Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes PS4
Depending how successful the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is with the public will determine if Hideo Kojima is one smart individual or one crazy nutjob. Not many people in the industry could get away with charging between a R.R.P of £19.99 and £29.99 (price depending on which version of the game) for what is essentially a sneak peek at the forthcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, but him and Konami are doing just that. It’s not like Kojima hasn’t dabbled in demos before; Zone of the Enders for the PS2 came bundled with a demo of Metal Gear Solid 2, and while that was also a teaser for a new Metal Gear game, you also got a full game to go along with the asking price.
There are plenty of debates that we could have about discussing Ground Zeroes and the price of it, but for this review most of those will be ignored, as this is evaluating the quality of the game and not its asking price. If price does bother you that much, then if you don’t fancy yourself playing through a 95+ minute campaign (the length of the main attraction in the game) for the price it asks for, then you can probably wait till it goes cheaper or just completely ignore the game. Although, be warned, what is featured in this title is a wonderful glimpse at the amazing potential that could be included in The Phantom Pain when it releases next year.
Ground Zeroes is set a few years after Peace Walker and continues on with fleshing out more background about the one-eyed soldier known as Big Boss. Interestingly, Kojima has changed the general concept of Metal Gear Solid for Ground Zeroes, mostly focusing on keeping the player in control and leaving the story plots for the opening and closure of the game. This is even more true for the radio chatter between Kaz Miller and Big Boss – no longer are you forced to watch portraits of characters involved during random information spurts, now the chatter is done while you’re freely exploring Camp Omega. This makes Ground Zeroes move in a more natural flow, as players can concentrate on exploring, while being fed information about what’s going on or about the surroundings by tagging buildings with the L1 button while using the binoculars.
The setup for the plot is that Paz and Chico, who were introduced in Peace Walker, are being held somewhere in a location called Camp Omega, an American black site set in Cuba, and Big Boss is challenged with sneaking into the base during the middle of a thunderstorm to bring back these two companions to the safety of Mother Base. Of course, with this being a Metal Gear Solid title, things aren’t what they seem, as a strange organisation led by a mysterious man with a burnt face, going by the name of Skull Face, is coughing up a plot with his personal army known as XOF.
Big changes have occurred for the gameplay in Ground Zeroes. Any practices that fans have built up over the years playing Metal Gear Solid and its sequels should be put to one side. This is a big leap for the series since it moved to the PlayStation platform, which back then saw the series bring us a blend of cinematic storytelling with stealth action gameplay. The setting of the mid 70s is a nice symbol of going back to basics with the stealth genre. Gone are helpful HUD elements, such as the soliton radar that displayed a visual diagram of a soldier’s visibility. Now it’s down to scouting out the area, pinpointing enemy locations with your binoculars to allow Big Boss to keep a toll on their location, similar to how the recent Crysis games do it. Maps are now relegated to the iDroid, a handheld device that can target areas highlighted as a point of interest. It also allows the player to place down markers, which will then pop up on screen, meaning Big Boss isn’t totally lost when it comes to finding directions towards an interesting location.
Camp Omega is a fascinating choice to demonstrate the potential that The Phantom Pain could possess. The installation feels organic and alive, an ecosystem populated by guards who go about their routines unaware that Big Boss is somewhere on site. Vehicles will move around, with its occupants scouting the borders, while watchtowers are populated with soldiers moving lights around the base during the darkness of the thunderstorm. The influence of this new design was clearly evident as soon as I was controlling Big Boss at the start of the game, as he overlooked the encampment ahead of him that requires the player to infiltrate. I had to restart the beginning four times, as guards close to the entrance of the site kept noticing me from much further away than what I am used to in this franchise. This more natural AI makes you care more about the surroundings around Big Boss, making sure you know who is patrolling. It’s so easy to be caught by a guard at the other side of a pathway, because in older games, a unit would simply be too far away to even care what Snake was doing.
Ripping out all the fancy technology from the future isn’t what makes this such an eye-opening experience. Big Boss is now much more agile, his movement speed increased and his move set expanded. Getting spotted now introduces a slowdown, where the player is given a short amount of time to dispose of the spotter by any means necessary before they get their mouth on the radio and call in for backup. If that happens, then the base is set to high alert and soldiers come running (or driving) to the help of one. A core strategy is using CQC to grab a soldier and threaten them with a knife to get some helpful information. This ranges a great deal, such as having your map show you a location of a weapon stash, a display of high concentration of soldiers or all defensive turrets revealed to you. The iDroid is more helpful once you’ve picked up a ton of vital intel from guards who are scared of losing their life. You can also manipulate them into calling for back up, making the guards leave their post to check the request, while Big Boss is left to sneak by into a less secured area, thanks to the bogus call.
Ground Zeroes never spoils its open world design with obtrusive barriers. Multiple areas can be entered through various means. Do you go through the door in a truck, as a driver or as a stowaway hiding in the back? Grab a guard and use them as a way to force your way in? Or find an alternative route underground through the base’s system of pipes? Camp Omega’s infiltration is down to how the player wants to do it, and one of the biggest joys with Ground Zeroes is coming up with imaginative ways to get Big Boss in and around the base. The game’s main mission might have only taken me an hour and a half to finish, but the replayability of this playground is enough to still find new things to do after finishing it three times. Additional missions are unlocked that put the camp in various time of day settings, and, while these aren’t as fulfilling as the main task, they still offer that open gameplay that lets you tackle them in anyway you see fit.
The only downside is that there’s only this one camp to explore. With such solid mechanics in use, it’s a shame that there isn’t more world. There’s an amazing playground on offer here, and all this makes me super excited for what is to come in The Phantom Pain. If Kojima can somehow manage to put in the same work, care, openness and creativity that is in this compact location across a scale, that according to him is “over 200 times bigger than Ground Zeroes”, then the upcoming title has a chance at being one hell of a video game with some of the best innovation in stealth gameplay since Splinter Cell.
Another big question is how does Kiefer Sutherland handle being Big Boss? In fact, once you adjust to the tone of the voice after a few minutes, then the work done by the movie star is great. There’s a sort of more humane cord during his voice that comes across as offering a more realistic characterisation of Big Boss. If you’re a fan of 24, you might have a giggle hearing Sutherland’s trademark “damn it” and “don’t fight it” pop up during the mission, but apart from matching up with those similarities, it seems that Big Boss in The Phantom Pain is going to be in good hands (or should that be voice?) with Mr. Sutherland at the helm.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes may be short, but it sure is sweet. There is a technical achievement in Ground Zeroes that some mainstream games could only wish they could accomplish such freedom in their design. The cost of entry might be high, but what you get to witness is a game by Kojima that is tailored towards a pure gameplay experience, rather than a mash of movie meets video game. This is the most “gamey” Metal Gear yet, with gameplay met with detailed graphics and animation that set up the expectations for The Phantom Pain to ridiculous heights. We have done our side of the deal, Kojima – now it’s time for you to craft what could be potentially the ultimate stealth game in the main event next year.