What comes to your mind when someone mentions the words Metal Gear Solid? Is it the extra lengthy cutscenes and heavy focus on storytelling? Is it the outlandish cast of characters and over the top voice acting? Maybe it’s the heavy focus on stealth, isolating a lot of people from playing other entries in the Metal Gear series. Well whatever the case may be, you may be surprised by Hideo Kojimas latest entry into his infamous Metal Gear franchise.
As far as story is concerned, I don’t want to go too deep into details, as honestly, there isn’t much to it. Ground Zeroes follows on from the last game in the series and one of the best PlayStation Portable titles Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. It’s 1975 and Big Boss has been tasked with infiltrating an American base called Camp Omega. There you must extract two characters from the previous games, Chico and Paz, whilst introducing the main antagonist by the name of Skull Face. Although not a boss in the game, he is featured a lot in the story of the game, with events that transpire in this title leading into main event; Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The events of this game lead to some of Metal Gears most gruesome scenes, although feels extremely short and by the end it leaves you wanting more.
The main Ground Zeroes mission may be short but is filled with some very powerful character moments and in some cases is pretty controversial in its subject matter. This feels like a much more grown up Metal Gear Solid title than some of its earlier entries. This is helped along by some pretty good voice acting, with some of that cheese nicely sprinkled on top that comes with any Metal Gear dialogue and delivery.
While some voice actors such as Christopher Randolph as Huey Emmerich and Robin Atikin Downes as Kazuhira Miller are back from the previous games, there is one big elephant in the room with that of series newcomer Kiefer Sutherland as the voice of Big Boss. Initially it feels pretty jarring as those who are fans of the series are used to the extremely gravely and powerful voice of David Hayter who has been swapped out for a more subdued and played down version of Big Boss by Mr. Sutherland.
Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of Kiefer Sutherland’s voice in this game as he barely talks throughout the Ground Zeroes mission, allowing for the Fox Engine to take over showing off detailed facial expressions and character movements to accentuate feelings and emotions. After you’ve completed the Ground Zeroes mission, you can play one of 5 ‘Side Ops’. These vary in style, from an on rails helicopter ride, trying to extract an undercover agent on the ground, to taking out anti-aircraft guns dotted around Camp Omega.
As well as extracting your chosen targets in the Ground Zeroes campaign, you can also extract other prisoners and enemy soldiers by calling in a helicopter. There are 4 markers on the map that you can call a helicopter to, allowing you to extract anyone you want. This will come into use later on as your save will transfer over Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, allowing you to put them to use just like in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Ground Zeroes is a gorgeous looking game, all thanks to the newly built Fox Engine. Environments and character models look rich with detail, coupling this with face capture from the voice actors allows the characters to fully emote and gives a more engaging cast than Metal Gears past. Different missions play out through various times of the day, giving Camp Omega a different feel every time you play it. From the bright midday sun shining down on Camp Omega, to a gorgeous sunset, showing off details in the environment, the main Ground Zeroes mission is where the Fox Engine shows off the most, with its dark rainy environment, light glistening off of wet rocks as the rain feels like it’s soaking you to the bone, with lens flare stolen straight out of any J.J Abrams film streaking across the screen from enemy spotlights. This is predominantly achieved through the minimal HUD on screen this time around, making the screen feel less cluttered with bars and stats, allowing you to focus on what’s happening on screen.
Camp Omega itself is vast in size, giving you plenty of variety when it comes to taking on the missions in the game. Whilst this isn’t as open world as a GTA game, compared to other Metal Gear games it positively feels grand in scale. Around every turn there are enemies ready to take you down if you’re not careful as they patrol the area, occupy guard towers and they will even occasionally rotate their shifts, giving the enemies new movement patterns.
Enemies are keen and unlike previous Metal Gear games can spot you from quite a distance, whereas previous entries in the series would force you to have to stand right in front of them before they are alerted (so much for enhanced Genome Soldiers,) If you do alert a nearby guard, a white marker shows on screen indicating the direction you’re being spotted from. This allows you more time to decide whether you take them down before they investigate the area, or try to hide while they come to your last known position and search for you. Moving and hiding bodies is important, with other patrolling enemies becoming alerted to your presence if they are spotted. If you do happen to get caught, the familiar exclamation mark pops up above the enemies head, but now the game goes into slow motion allowing you to dispatch your foe before he has time to announce your presence and alert his fellow comrades. If you don’t however, everyone will come after you.
Unlike other Metal Gear games, Ground Zeroes doesn’t have rations or health packs, swapping that out for regenerating health. Only in extreme cases do you need to use a health spray, but usually when you’re on your last legs and about to die. Depending on difficulty, it doesn’t take much for Big Boss to be taken out, making stealth more crucial or if you choose the gun down everything you see approach, you need to make sure you take out all the enemies and retreat to a quiet spot to regenerate your health.
For the first time you can commandeer vehicles and there a few here for you to try from a basic Jeep, allowing you to navigate the camp quicker, to a tank allowing you to mow through enemies if you want to take the more direct approach to completing your missions. These control much like you would expect with left trigger to accelerate, right trigger to brake, and the movement of the tanks turret controlled with the right analogue stick. For those that aren’t overly bothered for stealth, this seems like an ideal way to complete your mission in the fastest way possible.
