Banner by ERICVOLTAGE
Developer: Kojima Productions
Platform: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
North American Release Date: March 18, 2014
European Release Date: March 20 (21 in the United Kingdom), 2014
Trophies: 1 | 1 | 13
What Is It?: A prologue to the fifth major entry in the bonkers Metal Gear Solid stealth saga: The Phantom Pain. Despite popular mass hysteria's suggestions, you cannot actually finish it all in an hour.
Kept You Waiting, Huh?
Change is a difficult thing with established game franchises: don't change enough with each new installment and you get moaned at for being lazy, cash-grabbing monsters; change too much and you alienate your core fan-base. It's a tricky line to walk without being scorned by some of the noisier corners of the internet-based gaming community, and boy,Ground Zeroes has had its share of scorn before anyone even played it. Firstly due to its change of voice actor for Snake, one of the main protagonists of the series, then for the supposed simplifying of the core mechanics, and later the endless debate over perceived length, cost, and if this is, in fact, just a glorified paid demo (which is subjective, in my eyes, but I'll come back to that).
Actually playing Ground Zeroes, however, (hopefully) nullifies much of that scorn, and confirms that the series is simply taking a step forward (and away) from the six years old Guns Of The Patriots.
Set in 1975, after the events of the handheld-hit Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, we join Snake (now voiced effectively by legendary booze-hound and television's most popular torture expert, Kiefer Sutherland) as he arrives at Camp Omega, a U.S. Naval Prison Facility situated in Cuba; a place where there are no legal jurisdictions (sound familiar?), allowing the brutal acts of torture that flow through Ground Zeroes' narrative. Snake's core objective is to locate and retrieve the conflicted young spy, Paz, from the base in order to prevent her spilling details of his offshore base (called, erm, Mother Base) to the mysterious, heavily-scarred figure known only as Skull Face, who appears to be leading a group known as XOF. It's a darker, more overly serious tone for the Metal Gear series, but the acting maintains some fine scenery chewing, whilst the Side Ops provide the series' trademark offbeat moments in spades to compensate, keeping the overall feel of the franchise intact.
There's something fitting about Jack Bauer being Big Boss.
What you will notice is alarmingly different is the brevity of the cutscenes. Gone now are Metal Gear Solid's usual ridiculously long and talky movies or the long and talky codec conversations; now the impetuous is on you to find out the additional details via hidden cassette tapes and through interrogating the soldiers stationed about the base. It's a nice change, as the extra story nuggets are there to be found for avid Metal Gear enthusiasts, but those who care more for the gameplay can simply get along knowing the basics. Maddeningly, it leaves more questions than answers leading up to the eventual release of The Phantom Pain, and delivers a finale that may split opinion on how well it was handled.
For the most part, everything looks and plays wonderfully. Character models are strikingly detailed, even down to the soldiers. The lighting and weather effects give great impact visually as well as in how you play; some textures and effects look fairly bog standard unfortunately, especially the surrounding sea, which doesn't look like it's been noticeably upgraded from the PlayStation 3 edition, but it's only because the rest is so lovely to look at that you'd even pick up on it. Ground Zeroes also suffers some minor pop up and draw distance problems, mainly when zooming in with binoculars, it's barely noticeable, bar the rare occasion you want to shoot a barrel from considerable distance.
While this is not the longest game for a single playthrough, where all six missions can be vanquished in around 6-8 hours first time round (the main story mission can be finished in under two hours first time quite easily), if you set your mind to it, the game is still full of opportunity for experimentation and investigation for anyone with so much as a passing knowledge of the series. Keeping that in mind, it is worth noting that this is not a good starting point for newcomers, as what plot there is will have nearly no impact on you, and certainly contributes to the problems of longevity and cost if you have no real drive to unearth more.
The use of light is fantastic in Ground Zeroes, it's your sternest adversary throughout.
Played Like A Fiddle?
Length debates aside for a moment, Ground Zeroes is by far the most enjoyable Metal Gear to actually play to date. Camp Omega provides a perfect playground for both stealthy, and trigger happy shenanigans. The fresh work Kojima and his team have done to implement the Metal Gear building blocks of light and sound into your tactics is at the forefront of making that work, but it's the redesigned gameplay mechanics are probably the most impactful aspect of Ground Zeroes replayability.
Snake's movement is far more fluid than in previous entries , keeping the button prompts for the majority of interactions simple, taking cues from Peace Walker's style of control, it also massively improves upon the aiming, shooting, and CQC. It's all round, a far less fiddly, and more instantly accessible Metal Gear than the awkward setups used throughout the series to date. Veterans may take issue with that, it may sound like a watering down of the series, but it suits the design of the open game world superbly, injecting a fresh, large dose of fun into playing and replaying. It also remains a firm challenge to stay hidden, and avoid chaos.
Snake: Still musical statues champion for almost a decade.
