Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - Review

Even though Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is widely considered a pretty much perfect ending to the Metal Gear Solid franchise, Hideo Kojima is apparently not ready to give the beloved stealth franchise a rest. With Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, Kojima rather intentions to fill in gaps before Solid Snake's time focussing on his "father" Naked Snake aka Big Boss.
Yet although there's still quite some waiting to be done by gamers due to Phantom Pain coming out probably in early 2015, Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is supposed to represent a prologue to the upcoming bigger Phantom Pain.
For a long time Kojima and his team kept it extremely vague what Ground Zeroes actually is. Apparently the intention of Ground Zeroes was not only to serve as a prologue to Phantom Pain but also to represent a kind of tutorial for gamers to get to know Metal Gear 5's new gameplay mechanics.
With reports stating that the game's campaign only lasts about 2 hours, it caused a widespread controversy with gamers calling it an "overglorified demo".
Now that Ground Zeroes is finally upon us, is there more behind this prologue or is it really just a demo?


The plot:
Set in 1975, sometime after the events of Peace Walker, players control returning protagonist Big Boss (Kiefer Sutherland) as he works with Militaires Sans Frontières to infiltrate an American black site on Cuban soil called Camp Omega. His main objectives are the extraction of Cipher agent Pacifica Ocean (Tara Strong) and Sandinista child soldier Ricardo "Chico" Valenciano Libre (Antony Del Rio), who were both involved in the events of Peace Walker.
(source: Wikipedia)

Without trying to recapture the entire lore of the Metal Gear universe that leads up to the events in the game, it can be said that Ground Zeroes' events fill the gap between the PSP title Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain (being its prologue).

Once again, gamers not familiar with Metal Gear Solid's lore will feel quite left behind.
Not even playing the game and paying much attention to what's happening is going to resolve this lack of understanding.
However, Ground Zeroes features a recap of the events from MGS: Peace Walker via an 11 page text. The decision to not just have a narrated slideshow or video to make this recap for not familiar gamers more attractive and less dry is quite dissappointing.

Nevertheless, storywise, Ground Zeroes is (just like the entirety of its game) extremely short.
Despite the fact that Ground Zeroes (as always with Kojima games) does a tremendously great job in delivering an extremely cinematic presentation of cut-scenes, deep insights or great twists and turns making you anticipate the events in The Phantom Pain even more is most probably not going to happen.
Instead, Ground Zeroes throws a whole lot of questions at you. Who is this XOF group? Why is their logo a mirrord FOX logo? Who is that villain? etc.
Ground Zeroes' story does feature a solid cast of returning characters from Peace Walker, but aside from that, its prologue story sadly lacks enough true meaning and content to justify Ground Zeroes' storyline as a prologue that absolutely needs to be told in a standalone release. Therefore, its story feels like it could've been very easily just implemented into the final MGS 5: The Phantom Pain.

Well, at least we now know who the villain is going to be...sort of.


Core Mechanics - "Sandbox Stealth"

Whereas Ground Zeroes lacks in stunning the player with its story, it tries to counterweigh this with its new gameplay mechanics.
Hideo Kojima promised that his improved mechanics will change the way gamers play Metal Gear Solid, and Ground Zeroes truely proves as a great showcase for that - with the emphasis put on "showcase".

Ground Zeroes entirely plays on one single map, which is the military prison camp Omega.
There the entire game plays completely like a sandbox experience.
Different from previous Metal Gear games, which mostly focussed on a linear progression and only barely hinted at a wider gameplay area, Ground Zeroes leaves it completely up to the player how he reaches a marked objective point on the map.
With that said, stealth is of course the primary and best suited method of reaching your objectives, whereas a more offensive strategy through gunplay or driving military vehicles will quickly alert guards all over the base, trapping you in chaotic gunfights.
Yet still, the emphasis on letting you loose on a big area and letting you yourself decide how to tackle each objective makes for many distinct and unique situations in Ground Zeroes (and therefore eventually also in The Phantom Pain).

Ground Zeroes therefore aims for a much more free but at the same time player friendly gameplay. Even more so than in MGS4, Ground Zeroes makes gunfights even more approachable and intuitive for gamers. Of course going loud isn't the way Metal Gear is primarily intended to be played, yet a newly introduced mechanic puts you into a short slow-motion time window when detected by a guard, in which the player can quickly aim for said guard take him down and avoid alerting others.
While many players consider this a no-go in the strictly stealth approach of previous Metal Gears, this mechanic is destined to make Metal Gear more approachable for gamers just like Splinter Cell did with its "Execution" mechanic.
As already said, offense is an option in Ground Zeroes but not an encouraged one. Its not long till the army of constantly spawning guards will eventually take you down.

Kojima really hopes you like this map, cause it's the only one in the game.

Speaking of more gamer/newcomer friendly play, Ground Zeroes abandons the traditional conversations with other characters via specific radiofrequencies in favor of a more intuitive and flexible radio talk with your operative via automatic conversations. This means that instead of going into a menu to hold a conversation for more intel, players are now given direct feed like information through the operative by pressing a single button. Your operative will therefore either give you automatic intel about where to go to or what your objective is, or give you more information about a certain spot of interest simply by focussing on it and pressing said convo button.  

Regarding additional intel, perfectly blending into Metal Gears new options- and sandbox driven focus is the ability to grab guards and interrogate them. Through this new mechanic, gameplay is given even more additional layers of depth and possibilities. Interrogating guards will not only offer players more insight about locations of their objectives but sometimes even give them short backstory-intel or where to gather ammo and weapons.

