There are not too many games that warrant a prologue that is released separately, and is not just a demo. Polyphony Digital released an early version of Gran Turismo 5 soon after the launch of the PlayStation 3. This prologue released for $39.99. When Ground Zeroes was announced as an early release for the upcoming Phantom Pain, it was initially going to release for that same price. Hideo Kojima then dropped the price to $29.99 because he wanted everyone to experience his new vision for the Metal Gear series. Many people griped about having to pay that much money for what they considered a “demo”. However, Ground Zeroes is much more than a demo, and it is even deeper than most DLC packs on the market. The experience for the price is unbelievable.
Ground Zeroes takes place after the events of Peace Walker (PSP release). This game bridges the events from Peace Walker and the upcoming Phantom Pain. Set in 1975, the game focuses on Big Boss/Snake as the main protagonist. Snake is now voiced by Kiefer Sutherland, a change from the franchise staple David Hayter. The game's setting is a Cuban island known as Camp Omega, which seems to be an American blacklist site for keeping refugees. The island involves multiple camps, a coastline, and some warehouses. The island crawls with Marines and soldiers, and how Snake deals with them is up to you. Kojima emphasizes that players can use stealth, or they can use heavy action to accomplish their mission. The decision comes down to the player’s mood, and allows for multiple approaches to each mission.
The main mission involves rescuing two characters from the Peace Walker game, Paz and Chico. Besides being given a general idea of an area of location, it is up to the players to figure out where the prisoners are located. This certainly adds to the difficulty of the game. Snake can now interrogate soldiers and they will provide information on certain items, including hints of prisoner locations. After you obtain that information, you can kill them, knock them out, or let them go. Once the prisoner is rescued, you will need to call in a helicopter to extract the prisoner as there are multiple locations on the island to assign the pick-up.
There are other missions to unlock along the way, along with harder difficulties. Ground Zeroes features different times of day, along with weather changes. The main mission starts at night during a thunderstorm. Unlike originally thought, the time does not progress during each mission. It is much harder to be detected during the night, as the day you are pretty exposed. Unlike some other franchises, there are no indicators that you are hiding, as you will have to trust the brush or lighting you disguise Snake in. Ground Zeroes will involve a lot of trial and error, as once you figure out the location of the necessary people and become familiar with the area, the missions can be completed fairly quickly.
The A.I. responds realistically, and it’s much harder during the day time. If Snake becomes detected, especially in the dark, the A.I. will shoot at the location he was last reported. Ground Zeroes lacks a lot of the things that helped define previous Metal Gear titles such as the sound effects. A lot of the goofiness from the previous games has been removed, and this might be part of the reason Kojima went with Sutherland as the voice of Snake. Gone are the alert timers, as well, as the game has a much more serious and dramatic feel to it. There is now an indicator from the direction of where Snake was spotted. Time also will slow down, much like Bullet Time, if Snake is officially confirmed being seen by a soldier. This allows getting a few shots off to limit bringing attention to the area.
Ground Zeroes controls well, but still has some quirks that have always been apparent in the series. The biggest issue is crawling on the ground and attempting to turn around. It just feels clunky, but doing so improves with practice. Some camera issues persist, as well, mainly during cover. Vehicles can be driven in the game, and this responds really well. Shooting and combat feel more comfortable than they ever have before.
Even though Ground Zeroes isn’t considered a “full game”, it is quite possibly the most beautiful game ever made. The engine will be used in Phantom Pain, and the textures, lighting, and animation are unbelievable. Lots of times you will come across amazing looking screenshots for a game, but then the animation in the game seems awkward or it’s choppy and sluggish. This is not the case with Ground Zeroes, as it runs at 60 frames per second. The lighting actually gives the idea that you are at the location, especially during the day. You will even marvel at Snake’s hair flowing in the wind. There is next to no clipping, and the only drop in frame rate this reviewer experienced was while lying down in the grass and even that was hard to notice. There are also no load times during the game.
The voice acting and sound effects are on par with the Metal Gear series. The elephant in the room is Kiefer Sutherland. As mentioned above, he is much more dramatic as Snake in comparison to David Hayter. Unfortunately he doesn’t capture Snake like Hayter did, but he still does a sufficient job. This might have to do with Kojima’s new vision of Snake. With the soundtrack, the game felt more like a movie than any previous version from the series. Lastly, the PS4 version integrates the Dualshock 4 speaker when new information is presented. However, most of the time it’s too quiet and it mostly pops up when dialog is being spoken in the game. There is no option to adjust the volume of the speaker in the game, and there definitely needs to be.
Other games have been released, for full price, which offer less than Ground Zeroes does. The first playthrough of all the missions can easily take 10-15 hours, and there will be a lot of experimentation in accomplishing your mission. Kojima wants to assure there is no linearity to these missions as he wants to give players multiple ways of approaching the game. The control quirks aside, Ground Zeroes feels like the first true next generation experience. The game is a great sampling of what to expect from Phantom Pain, but there is enough content to make Ground Zeroes more than just a sampling. You will find yourself replaying missions over and over.
+ Some of the greatest looking visuals to date.
+ Multiple ways to accomplish mission.
+ A great experience for $30.
- Some quirky control issues.
- Kiefer Sutherland as Snake isn’t bad, but he isn’t fantastic either.
- Dualshock 4 speaker implementation is basically rendered useless.
A download code of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for PlayStation 4 was provided by Konami.