A few of the Metal Gear Solid games have included an opening scene in which the game’s mechanics and style are introduced, separate from the main story of the game. In Metal Gear Solid 2, players took control of Solid Snake aboard a tanker in the Hudson River for a while before tackling the main story as Raiden. In Metal Gear Solid 3, Naked Snake was dropped into Russia to complete the Virtuous Mission, before the main “Snake Eater” operation took place. Both of these segments served as a prelude to the main event.
With Ground Zeroes, Konami are essentially charging for that prelude. For the unaware, Metal Gear Solid V, Hideo Kojima’s latest in the series, comes in two parts: Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. Ground Zeroes is the Tanker or the Virtuous Mission; a tiny percentage of the main experience that on its own doesn’t constitute a full game. The Phantom Pain is the real deal; an epic experience that promises to be a huge adventure when it eventually releases next year.
It would be easy to write off Ground Zeroes as a cash-grab, because its main mission will take between 90 to 120 minutes to complete, on your first sitting with deaths and cutscenes. While there’s more to Ground Zeroes than just a mission, the feeling that this is a paid demo won’t go away.
Kojima Productions games are famous for their sheer amount of things to see and do, like Easter eggs, secrets and things like VR missions. It’s for this reason that gamers speak of playing the demo of Metal Gear Solid 2 for hundreds of hours, despite containing little content. After the main mission, various side missions are unlocked (with one being absolutely bonkers on PS3 & 4) and there are tons of secrets and hidden bonuses to find such as skins and audio tapes you can play on Snake’s Walkman.
But what of the main mission? Ground Zeroes takes place following the events of Peace Walker, a game that was itself a sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3. If you haven’t played Peace Walker, you will be lost. This is unfortunate but considering the series’ penchant for convoluted storylines and multi-game arcs this was something of a given. The main menu has a “Backstory” option which explains the story of Peace Walker as best it can in a few pages of text, but those who haven’t played Peace Walker will still find it hard to relate to characters like Chico and Paz especially since they have major roles in Ground Zeroes. A final cutscene which would have been an amazing interactive segment plays you out, featuring a climactic set-piece as well as a gut-wrenching scene that shows the insane level of detail that has gone into the game. But then we have the usual closing credits, ominous voice over, and a trailer for the Phantom Pain. This makes it fell even more like the paid demo we were afraid of, which is a shame.
Upon the starting the game, the first thing that hits you is the Fox Engine. In a word, wow. This is the best-looking game so far on the PS4, with amazing lighting, fantastic effects such as rainwater splashing on the floor, realistic cloth physics, amazing levels of detail and at a resolution of 1080p. This is all going on while at the same time achieving that holy grail of game engines – a dazzling, unbreakable 60 frames per second, even in cutscenes. Next-gen has indeed arrived.
Not even the hectic cutscenes break the buttery-smooth Fox Engine.
Gameplay in Ground Zeroes consists of the same third person action we’ve come to expect, but with traditional shooter controls. With no minimap and a minimal HUD, you have no way of knowing where enemies are in a big non-linear 3D environment like this. This is where enemy tagging comes in, which is a great addition because it invites you to consider a slow and stealthy approach.
Aiming at anything of interest with weapons or binoculars adds it to your map and HUD. This adds a tactical edge to infiltration, rewarding patience and planning. It’s advantageous to look for high ground, and tag as many enemies as you can so you can keep track of them. This is the stealthy approach. Or, you could just hop in a tank and drive around killing things.
Yes, Metal Gear Solid V is going open-world, with the same “go anywhere, do anything” mentality as something like Deus Ex or Dishonoured, and rather than feel less like Metal Gear as a result, it puts its own spin on things. Getting discovered has been rebalanced since the previous entries in the series; you now have a chance to deal with your enemy if they spot you, using a new system called “Reflex Mode”. When the classic “!” noise is triggered, time slows down briefly. Pressing the aim button will automatically turn the camera and have Snake aim at the guard. You have a chance to score a headshot on him during this moment, and if he isn’t dead or asleep by the end of the slo-mo, you’re in alert mode, and probably going to die. This is a good system, as being seen from off-screen is frustrating, so it gives you a chance to react to enemies you couldn’t see. For the purists, an option has been included to turn it off, and completing a mission without triggering the effect is rewarded with more points on the results screen to encourage players not to take advantage.
You can call in your helicopter at any time to one of several landing zones – it’ll even play music on entry. Flight of The Valkyries is an option.
Upon completion of Ground Zeroes, you’ll tumble down the rabbit hole. Side ops open, some of which are frankly, bizarre. You’ll save a target who turns out to be someone you’d never expect, embark on a trip down memory lane on PS4/PS3, or hunt aliens with Raiden on Xbox platforms (I’m not even kidding about that).The actual objectives are disappointing. The main mission has you extracting two targets, while the side missions are generic “protect this NPC” or “assassinate these guys”. It’s a shame that the mechanics and systems at play weren’t explored further, but of course, that’s what the Phantom Pain is for.
It is highly recommended that you wait for this to come down in price significantly before you dive in. An RRP of £29.99 is simply too high for this amount of content. If you just want to complete the game, you’re looking at one sitting. To see absolutely everything there is to see in the game won’t take you much longer, and with one map it’ll even get visually boring – different missions only change the time of day.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, is well designed, well acted, has great mechanics, looks stunning and has a great plot. 80 minutes later you’re left with some side missions and a feeling of “is that it?” If the game were cheaper, or sold as an XBLA/PSN title for a fraction of its current price, it would score higher. But the fact of the matter is that this is, at the end of the day, a paid demo, designed solely to recoup soaring development costs on Kojima’s long-gestating project, the Phantom Pain.
Fans will love the game, and will enjoy finding all of its secrets and hidden content such as Easter eggs and lore-filled audio tapes. If you have a passing interest in the series, and only care about the series’ main entries, wait. Wait for either Ground Zeroes to reduce in price or wait for the Phantom Pain to release.
Amazing graphics, running at constant 60fps on nextgen platforms
Mechanics are well thought out and implemented
Reflex mode is a perfect risk/reward system
Story requires knowledge of Peace Walker
Takes one sitting to finish the “campaign”
It’s essentially a demo for the Phantom Pain
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What's there is good. Ground Zeroes is a good piece of open game design with standout audiovisual presentation, but with only one map and a few missions to play on it. Fans will delight in being re-united with Kaz, Paz, Chico and Big Boss, but this amount of content basically amounts to a just a demo - a small snippet of a larger story.