The prologue to the latest chapter in the extremely convoluted Metal Gear storyline is finally here after months of anticipation. It’s no secret that it’s a short prologue, but Ground Zeroes defines the term “short and sweet”, the latter being a word I shouted excitedly many times during my play through. It’s known that Hideo Kojima decided to split up the two parts of Metal Gear Solid V in order to get something out for the fans to play sooner, and it’s only made us hungry for more.
Disclaimer: The version of the game I played was on PS3. There are some comparisons to the PS4 version of the game, of which I have only seen in comparison videos as well as screenshots.
Visuals/Audio: If you’ve seen what Ground Zeroes looks like on the PS4, don’t bother playing it on anything else. The game still looks great no matter what console you’re playing it on, but all the promotional videos released to date are showing PS4 gameplay, and it’s almost impossible to not make mental comparisons, especially during the opening cut scene. If you can get past that, and get used to the “last gen” version’s visuals, you’ll be able to see that despite how small this game is, it’s really pushing both consoles to their limit.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, this game looks and sounds amazing. Lighting effects are top notch, with blinding floodlights and piercing spotlights, as well as sunlight that glistens on the ground, making Camp Omega feel like a vacation spot (minus the military base and activities that take place in it). I personally enjoyed playing the game in daytime mode more, because despite that being when the rougher edges are most visible, it’s also when the game’s overall polish can be seen, as well as its true colours, though nighttime is when the lighting effects really show off their stuff. PS4 players really get their money’s worth with the noticeably better looking sky out of the four versions of the game due to an atmospheric simulator, as well as more pronounced lighting effects, rounder character and environment models, and details like a rougher looking beard that you can literally count the hairs on for Snake. All of the motion capture looks fantastically fluid, featuring some of the most human movement I’ve ever seen in a game, from the way Snake crawls in a more natural way, to the way every enemy reacts appropriately and accordingly to every bullet you pump into them. As sadistic and weird as it may sound, it’s fascinating to watch people die in this game, as it rarely happens the same way multiple times.
Snake’s face has never looked better and neither has the rest of him, with a more muscular character design, as well as sporting the sleekest sneaking suit we’ve seen yet. Keifer Sutherland does a wonderful job portraying our beloved Big Boss, not at all alienating the character or the audience, while bringing an appropriate, grittier air to the character. Tara Strong is also amazing as always, reprising her role as Paz who we know from the previous entry in the storyline, Peace Walker. To my surprise, the weakest voice acting performance came from Snake’s right hand man, Kaz, who is voiced by Robin Atkin Downes, with dialogue in one of the only two short scenes he’s in sounding dry and forced. As for sound effects, guns sound crunchy yet soft at the same time in the best way, making every pull of the trigger a satisfying one. The sound team clearly put a lot of detail in this game, from the clinks and tinks of Snake picking a lock, to the sound of a flag wavering in the wind overhead. Early on in the main mission, I fired a tranquilizer at a guard and missed (as I so often do) and heard the dart bounce off of a large piece of machinery with a perfect pa-ting! before ricocheting off of something else that made a similar effect. I quickly fired another shot which struck the guard in the side of the head with a clean pfk dropping him like a sack of bricks.
Ground Zeroes really likes to show off the Fox engine’s facial capture technology, and with good reason, being that it looks phenomenal. A few of the side missions are designed to showcase this, making the player identify a target by their face. Kojima’s team really achieved their goal of developing the most photorealistic game engine of the modern day with flying colours, and I would love to see it used by more developers, though Kojima will probably keep it all to himself for the Metal Gear series. The cinematic direction is also noteworthy in this game, with angles placed in such key ways that really make the player feel like they’re right beside Snake, along for the ride. The only problem with the visuals is on the last gen versions of the game, where some environmental assets and textures pop in a little delayed. That being said, this game is also condensed into 1.8 GB on PS3.
