Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes is a prologue of sorts to the next full iteration of the series Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. If you’ve read anything as of late on the internet regarding Ground Zeroes, changes are you’ve come across some worrying news that you’re basically paying $30 for a Metal Gear demo. So before I dig into the meat of this experience, let’s clear some things up. That rumor is both true and false. Ground Zeroes main mission is a short, very short experience. Most gamers will run through the main mission in 30 minutes to an hour on their first try. Afterwards you unlock more missions “side ops” and rewards by completing the main mission and getting high scores and passing each side op. Ultimately what it comes off as is a 1 hour tops campaign, with another 2 - 4 hours of side content, so if you’re okay with that then let’s continue, if not then go straight to the last paragraph of this review.
Ground Zeroes is a gorgeous game regardless of which platform you play on. My review is based on the PS3 version which renders the game in at near 720p, and 30fps. Meanwhile the next-gen versions run the game at 60fps locked, with the PS4 version rending the game in 1080p exclusively. But even on the PS3 Ground Zeros is a sight to behold. Character models and facial capture are among the best to grace the console, but the real star is the lighting and lens flare which look near next-gen even on the aged hardware. The production values put into Ground Zeroes are top notch, and Kojima’s Fox Engine has proven its worth already by making each console version a sight to behold. Low textures and pop-in exist in the PS3 version, but are easily overlooked when looking at the bigger picture.
Your main mission is called Camp Omega, which has Boss sneaking around the enemy’s camp searching for two abducted companions, and safely getting them to an extraction point. It’s fairly straight forward and that simple, and will cost most player you an hour tops. After beating the mission the credits will roll, and you’ll be scored on how well you did, rewarding those who used stealth and stayed out of sight significantly more than those who went in guns blazing giving the game a bigger influence on stealth that would have been missing otherwise.
Again after beating the main mission you unlock more difficulties and side ops, which are several missions that involve doing different things within the base (basically side mission). However, most of these missions are just filler and do little to increase the replayability of the game after seeing the same area over and over and over.
What Ground Zeroes does improve on drastically is the gameplay and streamlining the Metal Gear world. Ground Zeroes offer third person shooting, first person shooting, stealth mechanics, and a bunch of other mechanics that really brings diversity to the genre. However, not all mechanics are created equal. After several games, it only makes sense that stealth has been nailed. Boss stealthy sneaks around the base, crouching, running, and crawling. He has access to a special set of binoculars which track enemies and vehicles, as well as night vision. Being an open-world game you can be easily spotted by anyone anywhere, but thankfully a “reflex mode” has been added, giving you a precious few seconds of bullet time to take out the enemy before he alerts others and gives away your position. Reflex mode can be turned off, but be advised turning it off is wise only if you consider yourself a stealth master, and can avoid all confrontation.
For the rest of us, it’s highly needed, because when you get into a confrontation you have to shoot your way out of it or run and hide, and for many action gamers out there shooting is often your first start and here’s where the lesser mechanics start to show up. Some guns have unnecessary amounts of recoil, and you quickly have to learn burst fire or you’re wasting ammo, killing no one, and having alarms constantly going off, which makes the experience almost unbearable, as you have to hide and wait several minutes until the guards move away and are no longer on high alert. Third Person shooting is the way to go here. It offers a hint of aim assist for those coming over from traditional FPS, and makes taking out waves of enemies easier. First Person shooting is slow and will get you killed. It’s best used for sniping a target, and getting an accurate shot on someone. Some may say the lowered focus on shooting mechanics is to enforce stealth, but for me bad shooting is bad shooting.
Controls are also hit and miss for me personally. I never understand why games don’t allow you to map the controls to your preference, because forcing controls causes an unnecessary learning curve when things can flow so naturally by allowing the player to map the controls to their taste. You have 4 control types to choose from the default Action A, Action B, Shooter A, or Shooter B. My personal preference was Shooter B, which makes more sense to crouch with “O” since I’m so used to playing games where “X” makes your character jump.
Also gone in this short installment is the need for CODEC screens, and hour long cutscenes. The long cutscenes are obviously omitted considering how short Ground Zeroes is, but I doubt they’ll be completely omitted from The Phantom Pain, considering the final custscene in Ground Zeroes is about 1/4 of the playtime of the main mission, and for speed runners it’ll end of being equal in length. CODEC screen removal is bittersweet, it no longer breaks the immersion and feels natural, but some great Metal Gear moments have come from CODECs.
Overall like the CODEC removal, Ground Zeroes is a bittersweet game, because for every great high there’s a nagging low to bring it down a notch. Kiefer Sutherland does a decent job as Boss, but Hayter is sorely missed as he brought a sense of life to the character that Sutherland is missing. The stealth mechanics are great, the shooting mechanics are average. The story tries to go for epic and heartfelt and the truths of war, but ends up unworthy, unnecessarily explicit (bomb scene), and frankly underwhelming. The story also brings more questions than answers, which makes sense considering it’s a set up for Phantom Pain. There’s a good amount of potential here, and The Phantom Pain has some solid mechanics to build upon, but Ground Zeroes just doesn’t feel like a Metal Gear game, which may turn off many Metal Gear fans. It plays like a heavily westernized Metal Gear with a huge influence from 80‘s action movies such as Rambo, Die Hard, the Terminator, etc... The 80’s action film feel is further explained by Kojima’s removal of an 80’s action filter from the original title.
Ground Zeroes is a very brief, but enjoyable experience in terms of how you play it, but a Metal Gear game it is not. For anyone interested in Ground Zeroes the main question to ask yourself is if an extended demo with a good amount of replayability is worth $30 to you, and if you’re willing to pay this type of fee for every game that comes out if it becomes a trend. If yes, then you should take a point for the final overall score for a better representation of the game. If not, but you really want to experience Ground Zeroes, rent it from Rebox for $2 since you’ll beat the entire game in a single day session, and spend that $30 elsewhere.