In comparison to previous games Metal Gear Solid series, Ground Zeros is a stripped down game taking away the long cut scenes, boss battles and a long and sometimes confusing plot for core gameplay. Whilst everyone knows that the game can be completed within 2 hours I managed to make it through it within an hour. But while the campaign is short it is also tense and engaging that encourages you to replay it especially when the record so far is 10 minutes – the quickest I’ve managed myself is 13 minutes. The only problem is a rushed and clumsy ending that doesn’t really deliver but sets up nicely for Phantom Pain.
The prologue to next years fully fledged outing, Phantom Pain, it follows on from the less popular and somewhat over looked PSP game Peace Walker. The game takes Peace Walker’s dark under tones and political conspiracies, which we have come to expect from the series but there is little to none in this game.
It’s obvious from the start of Ground Zeroes that they are trying to keep as much of the story under wraps as possible. The plot shows that Kojima wasn’t joking when he said he wanted the series to take a darker and grittier tone which is shown in the cut scenes and audio tapes. The cut scenes are beautiful to watch and Kiefer Sutherland shows that he’s settled well into the role and is set to take on the role of Big Boss. But with that in mind the ending doesn’t hit the mark, whilst it sets up well for Phantom Pain, Kojima goes for sad and heart-breaking but instead gets shock and makes what’s on screen quite hard to stomach. I just pray that he hasn’t shot himself in the foot by trying to step away from what made these games great. Whilst I do appreciate that this game has made it possible to fit any play style, it made it feel like it’s stepped away from it’s routes in favour of trying to get in a new audience. It feels more like a reboot then a continuation of the series and if games like Thief is anything to go by then it may not end well. I just hope it’s just me being paranoid and he manages to pull it off.
The story is over as quickly as it started as it’s possible to make it through the story within less then an hour but if you take your time to explore the full game in its entirety you have 3 hours of solid gameplay. What I was glad to see is that it proves people’s scepticism of just being a demo for Phantom Pain but being a fully-fledged title in the series. With a 2-hour main mission and 5 side missions it still manages to show itself as being a strong entry in the series even when it doesn’t hit the mark.
With the talk of an open world environment for Phantom Pain, Ground Zeroes sets it up nicely and lets you get your feet wet with a small sandbox environment in the form of a Naval prison facility. It’s a first outing for Big Boss where it’s non-linear but it doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed introducing you to new mechanics for the next gen consoles. For example, I played it on PS4 where it uses the touch pad for the pause menu and you’re in game menu, which when you start it feels like a great new mechanic but becomes less a great new mechanic and more of a pain when your in a sticky situation and you accidently touch the touch pad. But what they do wrong with the touch pad, they all but manage to make for in visuals with its separate lighting particles for each lamp/spotlight and torch and rain that bounces off Bosses suit. It defiantly shows that we are in for a beautiful outing in Phantom Pain.
Being rusty to the series, having not played a Metal Gear Solid game since Snake Eater, I felt like I have never actually left. One thing I did appreciate was how much more flexible and quick Boss was moving – faster, quicker and with more ease then ever comparing with today’s third person shooters. I didn’t think that I would feel as tense and scared as I did playing this game, making me feel like I was in the middle of a horror game rather than a stealth shooter. The new lighting system on the new engine, and AI that have 20/20 vision, react to nearly everything you do whether it’s a small jog or the slightest movement into their torch light. I felt even more vulnerable and scared for my life when I played the side ops sneaking around in broad daylight where every move I made I was seconds from being caught. Then taking on hard mode made for one of the most challenging times of my life as even when in darkness the AI would easily spot you so running and gunning is definitely not an option here.
Something I quickly came to realise when I started the game is that I wasn’t going into a base with the odd enemy here and there. But instead I was greeted with soldier’s left/right and centre so to compensate for that they give you a couple of technology perks. The first one being binoculars which when looking through would tag any enemies spotted which reminded me of something from a Batman or later titles of Splinter Cell. It’s a big help when you’re faced with a hundred soldier’s patrolling every corner of the base. You are also given Boss’ IDroid, which is an interactive map, which can be used to look up the map/case files and call in a helicopter for a quick getaway. The only problem with using the IDroid is that you have to use the touch pad to activate it, which can be a pain at times but in my experience using the binoculars is best at high ground as there is less chance of being caught.
At the end of each mission you are still ranked so before deciding to go into each mission guns blazing and using the loud approach be prepared to be penalised for it. But the game, as I said, is much more lenient on going for the loud approach compared to previous titles and is being used to encourage new people to the series. The only real problem that I had with the game is that a couple of the side ops fall down compared to the others as they ask you to go for the more rush in to hell with the consequences approach, which isn’t something that the series is known for or that fans of the series have become accustomed to. Whilst the side ops give you more for you money, they never gave me a reason to go back and play it again like the main mission did.
But over all I was pleased with what was on offer here. With a great comeback to the series of stealth and beautiful visuals, it makes up for some of the things it doesn’t quite hit the mark on. Ground Zeroes manages to show that it isn’t just a demo but a fully fledged game in its own right and show that we have a reason to be excited for Phantom Pain. While the ending doesn’t quite hit the mark like I feel it was meant to, it does help fill in the gaps for the start of Phantom Pain. While the game wont hold much replay value after a couple of tries for most other then score chasers it does give you enough to warrant the price. Overall the game surpassed my expectations and pleasantly surprised me and made me excited for a game and welcomed me back to a series that I had distanced myself from.
A Metal Gear game has never played or looked better than this and if this game is anything to go by then we are in for a treat when Phantom Pain drops next year.