The stealth action genre has gotten amazingly popular in recent years. Big-budget, high profile titles like Call of Duty, The Last of Us and Batman: Arkham have made stealth gameplay a staple part of the action experience. But in the beginning, there were very few games that did it. And in the case of Metal Gear Solid, and its developer Kojima Productions, it seems like they haven’t lost their touch, at least in the mechanics of it. In other places…well, Ground Zeroes does leave something to be desired.
Yes, It Is Short
People are complaining across the internet that the campaign is far too short, clocking it in at about 2 hours from title to credits. Personally, my mission log came up at 43 minutes, but that’s hardly the point. The campaign of Metal Gear Solid V is coming in the follow-up title, The Phantom Pain, and that should be no surprise. What director Hideo Kojima was self-admittedly trying to do here was to introduce the player to a new style of sneaking game.
Many players have balked at Kojima’s own use of the word “Tutorial” to describe Ground Zeroes, but I feel like it’s an apt description. Instead of trying to get players accustomed to what basically could be called a giant overhaul in a quick, guided segment preceding the main game, Kojima Studios made that portion of the adventure its very own title. Players can take their time learning how to control Big Boss, getting accustomed to the AI and seeing what makes enemy soldiers tick, figuring out the logistics of helicopter extractions and other menu-based mechanics, and approaching all of it with the mindset needed to appreciate an open-world game that, in the end, will be 200x the size.
In short, the point of Ground Zeroes is to make sure that you enter Phantom Pain feeling like a trained operative, and not just some rookie who’s way out of his element. In this, Ground Zeroes does succeed.
Much as I feel I understood where Kojima was coming from with this game, I do wish at least a little more of the overarching story could have been exposed. We see nothing save for an introductory cutscene at the beginning and one at the end. All the backstory, which stems from the game’s handheld precursor, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, is offered in the form of text, so get out your reading glasses. If, like me, you are not a handheld gamer, you will find it difficult up front to follow the slew of new names and events that are thrown into the mix, or be particularly invested in the two hostages you’ll be rescuing in the main campaign, Paz and Chico.
The game leaves Big Boss without so much as a single boss fight, or an encounter with any character that looks to be significant in the main story. It’s something of a tease, and definitely where Ground Zeroes is the most unsatisfying. In a title notorious for extensive cinematics and grand story arcs, I’ve come to expect a little more interaction. Also, it would have been nice to hear a bit more from the new voice actor, action star Kiefer Sutherland, who has only just taken the reigns from series vet David Hayter. Sutherland was not able to deliver more than a sporadic line or two throughout this brief game, making it as-yet unclear how successfully he’s filling those proverbial “big shoes.”
While I might not recommend Ground Zeroes to a just anyone, fans of the Metal Gear series would do well to pick it up. Of course, some gamers are complaining about the price point, but there’s really not much of a leg to stand on here. People who have no problem spending $10 to see a 90-minute movie will still gripe endlessly about dropping $30 on a short video game. But the redeeming nature of Ground Zeroes is in its replayability. Despite the brief main campaign, there is a ton of additional material to unlock throughout this game before you achieve 100% completion. Or even before you begin to feel comfortable as a player. I stumbled through the main campaign the first time, and immediately went back to play again the next day, determined to do better. And the second time, I found things I hadn’t found before. I discovered little tricks and routes that helped me accomplish my goals in ways I hadn’t anticipated the first time. Between that and the unlockable side missions, I anticipate getting a good 12-15 hours out of this title before setting it aside. That’s well worth it in my book.
The real joy here, though, is the appreciation you gain of the beauty of open-world sneaking. The liner nature of these games in the past has always contributed to a severe sense of limitation. You need to climb this tree to progress, or knock out the one guard so the other leaves his post to investigate. That kind of gameplay lends itself to feeling “staged.” But with Ground Zeroes’ incredibly intricate open world and extensive control scheme, it does feel like there are literally dozens of ways to accomplish your objectives. When you find a hidden vent shaft that leads to your target, you don’t feel like you needed to find it. Because there were literally a dozen other ways to get from Point A to Point B, all with their own challenges. Instead, you feel accomplished for discovering something you might not have, and you can pat yourself on the back. And every playthrough, every side mission, all of them contribute to that same feeling of accomplishment.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes introduces an intriguing new system of play to an old franchise, taking stealth action in a new direction and serving predominantly as a secret-agent sandbox for players to get a little dirty before entering the main campaign. Though I found myself wishing it did more to branch out into the story of the Metal Gear universe, if you take the game for what it is and approach it simply in an effort to have a little fun for a few hours, you’ll find it’s well worth it. The main character controls wonderfully, the action is fast and intense, and really, you are left at the end wanting more. We at Headset Buddy will be playing this for a few weeks yet to come, and will be looking forward to the main game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, to be released soon!