Gameplay: Ground Zeroes is eager to show off new features, immediately prompting the player to check out Snake’s nifty new binoculars and their function of marking enemy soldiers with an orange triangle and quick x-ray, as well as the ability to listen in on distant conversations. The iDroid, another new addition to Snake’s ever-expanding list of gadgets, contains the game’s map which can be viewed in digital, and aerial photo view. Enemies you’ve marked with your binoculars show up on your map, as well as points of interest like new weapons, and mission objectives. There’s also a menu where you call in an exfiltration helicopter, skim through the most recent dialogue, look up mission information, and listen to cassette tapes on your Walkman which provide some detailed backstory. “iDroid” is also the name of the second screen connectivity app (available on smartphones and tablets), that allows you to perform all of the aforementioned activities in the in-game counterpart, as well as capture screenshots you can save to your phone, or directly upload to Twitter. I used the iDroid to capture all the screenshots you see in this review.
For the first time ever, Snake can roll on his sides while prone, which honestly looks hilarious if you simply hold a direction down, because he’ll roll until he hits an obstacle. He can also now carry an incapacitated enemy on his back while using a pistol, sprint (also a new feature to the Metal Gear series), as well as throw said enemies unreasonably hard (also hilarious). Snake now automatically ducks behind cover when he approaches it, which he can peek over, and can pick locks to access new areas. This is all displayed to the player in the first sixty seconds of the game.
When Snake is spotted, “Reflex mode” is immediately activated, which allows him to draw his weapon and take out the enemy before they alert the whole area to his presence, which is useful, because the AI in this game is very impressive. Weapons are mostly used in third person, but players can switch to iron sights at the flick of a button. Also, the old “alert status” bar is gone, replaced with a quick bit of text letting you know what the alert status of the camp is before quickly disappearing. The vehicles, yet another first for the series, handle expertly and feel natural. If enemies shoot up your vehicle and it catches fire, Snake automatically leaps out of the driver’s seat, allowing him enough time to get away from the explosion. It’s worth seeing Snake get blown away by the explosion at least once though, as it looks, for lack of a better phrase, totally awesome, dude. The first time this happened to me was also how I found out that some parts of the environment are destructible. After my jeep caught fire, I dove out of it, and it rolled into a guard tower, before exploding and blowing the tower to pieces and sending the soldiers surrounding it, and myself, flying.
The level design is also very interesting, fitting multiple smaller environments into one bite-sized open world. Each area acts as its own playground, opening up different gameplay opportunities on every run through.
It’s no secret that Ground Zeroes is a short game, I personally finished it in just over an hour, and I played with a very heavy handed play style, killing almost everyone. Replay value comes in the form of unlocked weapons, a harder difficulty, and 5 side ops missions. There’s also an interesting player records system, which include some weird yet cool records you never knew you wanted such as longest distance headshot, and furthest distance enemy sent flying.
Story: In short, Big Boss is sent into Camp Omega to rescue Chico, as well as locate Paz who was believed to be dead at the end of Peace Walker. The main mission starts off with a short recap of the events of Snake Eater, Peace Walker, as well as some insight on the events between those games and Ground Zeroes. As a fan of the series myself, I won’t diverge any further details because the story is so straight to the point, there’s nothing else I could say without spoiling it. Immediately after the gameplay portion of the main mission, the brutality is cranked up to 11 on a depressing level, so perhaps have a bowl of ice cream ready to cry into/lift your spirits once the credits start rolling. The side ops missions each act as their own small story in the Metal Gear universe, although, they’re all dated before the main mission, and happen to leave a small plot hole in this installment.
The Verdict: Calling Ground Zeroes a cash-grab would be a very simplistic way of under-rating this well executed experiment. Sure, the overall play time of the game is disappointing but the quality of its assets justifies the price tag. This was a fantastic way of setting up the storyline for a future installment, as well as giving the fans a taste of what’s to come in the next installment. The Phantom Pain cannot come soon enough. In all honesty, I wouldn’t be too upset if other major series tried something like this in the future as long as the main release was still over a year away, and the price tag was kept below $30.