Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is simply a masterpiece and a showcase of what Kojima Productions is working towards with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Yes, it is technically a prologue that you get to play while Kojima finishes work on the final product, but on its own, it’s perfectly suited for introducing gamers to the world of Big Boss, and the evolution of the stealth-action franchise. Ground Zeroes, while brief, is worthy of purchase. The PC port is one of the best examples of how to bring a console title to PC, demonstrated by its extra graphical tweaks specifically for PC gamers.
The Metal Gear Solid series has always been a long and crazy storyline that I’ve loved since I was a teenager when the first game came out on the PlayStation. While the story of Big Boss has been less confusing, gamers hopping in Ground Zeroes will benefit from reading the back story graphic novel included to get them up to speed on what has happened so far. In Ground Zeroes, the player is tasked with extracting two characters that have been kidnapped and interrogated by the US Marines at a black site in Cuba. Taking place in 1975, it is well past the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the war on terrorism using any means necessary is central to the plot. It isn’t clear why these characters, Chico and Paz, have been kidnapped, but you’re tasked with recovering them from the base regardless.
While the story mission is roughly an hour and half long, it introduces you to the new game play mechanics for Metal Gear Solid V, and I have to be blunt: The game is a thrill to play. You are given tools to be a predator in the dark or to play it as a cover based shooter or anything in between.
Switching from sneaky to action game is seamless and can be a viable tactic. It was easy to be overwhelmed by groups of Marines, but playing it as an action title is possible with smart choices and liberal use of the first person view to aim down the sights. I have to say that the first person shooting is top notch and rivals even Call of Duty or Battlefield for in how it is implemented. The sandbox nature of Ground Zeroes is the strongest draw to the title. In past Metal Gear titles being caught was a death sentence if you were not prepared for combat. In Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, you have what is called Reflex, and it’s a slow motion trick that gives you time to take out the Marine(s) who saw you if you can react fast enough. While it can make the game easier, there were times where I panicked and missed the two shots I was able to snap off, because the tension drained my reaction time.
Also gone from the series is the cumbersome inventory and weapon management that existed in previous titles. Simple and quick with both mouse and keyboard or with a controller, you switch weapons and items on the fly so adapting your play style is a simple as tapping a button. One issue I had was with the iDroid map screen, navigating and selecting waypoints took a few minutes to figure out how onscreen markers worked. But once you get the hang of how to mark waypoints you’ll be marking important thing to explore or collect. While taking place in one base, there are many nooks and crannies to explore and alternative paths to discover. Small details abound, from reactions to cutting the power in a complex, to a guard being hit with a tranquilizer dart, and they flesh out the world that you exist in. One of the greatest achievements in Ground Zeroes is the feeling that this is a living and breathing base, that this lived in place has been used hard. There were a few instances where multiple interactive items were placed next to each other and using the contextual buttons to interact were glitchy at times. Picking up a weapon instead of the tango you just knocked out can be frustrating, but overall it didn’t happen enough to be a major issue.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is full of Kojima moments, from the dead serious to the loony, and I think outside of the very serious main mission, it’s the Side Ops and Extra Ops where the game shines. After completing the main mission you unlock three other Side Ops which fill in bits of story while mixing up objectives, enemy patterns, and time of day. From rescuing an informant while taking on the soldiers in a helicopter to taking out anti-aircraft guns without getting caught, the Side Ops make great use of the small area it takes place in. The Extra Ops that include both console exclusive missions are great ways of playing with the sandbox that Kojima Productions have made while making great nods to the past games in the series.
The graphics of Ground Zeroes are beautiful to behold on the PC. Running at a constant 60fps with my GTX 770 at 1600*900, everything from the particle effects of the rain to the lens flare is rendered crisply and there are little to no graphical errors to be seen. The Ground Zeroes mission takes place during a tropical storm and the constant rain beating down and the squishy sounds of Big Boss squeaking around was one of the most impressive levels I’ve played in a long time. The mission presents some of the best lighting I’ve ever seen, with shadows moving and blending with flapping canvas of tents to the sweeping spotlights in the watch towers. The audio is also amazing, ambient sounds alerting me to being sighted by enemies with spotlights to the voice acting. While Keifer Sutherland doesn’t speak much as Big Boss, when he does it’s jarring to not hear David Hayter if you’ve been a fan since the original, but after spending roughly twelve hours as Big Boss I’ve gotten used to it. Musically, the game is classic MGS and fresh at the same time. Blending from rousing to quiet depending on onscreen action, it fits well within the series and thematically in game.
While there are some elements in the game that are difficult to justify, it’s based on story and thematic choices that Kojima Productions have chosen for the only female character in the game. While I now understand why a specific event happens, when I first came across the plot point I was confused and disgusted. On further playthrough and pondering the story, it makes sense that Skull Face, a villain that has been introduced briefly, has taken this course of action. While some players might not grasp the depth of the subtle clues laying about of just how horrible this place is for the prisoners, observant ones will find much to ponder in all the Side Ops. One constant thing that kept popping into my mind while playing and learning about the black site were questions that I hope Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain answers.
Overall Ground Zeroes is a package that is well worth the investment for fans and newcomers alike because it’s one of the best stealth games I’ve played in years. The mythology of Metal Gear Solid is deep and rich for exploration and gamers will have hours of content to explore in this title and in the previous games. I am excited to see exactly what The Phantom Pain will be like if its anything like the sandbox Ground Zeroes. It’s a great introduction to the new world of Metal Gear Solid with fantastic evolution of the stealth game play mechanics that Kojima started perfecting decades ago.
Todd Misura is a contributor to Front Towards Gamer.