Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review
The hype surrounding Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is enough to suffocate any games designer, even the great Hideo Kojima. So it’s no wonder that Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes – a prologue to Phantom Pain released as a self-contained game – has been met with scepticism and criticism by fans and critics alike. The biggest flaw with the game is its price. With next-gen copies selling for thirty dollars for a game which would have been panned for its unfinished story, it’s clear that Konami is offering too little at the cost of too much.
Ground Zeroes has been sold as a prologue to The Phantom Pain because the art style is similar and the voice-actors are the same, but if it had been sold on the PSP a few years ago it could have just as easily have been an epilogue to the PSP exclusive Peacewalker. It takes place a couple of years after the events of Peacewalker, where Paz and Chico have been kidnapped by the vile, malicious Skull Face, a villain who – with just five minutes of screen-time – absolutely steals the show. Big Boss – now with the simple name ‘Snake’ – must rescue Paz and Chico from a small military base. And that’s about it.
There are hundreds of hints of great things to come in The Phantom Pain’s story; the mysterious XOF, a showdown with Skull Face, the ‘Moby Dick,’ hints, but Ground Zeroes doesn’t have nearly enough meat in it to even pretend to be a self-contained story worth thirty squid. Paz’s characterisation as the only female character in the game goes from interesting and strong in Peacewalker, to a woman in the refrigerator by the end of Ground Zeroes. It’s clear to see that despite his genius, Kojima still has no idea how to write female characters.
However, the game’s resolution has to be commended for its brutality. Once the hour-long campaign is over, the gamer is left feeling that it was all for nothing – and it was – but whilst some reviewers have criticised the shocking ending for being too sudden and tasteless, its symbolism is poignant as it enhances this sense of emptiness at the worthlessness of Snake’s mission.
One thing which should be commended with Ground Zeroes is its gameplay. This is absolutely the next generation of Metal Gear Solid. The controls have been streamlined from earlier titles to appeal to a wider audience. Every action and animation is fluid and feels fantastic. The world doesn’t stop when Snake opens the map or enters his inventory. Guards continue their search, shouting orders at one another or over the comms unit. The base is alive. Every soldier looks unique, and the AI is absolutely ruthless, particularly in the side missions in broad daylight. However Snake is equipped with new resources this time. He carries binoculars with him now to help tag enemies watch their movements live on the map. There’s a special Reflex Mode whenever he’s spotted, where time slows down and the player is given a few seconds to eliminate the nearby guard who has caught him.
This fluidity is enhanced with the option to call in an evac helicopter at landing points throughout the map to leave the mission. It’s exhilarating to call in a chopper if the area becomes too hot, gunning down guards, taking cover, and then leaping on-board to make a quick getaway, all without a single cutscene. However this is the only way to quit the mission. There’s no in-game menu to alter options, pause the game or exit the mission quickly if the player makes a mistake and wants to try again.
Mother Base gets boring relatively quickly, too. Despite the many easter eggs, and as intelligent as the guards may be, limiting the six missions to one small military base is poor level design, and it doesn’t take very long to learn the similar strategies required to navigate the base, thus why gamers have been able to finish the campaign in approximately ten minutes. There are numerous times Snake was guided towards the door of a building to escape into, only for him to press up against the wall, unable to enter many of the cabins strewn around Mother Base. With the PS4’s capabilities and the small size of Mother Base, it’s sloppy design to advertise so many potential new areas that Snake can’t actually enter. If this was the best the designers could draw up in time for Ground Zeroes release, they should have delayed the release of Ground Zeroes by a few more months to build a second level or even extend Mother Base to be bigger or more interesting. This would have helped shorten the distance between Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain too, reducing the frustration many gamers have felt for paying so much for a game teaser.
Ground Zeroes is the first video game to come out for the Playstation 4 which appears to make real use of its processing power. The two cutscenes at the beginning and the end of the campaign were all recorded in-game, and rival most camera-work seen in games. Mother Base’s lighting is haunting at night, and captures the darker mood Kojima is clearly going for this time around. Every single guard has been captured by a different actor, keeping a very vivid sense of realism. The only flaw which came through in the PS4 copy of the game was Chico’s face. Kojima recorded five or six different children and mixed their faces together to form Chico, and it’s probably for this reason that his mannequin-esque features contrast so greatly with Snake’s meatier ones in their scenes together.
Sound is also one of Ground Zeroes strongest aspects. The rain sounds natural, the voice-acting is some of the strongest yet in a Metal Gear game, even if Robin Atkin Downes’s melodramatic Kazuhira Miller stands out like a sore-thumb next to the strong Kiefer Sutherland. It’s difficult not to wonder why David Hayter was cut from Ground Zeroes to bring in a grittier voice when Miller’s voice-acting was so camp.
The music is eerie and creepy as well. Taking songs from previous Metal Gear games and twisting them, recomposing them to bring fans more of the same with an edgier twist. It serves to haunt the player with a sense of deformed nostalgia. Even the old tone and exclamation point is present when Snake is spotted by guards. It all correlates to make the Ground Zeroes soundtrack one of the best yet, even if interrogating guards just consists of them grunting the same two or three noises every time, relying on subtitles to give the information Snake needs, rather than recorded dialogue.
Ground Zeroes delivers a glorified, over-expensive demo and very little else. The beauty of the graphics, the strength of the sound quality and the fun-as-hell gameplay are let down by the hollow campaign and lazy level design. The five side-missions which are supposed to justify the cost of the game just aren’t varied enough and feel like they’re tacked on as a lazy extra. The hour-long campaign should have been sold without any extras as DLC closer to the time of The Phantom Pain for half its current price. Other critics have claimed that “we’ve paid a lot more for a lot less in the past!” But at a time when companies like Irrational are selling 3-hour long experiences for a tenner, Konami should have respected its audience more than to sell a game which feels grossly stripped down with an unfinished story.
Written by Guest Contributor: Alex Lamont