The gaming industry works on a series of trends. When something is successful, everybody else goes about copying it and milking it for all its worth before moving onto the next big thing. First it was horse armour which started an avalanche of DLC, then it was season passes and physical deluxe versions (and Halo cat helmets) and of course with Gran Turismo and Metal Gear Solid, those games were so huge, the people in charge decided to do the gamers a huge favour and give us a second game and thus we got prologue titles. As a rather skint gamer with far too many platforms to maintain and games to buy, I can’t complain too much if other people are paying extra.
As with Gran Turismo, Metal Gear Solid V’s development was a long one. Series stalwart producer and director Hideo Kojima wanted a new engine, one that was able to provide incredible graphic performance across an open world. As past Metal Gear’s had always been point to point linear affairs, this required the development of the new Fox Engine which was also shared with other Konami titles such as the Pro Evolution Soccer series. This meant longer development times and increased staff costs and thus a prologue title Metal Gear Solid V : Ground Zeroes was born.
If you haven’t been keeping up with the series, Metal Gear has a bit of a weird timeline across its titles. Effectively they are split up into two camps, or at least that’s how I like to look at it. The modern games include Metal Gear Solid 1, 2 and 4 features Solid Snake and they are set from approximately the 90’s onwards. The cold war games include Metal Gear Solid 3, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP), Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and they feature Big Boss. A couple of NES/MSX titles Metal Gear 1 and 2 straddle the modern and historic games. For added complexity both Solid Snake and Big Boss use basically the same character model. If you play them in release order, the timeline jumps around, but that’s how Kojima wants you to follow the story.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes then is the prologue of the main game Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It takes place after Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker in the 70s and about 8 years before The Phantom Pain. In this essentially small chapter (it is only about two hours long), the mission and story is rather simple. Hostiles have captured Chico and Paz and held them imprisoned on an island in Cuba and its Snake’s (Big Boss) job to infiltrate the enemy base and extract the prisoners. The game is rather lackadaisical about bringing you up to speed on the controls and what you’re supposed to be doing. If you like that sort of thing, that’s great. If you don’t you might be very lost at the start. You are dropped off outside the base and you’re basically on your own though you do get a bit of help from the Colonel thru the radio as to what the controls are, but its easy to miss or not be able to wrap your head around it. There is a Log in the menu in case you do want to read up on old audio cues.
The game takes a bit of trial and error to begin with, but as its a short game, it helps to lengthen it a little. At first I was just running from cover to cover and then jumping out as I pleased, but I soon learned that I was being spotted by the large spotlights on enemy towers or enemy soldiers with flash lights which then all hell would break lose and I’d get shot to pieces. Instead I had to scope out the surroundings and plan out my path of attack and pick my battles. The game has been greatly improved from past games, the last game in the series I played was MGS3 and there the controls were fiddly in particular on the Vita and the AI was pretty threadbare, once you set off an enemy alarm, you could always run out of the current area and into the next and the enemies wouldn’t be able to follow you. Not so in MGS V now that its set in an open world. You need to go back in hiding and wait it out or take out the enemies by force. The gun combat as well as the hand to hand combat is far easier this time around, the guns are easier to use and very satisfying in a third person view (as opposed to previous top down views of the series such as MGS 3) and the hand to hand combat is simple as most of it is a one shot kill either by slamming the enemy to the ground or against a wall. Some anomalies are still in the series, things like guards searching for a limited amount of time before forgetting about you, but I guess it is in the end a video game, so it probably would be no fun if the AI hunted you down endlessly like a Navy Seal.
One of the most impressive things about this game, and even though I’m playing it in 2017 some 3 years later after its release, is that the graphics are truly stunning. The art direction in particular is just perfection, though you may think its just set on a drab enemy army base, there’s a wow factor here just like the first time I played MGS 2 on the tanker. In a lesser developer’s hands, the game would just look average and boring, but the game is beautiful to look at. The lighting as you can see from the screenshots is also amazing. It’s still going to look fantastic come the end of the generation.
The gameplay and graphics are great and there is no doubt of its quality, however I have two main issues with the game. The first is that the game is far too short even as a budget title. Fans will say, there is plenty of content here if you include all the side OPs and achievements, but if you’re there for the main story, the game can be finished in less than 2 hours including all the trial and error you need to do to figure the game out. If you buy this game as part of Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience which includes both MGS V titles plus all the DLC, then that would be a worthy purchase, but by itself I’d rather save the $5 and read up a wiki on the events of Ground Zeroes.
The second issue is a bit more subjective and that is the presence of Jack Bauer voicing Snake. I can’t think of any reason why Kojima would want Kiefer Sutherland unless he had a falling out with David Hayter who voiced Snake in the past games. Not only does Kiefer stand out far too much but he brings his best Jack Bauer impersonation with him, and you can feel it in a bunch of lines like “WHERE IS HE????”. If they just used Jack Bauer’s face it wouldn’t be so bad but it doesn’t fit Snake one bit.
The saving grace is that for a MGS title, Kojima has kept himself in check with his script as its far tighter than his past works, which is only a good thing considering the MGS 4 final cutscene ran for 90 minutes. Thus the Jack Bauer presence is somewhat minimised here in Ground Zeroes though it remains to be seen for the final game.
Overall, MGS V: Ground Zeroes is a fine game, but its really hampered by the fact that I wouldn’t really pay for something like this. 2 hours for $5 (when discounted on Steam), there are longer demoes and alphas and betas that don’t charge you to try the game. Better yet, you could probably watch the entire thing on Youtube for free.