If you haven’t bought this game yet, then I urge you read this review before making up your mind. For everything I’m about to say about the game, there is also a lot to consider before picking this one up. With that said, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the prequel game to the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: Peace Walker, released for the Playstation 3 and 4 and the Xbox 360 and One consoles. (This review was written using the Playstation 4 version. Variation between platforms is a possibility.)
The plot of the game follows Big Boss aka Snake, as he infiltrates a Marine operated prison in order to extract Chico and Paz, a pair associated with Snakes unit, MSF. Tonally, Ground Zeroes has a very different vibe to its predecessors. It’s dark and bloody, and if you allow yourself to get sucked into the universe, it can be downright heart breaking. The colours and setting help emphasize the dark tone and gritty environment. This is coming from the point of view of someone who played Peace Walker, and has grown to like both characters you’re sent in to rescue.
THE NEXT PARAGRAPH CONTAINS SPOILERS TO BOTH METAL GEAR SOLID V: GROUND ZEROES AND METAL GEAR SOLID PEACE WALKER SKIP IF YOU WISH!
It actually makes me angry: I can’t wait for Peace Walker just so I can make the villain pay for what he did. Collecting the cassette tape collectables, and hearing about what actually happened to Chico and Paz in prison is pretty difficult at times. I get the impression that this is what Kojima was going for in this game: to build an emotional attachment and sympathy, so that deaths and sacrifices made have a real impact on the next game.
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It’s surprising how little cinematics are actually in this game: it’s pretty much all gameplay. However when the cutscenes do start it’s gripping and beautifully cinematic. And when it gets to the climax of the game, I swear my jaw was hanging open the entire time. Shock after shock keeps the suspense going, until the game climaxes and sets the tone that will be payed off in Phantom Pain. The game is pretty much banking on you knowing the story going in, specifically the story of Peace Walker. The game does include a backstory with the same comic style images from Peace Walker to help compliment it. There are also cassette tapes detailing situation, as well as Paz’s diary entries. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THESE, if you didn’t hear them in Peace Walker. It helps to develop an attachment to both Paz and the MSF as a whole, and really drives home this idea of emotional attachment.
I recommend that people looking to get into the series for the first time, don’t choose this as your first. I’d recommend the first, third or Peace Walker games as a starting point, though the second game is also pretty accepting to new comers. The HD collection exists with the second, third and Peace Walker titles included, so they are still available. Peace Walker is a downloadable title for the XBLA and PSN, so it’s probably your best bet to get into the series. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the game: after all, Empire Strikes Back doesn’t spell out the whole story of the original Star Wars film, and assumes you’re on board with what’s happened so far. It’s common for both TV and films, so it would be unfair to expect games to adhere to a different standard. With that said there is backstory included in the game to keep you up to date. It’s not a criticism, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Gameplay wise, Ground Zeroes is near perfect. The stealth gameplay is expertly executed; camouflage is based on shadows and grassland, as well as using cover to avoid detection. When you are noticed, you’re notified of the location and gives you time to get into cover, before they spot you, or call it in to investigate. This is indicative of Splinter Cell games, and compliments the open world style a lot better, since you can be spotted from pretty much anywhere on the map. The game remembers troop placement and is consistent, so soldiers you knock out or kill will stay there until the end of the mission, or until they are found or wake up on their own. Things happen in the game without you being there, so the world is constantly moving around you. However your presence also triggers events, so you don’t miss important information or events. It feels well balanced and programmed. Another important aspect is tagging, which allows you mark enemies and track their presence from anywhere on the map. It also lets you see them through walls, but you need to take a second to look at them through your binoculars or by aiming at them with your weapon.
The way Snake interacts with the world also feels fluent, with doors being pushed open as you walk through them rather than you having to manually open them. This also applies to enemy soldiers and items, so you need to watch your step so you don’t kick an unconscious soldier out of the shadows or knock over a bucket. The biggest improvement for me is the cover; most games have you stick to cover with a button press, then switch from cover to cover. In Ground Zeroes you slip into cover by pressing towards it, but you can also aim from cover and leave cover naturally, so it all feels fluent. The issue however is turning around in cover to face the other way without exiting cover, which can lead to you being spotted.
I do take issue with the speed you sneak; it’s strange, but essentially there is set speeds that you switch between depending on how far you push the stick, switching between fast, slow and super slow. As a result sneaking turns into an awkward balancing act, so you don’t randomly dash forward. Compare this to Splinter Cell again; how far you push the stick dictates you’re speed, but it’s relative to how far the stick is pushed rather than switching between set speeds, so it feels a lot less awkward.
