Kojima Productions have decided to put this on shelves as a full release and while this is a business decision I can’t respect, the game itself is far too good to deny.
Ground Zeroes is a short game with a lot of padding. A game of this length and price, requiring only an hour or so to beat, would usually be enough to earn my dislike. In this case I have to let it go, as Kojima Productions have delivered a compelling narrative teaser for Metal Gear Solid V and a beautiful showcase of the sheer graphical fidelity, complexity and intricacy of the Fox Engine. It might have a short main story, but the side ops and replayability make it a trip worth taking. As a narrative teaser for Metal Gear Solid V, it’s a must have for longtime fans of the series.
Big Boss is on a one man infiltration mission to rescue Chico and Paz from a U.S. Naval Prison Facility. He’s doing this to both save them and to get information from them about a mysterious figure known as Cipher. Ground Zeroes is the most harrowing tale in the Metal Gear Solid series, dealing with, among other things, child soldiers and torture. The ending is one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen in a game, but it works because the themes are dealt with maturely and seriously. Clocking in at around an hour, the main story is incredibly short and is more of a teaser for Metal Gear Solid V than a complete story.
The number one priority is to remain undetected, but the choice is ultimately up to you. Guns blazing is a valid, albeit less satisfying, tactic. This is where the game’s one mission becomes slightly more acceptable. It isn’t linear, offering a small open world to explore, lots of gadgets to use and many routes to your objective. I’ve been through the main mission countless times on PS4 and PC and every time I find something new, be it a new route, new gadget or just a fun encounter. The small island is packed full of detail and combined with the polished gameplay and graphical fidelity, it kept me coming back for a long time.
Kiefer Sutherland is Big Boss this time around and he does a fine job with the character. He manages to make his portrayal as compelling as David Hayter’s, while still making the character his own. Hayter’s Boss was more gravelly and memorably cheesy, while Kiefer’s is a bit more generic and dull. For the first time though I was able to take the character seriously and in the depressingly harsh narrative Ground Zeroes tells, that was not only important, but crucial to the emotional twists and turns the game goes through. I still hear Jack Bauer, rather than Big Boss, no matter how much time I spend listening to the character. This new, more modern, more convincing portrayal works well though and I’m eagerly anticipating more from him in the full game.
Ground Zeroes doesn’t really require any prior knowledge of the series to be enjoyed and while backstory can be read from the main menu, it isn’t really necessary and will probably be incomprehensible to new players anyway. I barely remember the plot to the previous games, mostly due to its incredibly convuluted state and had no trouble with what happened during the short teaser story the game tells. It might be due to the fact that it doesn’t really have a story, more of a disjointed section of one. The game really does feel like a slice has been cut from Metal Gear Solid V and put on the shelves.
The series isn’t known for its easy to understand narrative, so it is of course full of confusing, complex politics and rivalries between people and organizations the player probably doesn’t even know about. It’d require a serious amount of research and patience to fully understand what happens in this game or any game in the series. If you have the time or the incentive to try and wade through the insanity of the Metal Gear Solid universe, go right ahead, but you really don’t have to in order to enjoy the games. Understanding the characters, their motivations and the basic plot that ties these things together is enough to enjoy the world and story told throughout the series.
Aside from the main narrative told through gameplay and cutscenes, you can branch out for added depth and new information by listening to the huge amount of audio logs. I spent a lot of time listening to lengthy recordings going through mission briefs, spy logs, diary entries and even some music tracks. To be honest they didn’t add all that much to the story and like most of the side content, seem to be there just to pad the one mission release into something that looks a bit more like a game.
Tactical Espionage Operations is the tagline for Ground Zeroes and it does a great job of describing what to expect. Stealth has always been the focus of the series and while Ground Zeroes is no exception, its small playground full of toys and gives you complete freedom to do as you please. Its small open world leaves you free to avoid, distract or kill your enemies in a variety of ways. Feel free to just outright kill or incapacitate your enemies if you value securing the area more than human lives or total undetection. I tended to favour the more stealthy approach, but action runs helped keep things interesting. Explosions, roadkill and turrets can get things done just as well as stealth.
For the first time in a Metal Gear Solid game I never felt like the controls were holding me back. Movement is fluid, whether I’m crawling past a watch tower or diving behind cover. Big Boss is very responsive to your commands, with movement, aiming, driving and sneaking being easy to perform, even under stressful conditions. It takes cues from modern stealth/action games like Splinter Cell, while still keeping what makes the series so unique. Stealth runs will probably have you getting to high ground, scouting the area and spotting enemies with binoculars before proceeding. Or you could just charge in with an assault rifle, steal a truck and run people over. Either way, it works as it should and the modern touches to the Metal Gear Solid gameplay are much appreciated.
The game keeps on your toes no matter what, with both normal and hard difficulties providing a challenge. It isn’t quite as difficult as the previous games, perhaps due to the enhanced controls, but expect to be tested if you want a perfect playthrough. Enemies will spot you easily if you aren’t well hidden and when spotted expect a whole host of soldiers to swarm on your location immediately. Fortunately you can make things a bit easier by going off the main path and exploring. New gadgets, locations, weapons and can be found this way. Stumbling across something new usually led to me formulating a totally different way to complete my objectives.
Freedom is one of the best things about Ground Zeroes, it gives you the ability to form strategies as you go. Previous games in the series did a great job of making you feel like you were in control and weren’t completely linear, however Ground Zeroes is a totally different experience. You have absolute authority on where to go, how to get there and the way you complete the mission. It’s a thrilling, albeit short, adventure.
Metal Gear Solid V is now one of my most anticipated games of 2015. In the mean time, I’m going back to see what’s left to find in Ground Zeroes.