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Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - Review
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes sets a dangerous precedence. It sets a dangerous precedence that the supine mainstream gaming press have mostly been willing to brush over or ignore. With this latest Metal Gear Solid release Konami are experimenting; they're seeing just how much they can charge for a demo disc.
My completion time for Ground Zeroes clocked in at around half an hour. My second playthrough took around the same time, mostly because I tinkered about with some of the different gadgets and weapons you're given rather than attempting a perfect stealth run. It's an impressive game to be sure. As with Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Kojima seems to have really tapped into a new style of stealth gameplay, one that rewards experimentation and tactical thinking to the point where it starts to resemble a strategy game
With Metal Gear Solid 4, Kojima had the task of ending an entire series, or at very least, the task of concluding the story of one of its most important characters, on his shoulders. In contrast, this fifth instalment feels like a weight has been lifted. Without the need to tie up all those loose ends, the game has been given room to breathe. After a relatively short (by Kojima standards at least) opening, you're given control of Big Boss and your mission. How you go about it is up to you.
Following on from the events of Peace Walker. Ground Zeroes sees Big Boss attempt to break Paz and Chico out of a Guantanamo Bay-style prison. Rather than being a linear mission, you're given plenty of options of how to go about your task. First off, there's a storage building that stocks C4, that might come in handy. Or you could sneak aboard a passing truck and have it drive you straight through the prison. Then there's the old-fashioned way, making progress inch by inch as you tranquilize each guard that gets in your way with your trusty M9. There really are numerous routes you could take, and the game doesn't punish you for taking one over the other.
In a sense, Ground Zeroes is essentially the tutorial mission of this latest Metal Gear Solid, albeit one that's been stripped out and slapped onto its own disc. After rescuing one of the captives, you're given instructions on how to call in a helicopter for extraction. It's an interesting mechanic. Rather than switched to a pre-loaded segment, the entire extraction process is carried out in real time. When escaping the prison, Snake will casually sit out of the side of the chopper, still in player control, and you can take pot-shots at any guards that threaten your escape. It appears to be another attempt by Kojima to balance his cinematic ambitions with actual gameplay. Everyone is aware how much the guy loves his cutscenes, but Ground Zeroes seems to suggest he's willing to reduce his reliance on them.
Commenting on the story would seem a little pointless in this review, considering that the amount of plot information we're actually given amounts to little more than a teaser trailer. The events will certainly have more of an impact on people that have actually played Peace Walker. There's also the big change in lead voice actor, with Kiefer Sutherland taking over from David Hayter as Big Boss. Sutherland does a good job with the character, and while it's somewhat odd not to hear Hayter's raspy growl coming out of Big Boss' mouth, it doesn't destroy the character either. What's more, considering this is Kojima, it wouldn't surprise me if Hayter still showed at some point in The Phantom Pain anyway...
To put a little more meat on this game's bones, there's a bunch of side missions that can be completed once you've finished Ground Zeroes. These take you back to the same island but task you with different objectives. Again, considering that Metal Gear Solid 5's gameplay does add a lot to the traditional formula, these missions are fun to play through but aren't likely to keep all but the most diehard Metal Gear fan occupied for long.
Which leads us back Konami's decision to attempt to sell a glorified demo. When Metal Gear Solid 2 was in development, Konami had the genius idea to release the game's demo alongside Zone of the Enders, Kojima's other series about a group of giant fighting mechs in the spirit of Gundam Wing. It caused a huge spike in Zone's sales, as many people bought it simply to get a look at the new Metal Gear game. In fact, many writers joked about the fact that Konami had included another game with the demo, for free.
With Ground Zeroes, this joke seems to have come full circle as Konami attempt to sell something that, ten years ago, would most likely have been given out for free. It's not so much that Ground Zeroes is the actual problem, more that, should the game sell well, the likes of EA, Activision and Ubisoft will potentially see this as another way to make more profit. This is why Ground Zeroes could be the start of something bad.
Even if you're a fan of the series, there's so little on offer here that you'd have to be really desperate to spend any large amount of money on this prologue. At the very least, you can afford to wait until The Phantom Pain nears release. By then Ground Zeroes should be safely nestled in the bargain bin.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was released in March for the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
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