“In an era when the world was still divided into East and West…
The Boss, the Mother of Special Forces and hero of World War II, defected to the Soviet Union.
Under orders from the U.S. government, her final apprentice, Naked Snake, took her life.
But for The Boss, her defection was no more than a cover. She was made to sacrifice herself to prevent nuclear war. That was her final mission…” -Introductory Notes from Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
The legacy of Metal Gear Solid is in a category unmatched. Many stealth games come from or pay homage to this legendary franchise. Few narrative experiences, whether video game, film, or novel, are able to rival Metal Gear Solid. Hideo Kojima, the game’s director, has been kind enough to release Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes early in the next-generation of consoles. Though it is just a taste—or rather, a tease—it is an auspicious sign of what’s to come. Coming six years after Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the smash-hit for PlayStation 3, Ground Zeroes tries to whet our appetite with an introduction to a newly-voiced Snake, a new engine, and a new storyline.
As Snake says from the get-go, “Kept you waiting, huh?”
What Is It?
Off the bat, we should be clear: Ground Zeroes is not a full game. Launching at the price of $29.99 across all systems, from last-gen to next-gen, it is still arguably hard to justify as it clocks in anywhere from 1.5-4 hours long. It has been aptly criticized as a tech-demo for the new architecture and new systems. That may indeed be true. But for any fan of the franchise, it seems that the half-priced retail tag is worth justifying simply because we have, indeed, been kept waiting.
Snake has one full mission to play through in Ground Zeroes, coupled with lengthy cutscenes before and after you complete the gameplay segment. While it hardly gets into the depths of what’s to come in next year’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, it does delve into some of the characters and showcase Snake’s new direction. Fans are already ablaze with debate on whether this is a good or bad thing. Instead of the fan-favorite David Hayter who has voiced Snake’s many iterations for well over a decade, the team has gone with the casually recognizable Kiefer Sutherland. While Sutherland does a fine job, it is hard to not immediately be drawn out of the experience when you hear him speak Snake’s lines. You cannot help but think, “that’s not Snake…”
That said, the production values are obviously sky-high and we have to give Sutherland a fair shot. There is not enough narrative content in Ground Zeroes to say whether it will or will not be fine in The Phantom Pain. It’s just important to note that it does, in fact, feel different as a result of this change. Considering this, the rest of the game does indeed feel like a Metal Gear Solid game through-and-through. The stealth combat and gameplay is exciting, can be challenging and mutable should you wish to play one way or another. There are not many new features to the gameplay from what the demonstration shows, but there is an interesting addition with what’s called the iDROID, which allows you to have a sort of command center via telecommunication system. Interestingly, it plays rather well and offers a great way for Snake to maintain intelligence and interact with his surroundings. We are excited to see how this pans out in the full game, or whether it’ll be some sort of gimmick.
Why Should I Care?
Whether you should care or not is going to depend on your level of interest in the franchise. If you are not a Metal Gear Solid fan already, you might want to hold off until the full game releases in the future. This is so short, literally beatable in one sitting or gaming session, that it is unlikely to be a system seller or major victory for Konami and Kojima. Rather, it is a taste of what’s to come. There are several side missions which might keep you playing beyond the single mission demonstration, but not many. At most, you might be drawn back to it in efforts to achieve an S-class ranking on events you have already completed. Beyond that, you might want to use this as a tech-demo to convince your friends to jump into the next-gen systems later on because it does indeed have excellent graphics and sound-design.
Despite the fact that it’s a great tech demo of the next generation, Ground Zeroes is also on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, so realistically you could hold off and just play those editions. We played the PlayStation 4 version of the game which, in our estimation, was beautifully crafted and highly impressive. Surely, however, the game was not so impressive that we would recommend you buy the system just for it. Instead, it might be worth your time to try it out somewhere else or on a last-gen system. For the most die-hard Metal Gear Solid fans, though, you might be very happy with what you see. It plays well, offers an intriguing reveal into what the story might be like, and is indeed gorgeous. So you really should care in the sense that the final release will be such a monumental experience culturally and commercially that you will already be ahead of the game, but you maybe shouldn’t care if you are not already a fan.
What Makes It Worth My Time and Money?
Ultimately, this is the hardest question related to the release of Ground Zeroes. In a big way, it’s not worth your money; but in a bigger way, it’s worth your time. It’s so short that you’ll breeze through it quickly, but the short time you’ll have with it is a great experience. There is enough here that will draw you back a few times maybe, but even with that in mind, is it really worth $29.99? Our recommendation on this end is that Ground Zeroes is worth the price-tag if you want a game that shows off the next-gen technical achievements or if you are a Metal Gear Solid fan. It is not worth it if you are on the fence; there is just not enough here to justify spending half the price of a fully-made game unless this is your bag of chips.
Metal Gear Solid is one of gaming’s favorite franchises. That is undeniably true. But it is a genre-driven game, a story-driven game, and is often criticized for being as much a movie as it is a game. That is also true. Ground Zeroes does not change it up enough to sway converts or fence-sitters. Rather, it is a taste for fans who have, like Snake says, been “kept waiting.”
We are definitely excited for The Phantom Pain and are happy to recommend Ground Zeroes to fans of the series. It is an excellent, albeit short, demonstration of what will be one of the most popular games of the next-generation. We know this is a hard call for some of you. Because it’s a controversial release. Some have even done speed runs of the game clocking in just over ten minutes long. That is absurd, but also irregular. Ground Zeroes will at least net you two hours of good gameplay and a little more if you’re willing to go back in to finish up challenges and side missions. So what are you going to do, buy it or skip it? We’ll leave you with one of the final lines of Ground Zeroes, purposefully kept out of narrative context:
“But you… right now… are free. Do what you will.”
Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart… Rest forever, here in our hearts… the last and final moment is yours… that agony is your triumph! Viva.