You’ve probably read an awful lot about just how short Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes’ main story mode allegedly is, with multiple sources before the game’s release reporting it ends at around the two hour mark. Unfortunately, the rumours are all true.
It would be nice to simply leave the matter at that. To mention this one glaring flaw and progress with the review of the game in earnest. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Ground Zeroes’ unprecedentedly short playtime is not just a blight upon itself, but an almighty smear on the good name of Hideo Kojima and a slap in the face of anyone misinformed or naive enough to actually buy this title.
Kojima has often been criticised for what many perceive as melodrama within his games. Metal Gear Solid 4 on the PlayStation 3 had cinematics which lasted upwards of fifteen minutes at a time. Of course most fans of the Metal Gear series could look past this – the game which surrounded the cinematics was so extraordinary and so brilliant that they served to enhance it, albeit a little more verbosely than some may have liked.
Kojima has built up his sprawling Metal Gear franchise for nearly 30 years, and his fan base has grown along with it, myself included. I adored the original Metal Gear Solid, and its sequel and threequel only further drew me in to the rich, complex world which Kojima had so painstakingly embellished.
That is what makes Ground Zeroes such a let down. I feel like Kojima’s disapproving mother – not angry, just disappointed. The man has betrayed the trust of his millions of devoted followers by releasing what can be called nothing more than a quick cash in. Ground Zeroes is but a preface to a full title. It is the introductory scene of a Bond film before the opening credits – action packed, enthralling, but ultimately just a taste of things to come.
And make no mistake, the game itself is excellent. Playing on Xbox One it provides one of the first true next-generation graphical experiences. Searchlights flare across the camera like the most gratuitous of J.J. Abrams films, and the pouring rain slickens and shimmers upon every surface. Everything just looks so wonderfully smooth and organic that your emersion in Snake’s mission is as comprehensive as it has ever been.
You play as Big Boss, the original Snake, voiced for the first time by Kiefer Sutherland. Fans of David Hater’s exemplary work as Snake in past titles needn’t be worried. Sutherland sounds a natural in the role, his blockbuster acting credentials clearly shining through, particularly when compared to other cast members. You are thrust into a Cuban military base, within which lie two accomplices whom you must locate and then rescue. This is where Ground Zeroes’ biggest new feature comes in to play. As opposed to the rather linear nature of previous Metal Gear titles, Ground Zero allows you to tackle your objectives almost any way you please. You’re set loose upon Camp Omega with little to aid you – not even a mini-map, as series fans may be used to. Instead of the classic red dot/green cone enemy markers which would traditionally aid you in past titles, you are instead given the ability to check a fairly minimalist holographic map of the area via a device on Snake’s wrist. It’s an interesting change and whilst it’s certainly more immersive (particularly once you familiarise yourself with your surroundings), having to constantly pop up a map to make sure you’re headed in the right direction can be jarring.
Additionally, you also have the ability to tag enemies when you look at them through your binoculars by pressing the Right Bumper. These enemies then glow with a bluish hue, and will remain indefinitely visible, even through walls. It certainly changes the dynamic of how you play the game – mainly as enemies now have a realistic line of sight (that means no more hiding at the end of a very long corridor). If they spot you, enemies will cautiously approach, flashlights in hand. Sometimes it’s possible to slip away unnoticed, crawling through the long grass or dropping off a ledge. Sometimes it comes down to good ol’ fashioned brute force.
This is where you notice another two major changes to the game’s traditional mechanics. If you hide behind a surface and wait for a guard to approach you you can grab him and freely drag him around. What you then do with him is up to you – kill him, incapacitate him, or interrogate him for information. The latter option provides a nice, natural way of garnering information about the world around you. For example one guard I grabbed revealed to me the location of all of the anti-aircraft installations on the base, which were then added to my map.
Alternatively, if a guard fully sights you and you’re not within arm’s reach, time will temporarily slow. This gives you a short window to draw your weapon of choice and eliminate them. Whether this means a full on execution or simply a tranquilliser dart to the neck is up to you. As always though, most will find it much more fun and challenging to play through the game as stealthily as possible – you will be graded once you complete your mission, and kills are frowned upon.
It’s a good thing then that Snake moves quicker and lither than ever. The addition of a ‘dive’ button is useful for hurling yourself out of sight, whilst overall movement is extremely fluid. For perhaps the first time ever you actually feel like an elite tactical insurgent. One thing which isn’t quite as enjoyable is how quick Snake is to run away from walls you’d rather remain stuck to. There’s no button to press or trigger to hold to lock yourself onto flat surfaces, meaning that on more times than I’d care to recount I wondered out from behind cover into plain sight instead of just peeking around the edge.
Once you’ve worked your way deep into enemy territory, quietly or otherwise, you have a choice of how to proceed with your target. In Ground Zeroes, both need to be physically carried from point A to point B – but where exactly point B is is up to you. There are several helicopter extraction sites dotted around the base – do you opt for the ‘hot entry’ at the site immediately near you which is crawling with guards, or do you take your time and creep back to the fringes of the map with your target draped over your shoulders for a quieter extract? Whilst a lot of ‘open-world’ elements can feel tacked-on, its presence in Ground Zeroes actually feels very natural. To present a remote military black site in any other way would be odd, and it makes finding the stealthiest way to go about things a lot more rewarding.
Sadly, all of this feels like a footnote to the greater issue. After what I thought was a fairly amateurish, stop/start first playthrough I was informed that I had completed the game in a little over two hours. There is no doubt that after another one or two playthroughs you could easily halve that time. Ground Zeroes could have the best graphics and the best gameplay (and it’s not actually too far off of either), but nothing can detract from the fact that this is not a full game. After completing it it is painfully obvious that it has simply been ripped straight from upcoming sequel The Phantom Pain, and presented as a prologue. Presumably that also means that what would have been a perfectly serviceable introduction to the full title will now no longer be included within it.
Yes, there are optional side-missions to play through upon completing the main game, but without any canonical progression or tangible goal to work towards it can be hard to find motivation to play them. Even if you exhaust them to the fullest, you’re still left with a title with less then 20 hours of gameplay.
The price is reduced, but not enough to compensate for the integral breakdown of trust between creator and consumer. Kojima has only served to belittle himself with such an unnecessary and transparent release. Would we afford any other creator, studio or series such a luxury? I would love to be able to recommend you purchase this game for what it is, but instead I find myself telling you to avoid it for everything that it isn’t.