You can’t always trust first impressions, and in the case of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, there is no truer statement. Initial assumptions by many put this game as being short, too expensive, and just a cashed in piece of pre-DLC to The Phantom Pain. Even I, as a massive Metal Gear Solid fan, found myself hesitant at the thought of paying $30 for what appeared to be the size and scope of a Borderlands expansion pack, and while those are pretty expansive, it just didn’t seem like a good value at that price point. I was wrong, but just how wrong was I?
Finally getting the game into my hands showed me where these assumptions stemmed from. Yes, the level is fairly small when you consider that is the entirety of the game’s map. Yes, the main story mission has been beaten by some in under five minutes (took me just over an hour my first time through), meaning that there is very little story to the latest entry in a narrative-centric series. Yes, this game is a big tease for what The Phantom Pain is promised to be. However, spending any amount of time with Ground Zeroes will allow you to uncover little gems that help it to stand for itself just a little bit despite these characteristics that many will view as faults.
For fans interested in the continuation of the Metal Gear saga, Ground Zeroes picks up almost immediately following the events in Peace Walker and bridges the gap over to how Big Boss falls into the coma that he wakes from in the beginning of The Phantom Pain trailer. It’s short enough on content that I could recap it for in in the space of a paragraph if I felt so inclined. That tiny bit of narrative is not much at all, and rather than helping my appetite, has only made me rabid for more Metal Gear. Perhaps that’s exactly the effect Kojima wanted it to have. Either way, this game is easily the least story-focused of any Metal Gear title, and that fact alone may be enough to turn away prospective buyers.
Gameplay has changed somewhat from what you may know. Gone is the always-on radar, the alert countdowns, and the inventory selection system from previous MGS titles. While in some ways I miss them, I got used to playing the new style fairly quickly. This could also be seen as a reason for releasing this game separately from The Phantom Pain. To make such a drastic change right away could have been jarring and may have made players view The Phantom Pain in a different light. This way, players have a chance to ease their way into the new style the The Phantom Pain will be bringing with it. Radar is still present and can be viewed through your iDroid while not moving, or via the MGSV connectivity app on your own smartphone, but be warned, the game doesn’t pause while digging through the mission objectives, inventory, or radar. The world continues around you, which adds another level of strategy to Ground Zeroes. This isn’t a new feature in games, but it is certainly new for Metal Gear.
The influence of Peace Walker can be heavily felt throughout Ground Zeroes. That’s no surprise given that this is a direct follow up, and that The Phantom Pain will reportedly maintain the mechanic of building up your base similarly to how Peace Walker played. The extra missions outside of the main story segment are reminiscent of the side ops and extra ops in the PSP title. All taking place in the same base camp area as the Ground Zeroes mission, the extra ops will task you with things such as retrieving intel or rescuing inside agents. The size and open feel of the base allow these objectives to be completed in a variety of ways, and upon playing them again, I found myself entranced with testing different methods for completing each objective.
Cinematic enormity has always been a staple of the Metal Gear games and the Fox Engine feels like it was built to facilitate just that. The engine allows each scene to feel like something straight off of the silver screen, with dynamic shots, lighting, and even depth of field. The transition from cutscene to gameplay is done seamlessly to show you that everything is running in-engine, and to make the actual gameplay feel just as cinematic as the scenes to precede or follow. Once again, it is a huge tease and a small morsel of what The Phantom Pain will be.
Ground Zeroes is littered with secrets and backstory beyond just the main mission. Completing the extra missions will net you rewards such as tapes that give you a look into the characters that will take the stage in The Phantom Pain, like the oft glimpsed baddie, Skull Face. You can also unlock additional equipment and trials that increase the replay value of each mission. These little rewards for constant play help to make Ground Zeroes not feel as small as it should. With that, I still could never shake that there was just something missing. I kept digging, wanting to find more, but I always felt that Ground Zeroes was delivering just less than what I really desired. It’s like repeatedly playing a tutorial mission but not being able to jump into the main game.
On the one hand, it may not seem fair to judge a game based upon its price. Prices can change, price drops and sales can occur, so a final score shouldn’t be affected but what the retail value is. On the other, the value obtained by the purchaser is important, and if a game isn’t delivering enough value for the player, they have a right to know. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a piece of something great but it always felt short of something whole. Kojima released this to tease and whet the appetites of the Metal Gear fans that were begging for more. If you fall into that camp, then you have probably already have your mind made up. For anyone who has never played a Metal Gear game however, I can’t recommend that this be your first foray down the nanomachine-filled rabbit hole.
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