[As Read on GIO.]
A Snake Has the Time of His Life…
Well, A Fleeting Time- Before a Near-Death Conclusion.
First of all, before I truly start this review in earnest, I want to point out a few things that have been of major concern to several people I’ve talked with or read reviews from who played Ground Zeroes. The length is probably the number one thing that I’ve heard the most complaints regarding, from nearly every source I’ve come across. Now, the length coupled with the price tag is definitely the number one biggest source of animosity and disillusion I’ve heard thus far. These two factors definitely detract a lot from an otherwise respectable and representable MGS experience. Ground Zeroes never claimed to be anything other than an opening act to The Phantom Pain or whatever the hell we’re finally calling the true MGS V, despite all the confusion that has circulated about the two connected yet not-so connected titles. So, confusing- sure, piss poor price tag skills- definitely, good game- decently so.
Now, without too much rattling on about the bare-bones yet still pretty good generation of content, and the exploration and experience involved in this prelude act to MGS V, I’m going to abandon ship and sink into deep waters here for what will surely be an interesting review (and receive some less than pleasing feedback). I live to serve, people- remember that before you flay me alive, if you will. Jokes and Game of Thrones references aside, truly, I must move onto the actual review portion now. We’ll try to keep the subjectivity to a minimum… *cough um *cough sort of.
No doubt you’ve noticed that Ground Zeroes is provoking some conflicting review scores from nearly every source you look to- and that the only thing people can truly seem to clearly and coherently agree on is the price tag being heavily inflated for the experience offered. Other than that, even here on Game Informer alone, you can easily take one glance at the user reviews section and see the vast discrepancies in reviews- ranging from terrible (3) to mediocre (6.5) to awesome (9). So, what’s the honest take on it? Well, that of course is all subjective, and up to you to make for yourself, should you choose to brave the shark infested waters and purchase the game. If you have already done so, then no doubt you’ve made some observations of your own, and either enjoyed the brief experience (a highly replayable one too, for its short spanse) or not. All in all, isn’t free will a beautiful thing? Would you kindly move on to the next paragraph now and here me out?
As just about anybody else- fans of the series especially, can probably attest, I was pretty enthusiastic about gearing up to snake make my way through a few levels in this prologue experience. However, what I didn’t expect was the entire experience to be just that- a prologue mission. Literally, one mission! Well, sure- it has some side content and whatnot as well, but the main experience lasts only about fifty minutes or so at best, making it a lengthy mission but a short full-package of content. Thankfully, the side content adds in a replayability factor and the changing variables of the open world camp setting do just the same, however, in total you’d be hard pressed to clock out more than four hours of in-game time here. Ground Zeroes is truly the evolution of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, however I am torn between hoping it is representative of The Phantom Pain and not wanting it to be. Allow me to explain further: the mechanics work well and the game is excellent, however the length, price tag, and general experience are not worth the trouble at all.
But enough about the bad- for now anyways, let’s talk about what this ‘game’ (download, really) does best and does well. The graphics are definitely next generation worthy, as the environmental setting- though similar throughout the tiny open expanse looks wonderful. The facial animations and modeling both in cinematic sequences and in-game normal gameplay mesh perfectly. And the additional effects to cameras and action- such as kicking up dust, rain, and dirt make it more realistic and gritty in more ways than one. Some things have undoubtedly changed between MGS 4 and Ground Zeroes in terms of design, but I must say I enjoy the new look as well as I enjoyed and loved the old. It’s the next stage in the evolution of the series. However, as wonderful as it will look and pleasing to the eye things seem, story-wise there is something much darker, gritter, and serious going on- also a change of pace for an otherwise somewhat comical series (in the past, as enemies and certain encounters go).
As much as it is warming up for a sequel to MGS 4, Ground Zeroes does not necessarily follow the canonical timeline as such- setting it more near the Peace Walker area than that of MGS 4. As such, the game features recurring characters such as Paz and Chico- operatives no doubt familiar in sight (and looking better, if not worse for wear) and moniker. Snake (and for the duration of this review I will refer to him as Snake, just because) heads to the prison camp slash base known as Camp Omega, and this is where the vast majority of Ground Zeroes’ action takes place- though cinematic sequences in the end and at other moments will take players to other locations as well. As strangely as it may seem- especially for a Metal Gear Solid game, the sneaking around and infiltrating the base portion of the gameplay actually goes off without a major hitch (well, unless you alert everyone that is…) however it is the ensuing exfil that complicates things a little bit (aka a ton).
Now, I’m not going to spoil the already short experience, but story wise I must say I enjoyed what content Ground Zeroes included- especially the slightly…depressing push at the end. You can definitely see how it serves as a prelude to Phantom Pain, and that this world is a much more dangerous, new one than the old MGS one we are all used to. Having seen the lengths to which Konami is willing to go here, I’m terrified for Snake and everyone in Phantom Pain because they’re sure to have a roller coaster ride of an experience, and I’m not even sure if anyone will make it out alive…much less intact. This is definitely the darkest that Metal Gear has gone, and after the comedic hiccup that was Revengeance- a good but significantly different game, I’m psyched to see what they can accomplish now. It’s just a shame that- despite replayability factors and all, there is still only one main mission in this thirty dollar bundle. A little loosely threaded if you ask me, but then again they need money to fund things and I did after all purchase their game- early too, I might add.