Overall, even though Ground Zeroes only does a fairly clumsy job of giving players a good tutorial into its new mechanics, it doesn't take long till the new sandbox focussed gameplay style with numerous options of how to tackle your objective will grow on you.
What MGS 4 started with by giving players the choice between gunplay and stealth, is further improved and greatly enhanced in Ground Zeroes open world stealth experience.
If these are the mechanics we can expect from The Phantom Pain, it's probably going to be a blast. 

"Let's have a little talk."

Story Mission and Side Missions - "That's it?!"

Unfortunately, the reports of Ground Zeroes being a short game clocking in at about 2 hours for the campaign are absolutely true.
Ground Zeroes features exactly one single story mission focussing on Snake rescuing his partners Chico and Paz from the Omega prison camp...that's it.
With that said, these are also the only two objectives that are given in the entire story mission. Regarding the mechanics, there are still plenty of ways to tackle each objective (location), yet still, it's an undeniably extremely short experience, even considering that it's a prologue.
A small but ultimately needless additional optional objective, is the option for Snake to free random prisoners and carry them to specific extraction points on the map for them to be flown out, increasing your overall score and ranking at the end. Considering that pretty much all of these "optional prisoners" are located at the same exact spot, makes it an absolutely pointless and joyless side activity.

After completing the game's story mission, Ground Zeroes also features 5 side ops (of course) set on the exact same map/camp from the story mission with different daytimes and weather.
These "side ops" however don't do a much better job sweetening the bitter taste of the short story mission.
Dropping you off at the same map, the side ops either have you kill two targets on the map, rescue a teammate or destroy specific turrets. With another pointlessly boring side mission even being a simple chopper-turret-section completely focussed on Snake shooting soldiers with infinite ammo, even considering the replayability through the sandbox mechanics, all of the side ops feel like forced filler missions with standard unimaginative objectives.
While some side ops will encourage a more offensive and some a more stealthy defensive approach, there's no denying that even replaying each mission to rank up your score and in different difficulties will extremely quickly feel stale.
With the map and the camp's layout never changing and always being the exact same, the player will eventually memorize the best route to get to a specific objective anyway, devolving Ground Zeroes slowly to a game, which you intentionally have to play unintuitively to make it more challenging.

Even considering that hard difficulty and even the now clear daylight weather during some side ops will drastically improve soldiers' range of vision and make missions harder, Ground Zeroes' overall content is hardly justified worthy of a standalone title and in the end truely resembling more of a demo.

It's a no-brainer that many players will (and are) extremely disappointed in what little there is to see in Ground Zeroes, and rightfully so.
Replaying Ground Zeroes in its many possible ways does offer some fun, yet the surprisingly standard objectives and limitation on a single map with the same layout will eventually dry out the fun and eagerness to replay and rank up very fast, making unlocked weapons through higher scores ultimately useless.
Haven't seen that ONE map in daylight? Then just check out the side ops.


Visually, Ground Zeroes is a blast. No matter what platform you are experiencing it on, Hideo Kojima shows that his long work on the Fox Engine has payed off.
Extremely realistic character models a steady framerate (30fps last-gen, 60 fps current-gen) completely erase the borders between cut-scenes and actual gameplay making every second of the game in-engine.
Especially the change of weather and light is greatly showcased in each of the missions and also implemented well in how differently players tackle the game at night and at daylight.
While some slight roughness can be seen, like for example in the ocean wave animations, these are all extremely minor nitpicks looking at how incredibly appealing and cinematic the game looks overall on every platform.
Still, considering the higher framerate and improved lighting, (of course) the next-gen versions are the ones to get if you got the choice.


Soundwise, all of the concerns regarding the new voice actor for Snake can be undoubtedly put to rest.
Aside from the once again flawless orchestral soundtrack accompanying the game's cinematic nature, Snake's new voice by Kiefer Sutherland is actually pretty well chosen.
Many fans were expecting Sutherland's voice to too unsuitably stick out destroying the immersion of this being Snake's voice and not of some Hollywood actor.
Even though original voice actor David Hayter will be missed, Sutherland continues his legacy in great fashion, giving Snake a suitably gritty voice that doesn't even sound too far off from his original one.
Other voice actors of course also do a good job, but are simply not given too much to work with considering the short length of prologue.  

Wake me up when Phantom Pain is finally out, Snake.

The Verdict

With a new focus on open world, Ground Zeroes establishes a new sandbox like stealth gameplay, in which it is completely up to the player how to reach his objective on the map. Do you want to go in guns blazing? With a tank? Interrogate soldiers to find out how to get to it the fastest? Or simply sneak your own way through the camp? Possibilities are plenty and along with improved classic mechanics, Metal Gear is made even more approachable for newcomers and gamers with different tastes.
Yet still, it's incredibly hard to recommend MGS 5: Ground Zeroes due to its criminally short length and lack of worthwhile content. While its single story mission and 5 side ops combined will clock in at about 4 hours of playtime, a harder difficulty further tries to improve the game's value.
With that said, Ground Zeroes obviously puts a great emphasis on replayability, which sadly, even given its fun new mechanics and options, reaches its limit pretty fast when playing the same few standard missions over and over again on the same map.

Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes might not be a full price game (19,99/29,99$), yet still, sadly neither its thin prologue storyline nor its improved mechanics, no matter how fun they are, are remotely able to justify Ground Zeroes as a standalone released game in the series, rather than just a demo grabbing the cash out of hyped fans' pockets.
Ground Zeroes therefore remains a nice demo to showcase Metal Gear 5's great mechanics and to succesfully hype us even more for Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, but is and achieves absolutely nothing more.

 Final Verdict: 4 out of 10 

Status: Overpriced Demo / Rental at Best


  (Gameplay-Only Verdict: 8 out of 10)

Big thanks goes out to Konami for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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