Review: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Although Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is incredibly short, the new direction of the series will capture the hearts of fans.

Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also Available On: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release Date:  Available Now


Of every game I have given a score to, be it in a formal review or simply in my mind, none has given me more trouble than Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. I played through the campaign twice and was still at a loss; I spent a great deal of time in the side missions and was still coming up empty. I adored nearly everything that I saw, and had my jaw drop for a multitude of reasons. But then it was over, and I couldn’t help myself wanting more. This is the single biggest quandary of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Is the phenomenal content present enough to justify the absence of what is not?

The latest entry to the legendary Metal Gear Solid series is the direct sequel to the outstanding 2010 PSP title, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. This means Ground Zeroes takes place in 1975, during the height of the Cold War. The entirety of Ground Zeroes is set in Camp Omega, a secret American Base in Cuba. I was able to feel the tension of the setting the entire time. Not only is this a place Naked Snake shouldn’t be, this might not even be a place that should exist in the first place. We are treated to extremely important plot and character details in the opening sequence, highlighted by the type of chilling musical number we have come to expect in Metal Gear Solid titles (in this case it’s “Here’s to You” by Sacco e Vanzetti). Skullface, the apparent antagonist of Metal Gear Solid V, makes his debut in chilling fashion. Naked Snake, or Big Boss, is tasked with recovering two major characters from Peace Walker, Paz and Chico.

Without giving away any more of the story, this is by far the darkest entry in the successful series. I was shocked by how much they decided to show, but I admire Hideo Kojima for having the stones to do what he did. The grave nature of the narrative was gripping, and left me anticipating The Phantom Pain more than any other game that’s been revealed so far. While I enjoyed the turn that the series seems to have taken, the narrative was not my favorite part of Ground Zeroes. It may seem like Metal Gear heresy, but the narrative takes a backseat to the gameplay in Ground Zeroes.

Brief cinematic moments show what "next-gen" truly means.

Brief cinematic moments show what “next-gen” truly means.

Stealth has never been better in the Metal Gear universe. Instead of traveling along linear paths, constantly alarming the same enemy, the sandbox environment is completely open. While the instructions are essentially nonexistent (unless you enter the pause menu – bizarrely mapped to the left side of the touch pad), this is actually a good thing. You are free to tackle the missions in Ground Zeroes in any way you please. Because of this, situational improvisation can be used throughout any mission.

In the very first section of the game, a guard using a searchlight instantly spotted me. Rather than being demolished by gunfire or instantly failing the mission, I was able to fight my way out of the situation and find a way to hide. Granted, I was justifiably punished in the final grade calculator (those wishing to achieve the coveted “S-Rank” will need to be perfectly stealthy), but I was not harshly punished during the game. Ground Zeroes allowed me to figure out my own strategy on the fly, with my brain being my primary weapon. To me, this is the mark of a truly great stealth gameplay experience.

Gone are the numerical camouflage percentage indicators; the player will have to use their mind to figure out if Big Boss is truly hidden or not. Of course, you can read the tips provided to you in your “iDroid” (Ground Zeroes oddly-named, convoluted map and mission interface), but it is far more fun to learn as you go. We, as gamers, often complain that modern games hold our hands too much. Well, here is a title that does just the opposite. There are really no rules to how you play the missions in Ground Zeroes, so long as you eventually complete each objective. If this is what is meant by an “open-world Metal Gear Solid, then bring on The Phantom Pain.

Get used to carrying bodies, you'll be doing it frequently

Get used to carrying bodies, you’ll be doing it frequently.

Ground Zeroes is by far the best-looking Metal Gear Solid game to date. The texture detail is astounding, highlighted by the cliff surfaces that border Camp Omega. If you look at Big Boss’ equipment and clothing, you are instantly able to tell what material each piece is made of. Gone are the days where textures are assumed to be leather, canvas, and wood; the new Fox engine brings textures to life. If your “make or break” feature of any game is flag detail, you’ll be happy to know that Ground Zeroes doesn’t disappoint.

