Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes Review

Snake is back, but gone again way too soon in Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes.

RELEASE DATE: March 18, 2014PLATFORM: PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360DEVELOPER: Kojima ProductionsPUBLISHER: KonamiCATEGORY: Action-adventure

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is what we were promised: an introduction to a new, more flexible open-world Metal Gear. I found myself pulled in dozens of directions on the map, debating the endless ways I could complete my objectives. The map, of course, is Camp Omega, a secret American prison camp in Cuba (largely based on Guantanamo Bay). Although it’ll come off as promotional in the end, there is no doubt that the new design of Metal Gear Solid 5 is a labor of love.

This week, we ranked the best games in the Metal Gear series, and after playing Ground Zeroes, I’m pretty sure the complete MGS5 experience will be up there with the very best.

Big Boss is back to rescue Paz and Chico, two of the main characters in Peace Walker, who have been kidnapped by a mysterious group called XOF and their leader, the gruesomely disfigured Skull Face (name says it all). “Snake” must infiltrate Camp Omega, locate his targets, and bring them back to Mother Base, the Soldiers Without Borders Caribbean HQ, before it’s too late. In the background, there’s this little bit about nuclear inspections going on in Mother Base that proves to be integral to the story by the end.

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Without a doubt, Ground Zeroes‘ main purpose is to promote the new gameplay mechanics. And you’ll be surprised by how much time you actually get to spend behind the controller as opposed to watching expository cutscenes. That’s what everyone is waiting to hear about, right? What little cutscenes there are unfold before and after the main mission, leaving you to explore Camp Omega and complete your objective uninterrupted. And those long-winded codec calls? Gone. Instead, Miller, your pal and voice in your ear, will respond to your environment, feeding you intel while you’re on the move.

Moving through the world has never felt so fluid in the Metal Gear series as it does in Ground Zeroes. I’ve always felt that Snake was a bit stiff (no pun intended) during sneaking missions — probably due to the confounding controls that, until now, were not very accessible to the average player. I remember picking up Metal Gear Solid 4 for the first time (my first Metal Gear game) and having a terrible time trying to adjust. It especially sucked since you had to learn how to move around while being chased by a bipedal monstrosity with a taste for soldier heads.

In Ground Zeroes, you’ll be able to effectively move around the map like a goddamn ninja as long as you have the strategy in place. Really, that’s the big improvement in MGS5: that there are so many ways to complete your objectives. It isn’t as black and white as shooting or sneaking. I found the mixture of both the most fun, but shooting a shitload of prison guards will lower your final score (yes, there’s a final score at the end of missions now). If you’re a points/achievement whore, you’ll want to go in completely silent and without any casualties. You’ll find yourself returning to the main mission and side missions over and over to find the different ways to complete them. If you wanted to 100% the game like I did, you’ll see your experience extended way beyond the 2 hours the average player will take to complete Ground Zeroes.

I think my only big issue with the game, besides the month-old complaint that Ground Zeroes is WAY too short, is that it serves as promotional material for the much larger The Phantom Pain. Ground Zeroes can’t stand on its own as much more than a demo for the main installment, which you’ll be able to play some time in the next century.

But like I said, it’s not about the length. My complaint is about story. There really isn’t any beyond some cassette tapes you can listen to on your in-game “iDroid” device and a really gruesome scene at the end of the main mission that’s mostly there for shock value. What little story there is (the nuclear inspection at Mother Base and Paz’s meeting with the mysterious Cipher prove to be WAY more important than the rescue mission) happens off-screen mostly or in a ten-minute cutscene at the end of the game. And whatever progression there is in story really just serves as a neon sign in the sky that reads, “If you liked all the explosions in this game, wait til you see all the explosions in the REAL game.”

In the end, that’s what this beautifully rendered little world is all about: getting us excited for the real game. Until then, I’ll be judo chopping some prison guards.

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4 out of 5