The Metal Gear/Metal Gear Solid franchise has always been about obfuscation. From the way Director Hideo Kojima likes to hide his true intentions with a game (see: The Phantom Pain reveal) or the dense narrative that permeates the entire series, there has never been a clear line of communication between developer and consumer.
So, when Kojima announced that Metal Gear Solid 5 would be split across two titles, The Phantom Pain and its prequel Ground Zeroes, many expected Kojima Productions and Konami were doubling down on the franchise — giving fans the Kill Bill treatment, if you will.
Having now played through Ground Zeroes, we can say definitively that this is yet another classic case of misdirection. What Kojima and company seemed to be developing and what they actually delivered couldn’t be further from each other. Ground Zeroes is not the first chapter in a larger novel, it’s more like the first page — a decent teaser without the all-important meaty parts to support it.
By now, gamers know that Ground Zeroes is a short game, so short in fact that it takes about two hours (including cutscenes) to get from start screen to credits. For some that will be an instant red flag, and to them we say hold off on picking up Ground Zeroes until the inevitable tie-in with The Phantom Pain, or at the very least for a discount.
At the same time, to say Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes won’t satisfy fans is a little misleading. It competently introduces players to the new mechanics of MGS 5, but by the time the game actually starts to become fun it’s over. As a result, Ground Zeroes feels like a demo for a larger title. It lacks the context, the depth, and even the trademark wordy storytelling fans have come to expect from the series thus far.
It’s also worth highlighting up front that this is a poor first outing for Keifer Sutherland as the voice of Big Boss. Since the game features very little actual cutscenes all gamers will have to judge Sutherland by is his voice, which doesn’t come close to resembling David Hayter’s. For that matter, the fact that Ground Zeroes has so few cinematics featuring Snake, or at all for that matter, calls even more attention to that fact. It might seem like a trivial gripe to have, but expecting one voice and getting another is wholly jarring.
Equally as jarring is how simple the main mission in Ground Zeroes is. After a brief bit of expositional text and an appropriately goofy, Kojima-style opening scene, Snake descends on a military installation in Cuba with the goal of rescuing two captured comrades. The game starts, he sneaks to one side of the map, rescues the individual, and calls in an extraction. Then he moves to another side of the camp, extracts the other POW, and it’s over. To say these objectives are dull would be putting it mildly. What’s worse though, is that the story trappings built around the mission are practically non-existent. There’s the 5-minute cutscene at the beginning, a few short interludes, an extended prologue, and that’s it.
If we’re talking strictly mechanics and graphics, Ground Zeroes is Metal Gear Solid perfected. Well, aside from the A.I., which is serviceable enough to make getting from point A to point B a challenge, but still has plenty of dumb moments. For starters, the new Fox Engine delivers some of the best visuals we’ve seen on current or next-gen platforms, from the character models to the animation work to the detail in environments. Metal Gear has always been towards the top when it comes to graphical fidelity, and that still holds true with Ground Zeroes.
Similarly, the franchise’s core mechanics have been refined to incorporate more modern ideas. Players still sneak around in third-person view, but Kojima successfully made some smart tweaks to make everything feel more intuitive. That isn’t to say the game has undergone some radical reinvention, merely that the familiar elements of combat and traversal have been refined in such a way that every option appears viable, be it sneaking quickly past a guard or taking out a room full of enemies. There are some new bells and whistles at Snake’s disposal as well, namely a new marking system. The system lets players track enemy movements while keeping the focus on the action, rather than staring at the radar and vision cones like in past games.
Further adding to players’ options is a new reflex mechanic that gives Snake a split second of heightened awareness with which to take out a guard anytime he is spotted. In the past, getting spotted by a guard resulted in either a quick restart or several minutes of hiding, but this new ability lets players silence the guard if they so choose. In most cases, though, restarting from a checkpoint is still the best course of action, even if the mechanic makes this iteration more accommodating. Metal Gear Solid is still a stealth-first franchise, but as the genre has grown so too has this latest game in order to fit new expectations.
Unfortunately, Ground Zeroes‘ hour-long completion for the main mission only lets players scratch the surface as far as learning, let alone becoming comfortable with these new mechanics. There are side missions, called Side Ops, that re-load the same area with a different objective, but they, for the most part, are poor attempts to stretch an already thin experience. It’s actually a little insulting that the developers thought changing the level from day to night and adding some faux objectives would hide the fact Ground Zeroes is so bare. That said, the mechanics are so smooth that gamers will want more, but Side Ops or poking around for collectibles is not the answer.
What might have seemed like a good idea to Kojima Productions at a glance instead comes across as a slight to fans. The limited scope and depth of the title scream cash grab, and the fact that Ground Zeroes‘ story is so razor thin makes that even more apparent. The game is a great showpiece for the FOX engine and for MGS 5‘s new stealth mechanics, but we definitely expected something more substantial. Even then, the short length or the price tag are not the issue here, it’s the fact that Ground Zeroes feels incomplete, like somebody pulled a single mission out of a full game. That’s what makes the game hard to recommend to any one but the most die hard fans.
Have you played Metal Gear V: Ground Zeroes yet? What do you think? Is it worth the price tag?
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is available now for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox 360 code for this review.
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