Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a bit hard to quantify. It’s being sold as its own (albeit lower priced) game, yet it truly is just a set-up and a tutorial for the much larger Phantom Pain, which is set to be released sometime in 2015. Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way off the bat, shall we? I’m talking about the whole price vs. quantity debate that has been swirling around the title ever since Game Informer stated that its main campaign could be completed in under two hours. And while that’s more or less true (depending on a player’s skill level, the main story will take anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours to complete, not counting speed runs), there is more to the game than just the main campaign. There are four side ops, and an additional mission that depends on what platform you’re playing on (PlayStation and Xbox users get a different bonus mission), and there are multiple ways to approach your missions (save the one side op, which is mostly an on rails shooting gallery from a helicopter). Plus, there are collectibles in the form of patches and cassette tapes to be found. In the end, if you’re a big Metal Gear fan, a purchase is a foregone conclusion, and it’s likely you’ll replay the title enough to get your money’s worth. For others, a rental will suffice, or wait for a price drop.
Bottom line: It is worth your time, regardless of how you play it. But it can also wait if you wish, as while it is a solid package, in the end it does feel incomplete and has you wishing Kojima would’ve wrapped it up better, even though it is made clear this is a prologue to the much larger game to come.
How much the story line grabs you will depend on how big a fan you were of Peace Walker, as this takes place shortly after that game. The main mission tasks you with rescuing Chico and Paz from a secure military base in Cuba. How you do this is up to you. You can be stealthy, taking out guards one by one so you can safely extract your targets, or you can go in guns blazing, which means using a lot of bullets. Each way is viable, and players should stick to their strengths. Those who know they will replay the game may opt to go in noisier the first time through, just to learn the layout to make things a hair easier for a sneakier second go around. Mixing and matching the techniques works well too, though you need to hide bodies well if you wish to avoid an all out alarm.
The story is decent enough, but as I said, how you feel about it will depend on your feelings towards Peace Walker. For those who haven’t played that game (and for those who just want a reminder), there is an option to get a summarized version of the events of Peace Walker to set the stage for Ground Zeroes. The ending purposefully leaves you hanging, but it was such an obvious cliffhanger to make you long for Phantom Pain that it just kind of felt hollow. I never felt any emotional weight with this outing of the franchise like I did with the other Metal Gear Solid titles. I know it’s a prologue- that’s been made clear. But I still wish Kojima would’ve given this a better ending, so that this game felt complete yet left the opening for what is to come in Phantom Pain.
Gameplay should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a Metal Gear game before, though there are a couple of changes. You only have two weapons to start with- a silenced tranquilizer pistol and a silenced automatic rifle. Be aware that your silencer with the rifle will decay, making it just as loud as any other weapon. Firefights can be both fun and frustrating. Fun because the guns feel right as they fire, and pack a decent punch. Frustrating, because all too often enemies prove to be bullet sponges. That, coupled with inconsistent AI, can lead to some unnecessary deaths. Enemy AI seemed to range from very stupid (guards running in circles) to preternaturally observant (spotting me through cover or from a ridiculous distance). For those who like to make things go boom, Snake can hop onto enemy gun emplacements or take control of an APC. This can be a bit of fun, but make sure you’re ready for an onslaught of seemingly inexhaustible reinforcements.
A stealthier approach has its advantages, and works decently, though I wish you could’ve interacted with the environment more. Most doors you come across can’t be opened, and there’s no way to take out lights (short of shooting them, which degrades your silencer) as there are only two switches you can interact with. Plus, there’s no way to silence the alarm. Once sounded, you need to stay mobile and out of sight until the guards return to their normal patrol routes. There’s no countdown timer like in previous games to let you know when the guards have gone off alert. You’ll need to listen and observe for yourself. Tagging guards with your binoculars (a la Far Cry 3) is quite helpful, though the controls can be a little clumsy to use (holding a trigger button and clicking the right stick to zoom). If an enemy does become aware of you, you enter a brief slow motion sequence in which you can disarm or kill your foe. It looks neat, but sometimes it proves to be a problem, since there doesn’t be a way to stop it once it begins. Also Snake runs slowly, and if you accidentally hit the “X” button (on the PS3) you’re liable to ,make him drop into a crawl at an inopportune time, which more often than not leads to death.
Voice acting overall is decent, but Kiefer Sutherland really does deliver as Snake. His acting is a bit more nuanced than that of David Hayter, and those worried about this change need not worry. He fills Hayter’s shoes well, and the 24 actor proves to be a good fit for the character. There are some nice lines, and even a couple instances of breaking the fourth wall (one a nice surprise that I won’t spoil here occurs in a side op). The dialogue doesn’t always fare well, but overall it’s nicely written. Visually, this is a terrific looking game, with nicely detailed environments and character models, though many of the enemy soldiers look the same.
The main campaign is short, but the five side ops missions can add a couple of hours to the proceedings. All bu tone can be approached in any manner you choose (a helicopter mission is a mostly on rails affair) and are decent enough. The game does have replayability for those who wish to hunt for all of the collectibles (cassette tapes and XOF patches) and who want to attain an “S” ranking for all of their missions. There are two difficulty modes (Hard unlocks after successfully completing a mission on Normal) for players to master. Those who purchased the game may be more inclined to replay to get their money’s worth. Fortunately, the game is good enough to revisit after the initial playthrough.
All in all, Ground Zeroes is a solid package, but the ending does leave it feeling incomplete, even with knowing this is just the prologue. Still, it’s good enough to tide fans over until Phantom Pain releases in 2015.
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