Tactical Espionage is a phrase that instantly comes to mind when accompanied with Metal Gear Solid. Beginning in the late 1990’s with the original Metal Gear Solid, this series has been renowned for its innovative stealth-action gameplay and compelling, albeit convoluted, narrative. Throughout each entry in the series, the games’ creator, Hideo Kojima, has developed new characters and gameplay elements to keep things fresh and exciting. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, adopting the subtitle from Peace Walker, Tactical Espionage Operations, is the next entry in the extensive series. Being a prologue to The Phantom Pain, it has already been put under a lot of scrutiny as to whether or not it should even exist apart from the, apparently, much larger portion. Cash grabs are not new to the gaming industry in the slightest, but would a beloved series such as Metal Gear Solid really stoop to that level greediness? Let’s find out.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes takes place directly after the events of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, a title made exclusively for the Playstation Portable and later brought in high definition to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Big Boss is tasked to infiltrate a Black Site -- a prison in which POW’s are interrogated using unethical means such as torture -- known as Camp Omega to extract two targets. The first target is Chico, a young Sandinista who joined Kazuhira Miller and Snake’s private military company, MSF. The second target is Paz, a young girl who was suspected to not only be a double agent, but also to be dead. The events that happen at Camp Omega are crucial to making any sort of inferences as to where the plot will go next. With a few twists here and there, the plot is definitely enjoyable, although it doesn’t give many answers to questions asked at the end of Peace Walker.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is definitely the biggest change to the series I’ve seen thus far. In the early days of Metal Gear Solid, levels were segmented into rooms or areas that had guards patrolling in a set path, the camera was at a top-down angle, and Snake had infinite sized pockets to carry all of his goodies. Obviously, from the original Metal Gear Solid a lot has changed with each iteration, but nothing has been as drastic as Ground Zeroes. The player takes control of Big Boss, or Snake, or Naked Snake, or Jack, or Vic Boss, or Punished Snake… whichever the player prefers, basically. This time around, Snake feels much heavier, but also much more nimble. Moving with a third person perspective, the player can go just about anywhere within Camp Omega. In previous Metal Gear Solid games, the controls had a pretty steep learning curve. In Ground Zeroes, however, the controls are simple, fluid, and intuitive. For example, in Metal Gear Solid 4, to equip a weapon, the player would have to hold down R2 -- which would essentially pause the game --, select a weapon with either the D-Pad or Joystick, then let go of R2. In Ground Zeroes, because Snake no longer has infinite pockets, which ever gun he picks up replaces the gun of the same type he’s already carrying, the same goes for items. To equip the lethal gun being carried, the player need only press Up on the D-Pad, and Down for non-lethal. The simplified controls don’t stop there; every input in the game has been completely overhauled to feel more natural and visceral. I’d be willing to say that it’s the best controlling Metal Gear Solid game to date.
In Ground Zeroes, there’s only one area with one load time, that being when the level loads up. Camp Omega isn’t big enough to be considered open-world, but it is definitely big enough to be considered open-ended. Every operation in Ground Zeroes takes place on this island, and how these operations are completed, for the most part, is up to the player. The main mission, Ground Zeroes, has the most content within it, and finding everything that this mission has to offer can take quite awhile. Upon completion of the mission, the player is awarded a letter rank based on different variables. This rank is then uploaded to the leaderboards to be scored against other players. Trying to get the best score is pretty addicting, but it’s a shame that they abandoned the emblem ranking system for a letter based one. I mean, who doesn’t like to be an Eagle or a Doberman, rather than a B or an A? There are four other missions called Side Ops. Three of these Side Ops are extremely fun and differ widely from the main mission and each other. One Side Op, however, feels completely thrown in and is essentially an on-rails shooter. It’s disappointing that this mission was included in the final game because it’s the only mission within the game that isn’t thoroughly unrestricted. Besides the main mission and the Side Ops, there’s one mission known as an Extra Op. This mission is either the Deja Vu mission (PS3/PS4) or the Jamais Vu mission (Xbox 360/Xbox One). Having played the only the Deja Vu mission, I cannot speak for Xbox owners when it comes to the Extra Op. The Deja Vu mission has players searching Camp Omega to recreate scenes from the original Metal Gear Solid. It’s a fun, nostalgia filled mission that requires some work to unlock and is worth doing so. Playing Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is extremely fun and has loads of replay value, even if it does rely on this fact quite heavily. Completionists will love this game, but playing in the same area over and over again can get tiresome. The open-ended nature of the missions gives me hope for the future of Metal Gear Solid, which is to say that The Phantom Pain, if it has all of the content that it’s rumored to have, has the potential to be a truly phenomenal experience.
Ground Zeroes, thanks to the new Fox Engine, sports some of the most impressive and realistic graphics I’ve seen on the new generation of consoles. Camp Omega is marvelously realized with accurate textures, impressive lighting, and a buttery smooth framerate. Cages holding prisoners are rusty and bleak. Cloth gently blows in the breeze on the many tents in the facility. Shadows grow and shrink as Snake slowly walks past lamps, spotlights, and headlights. Character models and animations, especially Snake’s, are also superbly executed. Transitioning seamlessly from gameplay to cutscenes, expressions are carved into every withered wrinkle on Snake’s bearded face. Crawling, crouch walking, and sprinting look absolutely phenomenal, with little touches like rolling while aiming taken straight from the likes of Max Payne 3 to add that extra layer of realism. It’s a shame that the map for Ground Zeroes isn’t very large, because I’d love to see the Fox Engine in a proper open-world game. The Phantom Pain is guaranteed to show off just what this engine can do, and going by what I’ve seen in Ground Zeroes, I cannot wait to see it.
Metal Gear Solid has always had some of the best sound design, and Ground Zeroes holds onto this reputation firmly. Kiefer Sutherland does a wonderful job of adopting the role of Big Boss; however, players that are used to Hayter’s voice will have a hard time adjusting. The other voice actors, especially Miller (whose voice is heard the most throughout the game), also perform their roles exceptionally well. The guard lines in Ground Zeroes are the typical guard banter that will sometimes give the player a clue as to where to go or what to do. Interrogating guards is remarkably bland; while the subtitles for the interrogations provide the actual information, the guard just grumbles, which is pretty disappointing. The song heard in the opening cutscene, Here’s To You, reflects multiple themes within the game while not being intrusive, and if I do say so, is quite catchy. The rest of the soundtrack is largely ambient music that changes based on the situation. While sneaking about, soft scores can be heard that rise upon detection. The iconic “!” sound, along with other menu sounds are back from previous titles, giving this the signature Metal Gear Solid feel. Multiple cassette tapes are available to listen to in the main menu or on the field, via the iDroid. These cassette tapes range from giving the player information on the mission, vital plot elements, to music tracks that can be played in the helicopter. These cassette tapes are a nice touch, and listening to them is always worthwhile.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is most certainly not a cash grab. Yes, the main mission can be completed in under two hours. But the main mission isn’t the only thing to be done within this terrifically crafted game. Hours upon hours can be spent finding and perfecting strategies, uncovering secrets and extras, and competing with friends on the leaderboards. Ground Zeroes is the biggest change to the Metal Gear Solid series in a very long time, and every fan of the series should pick it up. I paid $30 for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, and if I had all of the information I had now before the purchase, I would most certainly make it again.