Ground Zeroes sets up The Phantom Pain nicely with revamped stealth mechanics and open ended gameplay.
There needs to be a clear understanding on what Hideo Kojima is aiming for with Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes. It’s not a fully fledged experience, it’s a prologue and as such you should not expect all the bells and whistles that come along with a Metal Gear Solid title. There is widespread confusion that this is a paid demo but after investing ten odd hours into the game that claim is far from the reality.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is more of a technical showcase of what Kojima Productions’ brand new Fox Engine is capable of and what players can expect from The Phantom Pain. Ground Zeroes is not an open world title but an open level set on an island. Earlier games in the series had a fix set of structures which made the player move from point A to point B with a bit of freedom in between but Ground Zeroes opens up multiple ways that the player can tackle a mission.
"For the first time in the series, Snake can drive armored vehicles, jeeps, and trucks and call in helicopter support to make his way out of the island. Each option results into different consequences."
Ground Zeroes features a campaign mode, four side ops and an exclusive mission based on which platform you plan to buy the game on [Déjà Vu mission featuring Solid Snake for PS3/PS4 and Jamais Vu mission featuring Raiden for Xbox One/Xbox 360 versions] and are set during different times of the day. The story mission requires Snake to rescue Chico and Paz whereas the side ops are your basic assassination, rescue and blowing up ground-to-air units mission types.
These missions may sound simple on paper but there are different routes that the player can take with each of them. For the first time in the series, Snake can drive armored vehicles, jeeps, and trucks and call in helicopter support to make his way out of the island. Each option results into different consequences. For example, in one of the missions, the player needs to get out of the base as quickly as possible. The player can do so via a helicopter or a vehicle with each of them having their own share of ups and downs. The former requires the player to call in a helicopter far away from the hot zone whereas in the latter the player will need to get past sentries. Both approaches result in some exciting on-ground action increasing the replayability of these missions.
For the first time in the franchise, the player can tag enemy soldiers using the binoculars and thus keep track of their movements at all times. I had my doubts about tagging enemies in a Metal Gear Solid game since the series is more about the element of surprise and unawareness of what is coming next. But given the open ended nature of the level, I can understand now why Kojima Productions went ahead with it and its inclusion is justified. Instead of making the game any easier, tagging actually helped to approach a situation more pro-actively, whilst maintaining the suspense factor that the series is known for.
"Reflex undoubtedly makes the game easier and as such should not have a place in a Metal Gear Solid game. The tagging already does a great job of adding tension into the gameplay but the Reflex ability just kills the essence of the series, giving the player the opportunity to go in all Rambo without actually putting the effort into playing the game the way it’s meant to be played."
Another new addition is the Reflex wherein if Snake is spotted, the game freezes for a few seconds, giving enough time to the player to shoot the enemy before he calls for backup. Reflex undoubtedly makes the game easier and as such should not have a place in a Metal Gear Solid game. The tagging already does a great job of adding tension into the gameplay but the Reflex ability just kills the essence of the series, giving the player the opportunity to go in all Rambo without actually putting the effort into playing the game the way it’s meant to be played. Fortunately, the Reflex option can be disabled and when I played one of the missions again with this unwanted feature turned off, Ground Zeroes was a different game all together.
One of the biggest improvements when compared to the previous entries are the fluid animations. Gone are the days when controlling Snake felt like navigating a train. Snake can now jump, sprint and automatically take cover. The transition to crouching is unbelievably smooth. Enemy AI is at an all-together different level with soldiers actively searching for Snake and even if they catch the faintest view of our hero, they will make it a point to investigate. What caught me off guard is that the enemy AI is different during different times of the day. During night, Snake will be hard to spot but your enemies are smart enough to use torches and spot lights to find you whereas during day time, the distance from which an enemy can spot Snake increases.
If you get spotted by an enemy, the entire base will come running after you, which also includes armored tanks in some missions. Your best option is to either tackle the situation head-on or run away from that area and hide somewhere. You don’t have a camouflage system this time around and Snake will require grass and cover to keep him hidden. The combination of enemy AI, Snake’s animations and the open ended environment all bring an unprecedented level of brilliance to the series’ stealth mechanics.
"As expected with any Metal Gear Solid game, the production values are top notch. When Hideo Kojima stated that he wanted to make the Fox Engine the best engine in the world he wasn't kidding. The lighting in the game is hands down one of the best I have witnessed in video games."
As expected with any Metal Gear Solid game, the production values are top notch. When Hideo Kojima stated that he wanted to make the Fox Engine the best engine in the world he wasn’t kidding. The lighting in the game is hands down one of the best I have witnessed in video games. Whether it is early morning or a night soaked in rain, Fox Engine proves to be a force to reckon with. The photo-realistic visuals backed up by amazing motion capture lifts the series’ benchmark to an all together different magnitude.
Unfortunately there is a lack of narrative momentum in Ground Zeroes, mainly because most of the plot was already shown by Konami in trailers and gameplay footage. There is a good chance that the player will already know what will happen in the campaign and said narrative momentum feels somewhat negligible. Voice acting for the most part is underwhelming and I am still not sure whether Kiefer Sutherland is a good fit for the legendary hero. The problem is that Snake rarely speaks in the game making it difficult to judge whether Sutherland is doing justice to this character. Perhaps we will know more in The Phantom Pain.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes has a decent amount of content and its life time can be greatly expanded if the player finds all the record tapes and other collectibles. The game obviously does not have content on par with its predecessors but whatever is there is genuinely intriguing. Ground Zeroes gives you a good indication about how The Phantom Pain is going to shape up and if the current mechanics are anything to go by, fans and gamers alike are in for a treat. Ground Zeroes on its own is a game that you should buy if you are a fan or if you’re frustrated at the lack of genuine stealth games. Others can wait till The Phantom Pain arrives.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Open ended mission structure adds dynamism to gameplay, Stealth mechanics are second to none, Enemy AI is challenging and nuanced depending on time of day, Tons of replay value, Photo realistic visuals and lighting.
Voice acting is under whelming, lack of suspense factor in story mode, Reflex feels too easy, not as compelling a narrative as previous games.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is developed purely for the fans. It won’t bring in any new audiences but it wasn’t meant to in the first place. It features a decent amount of content which will make the wait less taxing for The Phantom Pain.