Thanks to recent deals for Xbox Live Gold members, I finally picked up Ground Zeroes, the prologue that leads into Hideo Kojima’s upcoming Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain.
Anyone who has played games in the Metal Gear Solid series before knows to expect insane plots and cutscenes longer than some television shows. What they might not expect from this latest episode though is a focused mission that shows a great future for the franchise but is let down by the ultimate brevity of the whole package.
You play Snake aka Big Boss, sent in at night to rescue colleagues imprisoned in a camp with shades of Guantanamo Bay. You have a variety of means at your disposal to aid you in your mission but sneaking in and out is the one with the biggest pay off.
The game plays similarly enough to most third person shooters. Movement and camera are consistent and handle well. Attacks are contextual which allows for some fast shooting and melee action and is really effective to see in game. I am also grateful that the default control scheme feels familiar to most games on Xbox as I remember having a terrible time adapting to the controls in MGS4 on the PS3.
AI seems impressive at first with how enemies respond to movement then attempt to investigate with flashlights but during firefights you can see the game falling back to the tropes of earlier games with enemies rushing in only to die then giving up the chase after you hide for a minute or two. I know it’s all for keeping the gameplay lean and mean but it can allow for a lot of abuse of the system for those with an itchy trigger finger.
The biggest change to game is that the whole level is presented to you in an open world (or “sandbox”) fashion allowing the player to find their own path or methods to save the prisoners. After years of traversing tightly controlled sections within previous games, it’s a pleasure to be able to traverse the whole level without worrying about pauses as Snake enters new areas.
Game length on first run through is only a couple of hours at most but could potentially be even shorter if the player is either familiar with the genre or is lucky. Completion opens up different scenarios to give some incentive to revisit the level a second time or to complete some side objectives. A lot will depend on how much the player enjoys themselves.
Visually the game looks good but only shows its best during cutscenes and that could be more due to the direction of those than the technology. Audio is great. Kiefer Sutherland provides the voice of Snake and is used sparingly which is likely a result of the length of the game. I wished though he could have gone full on Jack Bauer on everyone; might not be great for a stealth game to run at everyone screaming “WHERE ARE THE PRISONERS!” but damn it would be awesome.
Speaking of cutscenes, the closer is classic MGS with an epic length sequence that brings the mission to an effective end while clearly showing the player that this leads directly into The Phantom Pain. If you’re a fan it’s a highlight.
And that’s my biggest gripe; with the length of the game and how it presents itself I get the impression this could easily have been the opening sequence to The Phantom Pain (and looks like it’d work perfectly like that) but for some reason its been cut from the game and pushed onto us in a bid to get more money from gamers eager for a new game in the series. Worse still, the price (full price $50AU) is closer to a retail disc title than a digital game yet you get less.
Compare it to Dead Rising 2 Case Zero on the 360 which offered a similar deal in that it was an introduction to the full game yet sold for less than ten dollars; it really makes you question the value of it and certainly makes me glad to have waited for a sale before making the purchase.
Overall, it does deliver on showing players what to expect when the “real” Metal Gear Solid V arrives but I worry the value of the package as a whole might do more to alienate gamers than to convince them the long wait will be worth it.