Metal Gear Solid is undoubtedly one of gaming’s finest achievements. A few years ago, having not even played a MGS title, I could still have easily identified the trademark gravel voice of David Hayter and the “!” iconography due to the amount of attention it garnered in popular culture and Egorapter cartoons. Since those dark days, I’ve been able to play the classic MGS games (my personal favorite being Snake Eater) and despite my general distaste for Guns of the Patriots – I awaited Ground Zeroes with the eagerness of a buoyant idealist. Hearing it would be available on all consoles, finally cracking its Sony-only fetish, came as an added delight and so when my Xbox copy finally arrived in the post I couldn’t wait to tuck in.
I’ve been deliberating whether or not to review the games’ narrative simply or in great depth. To cater for those who prefer the latter, I can recommend that there’s an incredibly lazy 11-paged fully-texted ‘backstory’ option that you can access from the games home menu. This details anything that may be of relevance to Ground Zeroes in the Metal Gear timeline, however all the newcomers really need to know is that Snake (Big Boss) is to infiltrate a Cuban military base ran by the Fallout-Ghoul-esque mercenary, Skull Face. His objective appears simple at first: to rescue two important characters from Peace Walker (Chico & Paz) and extract them from the Guantanamo reminiscent hellhole of which they’re being kept. It’s a neat enough premise, however it only really offers its full potential to those that faithfully follow the Metal Gear timeline. To anyone else it reads a simple “you’re a soldier, they’re the target, extract them”. There’s a danger of getting carried away with the fairies on this one, naturally the series has a huge pedigree and MGS 4 carried with it the hour-long interstitials that challenged the patience of its most avid fans, but all the backstory in the world can’t hide the fact the game is particularly light on story. It’s also light on a number of other things, too…
Yes – you may have heard of the games’ short length, so I’ll dissect that at a later point. For now I’ll focus on the positives, for which there are definitely a few. Visually the game takes things to the next level, particularly in the character design department – these guys look more realistic than ever having been fully motion captured with FOX facial recognition. During the games’ cutscenes I was constantly yanked back to Heavy Rain – the complexion of characters skin and the vibrancy behind the eyes were all facets that impressed me with Quantic Dream and they continue to impress me now with Kojima Productions. The layered lighting, weather and attention to detail in many of the indoor environments were particularly appealing to me as a fan of nice-looking games, however this level of detail often went punished with multiple glitches and a lack of cohesiveness in correlation to headshotting/hitting the target. One glitch myself and a friend spotted happened mid-way through the game (so half an hour in, basically) where we thought we’d uncovered a statue – only to find it was a floating corpse holding his invisible gun. Not devastating by any means, yet it was enough to ruin my immersion for a little while.
Equally, the production values are impressive – the audio is strikingly palpable, not just in regards to Sutherland’s hotly debated voice acting but right through to Kojima’s version of “audio logs” which in this instance take shape as cassette tapes. Here, sound is used wisely to help players discern where to take the next steps in their quest – and quite often the tapes are more grizzly and brutal than obvious and convenient. I found the tapes delivered a nice tension between necessity and atmosphere – listening to a woman being abused for 2 minutes really gets under your skin, however when you realize you need to listen to it in order to figure out your next move – that’s a stroke of creative brilliance.
Sadly that’s where the positives seem to end. I can identify exactly how the game has attempted to re-establish itself as the gritty older brother to the already heavy Guns of the Patriots – the setting is darker, the subject matter is extreme and both the protagonist and antagonist are grizzly in equal measure. Yet I have to concede Ground Zeroes wasn’t groundbreaking by any means; a lot of the stealth and choice given to the player reminded me of some of the early Hitman Absolution missions, with significantly less freedom due to everything taking place in one area. The close-combat was frequently clunky and in regards to headshotting it didn’t seem as though the game really took into account wind and distance – if you placed the reticule fairly bang on the target you’d get it almost every time. The cover-system was also too loose for my liking, a game like Gears of War leaves no excuse for slipping out of cover as you can lock yourself comfortably against a wall – here you slip around in and out of cover like stubborn pasta in a saucepan. This may not bother a lot of gamers, yet I’m sure the majority will agree that in a game like Metal Gear it’s absolutely vital that you can depend upon your cover. These were contributing factors that left my overarching opinion of the game, and my estimations for next years’ The Phantom Pain, as being predominantly action-orientated as it couldn’t seem to handle some of the more basic elements of stealth play.
Naturally, the length is something I must address. I knew the game was short, averaging out at roughly 1-3 hours depending on how long you wanted to take. I expected to play a few short missions worth and be happy with that – what I got was 1 short mission and then credits. When those credits rolled, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (so I did both). Honestly, I’ve never played a game that excretes such an uncomfortable air of self-indulgence as this. I was treated to a nice 10-minute credits-heavy introduction, telling me that this was a Hideo Kojima production, based on characters by Hideo Kojima, written by Hideo Kojima, directed by the one and only Hideo Kojima, featuring the fantastic audio of… just one song, by Ennio Morricone (I’m surprised Kojima didn’t fancy tackling this one too.) I played roughly 15 minutes of gameplay and then couldn’t skip another 10 minute end-credits re-confirming the sparkling array of talent I’d already seen just quarter of an hour ago. This just didn’t cut it for me, an unacceptable offering. It’s almost laughable – the DLC of BioShock Infinite lasts five times longer than this game, with more gameplay variety – arguably better visuals and more of a narrative. It also costs a fraction of the price and hasn’t marketed itself as a fully packaged title on various consoles. I don’t actually mind the length of Ground Zeroes, as it also comes bundled in with a few extra playable missions (execute 2 targets, destroy two anti-air guns etc.) however it doesn’t then make this a £30 A-grade title. Once you’ve completed the main mission, a graphic appears telling you you’ve completed 9%. This made my friend jump for joy: “oh there must be loads more to do”– and instantly I knew what that other 91% would consist of. Re-playing the same missions again on different difficulties, discovering all the cassette tapes and getting an A-grade on every mission. In my mind, absolutely trivial facets that only offer something to the slim percentage of perfectionists out in the world. Just padding, just stocking-filler.
So what are my final opinions towards Ground Zeroes? Well, for some reason – I can’t wait for Phantom Pain. It’s successfully wet my appetite; I love the production values and the visual style. As far as a BETA or a demo goes – Ground Zeroes does the perfect job setting up the full game for the future. Yet my opinions towards this game are sadly laced with distaste due to the general reason that it doesn’t feel anything like a real game. For those who aren’t fortunate enough to receive copies of games to review, I can’t imagine how you would feel spending £30 on something that can be completed in 10 minutes. Honestly, there isn’t much replayability or groundbreaking content worth sticking around for – it’s fairly average and stands atop the shoulders of earlier giants in order to be where it is now. Ground Zeroes should really be free for the public, or at least available for a few pounds and to come exclusively bundled with a BETA for Phantom Pain that only those that have paid for the game can access. As it stands, it feels like I’ve got more packaging on my desk than I have entertainment – and that’s something I’ve not encountered in all my years as a journalist before…