I am a huge fan of Metal Gear Solid. I’d like to say I love all things Metal Gear, but in truth other than a dalliance with the wild hack-and-slash mayhem of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, I’ve not played much outside of the Solid games. When it comes to those games though, oh my word I really do love them; I’m kind of rubbish at stealth games but there’s something about Hideo Kojima’s ever-exaggerating series on the dangers of combining nuclear proliferation with giant mechs and cloned super soldiers that keeps me coming back. That said, I’ve yet to ever really sink my teeth into Metal Gear Solid V, so I figured I might start things rolling with a quick little look at Ground Zeroes, the prequel / introduction chapter to the full Metal Gear Solid V, The Phantom Pain.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])
Released Mar 2014 | Developed: Kojima Productions | Published: Konami
I am sure I echo others when I express my confusion at Ground Zeroes. I admit I’m unsure as to why it warranted a separate release from The Phantom Pain though thankfully it commanded a significantly smaller price tag – a rare intelligent business decision from Konami. However, release it did; what we get is a chapter of gameplay which serves as an introduction to the larger story of Metal Gear Solid V, as well as giving us a brief chance to play with the changes to the Metal Gear Solid format which also feature in The Phantom Pain.
Fans of the series will be used to the games jumping around in time. Ground Zeroes is another stage in the story of Big Boss; starting with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater in the 1960s, the games focusing on Big Boss set in place the events which see our hero rise to become the leader of his own private military company and eventually become an antagonist to original series hero, Solid Snake. Ground Zeroes is set in 1975, by which point Big Boss (or just Snake as he is called in this entry, returning to his original title) heads up the powerful Militaires Sans Frontiere, a mercenary group who operate from the offshore platform Mother Base in the Caribbean. Snake is dispatched on a mission to Camp Omega, a US blacksite detention camp in Cuba, where he intends to rescue two young characters from the previous game Peace Walker, Paz and Chico. Both have been captured by the enigmatic agency Cipher, and subjected to brutal torture in their efforts to locate and destroy Mother Base.
To say Ground Zeroes’ subject matter is dark is to do it a disservice, frankly. Metal Gear Solid typically approaches its otherwise deeply serious topics with its tongue stuck slightly in its cheek and in some respects Ground Zeroes adheres to that, such as Snake’s knowing, smirking remark of “kept you waiting, huh?” to the camera as the game begins. But in a new move for the series, Ground Zeroes is much grittier, and at times even deeply, gruesomely uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the changing nature of warfare, the more extreme lengths militaries were willing to go to, or the swinging, darkening nature of Snake as he edges towards the antagonistic persona of Big Boss from the later games. It might even be emblematic of the fracturing relationship between Konami and Kojima Productions, which were approaching a nadir at this point. Either way, Ground Zeroes gives us one of the franchise’s grimmer scenes, and seems to be poised to promise more of that in The Phantom Pain.
And then, in classic Metal Gear Solid fashion, it’s juxtaposed next to utterly absurd optional missions and goofy banter. The optional missions are the core of Ground Zeroes’ replay value. It’s easy to lay the criticism of brevity at its feet, and if you’re not interested in anything other than the bits that are relevant to the wider story and The Phantom Pain, then you’re paying for very little gameplay. I’ve played the main mission a few times and my time to beat it ranges from just under 2 hours to just under 1. But the game doesn’t want to simply stop there, and once you’ve beaten the main mission you get access to a range of extra missions which focus on allowing you to explore and interact with Camp Omega.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the additional content and missions make up the bulk of Ground Zeroes. Each one is relatively straightforward, and seems designed to engage you with the different ways in which Snake can interact with the world of Metal Gear Solid V. This includes being asked to eliminate key targets, rescue operatives, gather intel, and take out enemy fortifications and emplacements. It all adds up to suggest that The Phantom Pain will be providing a far more malleable world, and definitely feels like a significant departure from the more linear form of previous games. There are a couple of bonus missions as well which are decidedly more goofy in true Kojima fashion. I confess that as someone primarily invested in the Metal Gear Solid story, I struggled to make myself play much of this side content, but there are tangible bonuses for doing so beyond practicing for The Phantom Pain; players can import their save files into The Phantom Pain and unlock skins and items in it based on their completion of Ground Zeroes.
This game is visually really impressive, and if it’s anything to go by then The Phantom Pain will look masterful. Metal Gear Solid has always had gorgeous graphics but the leap from the PS3/Xbox 360 generation up to the subsequent one comes with some spectacular details and effects. The core mission takes place at night and under the cover of a storm, a fittingly chilling setting. Ground Zeroes uses its advanced graphical fidelity to change up elements that have been with the franchise for ages. Gone are elements like the radar with which you can detect enemies; instead Snake must now use his binoculars to survey the wider open Camp Omega and tag enemies to keep track of them. When in danger of being spotted, visual effects like lens flare draw your eye towards the location of foes, and a new slowed-time reaction moment happens, giving you a generous window to target and incapacitate the soldier who spotted you before they can raise an alarm. It makes for a more immersive experience, and I also assume it was done to suit the wider, open gameplay of Metal Gear Solid V. In general Ground Zeroes uses an evolution of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ more third-person shooter-based control system, which was built for a more responsive and smooth control experience, but still crucially retains the feel of Metal Gear Solid.
It’s only a short one this time, but Ground Zeroes is only a short game, after all. I feel like a lot of the meat of what I want to say regarding the gameplay and presentation, as well as my thoughts on what Kiefer Sutherland brings to the role as Snake, are mostly best saved for when I finish The Phantom Pain as I suspect little will change between them. Suffice it to say that Ground Zeroes isn’t quite as pointless an experience as I feared it might have been. As a narrative-lover first and foremost I was content enough to play its main mission and mostly call it a day, but I am glad to see that the range of additional objectives can at least give completionists more reason to return, even if I can’t be bothered to constantly sneak around Camp Omega each time. Ground Zeroes is, thankfully, quite cheap these days and so patient gamers who look into it now will probably at least get some bang for their buck before diving into the lengthier experience of The Phantom Pain.
4/7 – GOOD. Sure, maybe something doesn’t quite work but at least it has heart, or a spark of excitement that makes it worthwhile despite the faults. Definitely worth a go if you can at least find it on sale.