Gameplay itself feels really good, allowing you to set the controller to some preset modes. Whether you are familiar with the Metal Gear controls, or prefer a method more suited to shooters, there is a control setup for you. This makes the game feel more accessible to those who aren’t too savvy with how Metal Gear plays. Weapons at your disposal are a plenty, starting you out with a silenced tranquilliser gun and a silenced SMG, giving you the option for a non-lethal run or an all out run-and-gun approach. Weapons and other items can be picked up from enemies or even armouries in the game, with machine guns, rocket launchers and even hand grenades at your disposal.
Unlike previous Metal Gear games, Ground Zeroes is more stripped back with the amount of equipment you can carry on you at any given time. Instead of having infinite pockets of space to store your rocket launchers and other assorted goodies, you’re given four slots that can be accessed with the d pad. These are split into different classifications of gadgets, small arms, large weapons and throwable items, making finding your weapon of choice even easier than scrolling through a large list of armaments. This is all done in real time, with no pause in the action which makes switching out weapons feel more tactical, especially in a heated gun battle.
A new inclusion to the game is that you can now tag enemies and vehicles by simply bringing up your binoculars, zooming in onto an enemy and the game will automatically tag them, showing a marker above their heads. These markers don’t just appear on screen but also on the other new inclusion, the iDroid. This is your in game map, showing you a satellite image of the camp in which it shows you where these newly tagged enemies or vehicles are located. This makes it easier to see movement patterns and how far away an enemy is from you, making scouting ahead a must if you’re wanting to avoid getting shot in the face. This puts greater emphasis on the tactical stealth approach, allowing you to map out your journey through the vast open areas.
Depending on which platform you choose to play Ground Zeroes on, you’re given a highly top secret mission that is only unlocked after collecting nine XOF patches throughout Camp Omega. For the PlayStation platform you are given the Déjà Vu mission which will appeal to those that have been with the Metal Gear franchise from the outset. You are given numerous scenarios from the original Metal Gear Solid game to recreate which really gets those nostalgia juices flowing. On top of the specific moments you are given to recreate are the more subtle touches from the original PlayStation classic. From wolves howling in the background, to finding your first weapon under a parked truck to Fox Hound flags flapping in the wind as you sneak around the environment. When you go into alert status, a version of the original alert theme plays, putting a massive smile on my face, making me turn up my surround sound system to fully drink in the nostalgia, where as getting killed plays the iconic game over sting from the original title. The attention to detail is amazing, making me actively want to search out for these moments, whilst also pining for a remake of the original Metal Gear Solid on the Fox Engine. After you complete the mission you are given a quiz, testing your Metal Gear Solid knowledge, allowing you to unlock different skins for both Snake and the enemies. Depending on which difficulty you chose to play through the mission on gives you either the original MGS Solid Snake skin or Grey Fox.
The Jamias Vu mission is the Xbox platforms exclusive mission, allowing you to play as the Metal Gear Revengance version of Raiden. As the opening of the mission explains, you are dropped into Camp Omega after weird transmissions are found that mention something about body snatchers. Your mission is to hunt down and kill these alien body snatchers before extracting from the area. Marking enemies allow you to see the skeletal form of the target, making it easier to pick out your alien foes. This mission is quite short compared to the Déjà Vu mission and unfortunately not as fun. Playing as Raiden isn’t much different from playing as Snake other than he can run extremely fast, while still using guns instead of using swords like his Revengance counterpart. After taking out all of the body snatchers, a helicopter is sent to extract you while you defend the helicopter from both ground based and airborne attacks. This feels like an artificial way to stretch out the mission as there isn’t as much content for this exclusive mission.
Out of the two versions of the game solely based off the exclusive missions I’d personally choose the PlayStation version. The Déjà Vu mission is far more enjoyable.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a great game, albeit not the full Metal Gear experience you may be expecting. Lengthy story heavy cutscenes are absent here, but the ones that are here are very powerful and impactful. Sure the Ground Zeroes mission is short and though my first time playing through was just short of an hour; 53 minutes to be exact, even after trying to take the super stealthy route, I only got a B grade at the end of it all. The intuitive controls makes this a very fun game to play, with the added ‘Side Ops’, collectables and a large enough playground for you to approach the missions differently means that there’s plenty of re-playability to be had here. Whether you’re a pure stealth aficionado or a run and gun sort of person, the game can be played however you want, making it the first time that a Metal Gear game has been made more accessible for a variety of players. It’s safe to say that the stealth aspect has been redefined for this new outing and is a breath of fresh air. At the end of it all though it doesn’t quite give you a lengthy experience which can be difficult to recommend even at the reduced price tag, coming in at £25 at time of writing. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a fan of the Metal Gear franchise then this is a must, but those that are curious may want to hold out until the price drops, or even wait for the full game later on down the line with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It’s safe to say that the best is yet to come.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: Xbox One / PlayStation 4 / Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 Release: 18/03/14
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 5 days on a Xbox One. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.