Much has been made about the play time offered by Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Ever since it was revealed that the main mission could be completed in under two hours, more and more reports have surfaced with even shorter play times, even as short as 10 minutes (admittedly, this was a speed run). This has dominated much of the coverage and has greatly affected general gamer impression of the game, but is this fair? Does the short play time really hamper the game’s appeal?
The main thrust of Ground Zeroes revolves around a mission to rescue two prisoners from Camp Omega, a U.S. Military base. These prisoners are Chico and Paz, two of Snake’ (a.k.a. Big Boss) allies introduced in MGS: Peace Walker. Indeed, the whole game serves as a bridge between Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain, setting up the stage for the main game’s story to pick up from when it arrives.
What this means for Ground Zeroes is a short, but very sweet stealth excursion for Snake within an open mission area that features no restrictions on approach, and no specific way to complete your mission. It’s up to you how you how you progress, be it stealthy, loud, lethal, or non lethal, and in a departure from the usually overly-strict series, the game doesn’t excessively punish you if you chose to make use of more aggressive tactics. In fact, it welcomes whatever methods you wish to employ.
Old Snake, New Tricks
Camp Omega is an open base with various different areas to explore, inside and out. There are drivable vehicles, dangerous guard posts, locked doors which can be picked open, secret tunnels and all sorts of opportunities for the observant soldier to capitalize on.
This base is guarded by a small army of soldiers, all of whom go about their duties, take smoke breaks, zoom around in Jeeps and trucks, and talk with their colleagues, sometimes revealing important information. It feels like a living, breathing base, and not long into your initial visit, you realise just how much detail is packed into the game, and how well the Fox Engine manages to create a true, open-ended mission experience. Not only is this one fine-looking title, but it feels lifelike and makes the stealthy immersion all the more impressive.
The world isn’t the only thing to receive attention here, and Snake is a far more controllable hero this time around. Whereas the series has always been plagued with clunky, often confusing controls, here most of these issues have been ironed out. Snake moves much more fluidly, and it’s far easier to control his stance, engage in combat, tackle foes hand-to-hand (even the previously ropey CQC system is gone), and you can easily grab and choose what to do with guards, such as interrogating them or knocking them out. Controls are still a little more complex than they need to be, but this is a huge improvement over previous games.
Stealth is reworked too. There are no more easy vision cones and radars. The only onscreen indicator is your weapon and ammo. Only your own observation will indicate if an enemy is aware of you, at which point a small indicator shows how alert a guard is (and this can be turned off for the more hardcore players). It’s a far better way to approach stealth and sitting there waiting to avoid arbitrary vision cones, and it continues the advances made in MGS4 to their next logical point, and does so well.
iSee (what you did there)
To help in his mission, Snake is outfitted with the new iDroid communicator and navigation system. This allows snake to see a full map of the area, complete with highlighted areas of interest and targets. This replaces the old system of the Soliton radar, and makes navigation of the base easier. You can also use it to view mission info, listen to tape recordings and more.
Although Snake carries lethal and non-lethal weapons, one of his most useful items is his set of binoculars. These can be used to scope out an area, and can also tag enemies, Far Cry-style, so they show up on the map, are indicated with an arrow, and allow Snake’s survival sense, alerting him when an enemy is near, even if he can’t see them. Again, this works well, and introduces a much more tactical approach to the game.
If you mess up, you can also utilise the game’s reaction system, which slows down time, giving Snake the chance to make his move before the enemy can react.
These tools are essential to Snake’s survival, as the open mission leaves you largely free to do whatever you like, and there are no scripted encounters, so you need to be on your game, aware of the dangers around you, especially on the harder difficulties.
This all makes for a refreshingly open MGS experience, and one that manages to take the series in the right direction, one of open, non-restricted stealth. In fact, I’d argue that this is one of the finest examples of the genre so far, it’s that good. While it lasts, that is.
Gone In 60 Minutes
Sadly, reports about the game’s length are true. My first play through, which was far from rushed, taking in the base and the various features with a moderate pace, lasted just over an hour, and that’s with a few checkpoint retries thrown in. Just as I was getting into the swing of things, the end sequence leading into The Phantom Pain played, and the credits rolled. That’s hardly great value you may think, and you may be right. Luckily, there’s more to Ground Zeroes than a single mission.
After you complete the main Ground Zeroes mission, you unlock a harder difficulty and the Side Ops missions. These all take place in the same military base, but feature a few different mission scenarios. For example, one sees you assassinating two rogue soldiers, and another sees you destroying all the AAA guns on the base. It’s varied enough, and each mission is enjoyable, and can be quite challenging. If you add to this the various high score-grabbing challenges, and bonuses for completing missions in certain ways, you have more replayability than you’ll find in many, longer games.
The problem here, though, is that all of this takes place on the same, smallish map. There’s no variety of locations, and unless you’re a score-attack addict, or a Metal Gear fanboy, you’ll probably soon tire of the action found here, even if it is of such a high quality.
Bring On The Pain
Despite the short length, which you just can’t ignore, Ground Zeroes is a good title. It’s a clear demonstration of where the Metal Gear series is headed, and it’s a very enjoyable stealth experience that gets you ready for the main course that is The Phantom Pain.
If The Phantom Pain plays as well as Ground Zeroes, only with a full game’s content and more open world, then we could be in for a very impressive Metal Gear series entry when it arrives. For now, although the price is undeniably steep, and content lacking, this is an decent demo of the new Metal Gear Solid.
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