Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes

Oh why not? Let’s do another one.

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Platform:
PS3, PS4, 360, XBO
Developer:
Konami
Rating: MA15+
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Big Boss has been through a lot.

Big Boss has been through a LOT by now.

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Entree is served.

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Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the kind of entertainment product that confuses on so many levels, and yet is so rewarding to experience, that it just had to have come out of Japan. A hideously overpriced mini-prequel to the ambitious upcoming game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Ground Zeroes confounds and delights in near-equal measure, leaving me both eager to experience the full-blown upcoming game and happy to leave this one behind.

THE SET-UP

I’m not going to try to summarise the backstory leading up to the start of Ground Zeroes, as it takes the game itself 11 pages of text to do so. Suffice to say if you’ve played Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker on the PSP (or as part of the HD remaster on 360/PS3/Vita a couple of years ago) then you are set, because the solitary mission comprising the entirety of GZ‘s relevant narrative length starts almost straight after that game ended. If you haven’t played it, like yours truly, just put on your best concentrating face and read those 11 pages, because they do a surprisingly good job of bringing you up to speed. Basically it’s 1975, you’re Big Boss, you’re in Cuba, and the single most relevant thing you need to know is that it is there are two prisoners in an encampment that you need to rescue, without alerting too many guards along the way.

As unapologetically cinematic as ever.

WHAT YOU DO

The central mission of Ground Zeroes places you in the role of Big Boss and lets you play around with some stealth mechanics that have been streamlined since the older MGS games, at least the ones I’ve played. There is little to no tutorial explaining these new mechanics, nor for the extensive controls (you can access a browser-based manual if you want to for those). This, coupled with the absence of a radar, means you feel suitably isolated as you sneak around the encampment. Yet you also feel like a truly capable agent, especially when you manage to successfully locate one of the prisoners with literally only a dialogue-less audio recording to guide you. Additionally, small secrets are hidden everywhere around the game and director Hideo Kojima’s notorious attention to detail is in full view with each one.

You’ll need to access a browser-based “web manual” to know everything.

The entire game takes place in just the one camp, but the whole of that camp is available for you to explore at your leisure, discovering different ways to tackle the mission at hand. There are pilotable vehicles, hidden weapon stashes, underground tunnels and several different forms of cover, which you will need because the AI of the infinitely reinforceable enemies is a little more persistent than it has been in the past. You can play the same mission dozens of different ways and that fact is apparent just about as soon as you begin. Hideo Kojima’s famous attention to detail is on show once again. It’s all quite brilliant; evidently there still isn’t anything quite like Metal Gear Solid on the market.

Any gun without a silencer is kinda pointless in the main mission.

WHAT YOU SEE

On the PS4, which is where I played the game, Ground Zeroes looks pretty impressive. The much touted FOX engine on which it runs is designed for an open-world gaming experience, so some potential fidelity is sacrificed on individual character and item models (after all, this game is also available on Xbox 360/PS3), but once lighting, textures and reflection effects are factored in you’re looking at quite a beautiful result. The graphics didn’t wow me visually in quite the same way as Metal Gear Solid 4 did when I first saw it running on a PS3 way back in 2008, but it’s certainly no slouch. When cutscenes as long as these can run on the same engine as gameplay, you know things are healthy.

It’s a Kojima game, so GZ looks goooood.

I say long cutscenes because this is a Metal Gear Solid game, and therefore you can expect plenty of movie-style establishing shots and dialogue that goes on longer than almost every other action game franchise. However, for a MGS title (that caveat is critical) the cutscenes in Ground Zeroes are actually rather short. As in, no longer than ten minutes. And that’s pretty cool. Narrative wise, Ground Zeroes is a brief but meaningful piece of the Metal Gear Solid story puzzle (and a puzzle it most definitely is). It serves both as an epilogue to Peace Walker and a prologue to The Phantom Pain, which means if you count yourself as a hardcore MGS fan you will probably have to play it. Its ending is a bit jarring, as it definitely feels like an attempt by Kojima to make things “darker and edgier” for the mere sake of it, but I’m not too qualified to comment much more on that given my limited experience with the franchise.

WHAT YOU HEAR

Harrowing situations like this are enhanced by the ominous sound of footsteps.

I have no doubt that the first thing on the brain of most Metal Gear Solid fans when approaching Ground Zeroes will be “How does Snake’s new voice sound?” The much publicised departure of series-long Snake voice actor David Hayter has been controversial to say the least, though Kiefer Sutherland of 24 fame is theoretically a capable replacement. The jury is out on whether that’s true in practice, because Snake does not say a lot at all here. I suppose the absence of the gravel-chugging caricature style Hayter used to provide does add to the more serious tone Kojima apparently wanted for MGS V, but final judgement will probably have to wait for The Phantom Pain. The rest of the sound design is great, though, as even listening with iPod headphones I was able to get a real sense of my volatile surroundings and locate enemies by ear. There’s audio polish here, make no mistake.

WILL YOU GO BACK?

That’s nothing short of terrible, really.

The length of Ground Zeroes has already proved to be a massive talking point on the internet, but the answer to the simple question “How long is the game?” is more complex than it might seem at first. I took just shy of two and a half hours to complete all the objectives of the game’s main story mission (see image above) and that included plenty of accidental alerts / unwanted collateral damage. Wandering around the encampment during that time triggered plenty of contextual audio interactions and optional activities that ultimately made my approach easier, such as cutting power, misdirecting floodlights and discovering different weapon types. Yet knowing what I know now, I am quite confident I could finish the same mission in half an hour, and I’ve seen online video playthroughs lasting less than 10 minutes. That’s kind of startling, no matter what your views on quality vs time investment in videogames.

Additional missions take place at different times of the day.

It isn’t exactly fair to say that the “Ground Zeroes” mission encompasses all that the game has to offer. There are five other unlockable missions to play that, while taking place on the same map, emphasise different parts of its geography as well as different fighting styles. Weather and the time of day change as well, making familar level sections feel like entirely new ones. I can appreciate this on some level, but can’t personally agree with anyone suggesting it justifies the $50 Australian price tag since each one took me 30 minutes or less to complete. People who come to the game wanting to feel like a spy and fill in some time (and an important story beat) waiting for the fully featured next chapter of the Metal Gear Solid franchise will find things to love here, but may not be able to shake the feeling of getting ripped off.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Tight stealth mechanics, great use of level space, rich in detail
Bad:
Unforgivably light on content for its price
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3 VsS O L I D

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