CQC is pretty much the same from previous games, with you able to grab an opponent and do all manner of things with him; interrogate them, or ask them to call their allies over for an ambush, choke a target out, throw them to knock them out or kill them with your knife. There’s also the ability to throw enemies, which can be chained together if enemies are clustered together, similar to the system in Peace Walker. You can also hold enemies up by suppressing them with your gun, or disarming them and hold them up with their own weapon. From there you can interrogate like normal, in addition to ordering them down on the floor.
Weapons are vastly different this time around; you only carry three guns (a side arm, hip weapon and back weapon) as well as your lethal and non-lethal grenades. This is different from the first games, where you had an infinite number of weapons and items, but works in a stealth game and builds up the survivalist nature of the game. You’re more likely to watch your ammo and suppressor when they aren’t readily available. Combat is much more easy to do in this game, switching to a 3rd person shooter style like Gears of War and makes combat easier. However the limited weapons and equipment are deterrent’s from going full Rambo.
Another big change is the way you use the weapons; in the previous games you would need to equip your weapon to use it, letting you use your fists or CQC instead, unless it’s with a weapon that can be used with CQC. In this game however you’re treated like you have no weapon, until you use the shoulder trigger to draw it, and from there you can use each of the weapons functions, like using the flashlight or aiming down the sights. Letting go of the trigger returns you to the normal controls. It’s difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t played a Metal Gear Solid game, but regardless it feels a lot more fluent and organic. The regenerating heath is also new, but is does help with the combat aspect of the game. I feel like it would have been more effective if the health functioned like in Halo Reach or Grand theft Auto V, with segments rather than a full bar of health. I do miss the first aid aspect of Snake Eater, which I hope makes a return in the full game, collecting supplies to stich up cuts or using your knife to dig out bullets.
This is a stealth mission, so you want to avoid moving too quickly; stay close to the ground and out of sight. I found out the hard way that sprinting between cover would nearly always get you killed. You also need to take care when driving vehicles, since they may attract attention. Vehicles with a roof can help keep you hidden to an extent, but you’re usually safer without them.
My impressions with the enemy AI has been mixed; on the positive side, if you take out a guard who had called in a search their command will get suspicious, and may go into an alert. Soldiers who are actively looking for you will form up and take a snake formation to keep together. This is similar to the way the enemy operates in Splinter Cell Blacklist, forming up when they feel threatened and splitting up to cover more ground when they feel a little safer. However I feel like the AI isn’t suited for a building environment; they function fine out in the open, and use their environment and flanking tactics well. However when inside they will try and shoot through walls at you or run into walls at random. They just don’t seem suited for a claustrophobic environment, but hopefully Konami can use the opportunity to fix this before Phantom Pain. Another aspect they can’t handle is a vehicle, for the most part. I’ve seen a car trying to reverse into a fence once and another time a soldier crashed into his teammate. But these are rare and quite frankly hilarious; the kind of thing the share button on the PS4 is made for. Though I think that the game planned for this; guards actually jog across roads then keep walking, which is a cute little bit of programming.
Another new addition is that the game doesn’t pause when you use your map or switch weapons. You need to stay alert and get to somewhere safe before marking waypoints and the like, which makes the game feel more open and immersive. After all, a soldier wouldn’t stand out in the open while planning his next move. You need to think strategically before making a move and stay alert. A huge aspect of the game is how open-ended it is; you will be given a general area of your target, but you have to use the supplied photo of your targets face to find them and mark them yourself. This is especially awesome when you take an assassination mission, and have to think like a soldier rather than as a gamer, tracking them yourself.
Another interesting gameplay aspect is a mission where to find your target you are only given a tape and have to use your own initiative to find them; using noises to track them down yourself. The game doesn’t hand hold with a set tutorial aside from initial on screen button examples. You’re left to figure out the rest, or check the manual, which a lot of games neglect in favor of forced tutorials. It’s like in Just Cause 2; you have this massive open world and want to get out there and explore it, but you have to go through this tutorial of the game first, rather than letting you experiment. That said I wish I could disable the tutorials on multiple playthroughs, especially when you’re going for S-Rank and kind of suck, so you’ll be hearing them a lot.
