground Zeroes is exactly what you would expect from a Metal Gear game. The sneaking feels great as always, even better in than in MGS4. The sole reason for this is the lack of the “Octocamo” that Snake wore in MGS4. The octocamo felt almost cheap to me, being able to have almost 85 percent stealth rating basically anywhere seemed to lose some of the challenge and danger in the game. In Ground Zeroes, Snake has just a basic jumpsuit on. The player can feel free to get his inner 007 on while sneaking around a base in a standard uniform and relying solely on the skill of his sneaking and ability to escape at a moment's notice to succeed.
The gunplay feels solid but is not the optimal way to progress, which is how it should be. There are some situations where you might need to shoot your way out and in that aspect the game is fine. The game enters “bullet time” which is the slowing down of time in order to react and gun down the threat when Snake is fully spotted by a guard. Usually you can give the guard a quick shot or two before he has the chance to alert the other guards and then you can resume your sneaking. But in times where you’re not able to stop the threat before he alerts HQ then fleeing is the better solution.
Gameplay: 7/10: The gameplay in Ground Zeroes is solid, nothing new and breathtaking to rave about. That’s how MGS fans like it though. They love their games just the way they are and would probably be up in arms if there were any changes that are too drastic.
Now we enter the dangerous area of this review. The area that has had people up in arms yelling that this game is a rip off. The game is short. It took me just under two hours to complete Ground Zeroes the first time. And generally most players have a similar play time to mine. Usually, 2 hours is much longer than most demos, but the price point of $30 is steep. Honestly if the price was dropped $10 dollars I would feel much better about recommending that you buy it. If you are a huge Metal Gear fan I highly recommend that you pick this up, but if you’re someone who can only afford (or only wants to) buy one game a month for example, I can’t in all good faith recommend this is the game you pick up.
The game does have some serious replayability though. There are two types of collectables in the game: Chico’s tapes and the mysterious XOF patches. In my initial playthrough, even knowing of their existence and actively looking for them, I still managed to only find two of the seventeen tapes and one of the nine XOF patches. Both have a large impact on a game. XOF patches unlock “Extra ops” based on which console you play it on PS3/4 or Xbox360/One, you unlock Déjà vu and Jamais Vu for each console respectively. The tapes alternatively just help the player glean the back story and help build the world up around Snake, most of which involve the mysterious “Skull Face,” the commander of the XOF troops. These are very nice additions to extend the time of the game and make the $30 price point feel a bit less like Mt. Everest and more like a molehill.
Replayability: 8/10: Your initial playthrough will probably be short, almost disappointingly so. But if you are dedicated to the story and finding all of the collectables you can easily stretch your experience to well over 7 hours or so. That is including the “Extra Ops” missions.
Over all, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a great stand-alone prologue to the soon to be released Phantom Pain. The story is strong and the gameplay mechanics are top notch. If you like the series enough or are just over all excited about this game, don’t let the price deter you, it is worth every penny. Hopefully it is just enough to hold you over until The Phantom Pain releases in “hopefully early 2015”
Overall: 9/10: If you personally can deal with the fact that the bulk of your time in Ground Zeroes will be playing the post game then I can highly recommend this game with no caveats. Alternatively if you’re not a big fan of the series but want to get into it, I would not recommend this game as a starting point. The price point is a bit steep for only mild interest if you’re on a tight budget, but if you have a couple extra bucks to throw around, this game comes highly recommended from a long-time fan of the series.