While it can be fun to joke about what truly makes a game “next-gen,” moments that blur the line between game and reality are staples of a next-gen experience. Every American flag flaps in the wind with stunningly realistic physics, a detail that creates a true sense of immersion. While this is a tiny graphical feature, it shows that true effort was placed into the game’s engine (which is phenomenal for the industry as a whole). The world feels alive in Ground Zeroes. This is exemplified by tiny environmental effects such as rats occasionally wandering across the frame, often without provocation. I was absolutely blown away by how detailed Ground Zeroes was.

It feels as though care and thought were placed into every inch of Ground Zeroes’ small sandbox environment. I played the game on the PlayStation 4, and this title gives Killzone: Shadow Fall a run for its money for best looking title on the new console. This isn’t to say Ground Zeroes is visually flawless, though I had to go out of my way to purposely create an imperfection. I found that Big Boss is inexplicably able to crawl through the bodies of his fallen foes. It should be noted I spent ten minutes specifically trying to create this sort of bug, and more than likely the player will never experience this strange glitch. Occasional body clipping aside, if you simply want to prove the capabilities of your new next-gen system to your friends, Ground Zeroes will not disappoint.

The use of weather to change the feel of the environment was a brilliant choice.

The use of weather to change the feel of the environment was a brilliant choice.

Thus far, I have given Ground Zeroes glowing praise, but the elephant in the room still remains. In my first play through, I was able to beat the campaign in an hour and ten minutes, not including cutscenes. This means that I spent only about two hours in the main mission of this game. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is absolutely as short as you have heard, make no mistake about it. There is a decent amount of side content, with four side missions and a console-specific fifth side mission available after collecting all of the XOF patches in the main campaign.

I was able to complete the game in six hours (not including the extra XOF patch mission), meaning that this is roughly as long as the standard Call of Duty campaign. For $29.99 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, this is not a cheap next-gen experience. During the final sequence, I found myself crossing my fingers, hoping the game was not about to end (though knowing full well it would). It’s not entirely incorrect to consider this a demo, though I would liken it more to the “Tanker” mission in Metal Gear Solid 2. While the amount of unique content in Ground Zeroes is lacking, there is a great deal of replay value here. When I saw that my initial grades were not perfect, I wanted to go back and correct them. Seeing that an entire mission was available to me if I explored more, I quickly made that a goal of mine. After beating a mission on “Normal,” “Hard” mode becomes available for said level. There is much more to do in Ground Zeroes to do than meets the eye (though the confusing lack of a Platinum Trophy is depressing, to say the least).

The way that lights dynamically reflected off of water absolutely blew me away.

The way that lights dynamically reflected off of water absolutely blew me away.

Open-world gameplay allows player to improvise
Gorgeous visuals
Creates immense anticipation for The Phantom Pain
Really short – main campaign is around two hours
Confusing iDroid interface
Expensive – $29.99 on next-gen systems

As I adore the Metal Gear Solid series, I am satisfied with my purchase of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Even though the game is almost shockingly short, I find myself wanting to play it again and again. It is one of the only games that has made me feel like I am fully in “next-gen,” with visuals unlike any other Metal Gear Solid title. The open gameplay is as addicting as it is challenging. I want to improve on my past performance and learn every aspect of Camp Omega, but I understand not everyone will share this sentiment.

If you are a hardcore Metal Gear Solid fan, you probably already own this title. If you’re on the fence, know what you’re getting into before you pay the high cost of entry. While easily accessible, its length will not leave a great taste in your mouth if you’ve never experienced a Metal Gear Solid title. If you aren’t a fan of the series and simply want a good looking game for your new PS4 or Xbox One, you will probably be better served picking up inFamous: Second Son or Titanfall, respectively. However if you love this series as much as I do, this is an absolute must play.

The review copy of this title was purchased by the author.
Official Game Site

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