I’ve had a love affair with the Metal Gear Solid series ever since I first played Metal Gear Solid close to 15 years ago. It was one of the few console games of that era that really showed that depth of story telling that I was used to from PC gaming for many years. I grew a little disillusioned with the series with the infamous bait-and-switch in Metal Gear Solid 2, but fell in love again with the back-to-basics Metal Gear Solid 3, and have been enjoying every entry in the game ever since.
Before we get into gameplay– let’s get into what this game is. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes has been touted as a prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (which in all likelihood will be released next year). However, as much as it’s been talked about as a prologue, it also really feels like a continuation of the story of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, as most of the main characters that Snake interacts with in Ground Zeroes were also featured in Peace Walker. If you want to get the most out of the story of Ground Zeroes, you should be very familiar with your Big Boss timeline (Metal Gear Solid 3 & Peace Walker). For those who have played Metal Gear Solid 3, but haven’t played Peace Walker, there is an 11 page summary which details the events of Peace Walker. That being said, it is a fantastic game that can be purchased for only $15 on PSN or XBLA, so you might what to check that out.
It’s been 6 years since the last big console release of the series– 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. That game finally modernized the series controls so that you didn’t have to be a finger gymnast to play it well, but the stealth gameplay seemed like it had taken a backseat to action, as it was easier and more rewarding to play MGS4 like an action game. And since that game came out the gaming populace’s opinion on stealth gameplay has changed quite a bit. Stealth has become a dirty word in recent years. There are only two games in my memory that have succeeded at large as stealth games since then– Mark of the Ninja which really paired down stealth to a simple 2D plane, and Dishonored which opened up the amount of options you had on your side.
Ground Zeroes seems to be heavily inspired by the early Assassin’s Creed games. Remember that near the time of MGS4’s release, Kojima had become taken by Assassin’s Creed to the point where MGS4 had an Assassin’s Creed costume in it, and Kojima was featured in Assassin’s Creed/Metal Gear crossover videos. Although the area in Ground Zeroes is relatively small, it is a completely open area and is very dense. As I approached my objectives, I felt like I had the freedom to approach them in several ways, very similar to the feeling of some of the Assassination missions in the first Assassin’s Creed game.
Ground Zeroes also introduces a few mechanics that are similar to mechanics found in recent Splinter Cell games which I believe are meant to offset the fact that avoiding guards is much harder in an open world than it is in the older Metal Gear games which were extremely linear. One of the mechanics allows you to tag enemies, so that you can always see them, even if they are behind other objects. The other one is called Reflex mode, which slows down time for a few seconds if you are spotted by enemies, so that you have time to react and avoid a full-blown alert. The first thing I did when I started a new game was turn both of these features off because that is not the type of aids I wanted from Metal Gear. That being said, I did it knowing I put myself at a disadvantage, and I probably had a lot tougher time finishing the Main Mission than most with these features turned off.
The Main Ground Zeroes mission took me about 2.5 hours to complete. Some people have been reporting Clear Times of 10 to 60 minutes– while these times are achievable on subsequent playthroughs, it’s not possible to finish the game this quickly your first time through unless you absolutely fluke out. A big chunk of the main mission requires some time to figure out where you need to go next, and with the density of the area, it takes some time to make your way through it. Also, Clear Time is not indicative of your actual play time. It does not include the time played from failed runs nor does it include the cutscene time.
So at this point you are probably wondering if the game is worth $30 given that it could take around 2 hours for you to complete. I say yes– and the reason is that the gameplay doesn’t just end with the Ground Zeroes story mission. There are 4 side missions that get unlocked once you complete the Ground Zeroes mission– each of which has a play time of at least 30 minutes the first time through in my experience. Plus there’s an additional platform exclusive mission that you can unlock as well.
And beyond that, this game is highly replayable. I’m reminded quite a bit of Spelunky while playing Ground Zeroes. There’s just a great depth of ways to approach your objectives in the sandbox and to deal with enemies. It’s just fun to play around with the mechanics of the game. Furthermore, because each mission is relatively short, it encourages you to experiment with the game mechanics and see how far you can push the AI. I think this will benefit players going into the longer Phantom Pain. I don’t see myself experimenting with the mechanics once I’m playing Phantom Pain– but since I’ve already gone through the story part of Ground Zeroes, I’m more than willing to have fun and see what the limits of what I can do are, and in the process become better at the game.
So you’ve got at least 4 hours of solid gameplay here even if you play through each mission only once through, and a lot more if you want to experiment, play on harder difficulties or try to S rank missions.
Ground Zeroes’ controls are similar to MGS4. They offer multiple control schemes– the one I settled on was very similar to the Call of Duty control scheme that most gamers are used to. But even the default control scheme is much more playable than the old school MGS games which were not very easy to control due to the shoot button not being on the triggers.
The story is definitely thin here in the grand scheme of things– at least in terms of cutscenes. There’s about 20 minutes of cutscenes in total which bookend the Ground Zeroes mission. In addition, there are also Cassette Tapes (most of which are collectibles) that you can listen to and offer a bridge between Peace Walker and Ground Zeroes, and some of the tapes from Peace Walker are also included here to give more back story on the character of Paz.
I was a little worried about Keifer’s portrayal of Snake in the introduction of Ground Zeroes. It’s hard not to hear Jack Bauer talking when Big Boss talks. And some of the lines seemed like they were lazily delivered. But by the time the credits rolled I was enjoying his performance. Keifer shows that he has way more emotional range than Hayter did in recent games in such a short amount of screen time. I can’t wait to hear more of him in Phantom Pain, where we will likely be hearing a tortured Big Boss throughout much of the game.
Harry Gregson Williams is back doing the music, and he does a great job here. There’s no one single new theme here which stands out, but the rearrangements of the Peace Walker themes are great, and the ambient music has a very strong Metal Gear Solid 2 vibe to it which I liked quite a bit.
Stills don’t do Ground Zeroes justice. People point at them and say that the game just looks like an upscaled last-gen game, but it is much more than that. The game looks gorgeous running at 60FPS, and no other game on these new platforms holds such a steady framerate while looking markedly better than last-gen games.
Overall, I really enjoyed the entire package of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It puts the pieces in place for The Phantom Pain, and is the most fun to play Metal Gear has ever been. In addition, this game is not ashamed to be a Stealth game, and works as a pure Stealth game better than anything else released in the last 5 years.