Let’s get this out the way at the start: I’m a big Metal Gear Solid fan. As action stealth games go, I believe them to be the best of the genre. It’s easy to understand though, why people would be put off by the needlessly complex plots and excessive cutscenes that Hideo Kojima has been weaving around the series ever since the excellent 1998 original was released. They are, to all intents and purposes, gibberish to all but hardcore fans, but I for one adore the games in spite of them.
Metal Gear games have always tried to reward experimentation and give you the freedom to tackle each scenario in a number of different ways. Do you push through guns blazing or play the ghost and make it through unseen? Each new area can be approached as an all new puzzle with the flexibility for you to solve it in your own, often playful way. From tapping on walls or throwing empty mags for distraction, to sneaking around in boxes, there are myriad fun and enjoyable ways to progress and torment your enemies.
Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is a toy box. It’s a gorgeous, 60 frames per second, 1080p toy box that exudes quality. Set within Camp Omega, a Guantanemo Bay-esque detainment facility, this short but sweet prequel to the upcoming Phantom Pain has you infiltrating the base to rescue two captives. One is Chico a young member of your team, the other is a girl called Paz with whom Snake has had a more checkered past. The cutscenes that set up the story and move it forward are surprisingly brief for a change and are just enough to keep it interesting and set up the next game.
The entire game is set on a single map comprising a rocky shoreline, camp areas, a prison and the main base which all feels very organic and alive with the AI patrols going about their daily business, nattering to each other as they go. There are cameras to avoid, security posts to sneak up to and capture, hidden ducting to crawl through and tanks and other vehicles to commandeer or hitch rides on. The main mission is set at night in the lashing rain and they’ve done a great job with weather effects, lighting and the hi-res textures that look fantastic (that water is seriously wet). The side missions are set in the daytime which alters visibility and gives the camp a whole new feel. These missions are accessed individually from the main menu and range from collection of intelligence, capture and abduction to destruction of a series of anti aircraft emplacements. They are varied and really fun, forcing you to experiment and carry out tasks you may not even have explored during the main campaign.
The new Snake is voiced by Kiefer Sutherland which, although I thought it would be fine (Kiefer’s voice is clearly cool), is just too weird for me. After 15 years of David Hayter’s cheesy gravelly voice, he IS Snake for me. I’m sure I’ll get over it once Phantom Pain gets rolling, but it was a distraction. Controlling Snake is tight and fun and the game has had some of the more complicated systems from previous games removed, making for a more streamlined experience. One thing I would have preferred they hadn’t removed though is the snapping to walls and corners mechanic, as on more than one occasion I found myself sailing out from behind a wall and being spotted by a guard. When you are spotted, the new ‘Reflex Mode’ kicks in, which is a slow motion mechanic giving you a few seconds to dispatch the guard before he raises the alarm. It makes you feel badass and it’s really fun with the slow motion shots making a satisfying ‘thwupp’ noise as they hit home. Reflex also lends more of a flow to the game, a bit like what mark and execute did for Splinter Cell. The mechanics and systems in Ground Zeroes are so well designed, they made me want to play around with them it just to see what happens. The AI is in many ways predictable but the guards still do unpredictable things that force you to react quickly. They are certainly more interesting than the bozos Zach described in his Freedoms Cry review. You can pick out guards to mark them with your binoculars which then makes them visible through walls. Like Eagle Vision it may seem like a bit of a cheap trick, but it doesn’t make the guards any less deadly. CQC (close quarters combat) is back in Ground Zeroes, enabling you to beat enemies up, smash them into walls or floors, grab them to interrogate or just go old school and slash their throats. As for weapons, you start with a silenced sleeping dart pistol and a silenced rifle but there are plenty of other weapons such as shotguns, rocket launchers and C4 which can be found or unlocked as you progress.
There have been a lot of rumblings about Ground Zeroes’ length. It took me 5 hours to finish the main mission, but that was with quite a bit of playing around. Short to be sure, but the game really doesn’t open up until after the credits have rolled. Upon finishing the campaign I was told that the game was 8% complete and that the side missions were unlocked. There are also plenty of collectables to find like audio tapes which fill out the backstory and there’s a rating system at the end of each mission where you are scored according to the number of kills, times spotted, completion time, etc. Higher ratings and scores will unlock new side missions as well as new weapons and other extras.
For me, Ground Zeroes has been a fantastic and hugely rewarding experience. What makes me most sad about it though, is that a lot of people have written it off purely on the completion time of the main mission. I do agree that it should have been a downloadable game and that £15 would have been a better price. Also it’s probably not a game for everyone so if you are in any doubt whether it’s for you, I’d recommend waiting for a price drop. For me though, I could compare Ground Zeroes to seeing Gravity in the cinema in 3D. Yes I paid £15 for a two hour experience, but it was an amazing experience I couldn’t get anywhere else. For me personally, the price tag of Ground Zeroes is insignificant compared the amount of fun I have already had out of the game. There is a huge amount of satisfying content here for those willing to dig a little deeper and with about eight hours under my belt, I’m looking forward to the next eight. Roll on the Phantom Pain. If this is any indication, it’s going to be a beast.
What I liked:
The classic Metal Gear gameplay is made more fun by the new Reflex mechanic and a streamlining of the games systems. It’s totally gorgeous and I just love messing around with the guards and experimenting with all the tools you are given.
What I’d fix:
They really could have integrated the side missions into the main campaign. I would also have dropped the price by a tenner so that more people would play it.
Played on PS4
Also available on Xbox One, PS3, PC and Xbox 360