Stunted Snake: Big Boss embarks on an ambitious but ultimately criminally short operation.
The long awaited fifth entry in legendary producer Hideo Kojima’s signature stealth series is finally here- well, sort of. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, is really just a taste of what’s to come when The Phantom Pain releases sometime next year. While this prologue chapter may not exactly be a full-fledged entry in the venerated “tactical espionage operations” saga, it serves as a good example of what Konami’s impressive FOX Engine is capable of, showing off the game’s lush visual prowess and refined mechanics that make the latest sneaking mission Snake’s most accessible operation to date. That said, Ground Zeroes is an almost comically brief endeavor with a bite-sized campaign that feels too small and constrained for its own good, making it a controversial chapter in Big Boss’s career of conspiracy-laden stealth subterfuge.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is set against the backdrop of 1970’s Cuba. Filling in some of the blanks in the storyline of 2010’s PSP entry, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the former FOX Hound founder and Militaires Sans Frontières commander Big Boss is tasked with infiltrating Camp Omega, a top-secret Black Site run by the United States Marine Corps which is being used as a prison to house high value prisoners. Peace Walker alumni Paz and Chico have been captured and confined to this Guantanamo Bay-inspired encampment located on the shores of communist Cuba, far away from the security offered by the Geneva Convention and other comforts afforded to conventional prisoners of war, and it’s up to Snake to bust out the pair before it’s too late.
After an impressive introduction sequence that showcases the jaw-dropping visual fidelity of the new FOX Engine, players slip into the well-worn sneaking suit of the legendary one eyed soldier and, for the first time in the series, are free to explore the entirety of the sprawling military complex at their leisure. Players will immediately notice just how much better it feels to control Snake as they dart from cover to cover, crawl through tall foliage, and, when all else fails, ditch the stealth shenanigans and bring the fight to your enemies in fast and furious gunplay. That’s right, no longer do you need to clutch your controller as if tossing up ancient Egyptian gang signs when taking aim on your foes as in Metal Gears past, everything has been streamlined and tweaked to provide an optimal sneaking and shooting experience. In addition to Ground Zeroes’ refined control scheme, Snake has also taken some notes from fellow grizzled commando Sam Fisher. Hanging up the series’ staple Soliton Radar System and Codec, Snake can now use his trusty binoculars to tag enemies by simply scoping them out for a few seconds, à la Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell, allowing Snake to monitor patrolling guards even through walls and other obstructions. Additionally, Snake has a new piece of fresh technology to give him the upper hand- the comically-named iDroid, which serves as an all-purpose map, device for plotting air strikes and evacuations, along with a state-of-the-art cassette tape player. That’s right, your dusty old Walk Man has nothing on this cutting edge piece of Cold War technology.
You’ll rely on both of these tools quite regularly in Ground Zeroes, as the series’ signature guards have smartened up considerably since we last saw them in Guns of the Patriots. Sentries now have an impressive field of view, and are crack shots when it comes to pegging your storied mercenary from a distance. Thankfully, being spotted no longer immediately raises an alarm but rather slows down time for a moment, allowing players to quickly gun down their curious pursuer before they have a chance to upgrade the alert status. While longtime series stalwarts may bemoan this new mechanic, it’s easy to appreciate it when you see just how much more numerous and tenacious the guards are this time around, and considering just how far away they can detect you from, eliminating a distant sentry before the alarm is raised is never guaranteed. Unfortunately, while these guards are certainly more aggressive than in previous iterations, their hereditary incompetence does come to light when the fighting gets up close and personal. Attacking guards will still hesitate to shoot you when you’re knocked to the ground, often choosing to just run headlong into your body and stumble until you stand and continue the assault. Additionally, while they occasionally flank and attempt to flush you out with grenades, the opposition still uses their numbers, rather than smarts when the going gets tough, seldom making any attempt to find cover during a firefight.
Of course, if you don’t feel like sneaking, you don’t have to. Camp Omega is a sandbox littered with toys to play with. From armored personnel carriers packing 20mm cannons to jeeps and rocket launchers, Snake is more than capable of bringing the fight to the camps heavily-armed marines if necessary. Planting C4 on an assaulting tank or hopping into the gunner’s set of a whirring anti-aircraft emplacement to let loose a volley of hot lead is always exciting, and moments like this make up some of the most enjoyable moments of Ground Zeroes’ campaign, which admittedly there is very little of, as you’ve no doubt heard by now.
Ground Zeroes’ brevity is by far the game’s most glaring flaw. In my first playthrough I took my time, exploring the nooks and crannies of Camp Omega, and still managed to clear the game’s single story mission in just over an hour. Of course, you can easily spend several times that scouring the rain-soaked installation for hidden XOF badges which will unlock both the Shadow Moses-themed Deja Vu mission (Xbox) Jamais Vu (Playstation), which features Raiden and serves as a tongue-in-cheek nod to Snatcher, Kojima’s cult-favorite cyberpunk adventure. In addition to the game’s titular mission and the bonus flashback chapters, there are also four bite-sized challenge missions that task the player with a number of activities such as hunting and killing two war criminals, blowing up a series of anti-aircraft batteries in preparation for an air raid, obtaining a piece of hidden data, and a rather lazy on-rails sequence where players take up a gunners position to protect a HVT, a mission that’s only saved only by the clever cameo at the end. These side-ops are even smaller than the game’s main campaign, taking anywhere from 10-45 minutes to complete. Of course, beating them does unlock a variety of trials for the game’s online leaderboards, along with a host of new weapons to play with, but really these missions range from simply “good” to “meh”, and largely come off as padding to an undeniably anemic package.
While the production values of this prologue chapter are certainly high, evidenced not just by the gorgeous visuals, but also the choice of replacing David Hayter with Kiefer Sutherland, who does an admirable job of reinventing the grizzled hero, it’s very hard to recommend Ground Zeroes to series newcomers, as there really isn’t a great deal here to justify the price. While the game is certainly an evolution for the series, the most compelling parts of the campaign have already been available for all to see at every press show since last year’s E3, and that’s a hard pill to swallow for even the most die-hard armchair PMC. Offering very little in the way of an actual game, Ground Zeroes feels very much like a vertical slice of a very ambitious title, but also a painfully obvious attempt to package and sell a demo that many MGS devotees have already essentially seen the entirety of over the past few months. While I’d like to score the game based solely on what the disc brings to the table, it’s incredibly hard to discount the sour taste that comes from seeing the credits of the game’s titular mission roll just as soon as you get a taste of what the latest evolution of the aging MGS formula has to offer. Having said that, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes offers very little outside of a demo- though I have to admit it’s absolutely the most robust demo I’ve ever played. It’s definitely worth experiencing for anyone who simply can’t wait another year to experience what is undeniably shaping up to be a stellar game, but those who have only a passing interest in the title would do well to wait it out until the both chapters are inevitably released as a complete package.
Available on: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One; Developer: Kojima Productions; Publisher;Konami Released: March, 18th 2014; MSRP: $19.99 (digital) $29.99 (retail)
Editor’s Note: Review impressions were taken from a retail copy of the Playstation 4 version of the game.