Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes review

Ground Zeroes is an audacious taste of bigger things to come. It’s a quality little package that looks stunning, on both current-gen consoles and more so on PS4, but comprising of a mere single mission in the main story that can be completed within an hour, I can’t help but feel unsatisfied and ripped off with a $50 asking price.

Simply put, Metal Gear Solid fans need to play Ground Zeroes, but absolutely shouldn’t buy it. It’s more than a demo, but much less than a $50 budget new release game, and instead should have fallen into the emerging pre-release $10 DLC category that Dead Rising 2 pioneered so well. It’s an absolute joke that Konami is selling Ground Zeroes as a retail release.

If you can overlook the blatant rort, Ground Zeroes is an enthralling preview. It’s harder than most games you’ll have played recently, and the single “Ground Zeroes” mission introduces us to Kiefer Sutherland’s 1975 Big Boss in a prologue that’s forced to be a tutorial and the meat of the adventure at the same time. Following the events of Metal Gear Solid: Peace WalkerGround Zeroes assumes you’re up to speed, or will inundate you with walls of text in a “Background” menu.

Fuelled by a rather complex plot, Ground Zeroes is a fairly simple infiltrate and extract mission, as Snake is sent into an island military base to recover two prisoners of war in Metal Gear Solid’s first open world. An absolutely stunning 10 minute cut-scene introduces us to Boss on the PS4 and Xbox One, and rest assured it looks amazing on both platforms, but hearing the voice of Jack Bauer before we actually see words coming out of Snake’s mouth is a little confuddling.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a solid, challenging prologue to the main course tipped to launch early next year, but it isn’t a game in its own right.

The impressive visuals carry into the gameplay. There’s no pre-rendering trickery; this is a taste of a genuine current-gen game, that’s unfortunately still keeping half an eye on a last-gen port. Just imagine how good it could have looked if Konami abandoned the PS3 and Xbox 360.

Immediately thrust into a stealthy extraction (forget about lethal kills if you want the coveted ‘S’ rating), Ground Zeroes is a thinking man’s game, rather than an automated walkthrough. Whereas previous Metal Gear Solid games, and most stealth games to be fair, focused upon using gadgets to locate your target, Ground Zeroesis entrenched in using Snake’s observational skills. The first of the two prisoners is a freebee, but the second forces Snake to listen to a short audio recording and asks you to figure out where she’s being held on the map yourself — and even then, there are numerous ways to reach her.

It’s a fairly small sandbox world, but it’s open nonetheless and completely overhauls the scope of Metal Gear Solid. Not only are you free to stop and absorb the atmosphere of a tense world, that at its best rivals survival action games, you’ll need to survey your surroundings and forge your own path. There’s not always a waypoint to follow, and within a confined environment it effectively brings every nook and cranny into play. The lack of incessant direction we as gamers have grown dependant upon is liberating and slightly unnerving at the same time.

It took me an hour and 14 minutes to complete, and that’s in real world time, not on the game clock, with 13 purposeful restarts when my cover was blown. If you stop to really explore and try to hit the perfect rating it could easily be pushed over two hours. By the same token, once you know what you’re doing, a 10 minute speed run isn’t out of the question.

The main mission is joined by a couple of side missions, set up on the same map with different objectives and parameters, but it’s more or less the same thing: find the target(s) and assassinate or evacuate them, trying to avoid combat.

Despite carrying its title, Ground Zeroes is not Metal Gear Solid V. It’s the small taste Hideo Kojima wanted to release so something would be ready for the new consoles that the PR department spun into ‘getting us back into the world of MGS’. The real Metal Gear Solid VThe Phantom Pain, will be released in 2015.

Where the stealth mechanics shine, mixing real observations with Splinter Cell’s man-marking system, the action feels underdone. Snakes carries a mixture of lethal and nonlethal weapons, but they only really feel effective when a target is blissfully unaware of your presence or has surrendered. As soon as a firefight is engaged they suddenly take five shots to go down, making running away and hiding a vastly superior option to my natural instinct urging me to kill everything.

The side ops help to pad the package — there would have been no denying this is a demo had it been only the main mission — but it’s hard to overlook the fact it’s the same small map and fairly similar objectives. It’s certainly not enough to justify the asking price, and I’m adamant that while Ground Zeroes is a decent game, it’s a $10 package at best.

The Final Verdict

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a solid, challenging prologue to the main course tipped to launch early next year, but it isn’t a game in its own right. The new open world approach looks promising, but like so much in Ground Zeroesthe sample size is just too small to determine if the new approach will revolutionise Metal Gear Solid in The Phantom Pain. It’s a thoughtful experience, and well worth playing, but there’s absolutely no way you should pay $50 for this, and while I understand the ‘length and cost shouldn’t factor into game criticism’ debate, I can’t overlook how grossly overpriced Ground Zeroes is when it comes to slapping an arbitrary number onto this tiny taste of Metal Gear Solid V.