Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review
Many gamers have two pressing questions concerning Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes: 1. Did we really need this prologue/introduction? and 2. Is it really worth the cost of admission? The answers are “probably not” and “depends,” the latter of which requires more explanation. Let’s just say that if you’re a fan of the franchise, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be disappointed with Ground Zeroes, even if it is a little short. Don’t forget that we’re talking about Hideo Kojima and his incredible production team, which typically produces top-tier products.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the visual presentation. The PlayStation 4 version is especially pretty, with brilliant special effects, beautiful animations, and a ton of detail in a compelling, well-designed world. Unsurprisingly, the cut-scenes are wonderfully choreographed and loaded with a variety of artistic virtues. This series excels in the interactive and non-interactive categories, which is why each game feels like a full, dramatic experience. What I’m wondering is whether or not we’ll see significant visual improvements in The Phantom Pain and if so, we’re all in for a very big treat.
Stellar sound accompanies a rich, technologically proficient graphical palette. We get professional voice performances that help to solidify the reality of each character, and the soundtrack is impressive. I almost wish the music was at the forefront of the action a bit more often, but that’s a minor complaint. With crisp, nicely balanced effects and the captivating score, you know you’re playing a Metal Gear Solid game. The ambient audio adds a great deal to the experience as well; this goes double when you’re sneaking about, desperately attempting to avoid detection. What you hear is almost as important as what you see…
Before we get into the gameplay and mechanics, let me remind everyone that this franchise’s claim to fame is the story and characters. The revolutionary stealth gameplay, on full display in the original title back in 1998, is a big part of the MGS legend and mystique. I understand and appreciate that. But the narrative has always been a focal point, which is why I’m simultaneously encouraged and disappointed by the story in Ground Zeroes. On the one hand, those fantastic cut-scenes keep us riveted at all times, and our surroundings are incredibly immersive and engaging. On the other hand, we end up with a lot of questions after seeing the climax.
Yes, I recognize that this is essentially just an intro; some might even call it a demo. However, if Kojima’s scripts have a downfall, it’s this: They’re typically a little long-winded and convoluted. Given what we see here, we can assume the narrative in The Phantom Pain will fit those adjectives, which I think is unfortunate. I’ve been hoping that Kojima and his writers would’ve honed and fine-tuned their scripting style by now. The problem is that despite all its potential, despite its many epic moments, one can still sense an amateur-ish element in the construction and implementation of the plot. However, I’m not about to pass judgment on Phantom Pain.
I’m only talking about the hints gleaned from Ground Zeroes. Don’t get me wrong, though; the story here is still interesting, and the characters are great. Good ol’ Snake never lets us down! And for the record, the voice acting has gone in the right direction: Rather than mirroring the overblown and overly dramatic story, the voices of the cast (and especially Kiefer Sutherland as the protagonist) are plenty realistic. As for the gameplay, we’re introduced to a new stealth mechanic that enhances the tension and requires both patience and tact, and a sense of freedom never before experienced in the series.
It’s your mission to invade a military black site on the coast of Cuba. Heavily guarded, this is a definite challenge because thankfully, this game doesn’t hold your hand every step of the way. You must use your observation and stealth skills to properly progress and with a minimal HUD, you’re always in the center of the action. Snake has a sweet array of next-level gadgetry that makes his job easier, but at the same time, we don’t get the benefit of that automatic radar. So familiar in the MGS series, it has been removed for the sake of an extra challenge. If you want to see and track your foes, you must first mark them with your binoculars.
Crouch, slink, crawl; do anything to avoid detection. If you are spotted, however, you’ve got a second chance to remain incognito: When an enemy spots you, you’ve got a few seconds to dispatch that enemy before he sounds the alarm. It’s a slo-mo sequence that’s obviously not realistic, but it works exceedingly well and above all else, it’s fun. If it doesn’t work out, though, and that alarm sounds, be prepared for a difficult time. You can either attempt to face your attackers head-on – depending on the situation and your equipment, this could be an immensely stupid idea – or you can hide, and the latter is tougher than you think.
In past MGS entries, there was a counter that would tell you how long your opponents would remain on alert. This, combined with the auto radar, made it relatively easy to avoid the searching guards. Again, though, the developers have worked to give us more of a challenge; so, no auto radar and no countdown timer. Don’t forget that enemies can stay on high alert for quite some time, so there’s even more incentive to stick to the shadows. And speaking of incentives, it’s awesome that you’re rewarded for playing the game properly: Your mission ranking, based on how many times you were spotted, how many enemies you dispatched, etc., will determine your future bonuses.
In other words, if you complete a mission with great precision and aplomb, you’re more likely to land special weapon drops and other nifty items. Personally, I think MGS should be played stealthily, and I’m glad to see such rewards for that approach. However, if you’d rather go in guns blazing, you can give that a try as well; there are plenty of bad-ass weapons and ammo lying around. You can take out watchtowers and vehicles with heavy stuff like C4 and RPGs, and there’s no shortage of deadly firearms with which to mow down oncoming foes. Your approach is really up to you, which is what the designers meant by “freedom” when first describing te game.
It’s not Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed; you do have more room to move, but it’d be inaccurate to call this an open-world sandbox title. You simply have more options at your disposal. Your approach is no longer dictated by your surroundings. This is what the modern-day gamer demands and you have to applaud Kojima and his team for keeping up with the times. The best part is that they’re striking a great balance between storytelling and player control, which, for me, is by far the most exciting aspect of MGSV. It’s just too bad we have to wait so long for The Phantom Pain.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a highly accomplished, technically impressive introduction to a brave new world. Even the most legendary franchises have to adapt and assimilate eventually, and Ground Zeroes is an example of a long-running, established IP embracing new technology and trends while still retaining its core. The story’s construction is a little concerning, the length will be a definite issue for some, and I have to say, the AI could use some tweaking. But as this is just a taste, it’s…well, a tasty taste. It’s not everything you could possibly want, but it hints at an amazing main course.
The Good: Engaging, highly detailed graphical presentation. Great sound and top-tier voice acting. Freedom to approach a situation however we see fit. Added challenges makes experience more intense. Fantastic new stealth mechanic. Story has plenty of potential.
The Bad: Yeah, it’s really short. Narrative could end up being overblown and convoluted (again). Occasionally questionable AI.
The Ugly: “I want more…and you’re telling me I have to wait how long?!”
3/19/2014 Ben Dutka