Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes review (PS4)
Reviewing a game like Ground Zeroes is tough. Do we judge it entirely as an experience, ignore all exterior influences and focus solely on the game itself? Or do we view it as a product, an item that is being sold to consumers, looking at whether it offers value for money in what it delivers?
The huge issue surrounding Ground Zeroes and one that is impossible to avoid is that it is too expensive. This is the prologue to the ‘proper’ Metal Gear Solid V, The Phantom Pain. Imagine the Tanker section of MGS2 and you know what to expect: a couple of hours that sets up the plot and introduces new gameplay mechanics. There is a ton of replay value in Ground Zeroes but yes; the main story will only take about two hours. Asking so much for such a game in an era where £5 indie titles can provide hundreds of hours of fun is simply too much.
So, as a product, Ground Zeroes has some problems. Luckily, as a game, it’s nothing short of a triumph. People have a love for Metal Gear Solid unlike many other game franchises, mostly thanks to the tight stealth gameplay and completely mad story that springs from the mind of crazy genius Hideo Kojima. Fans will be glad to know that both elements of a great Metal Gear game are in abundance here.
The plot follows on almost immediately from Peace Walker. If you haven’t played it, there’s a story summary included, but seriously – play Peace Walker, it’s great. Snake/Big Boss must infiltrate an American black site in Cuba to rescue comrade Chico as well as Cipher agent Paz, captured by her own organisation under (false) suspicion of being a double agent. That’s all you’ve got for a setup, and it’s all you need. Get in, find your allies and get out.
From the start we can see just how Metal Gear Solid has changed. Gone are the linear corridors and environments of past games, replaced with an open sandbox with multiple ways to approach and accomplish each objective.
The control scheme is similar to Peace Walker, but with a few welcome refinements. Pressing Square sends Snake into a quick dive in any direction, perfect for quickly nipping into cover and out of sight. It’s a great addition and one that will quickly become an integral part of your moveset. Otherwise, it’s standard third-person business as usual: aiming and shooting with the triggers, changing weapons and items with the D-pad and performing actions with the face buttons.
Snake controls well and moves fluidly, and this ease of navigating the environment lends a sense of freedom when planning your approach. Trust us, you will have to plan. Focus on an enemy through your binoculars for a couple of seconds and you can mark then, highlighting their position. It’s exactly the same mechanic we’ve seen in games like Far Cry 3, and it works well here, especially in absence of the more traditional radar. Scoping the area from afar, marking guards and planning your method of traversal is more important than it has ever been, lending Ground Zeroes the truest-feeling stealth we’ve yet seen in the series.
Getting about without getting seen at all is pretty tough, and your best bet in most situations is still the silenced tranquiliser pistol. It’s still too easy to fling needles at guards from afar and wait for them to drop (why do they never notice they’ve been shot with a dart?) but harder difficulties will restrict your ammo and force you to be considerate with your shots.
Get close enough and CQC makes itself available, again working similarly to Peace Walker. Get behind an enemy and grab him round the neck to gain three options: interrogate him for info, choke him into unconsciousness or quickly kill him with a slice to the throat. Bodies can be picked up and moved, and with an increase in guards patrolling and smarter AI, it’s more important than ever to make sure they are well hidden.
If you get spotted or just fancy going full Rambo, it’s still perfectly possible to go in all-guns blazing… perhaps too possible. One complaint levelled at MGS over the years is that it has been perhaps too easy to ignore stealth and play it like a straight shooter, at least on default difficulties. That’s still the case here, and a Reflex mechanic actually makes things easier. If Snake is spotted, time will slow for a couple of seconds and a quick press of L2 will snap your aim to your discoverer, making it easy to take him down before an alarm is raised. It’s too much of a concession to accessibility, removing the tension that comes with staying unseen. Luckily, Reflex Mode is easily turned off from the options menu. It seems that Kojima and his team knew the idea would prove divisive among fans. There is a score bonus for never using it during a mission, so pro players won’t be relying on it anyway.
The important thing is that this feels like a Metal Gear game. It might sound silly, but fans will know what we mean: that feeling of a game lovingly crafted, thoroughly solid throughout with outstanding graphics and sound as well as a quirky uniqueness. The tone itself is like welcoming back an old friend, stepping back into a world that we’ve been missing for a few years.
Still, all the quality in the world wouldn’t be able to make up for a game so overpriced in the eyes of many. Luckily, Ground Zeroes actually has a ton of replay value. We finished it for the first time in around 90 minutes, before going back to the main menu and seeing our total game completion was only nine per cent. There are five side-missions included, all set in the same area but offering different objectives, enemy layouts and challenges. Some are fully action-based, while another tasks you with taking out two specific targets. The last of these extra missions is the PlayStation-exclusive Déjà Vu mission, which recreates various scenes from the original Metal Gear Solid.
All five missions should take around 30 to 45 minutes each. With the main story completed twice, once on Hard, all nine hidden XOF patches found and all five side missions done, we still only reached 34 per cent game completion. There is a lot to do here, although some of it is as simple as doing things again on harder difficulties.
It all looks fantastic thanks to Konami’s wonderful new Fox Engine. The PS4 has been proven to be the best-looking version of Ground Zeroes – running at 1080p compared to the Xbox One’s measly 720 – and it shows. From big things like beautiful character models to small effects such as cloth flapping in the wind, Metal Gear is once again at the forefront of graphics technology. Unsurprisingly, it sounds great too, with Harry Gregson-Williams back once again to provide the score.
The biggest difference between Ground Zeroes and past Metal Gear games is that this one feels like exactly that: a game that stands alone, rather than a means with which to tell a story. There are only two main cut-scenes here, one at the beginning and end of the story. Of course, given the short length that’s understandable, and we expect The Phantom Pain to have many more. Thing is, no one in the industry can make a cut-scene like Kojima. The ending to Ground Zeroes is one of the most exciting, heart-in-mouth experiences we’ve ever had in gaming, as well as featuring one of the few scenes in the medium to ever truly disturb us.
This approach extends to gameplay, with codec calls no longer pausing the action. A button-press calls Miller, elaborating on whatever the player is focusing on. Exposition that would have once been in cut-scenes is now on audio tapes to listen to at your leisure, and the game does not need to be paused to do so. It feels like Kojima understands the way the industry is going. Games are finding new ways to tell stories without copying what we’ve seen in films.
So yes, Ground Zeroes is a triumph: a wonderful introduction to Metal Gear Solid V that will whet people’s appetites for the main game while giving them plenty to play with as they wait. Still, the fact remains that it is far too expensive. For £20, this would be an easy recommendation, but £30 is simply too much. Still, judged as an isolated experience, Ground Zeroes is excellent. Whether you choose to wait for a reduction in price is another matter.
Excited for MGS5? Check out our gameplay demo video with hands-on impressions and general MGS commentary.