Monday 7 April 2014

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

With the release of Metal Gear Solid in 1998, a game that effectively revived the celebrated Metal Gear series, there has been a flurry of sequels, prequels and spin-offs. From Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater; a game set in the 60s that had nods to the 007 movies, to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance; a spin-off starring the katana wielding cyborg/human hybrid Raiden, the series has done almost everything. But despite the many entries in the franchise, the quality of the games generally ranges from good to excellent, with very few missteps over the years. But with the arrival of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain on the horizon, along comes Ground Zeroes, a painfully short yet great experience.

First off, to avoid confusion let me try to explain exactly what Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is in relation to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. In the Metal Gear Solid series, most of the games usually have a prologue section, an opening part of the game that propels the narrative in a particular direction. However, Konami have decided to separate the prologue from the main game this time. Ground Zeroes is the prologue, while The Phantom Pain is the main game, which is slated for early next year.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, developed by Konami and out now for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4 is a direct sequel to the previous instalment in the series, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and is set in 1975. One year after Big Boss created Outer Heaven as the leader of MSF (Militaires Sans Frontières), he arrives at an American black-site in Cuba known as Camp Omega. Camp Omega has many prisoners, but Big Boss is only after two, Chico, the young boy he befriended in Peace Walker, and Paz, an agent of Cipher; the secret organization Big Boss left in 1972, and the group that have been hunting him relentlessly since. With his close ally Kaz Miller behind him, Big Boss begins a routine mission that will unknowingly have massive repercussions on his life.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a third person open world stealth game with action elements. Compared to what we're used to in the Metal Gear Solid series, Ground Zeroes tries a few new things, which is first and most apparent when presented with the open-world. However, despite the promise of an open-world from Konami, the world here is, well, pretty puny. It took me six minutes to sprint around its diameter, which isn't very long. I suspect we'll need to wait for The Phantom Pain for a true open-world Metal Gear Solid game, but despite this shortcoming, it does open up gameplay into interesting and varied new ground. Instead of a linear almost rat-maze level, in Ground Zeroes the action and stealth mechanics have a neat backdrop to play around in. 

Though the action can kick off more than usual if you bump into some guards, I'm happy to say that the focus is still first and foremost on stealth. However, there are some changes to Big Boss' stealth habits. With the removal of the radar system, Big Boss can now mark enemies once he has spotted them with his binoculars. It's an interesting addition to the game, but ultimately ends up making it all a little too easy. A great addition to the stealth gameplay comes into effect when you're spotted. At this point the game slows down as it gives you a chance to subdue the enemy who spotted you. Sure, some could say that this also simplifies gameplay, but if Big Boss is indeed the stealth master he's supposed to be, he should have these kinds of cat-like reflexes, right? Also, far more in Ground Zeroes than any other Metal Gear Solid game before it, you'll often find yourself listening to enemy footsteps, and kind of build up a mental picture of their patrol in your head. This leads to a great sense of tension, especially if hugging a wall when a jeep drives past you with two heavily armed guards inside. But like I said before, the action can kick off whether you want it to or not, and if this happens Big Boss can freely lay his hands on a complete arsenal of weapons, or even jump into a tank. The action here feels half-baked though, but the excellent stealth mechanic easily makes up for it.

Ground Zeroes is exceptionally short as its main mission took me two hours to complete. However, though it's clearly just padding, there are some extra missions the player can do after completing the main mission. They also take place at Camp Omega, feel a little tacked together, but the somewhat open-world aspect of the game make these missions interesting and ultimately enjoyable. This, on top the various Easter eggs to find and cassette tapes to listen to, make Ground Zeroes a very short if very fun experience.

But wait, depending on console, Ground Zeroes has two different special missions available. On the PS4 and PS3 players can enjoy the Deja Vu mission, which has the player control the original PS1 Solid Snake as he sneaks around Camp Omega in pursuit of references to the original Metal Gear Solid game. Xbox One and Xbox 360 players on the other hand get to play the Jamais Vu mission, which places them in the role of Raiden as he hunts down “body snatchers”. 

The biggest problems with Ground Zeroes are with how Konami is cutting up The Phantom Pain into two experiences, which basically makes Ground Zeroes not just a glorified demo, but also a way of making some quick cash. Ground Zeroes, though a lot of fun isn't worth its retail price. If you're buying Ground Zeroes, don’t buy it at full retail price. Trust me. 

Though a glorified demo, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes silently takes out the competition with a 4/5, [★★★★☆]

Denis Murphy

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes at CeX

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