Quality may be a huge concern with people, especially those concerned with the price versus content argument, however for what it’s worth I found the quality to be impressive (or at least standard) in all aspects of the game. Yes, it is true that the brunt of the narrative is told in the first ten and last ten minutes, and that what follows between is your singular rescue mission revolving around Paz and Chico. However, I was impressed by the new ideas they’ve presented and the open ended format given to players in their inevitably different approaches to Omega in each subsequent playthrough. That coupled with tackling a different set of side mission and goals each time makes the short experience at least a marginally entertaining and interesting one, and in my book that is always chocked up as a victory of sorts.
Players can collect collectible items- such as Fox Unit Patches, search ardently for special heavy weapons and operating tools (rifles and launchers), or rescue side targets that pop up around camp during your mission. Everything is neat in execution and interesting, even if it doesn’t really relate to the story at hand or alter the gameplay significantly at any point. The best thing I noticed about tackling the mission yet again is that you are surely going to improve with each subsequent playthorugh as you find faster escape routes, clearer routes in terms of guards, and generally execute your mission in faster, more cautious, more professional manners. Though it is an open world, there is a little bit of illusion here- stemming from the fact you only have one main goal: rescuing your imprisoned operative friends. However, I don’t think this detracted from the experience, and I enjoyed the methods of experimentation allowed in how I approached the given scenario on hand.
It’s good to see that the side mission operations themselves add a little more flavor than the patch hunting and weapon locating, as they at least give you a mixed up array of variables and conditions to deal with- albeit still set in Omega’s locale. While the scenery is the same, your goal is changed each time- depending on whether you need to stealthily blow up turret emplacements or provide covering fire for another operative. I liked the change of pace even if the ten or so side operations didn’t last too terribly long or add all that much to the already scant offering. Practice makes perfect though, and despite not being able to play each op and main mission in one playthrough, you do keep your talents and upgrades/weapons pool alive between perfected runs (well, not that there really are upgrades, but you’ll understand).
Truthfully, I’m not surprised- after having played Ground Zeroes, that it disappointed many fans and even some newcomers to the series. I think newcomers especially expected something truly engrossing and phenomenal, and they simply didn’t get that. Fans of course expected an overarching, huge experience- and they didn’t get that either. However, what Ground Zeroes does deliver on is excellent, polished gameplay and mechanics, thrilling new tweaks and special, well-thought out additions to stealth action (see reflex mode, a mode giving you precious seconds of reaction when suddenly spotted), and skipping the traditional codex screens in favor of on-the-fly commentary from Kaz (with a simple button press). I’ll leave it up to you whether or not you deem this game worthwhile to place, based on what information I’ve provided you and attempted to explain in the easiest possible way without fear of spoilers. Despite the short showing here, I definitely think that everything (mechanics-wise) here and an added progression system and beefed up story could really make Phantom Pain a phenomenal, polished title.
While sadly the special pre-order and console specific content limits you in which version of the game you choose to buy, if you have the opportunity I heartily recommend either of the next generation consoles as the way to go- obviously the look and perform the best of all of the versions of the game, due of course to hardware advances. Whether or not you choose a Sony touted console though or a Microsoft one further complicates matters, as each offers a different additionally packaged mission. However, as neither of these missions is really anything special, you can feel free to choose relatively without fear, which version you’d like to buy if you have both or all systems. What a lucky person you’d be if that were your only dilemma whilst thinking of purchasing the game… Anyway, I guess it’s time to move on to our final segment here.
Concept: Provide a prologue to the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V and showcase the new darker, grittier world that Boss Snake and his compatriots inhabit, as well as a flashy next-generation engine and some innovations in the classic gameplay. What it doesn’t mention however is the shameful content versus price index on the box, however that can be tackled as you see fit- either with torches and pitchforks outside Kojima’s office or hope for the full-length game soon coming.
Graphics: There’s no question that this is a next generation title and boasts a very impressive and detailed, strong engine in Konami’s Fox engine, as Ground Zeroes looks and plays mighty fine and smoothly throughout.
Sound: The ambient noise and the low-key soundtrack of accompanying bowings and chords meshes well with the stealth and surprise encounters Boss finds himself in, but are easily overshadowed by a fantastic (if new) performance by Kiefer Sutherland- who has since replaced Daid Hayter as the voice of Snake, at least for the time being. Personally, I think both men have excellent talent in voice acting, so I wasn’t terribly torn when I heard someone new was voicing the character, weird a time as it was.
Playability: There are the occasional hiccups when you’re getting used to the control scheme, but aside from initial issues, the controls and the encounters they save your life in mesh perfectly and run smoothly and well for the duration of the game. No matter how hectic the gameplay gets, I constantly found myself able to get out of sticky situations so long as I knew the correct buttons to press and the limits to which I could push the Boss.
Entertainment: Now, this is going to be the sticker right here. What content there is proves to be highly entertaining, as short on story and time consumption as that is. However, I just can’t get past the fact that there isn’t enough to go around, meaning for all its solid mechanics and things Ground Zeroes does correctly, this section takes the hardest hit to the score. It could’ve been a lot worse, and I’ve been very kind with my score, but even I can’t overlook this.
Replay Value: Moderate.
Overall Score: 8.0