By Scott Siebert
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is an oddity. The game is meant to serve as a bridge between Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which will be released in 2015 (hopefully). Whether you view it as a prologue or part one, Ground Zeroes is essentially DLC that is released before the actual game. Ground Zeroes is a gamble on (Metal Gear creator) Hideo Kojima’s part. While the game could excite fans for The Phantom Pain, it could easily turn them off and hurt the franchise’s future.
Fortunately for Kojima, Ground Zeroes moves the series forward in a big way, and has me very excited for the next title. The game’s world is extremely tight, and the graphics are beautiful (even on my 360). Ground Zeroes offers diverse terrain, with each part of the map offering unique gameplay, challenging the player to adapt to their surroundings. Enemies move and react in realistic ways, and things such as water and light play an even bigger role in the stealth series. The game world feels similar to Metal Gear Solid 3, with a strong mixture of natural and urban settings.
Metal Gear has traditionally forced players down a fairly restricted path, but the latest installment opens the map up so the player can choose the path that best suits their style. This provides gamers with a wide variety of strategies for the mission, and the world feels truly alive. The stealth mechanics are as strong as always, but the gunplay feels even stronger. Snake is able to run and gun, and the rigidity that has previously characterized the series combat has been replaced with newfound fluidity. Every gameplay element has been improved and integrated together, which makes for a far more cohesive game.
While Metal Gear is known for overly convoluted and bombastic stories, Ground Zeroes skips the philosophy and instead focuses on the characters. The story is fairly straightforward, with a strong emphasis on preparing the player for The Phantom Pain. Those who have not played Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker will not feel a strong connection to the campaign, as the story revolves around locating Paz and Chico. Even for those who did play Peace Walker, the only player who gets extensive screen time is Snake, which makes it difficult to care about any of the other characters, and limits the emotional impact of the game’s violent end.
Ground Zeroes has a few annoying flaws. Kiefer Sutherland replaces fan favorite David Hayter as Snake. Sutherland injects new emotion into the character, but at times he seems to lapse into a Jack Bauer-esque performance. This is to some extent inevitable, but I nonetheless dread the first time Snake screams “DAMN IT” in The Phantom Pain. The game map is also somewhat hard to follow, as the player indicator at time seems to blend into the rest of the display. The ability to spin and manipulate the map also causes more confusion than clarity. More casual gamers will be turned off by the game’s difficulty. Metal Gear has always been accessible to casual gamers by offering lower difficulty settings and forgiving game mechanics, but Ground Zeroes does away with these. There is no easy setting, and the absence of radar makes it easy to lose track of the enemies. While this will appeal to hardcore gamers and longtime fans of the series, I imagine Ground Zeroes will cause more than a few rage quits.
The biggest issue with Ground Zeroes is its length. Numerous articles have already been written on this issue, and there are already YouTube videos of the main quest being completed in under 10 minutes. The average gamer can probably complete the game in about 2 hours. Depending on how much you explore and the number of side-ops you do, you can probably get between 5-10 hours out of the whole thing. If it were a linear action game this critique would have a lot more weight, but considering the amount of freedom the player has, the replay value is high. Because of this, it might be better to say that the game is as long or short as the player chooses to make it. The game world is extremely well crafted, and I’d rather spend two hours in a well-made game than 20 hours in a generic one.
Considering the length, the $20 price tag is probably a little steep. Ignoring the cost however, the game moves the franchise in a fresh new direction and offers a few hours outstanding gameplay. Diehard Metal Gear fans will enjoy the game, and it should tide them over until they can get their hands on The Phantom Pain.
Front page image from edge-online.com. Image 1 from dualshockers.com. Image 2 from gamespot.com.
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