Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is not for everybody. At US$30 for a physical copy and US$20 for a digital download on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, it’s important to note that Ground Zeroes is not a full-fledged game by any means. It’s a preview of what is to come in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. With that in mind, it’s completely fair to say that Ground Zeroes is still the most glorious and exciting preview for a game in recent years, which rings all the more true for life-long Metal Gear fans.
The main thing that everyone should know is that the game is very good but far too short. When I played through patiently and found every single thing there was to find in the game, it lasted about 10 hours. Playing through methodically without constant scouring for secrets and bonuses, I finished the game in about four hours. Playing through normally without any searching or any rushing, the game lasted about one hour. When I rushed through the game, it lasted 12 minutes, 38.61 seconds, and that’s not including the cutscenes.
In every respect, Ground Zeroes is incredibly short. However, my point in telling you all of this is that the game is not built to be played a single time and then casually discarded. It’s built for multiple playthroughs, each of which can and will be vastly different from the previous run. This can be attributed to the numerous enhancements and refinements Konami made to the gameplay, building upon the improvements made in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
Noticeable changes to the game include the removal of many series staples, such as the cardboard boxes, the rations, the knocking on walls, and even the codec call cutscenes that people both love and hate. Instead, the game features many modern accoutrements, such as shorter, but more frequent codec calls, marking enemies a la Far Cry 3 and Splinter Cell, regenerating health similar to many modern shooter franchises, and a slow-motion segment that allows Big Boss a chance to take out a target that has spotted him before reinforcements can be called. Close Quarters Combat (CQC) has also been expanded, giving Big Boss more of a fighting chance against enemies even when he’s unarmed or out of ammo.
All of these modifications make an action-based approach much more feasible than in previous Metal Gear entries. However, stealth is still the most rewarding method, with the open-world design greatly lending itself towards enhancing and enriching the experience of the game as a whole. Enemies can spot you from any angle, regardless of where you’re hiding, and on Hard difficulty, they almost certainly will. Coupled with the lack of a vast arsenal of weaponry or even moderate backup makes the game much more intense because you feel truly outnumbered and, by default, outgunned.
The game’s audio possesses the same trademark polish that Konami games traditionally exhibit, with the highly attentive environmental awareness, the weapon sound effects, and the voice acting being top notch. Yes, Kiefer Sutherland absolutely kills it as Snake. It is a little jarring at first to hear his voice coming out of Big Boss’ character model, and it is a little bit awkward to start as Kiefer adjusts to the role, but he very quickly and very efficiently establishes himself as a solid Snake (get it?) voice actor. The supporting cast members also bring their A-games, bringing the game’s fantastic audio full circle.
Graphically, there is nothing out right now that looks better than Ground Zeroes. The new FOX Engine renders incredibly amazing, picturesque scenery. The game looks best on PlayStation 4 at 1080p (the Xbox One version runs at 720p). Konami was serious when it promised to deliver photorealistic graphics. The rain pattering off of the characters and buildings, the lightning sharply igniting the blackened sky, and the wind rustling the raincoats of your enemies are all rather entrancing to behold. The rainy weather is only present during the main mission, but the graphics are still equally vibrant and enthralling in the clear-weathered bonus missions.
The five side missions include an assassination mission, an extraction mission, a search-and-recover mission, a demolition mission, and the Sony- or Microsoft-exclusive missions. Combined, these effectively double the length of the game, but are far less interesting than the main mission. Still, it’s nice to have some variety in the game, even if all six missions take place in the same, condensed area. This is even more prevalent when you take into account the fact that the game doesn’t even have a boss battle, making every little bit of variety more than welcome.
Despite all of these things, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is not a must-buy title. It isn’t even a recommended purchase for traditional gamers. The only people that arguably must buy the game are Metal Gear Solid fans and people who are unrelentingly certain about playing the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Non-Metal Gear fans and people who are on the ropes about playing The Phantom Pain should consider borrowing or renting Ground Zeroes.
In the end, it boils down to one simple sentiment: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a superb demo. But it’s still just a demo, and you’d still have to pay for it. Think about that for a moment so that you will make a smart and informed decision on whether or not to purchase the game.