Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – PS4
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Kojima Productions
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Reviewed by ChronoSloth
Kojima and his team have done it again, and this time with a release as unconventional as the Metal Gear Solid series’ gameplay and plot. Big Boss’ story, having begun in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, is one of betrayal, deception, and the occasional over the top supernatural enemy. Taking place after Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Naked Snake’s first 8th generation outing is no different. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is billed as “an introduction to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” and much controversy has been made over the game’s size, length, and price point. Many have called it a simple demo, or a cashgrab from Konami. While it is true that a playthrough of Ground Zeroes‘ canonical story mission will last around 2 hours your first time, and can be speed-ran in 15 minutes with knowledge of soldier placement and much skill, to call Ground Zeroes a demo is to ignore the wealth of choices, abilities, collectibles, ranks, Codec conversation, extra missions, easter eggs, story, and huge amount of fun to be found in the game’s sole location, Camp Omega. There are so many ways to interact with your environment, enemies, and equipment, that there may be mechanics you haven’t discovered after several playthroughs.
PlayStation has been Metal Gear Solid’s home since 1998, though it’s had a few visits to its biological mom Nintendo, and its drunk uncle Xbox. Ground Zeroes is an incredible looking game, and I highly recommend experiencing the Fox Engine for the first time on PS4, as it’s the only way to see it in 1080p at 60 frames per second. While it boasts nicely textured environments and lifelike character models, it’s truly the lighting that brings Ground Zeroes to life. During daylight hours, Camp Omega is covered in harsh sunlight, and finding openings and places to hide is affected accordingly. Ground Zeroes‘ story mission is a rain-soaked affair in the dead of night, and the game lets you destroy lamps and turn off searchlights to further cloak your infiltration. Snake’s animations are quite lifelike, and the robotic change from standing to crouching in previous games is no more. Draw distance doesn’t even seem to exist in the game, and never was there a time where I looked to the horizon and things weren’t rendered as impressively as those nearby. The incredible zoom on Big Boss’ binoculars is a testament to this.
While this introduction to the Phantom Pain doesn’t provide players with a huge bag of tricks (Playboy magazines, barrels, etc.) like Metal Gear Solid 4, the equipment and tactics available in Ground Zeroes allow for a huge amount of variety in your encounters with enemies, as well as how you avoid those encounters. Camp Omega is a playground, and there’s no timeout for roughhousing. You might pull your gun on a guard from behind, interrogate him to learn the location of ammunition stations on the map, instruct him to tell his comrades to come here, and then make your way to an area previously guarded by those officers. You could use careful planning and noises to draw enemies to secluded areas and then tranq, stun, or kill them one by one. You can even go on a rampage, destroying enemy weapon placements with C4, and dropping patrols with headshots and CQC throws. It’s all up to you, and with the new control scheme, it all feels so good.
I’m a huge fan of the MGS series, and I can’t say that I was initially happy about the classic inventory and life bar being stripped from Ground Zeroes. However, putting aside my desire for the series to keep its traditions going, the inventory works well, and can be used quickly. Health regenerates over time, and while it’s completely unrealistic, so is having a shitty military ration bring you back from the brink of death, so I can’t really complain. If you’re seriously injured, you have to find a safe place to use first-aid spray and grunt a bunch. For the first time in the Metal Gear Solid series, I haven’t fumbled with trying to get Snake from lying down, to standing up. I’d always go from prone, to taking a knee, back to prone, to taking a knee, to standing up. After the new set of controls, there was never an occasion where I fumbled buttons trying to execute a command.
Two more changes from tradition are the addition of “marking” enemies and a last-chance slow-mo ability that will prevent guards from going on alert if you can take them out the moment they spot you. With the improved AI of the guards, and the lack of an on-screen radar, I believe marking enemies by focusing on them with your binoculars is a welcome addition that doesn’t detract too much of the game’s challenge, while allowing you to keep your bearings in a large area with plenty of enemies. I did play with the slow-mo ability turned off, as I see it more as a chance for those not adept at stealth games to enjoy Ground Zeroes without much hair-pulling frustration. I’m not sure why a newbie would pick the fifth numbered game in one of the most complicated series (story-wise) in the entirety of the medium, but if any casual players want to jump in, Easy mode with slow-mo on is a good start. It would definitely help a skilled player if they’re going for a speedrun or a higher rank on a mission, but then again, I believe someone skilled at the game would find more enjoyment without it.
Speaking of speedruns and ranks, the game isn’t shy about telling you to replay the 5 missions it provides. Completing a mission once unlocks its hard mode, as well as rewards you for the rank you received. Obtaining all the rewards will require a mastery of all the skills the game provides you with, and extensive knowledge of patrol areas and guard placement. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is meant to be played again and again, to find every easter egg in every nook and cranny, to hear all the Codec dialogue, and to perfect your playthroughs. PlayStation exclusive, the Deja Vu mission tasks players with recreating scenes from Metal Gear Solid, erasing logos hidden around the camp, and revealing Kojima Studios’ logos with search lights. Beating this mission after having completed all the scenes and correctly answering a quiz on Metal Gear Solid will reward players with cool skins for Snake that will actually change gameplay a bit.
While the game’s production is often jawdropping, I was bothered by a few things. When guards are interrogated, they simply mumble in fear, while their dialogue is displayed at the bottom of the screen. These interactions were voiced as early as Metal Gear Solid 3, and it feels like a step backward for this small immersion breaker. Another very un-Kojima-like oversight is that the prisoners who speak or groan while you carry them do not alert enemies. The Last of Us received much criticism over the very similar issue that your allies would not alert guards, though you could. A personal issue of mine is that though Kiefer Sutherland’s performance of Snake is well done, it’s incredibly hard for me to hear any voice other than David Hayter‘s and think of Big Boss or Snake. In the game’s opening cutscene, Kaz and Snake are having a conversation, and it took me a moment to even register that Big Boss was talking. This is one tradition I wish was upheld.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a technological marvel, and is impressive in all fields. It leaves players’ mouths watering for the Phantom Pain, both for more areas to infiltrate, and for more of Big Boss’ tale. The few problems I had with the game are possibly things that wouldn’t even bother the average player. The complaint I see frequently with the game so far is the length, but that is ignoring the entire structure of the game’s missions and reward system. I’ve put 8+ hours in so far, haven’t completed every side mission, haven’t unlocked all the extras, and I can’t wait to play more. You’re supposed to play the game’s 5 missions until you’ve drained them of every secret and ounce of fun, and there sure are lots of secrets and fun.
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