The map, information, and objectives are now accessed on the fly from your iDroid (a kind of holograph projecting walkie-talkie), part of a twist on the old fashioned radar system which has gone for Ground Zeroes, replaced in part by the iDroid, and by a Far Cry-esque spot and tag system which compliments a more grounded line of sight method for enemy A.I. ensuring that a cautious approach is needed to tackle them, especially on hard mode, where they can spot you moving from a realistically far off distance, becoming suspicious and investigating if you stay in their sight for anything more than a fleeting second. They still operate on patterns of patrol and reaction, it just happens to be a more complex set.
Now it takes a bit more investigation to discover what each one will do. When you do get spotted, time slows for a few seconds down to give you a chance to take them down before they hollers for their pals, lowering the failure rate for trying to play stealthily, thus, making it much more fun to toy with enemies, encouraging bigger risk taking and experimentation. If you don't want coddling, then you can turn off this feature, along with other visual cues to truly immerse yourself in some hardcore stealthing.
The new use of vehicles is one of the most underutilised parts of Ground Zeroes, the map is a decent size but not even close to being large enough to need a jeep to get around. Obviously, The Phantom Pain will have sprawling sections of land to make better use of this addition, but beyond learning how they handle, and limited use of hiding in the back of a truck, it's a pretty emaciated feature here. Parts like this don't help the game's cause when arguing against it essentially being a paid demo.
That debate over cost, length and what you classify the game as, really are the only factors stopping anybody enjoying Ground Zeroes. If you deem this merely a paid demo that sets a poor precedent for the future of gaming, which is an understandable assumption, then vote with your wallet (or purse, we don't judge here) and move along, for anyone not really that into the series, if the price is an issue, then wait. It'll still be there in a few months and you may be pleasantly surprised. If you are a Metal Gear fan with any these concerns, I can assure you there is plenty here to satisfy your needs, offering more depth, detail and enjoyment than some supposed 'full games' manage in twice the time.
'' Dude, you're way too dead to drive, give me the keys'!'
A pleasantly challenging climb to reach the 100% mountain-top, most of the fifteen trophies involve playing missions to certain requirements, while there are the collectible trophies for the tricky to locate XOF patches and cassette tapes. Getting S rank on all the missions is probably going to be the most time consuming, but feasibly, you could 100% Ground Zeroes in under 20 hours, even without a guide.
Summary? What's Wrong? Suummmaaaaarrryyyy!!?
As a taster for The Phantom Pain, it certainly feeds the hunger for more, the knowledge that you can take all you learnt from Ground Zeroes and apply it to the much larger in scale main game is an exciting prospect, because this time round the gameplay in a Metal Gear Solid title is put on a pedestal and worshiped ahead of the cutscenes and endless exposition. It's still the Metal Gear you know and love at it's core, stealth, hammy acting, bizarre moments, and political and social preaching all remain intact but feels so much fresher for the overhaul in design and mechanics.
As a standalone game? Well, there is no dispute that it has a feel of restraint, one moderately sized map with different times of day and weather doesn't exactly scream variety. A casual player may only complete the main mission and feel particularly aggrieved at the concise and confusing nature of it. There's plenty to experiment with, nostalgia to revel in ( the Deja Vu mission will leave a grin on your face more than once if you've ever played Metal Gear Solid) and a lot of information to uncover, but only if you really care to do so. Whether you deem this succulent appetiser worthy of spending around £25 or $30 on is entirely dependent on your tastes and beliefs.
My Verdict: 8/10 - Superb
Gameplay: 9 - The most accessible and enjoyable Metal Gear Solid to participate in to date, allows you to play anywhere from silent and unseen, to grenade chucking psychopath. Still holds back on unleashing some features full potential though.
Technical: 8.5 - Runs smoothly, executes it's level design to near perfection, and employs great use of light and sound. This is only slightly marred by some substandard graphical upscaling, and minuscule occurrences of pop up.
Longevity: 7 - There is enough to keep an avid Metal Gear fan and/or completionist, captivated for a good 20-30 hours thanks to a high level of replayability, perhaps even beyond that, but for anyone else, the fun train could stop earlier than half a dozen hours in.
Select Critics' Scores
Guardian: 10/10 - ''It is surprising, and not a little depressing, that all people want to talk about with this game is the running time.''
Edge: 9/10 - ''Ground Zeroes is a resounding success in every respect bar its price tag, but value is relative. Fourteen hours in, we’re still learning.''
Eurogamer: 9/10 -''As a precursor to Phantom Pain, it suggests that greatness awaits, but even on its own terms Ground Zeroes is something special.''
IGN: 8.0 - ''Ground Zeroes is a short but challenging game, and those willing to cast aside conventional expectations will find a lot more here than first glance might suggest.''
Polygon: 5.5/10 - ''It's staggeringly short and unsatisfying, feeling more like a cash grab than an honest-to-goodness installment in a beloved franchise.''
Like These? MGS V: Ground Zeroes Might Be For You
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Far Cry 3 (PS3)
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP, PS Vita, PS3)
Hitman: Absolution (PS3)
Thief (PS3, PS4)
The Last Of Us (PS3)
Sneaking in at 4am, trying not to wake your wife/children/parents/flatmates (Various)