We take a look at Kojima Productions heavily hyped game Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes, which is a prelude to the main course that is The Phantom Pain coming to consoles in 2015. With the game offering a sandbox flavour and less narrative, how well does the game stack up to its forebears and is it worthy to carry the Metal Gear Solid name. Take a look at our Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes video review for the full story.
Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes review:
It’s been a while and perhaps Solid Snake and Big Boss have kept us waiting, but for now, the long wait is over as Kojima Productions unleashed their heavily hyped prequel game Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes which released on last gen and current gen systems. The game follows on from the events of Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, with the main hero being Big Boss who players will recall is the main character in Snake Eater. Solid Snake of the previous PS3 exclusive game Metal Gear Solid 4 hasn’t become the character gamers expect yet, and so the onus lies in the hands of the man who started it all with his questionable motives to take centre stage. Either way, regardless who the lead is, the game is a perfect excuse for a bit of stealth action gameplay and once the impressive and highly stylized intro sequence to the first campaign is out the way, players can jump in to a sandbox environment and let rip with what ever style they choose.
The opening teases with an abundance of mystery but sets the tone perfectly with its hidden characters, warped camera perspectives and imposing tones. There’s little explanation as to the who and what, but once Big Boss comes into shot, all becomes apparent as side kick Kaz Miller explains what needs to be done right off the bat via radio. The first tentative steps are drenched in chatter explaining the functions of the game, and if that’s not enough there are handy hints during loading screens and other tidbits to discover when looking at the manual – if you dare. Once the basics are mastered, it’s a matter of playing until you drop to get to know how the game and its AI routines work.
As with previous Metal Gear games, there is a heavy focus on stealth play, creeping around in a low stance, darting from cover to foliage and crawling under things to reach the two main objectives on offer. Players have to avoid the gaze of patrolling guards as well as cameras, and what is noticeable is how refined and dynamic the enemy AI system is. There’s naturally a bit of artistic license thrown in for gameplay sake in terms of the guards line of sight not reaching beyond a certain distance and a new reflex option which slows down time momentarily when discovered offering a chance to hit back before an alert, but these quirks are easily forgiven considering how things can quickly switch from slow methodical sneaking to full alert running and hiding, or getting the guns out and letting rip. The AI works very well with its radio communications, use of cover and combat tactics and uses similar mechanics fans will be in tune with from previous games less the visual timers.
The main Ground Zeroes mission itself provides an interesting rescue scenario given the game’s prison scenario and location, where Big Boss is tasked with saving lives by way of extraction using a called in helicopter. Players can choose which of the two objectives to head to first, but what can’t be stressed more are the sheer numbers of ways in which to approach the mission. On a first play there’s a lot to explore in the prison camp, which only becomes apparent once replayed. The extra areas seem to add more scale to the game, but aren’t entirely necessary for the actual mission. There’s good reason for this, as players discover, but what is neat is how the options come in thick and fast. Players can sneak undetected, or play a ghost style and avoid any interactions with the enemy, they can jump in and out of vehicles, or use a number of weapons to get the job done. There are even tanks and anti air emplacement on offer to really go to town should the mission go pear shaped or players want to let off some steam. The onus is very much on exploring to find new things and ways to complete the mission without interruption from Kojima’s usual over indulgence of lengthy cut scenes and codec conversations. Ground Zeroes strips all the narrative away and is definitely an accomplished game, exemplified by the first mission, but sadly as a result is over all too quickly. Once the game is beaten, players are then tasked with tackling some alternative missions set within the same Sandbox prison camp which in terms of overall size, isn’t so massive once all the areas have been well scouted. The additional missions change the lighting, so for example, the Ground Zeroes mission is set at night during a raging storm, whereas the others are set during various times of the day, creating a completely different look to the game. The side missions can be beaten fairly quickly as well, but beg to be replayed as more things are hinted at that players might have missed the first time. The open nature of the prison camp and mission parameters also affords a variety of ways to accomplish the goals meaning again replay is very much the idea behind the game.
In terms of graphics the FOX engine is looking mighty impressive in terms of lighting effects, and its recreation of the elements. The contrast between night and day and the height of the sun casting elongated shadows presents a very dynamic looking environment. There are some oddities with the ragdoll physics, low resolution textures, and 2D grass but in general, the performance is top quality. The last gen versions obviously take quite a hit in terms of clarity and detail, but hold up very well compared to the superior looking Xbox One and PS4 versions which afford much smoother play due to higher frame rates.
Audio is also of a high standard as expected, although Mr Sutherland doesn’t speak much and sadly doesn’t feel the same as David Hayter who voiced the character in all the previous games. This is something that might bother some players, but due to the few lines of dialogue from Big Boss in game means it’s not too impacting. The main star of the audio is actually side kick Kaz Miller voiced by English actor Robin Atkin Downes who does a superb job of providing most of the dialogue. The music and sound effects are also top quality as expected and compliment every situation with ease. Aside from personal tastes, there’s really nothing to fault here at all.
Longevity seems to be the biggest issue with Ground Zeroes simply because all the fluff has been removed to provide a more condensed gameplay experience. There’s little to no hand holding which means players are left to their own devices to discover and replay the sandbox over and over. In this regard, the game can appear to be lacking in content if simply playing through each mission back to back and if you don’t get it! then it’s all over far too quickly after three hours of gameplay. However, as mentioned, there are hours upon hours of extra play time to be had here for those that do dip in and strive for 100 percent completion or compete with others via the online leaderboards, making the overall game well worth the budget price it has been released at.
To conclude, Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes is an excellent prelude to the Phantom Pain, offering lots of teaser info and smart,effective gameplay elements that beg to be explored time and time again. The sandbox under its varied lighting conditions fused with Sweet gunplay combined with an excellent stealth engine make the overall package well worth the purchase if you’re a fan of action or sneaking. However, if you’re the type of gamer who only plays through a story once, then you might feel a little disappointed with the lack of content. It is unusual that given the sandbox nature of the game, more challenges or missions weren’t included in the same vein as the VR missions from previous games, but then again, what is offered is condensed greatness that doesn’t overstay its welcome with unnecessary padding. Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes accomplishes what it sets out to do which is showcase the impressive FOX engine, provide an open world experience for the first time, and introduces a bespoke game for fans that is also welcoming to newcomers.
Score 8.5/10 – Review by Robert Cram
Xbox 360 review code supplied by Team Xbox.
Xbox 360, PS4 and Xbox One versions played.