A new generation of gaming consoles is upon us. As a lifelong Metal Gear Solid fan, the announcement of Metal Gear Solid V, both the full game titled The Phantom Pain which is due out either late 2014 or early 2015 and the prequel Ground Zeroes, has me more than excited to jump back into the fabled MGS universe.
The latter of the two, Ground Zeroes, acts as a small taste of bigger things to come and gives us a chance to experience a true Metal Gear game for the next generation. Written, produced, and directed by the legendary Hideo Kojima, Ground Zeroes is the first title to use the brand new Fox Engine and does so with amazing results, displaying breathtaking visuals and stunning environmental effects. There’s also fantastic voicework, even with the somewhat jarring departure of the historic voice of snake, David Heyter, and the introduction of acclaimed actor Keifer Sutherland to the franchise.
Ground Zeroes picks up after the events of the highly praised PSP title Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. It highlights the events that lead up to The Phantom Pain, which is rumored to be a massive story-centric game lasting over 100 hours.
Taking place in 1975, Ground Zeroes (GZ) has Snake, better known as Big Boss, infiltrating a maximum security facility on the southern tip of Cuba (known as Camp Omega) to retrieve two members of his crew – a 13-year-old boy named Chico, and Paz, a suspected double-agent and only known link to the mysterious entity known as Cipher. Paz had been captured, and Chico decided to take up arms himself and go after her, realizing he has strong feelings for her. Being so young and having no real combat training, he is captured and taken to the very same base where Paz is being held. There, we are introduced to a man only known as Skull Face, who is the commander of the base and leader of a unit known as XOF. Chico is told upon capture that Paz has been tortured and killed, giving up all the valuable information about Big Boss and his growing army, including their newly found nuclear capability and Zeke, the Metal Gear robot under his command. Now it’s up to Big Boss to enter the compound alone and save everyone.
Lets get this out of the way now: YES, Ground Zeroes CAN be a very short experience. Yes, you can beat the main mission in about 10-20 minutes (if you know your way around) and the same can probably be said for the five side-ops missions, but I say CAN because it really all depends on your personal style of play. GZ takes a much more open stance on how you complete each mission, the entire base is open to you right off the bat, and you can choose to tackle your objectives any way you want. If you want to play it more traditional and stealthy or go in with guns blazing, the choice is yours.
If you are the type to go for high scores, the game offers the chance to go back and play any of the missions on normal or hard (once you complete it on normal first) and gives you a letter grade upon completion that you can try to top based on how you handled things. If you choose to rush through the mission, I feel you are really missing out on the core of what makes Ground Zeroes great AND worth the $30 price tag: tense moments, great action, and some of the best graphics yet to grace the new consoles.
From the outset, the game’s controls will feel totally familiar to anyone who has played a Metal Gear game in the past. The Left thumbstick (LS) moves Big Boss around, tapping the “A” button will make him crouch, while holding “A” will put you into a prone stance, allowing you to crawl around and avoid detection. The directional pad allows you to select various weapons and gadgets, and holding down the left trigger (LT) brings up your weapon to aim, while the right trigger (RT) fires. Tapping the right bumper (RB) puts you into a first person view, which is really helpful for shooting and taking out guards with one swift headshot. These are pretty standard 3rd person controls, but Ground Zeroes performs them flawlessly.
Visually, the game is totally stunning. The nighttime operation of the main mission is nothing short of spectacular. Rain pours down, winds blows tent covers back and forth, and the wet grass and rocks shine as search lights scan over them. I often came close to being spotted by a patrolling guard just while exploring the masterfully crafted enemy base. Vehicles rumble around with a heaviness and control much the same when Boss is behind the wheel, which is a feature new to the series and is really awesome, adding a whole new dynamic to how you can approach the mission.
As an example, during my first playthrough of the main mission, I took things very slow, stalked my prey and took the guards out one by one as I went about my objectives. On my second attempt, however, I made a straight run (totally exposed) to the anti-personnel tank sitting at the back of the base and proceeded to cause havoc until eventually being blown up by the surprisingly smart A.I. The gameplay alone has me even more excited for the release of The Phantom Pain.
Value has been the big controversy surrounding Ground Zeroes from day one. Is it worth the $30 price tag? It’s not as simple as yes/no in my mind. If you are like me – a pretty huge MGS fan who has been waiting for another true entry in the series – the answer is yes. If you are picking it up in the hopes of some deep story-focused adventure, with no real care for the gameplay or how the game looks and feels, I would say save the money and watch cutscenes on Youtube or the read the spoilers online.
Other than the main mission, you can try your luck at five different side-op missions that take place at the same Cuban base but during daylight hours. There are a few different scenarios, such as taking out certain people that keep moving around or saving prisoners, and the daylight really gives the guards a better chance at discovering you – the sun takes away the shadows, giving you fewer areas in which to hide. Combine this with the ability to view online records for missions others have completed that you can try and top, and finding collectibles and achievements, and the highly debated $30 price tag is just fine in my personal opinion. The problem with value is that it is largely subjective – there is plenty of content here to be worth the money IF it’s something you are invested in and something you love.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a tantalizing tease of a much, much bigger picture. The combat is both familiar and fun, the visuals and sound design are top-notch and are what I expect from next-gen titles, and the story is as crazy and interesting as you would expect a proper MGS title to be, all while taking on a darker tone than usual. Ground Zeroes has succeeded in hyping me up for the future even more!
The review is based on the Xbox One version of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The Game is also available for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Xbox 360.
Want more Snake? Then check out our retrospective of Snake’s illustrious career.