You also get to choose your own helicopter landing zones, which may mean popping smoke in a hot zone if you find yourself in trouble, provided you can destroy any anti-air guns nearby or risk it being shot down. You can send the chopper to a designated landing zone from your map, or throw a smoke bomb from anywhere to call in air support, raining fire from the skies. It’s entirely up to you. You can even change the choppers theme when it touches down. Granted you’re limited to a few songs, but when you’re offered flight of the Valkyries as the theme to your helicopter, it’s hard not to enjoy this feature.
In addition to the story-based mission, there is also a set of additional missions. They take place on the same fairly small map, however the actual missions have a decent variety in how you can play them. The first is an assassination mission, which requires you to find your targets based on their picture and an estimated location, which is pretty cool and feels a lot different than if their actual location was given to you straight away, like most games would. The guard positions are also different from the Ground Zeroes mission, so it doesn’t feel exactly the same. This is where the gameplay feels very Hitman; you can stalk your target until you have a chance to jam a knife into them or track down a sniper rifle on the base to take them out from a distance. Of course you can also extract them alive, but this is bit more difficult to do, especially undetected.
The next is a helicopter mission, where you ride gunner on a mission to extract a Hideo Kojima cameo. Pretty standard really, just shoot everything in sight and keep your ally alive. The only real thing to note is that enemies you missed earlier return as reinforcements at the end, which is pretty interesting and helps that feeling of a consistent map.
The third unlocked mission is to acquire a cassette tape. Pretty standard, but you have to find its location. You have a contact on site top help you out, which you can either track down yourself or signal him down using a hint from Miller. Pretty straight forward; just some good old-fashioned stealth action. That is unless you’re going for the collectables, in which case you have to interrogate your contact to find a second tape by finding a second target. That’s the thing about this game: it’s short, unless you want to look for more.
Following that we have a mission to destroy some anti-aircraft placements. Sounds simple enough, however most of this mission is done with the base on alert, which makes you quickly realize how different the enemy acts on alert, investigating even the slightest disturbance. On top of that there are prisoners on site for you to rescue, which again you have to look for yourself.
The final mission for the Playstation version is Deja Vu, where you are given images and have to recreate scenes from the original Metal Gear Solid, like exploding a tank to fling a soldier from it, or getting a shot of Snake collecting a box between two searchlights on a helipad. It doesn’t stop there either; lines from Miller referencing the game or a reference to FOXDIE.
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METAL GEAR SOLID GROUND ZEROES!
Finding POWs, only for them to die from a heart attack as a result of Fox Die, which then corrupts the game, with the colours messing up and random text on the screen to scroll, before the Fox engine cures the game. Yes, Miller actually claims that the Fox engine that the game runs on saved the game from FOXDIE! That’s so self-referential and awesome!
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After the level you’re treated to a quiz, where the prize for answering all the questions is the ability to unlock classic Snake and Grey Fox skins, in all their glorious original pixilated majesty (Grey Fox even has Raiden’s sprint animation, with lighting trailing from his feet, which was a nice touch).
No voice actors return for this game mode, however we are treated to Miller doing impressions, which in itself I found hilarious (he even does great Liquid and Ocelot impressions). It’s purely for fans of the first game and the series as a whole, so it’s something else that may discourage new players. But for me, it’s beyond awesome.
The Xbox version comes with a mission where you play as Raiden from Metal Gear Rising, eliminating enemy soldiers who have been possessed by aliens (apparently this is a reference to another Kojima game called Snatcher). I can’t vouch for this mission seeing as I haven’t played it and refuse to spend £20 on another copy for a single mission, but it looks to have it’s own gameplay style and looks a little more accessible that Déjà vu to new players, though this is just hear-say.
On the whole Ground Zeroes is fantastic, despite a few issues. It is essentially a glorified demo, but it’s a demo with a ton of content to help justify a disk release and will tide fans of the series over until Phantom Pain comes out next year. There is effort here to justify it’s disk release, but if this works for you it highly dependent on your personal preferences.
But this game is a massive double-edged sword. In my opinion, this was well executed; there is hours of content here if you actually look for it, collecting S ranks, collectables, trials and the like, and it’s story and tone is superb considering how little is actually here.
There’s variety and content here for those who actually look for it, but if you’re just looking to play through the story once, then it’s a straight up avoid. And it’s not all that accepting to new fans either, so you’re best tracking down the HD collection and waiting for the Phantom Pain.
+Well Programmed And Exhilarating Gameplay
+Immersive Story And Characters
+Revoluntionary, Free Form Level Design
– Some Restricted Controls
– AI Issues Inside Buildings