Ground Zeroes has, rightly, been dogged with discussions about content versus price point, as it was revealed that Konami would be charging near full retail price for a title that's length was barely counted in hours. Simple argument: who'd spend close to thirty quid on a demo?
Ground Zeroes is the prologue to the ‘main' Metal Gear Solid V title, The Phantom Pain (released in the far future). So it introduces the game's mechanics, reintroduces us to Naked Snake, now called Big Boss, and teases plot lines for the main instalment. While it carries on devices and characters from PSP side-story Peace Walker, a short optional text synopsis fills you in on the basics directly relating to Ground Zeroes pretty well. Given how sprawling the series and its timeline has become, it's a smart simplification of the convolution that comes with a franchise now nearly three decades and multiple titles long. Put simply? It's a great jumping on point.
The title's focus is on an operation to recover two key prisoners currently held in an unlisted POW military base in Cuba. Ten minutes of intro cutscenes (Hollywood-level showmanship's still a Kojima trait) is followed by five minutes learning the basic mechanics as you survey the base from the edges of the compound, and then you're left to your own devices to extract your targets.
What you see is what you get; a small sandbox to explore. There's the main military building, with landing pads, tanks and underground base, to the north. Between you and it are a smattering of camps, warehouses, roads and outdoor prisons. A jutting cliffside pathway. A bridge. And a lot of hiding spots. While completion of the story will unlock extra side missions with different objectives and time of day, all take place in this same location. You'll soon know this place better than your local watering hole.
And Kojima Productions want you coming back; attached to each mission are two difficulty settings and leaderboard support. Rankings are based on several conditions involving time completion, times spotted etc.
Ground Zeroes feels like a stripped back approach to stealth, while incorporating new ideas that make sneaking feel contemporary. If the last canon entry, Metal Gear Solid IV, made the PlayStation controller and its various contextual buttons feel like a textbook that needed learning by rote, then Ground Zeroes reconnects with the simple artistry of Metal Gear's core mechanic.
Gameplay flows naturally - from stealth to direct combat to first-person shooting back to third-person hiding - and knowing how to do them all is quickly instinctive. You can now carry downed guards and continue to shoot, using your baggage as shield if you're caught trying to conceal a body. D-Pad still selects gadgets and weapons.
You don't feel overwhelmed. You just feel like a superior badass. As well an aged, highly-experienced war veteran should be.
The new approach to stealth systems works well, though may have fans of the genre crying foul for making things too easy. But, Reflex Mode aside (get spotted and the gameplay slows to give you a chance to kill your spotter before they sound the alert), they're optional.
Use your binoculars to tag guards by zooming in on them, and a red icon will pop up on your screen to indicate their location. Get seen and a cone of white static will appear in the direction of those looking, picking up in intensity the closer they get to sounding the alarm. It means no longer keeping an eye on a mini-map (in GZ, the only one is in a sub-menu). Instead you're focused wholly on the action (or inaction) in front of you.
It's a great slice of gameplay and gives us confidence in what we can expect from The Phantom Pain. Cutscenes are kept to a minimum, and story is less about emphasising the vulgarities and higher purposes of war, more in focusing an unblinking gaze at the horrors war produces. Collectable recordings and fill-in mission briefings are short and to the point. Side missions actually do well in making the same location feel different.
But: price. Side missions and leaderboards aside, for a game of this size we'd have needed more content, or a much lower price point, to make this a recommended must buy. Have some patience, and wait a few months, or until right before The Phantom Pain releases. You won't be missing much, and come then this'll be available at the price it should have been to begin with. Plus, you won't have as long to linger on the cliffhanger Ground Zeroes ends on...
Loading next content