Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for PC Review

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I’ve wanted to play through the Metal Gear franchise for a long while and it’s what I heard about Metal Gear Solid V that gave me the kick I needed to start this journey. That is playing the canon games in release order. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the gameplay of Metal Gear Solid V and the open world aspect of Phantom Pain intrigues me. Metal Gear Solid V is split into two games, Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain and The Definitive Experience comes with both titles along with any DLC.

Developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was released for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One in March, 2014 and PC in December of that same year. For this review, I played the PC version. I am going to state up front that Ground Zeroes feels more like a prologue, just a taste of what’s to come. It is a very short experience and you can actually beat it in under ten minutes. To be clear, I’m specifically referring to the part of the game that’s actually relevant to the overarching narrative. But it was released as an individual title so that’s how we’re treating it.

The player once again assumes the role of Snake. Set after the events of Peace Walker, the Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF) learn that Paz Ortega Andrade is detained at an American black site in Cuba called Camp Omega along with Chico who was captured while attempting to rescue her. Snake is sent to infiltrate Camp Omega and extract them. That’s really the gist of the plot in Ground Zeroes. The story is conveyed through cut scenes and cassette tapes, some of which are unlocked and others that are found in the environment.

Ground Zeroes does touch on the topic of sexual violence and the way it’s handled here is bizarre. What’s actually taking place, how it’s written, and the voice performances are all questionable. I appreciate that it’s at least portrayed as a horrible thing which it absolutely should be but the dialogue during this event is terrible. Terrible for the actual subject matter. Part of the problem is the serious nature of the subject matter conflicting with the hammy performance of the villain. I just don’t think the two things gel together very well. I’m all for a story tackling serious and even taboo subjects but it’s got to be done correctly and I think the writing and performances here don’t quite hit the mark.

One element I found a little jarring at first is the voice of Snake. As you may or may not know, David Hayter was replaced with Kiefer Sutherland. If you’ve played the prior games, then you’ve spent a lot of time listening to David’s performance as Snake so when I heard Kiefer’s voice come out of Snake’s mouth, I admit I was taken aback at first. I knew this information going in but it just didn’t click, I guess. Nevertheless, I do think Kiefer does a great job with what little dialogue Snake has. I do feel like the developer was aiming for a more serious tone with Ground Zeroes than that of the previous entries. And not just because of the sexual violence. Even with the what I’ll call typical Metal Gear dialogue and some hammy performances, everything felt more serious and I might even say grittier or darker.

All of the game takes place at Camp Omega which is a base that Snake can freely navigate around. Think of it as just a big map. Once you complete the Ground Zeroes mission, I guess you could say you’ve beaten the game. That doesn’t mean you completed it but that mission is basically the meat of the story. Needless to say, it’s a very short game. As I mentioned earlier, you can beat it in under ten minutes. In fact, I’ve heard of some players beating it in under five. Luckily, that’s not all there is. Once you beat the mission, you unlock side ops and you can also unlock two extra ops. There’s a little more than a handful of missions total and completing a mission does unlock a harder difficulty for it.

The side and extra ops feel like content added just to give the game more substance. Due to the story-driven nature of the Metal Gear franchise, I did question if any of the side ops are canon because they do kind of feel like random missions. In other words, they don’t drive the plot forward. You’ll have to neutralize two targets, destroy things, retrieve data, and help an undercover operative escape in an on-rails shooter sequence which I found to be quite fun, actually. Ultimately, whether they are canon or not doesn’t really matter because if you enjoy the gameplay, these ops give you more of it and I did enjoy the open-ended direction on display here. Now the extra ops are certainly something. One of them puts you in the shoes of Raiden and you must eliminate Body-Snatchers. Yes, Body-Snatchers. The other is called Deja-Vu or the nostalgia mission which is what I call it. The objective here is to re-create scenes from the original Metal Gear Solid. And you can find logos for each Metal Gear game because why not. This mission was clearly designed for fans and simply contains a lot of “hey, remember this?” moments. And I find it funny because Snake or Big Boss will make comments that just don’t make sense. Chronologically this mission doesn’t make sense, Big Boss would have no recollection of these events, and even the voice actor is different now.

Ground Zeroes showcases the best gameplay the series has ever offered up to this point and I will fight anybody on this argument. It’s that good and I’m specifically referring to the core gameplay, the core mechanics. Just how the game plays, controls, and feels, especially with a controller. If you’ve played the previous games, you will notice right away that everything here feels better, improved. The way Snake moves, the way the game controls, how smooth everything feels, switching between weapons and items – it all feels comfortable. I felt Metal Gear Solid 4 was a big improvement and the HD edition of Peace Walker felt great, too. Ground Zeroes is even better.

Ground Zeroes comes with a lot of the classic Metal Gear mechanics. Crawling, aiming in first-person, holding up enemies, interrogations – it’s all here and even crouch walking returns. Not only that, Snake can sprint and easily get in and out of cover. I do really enjoy how interrogations work here. Enemies will typically reveal helpful information like where things are on the map which is nice. This is a stealth game and I also feel it can make for a good straight up third-person shooter. Whether I was sneaking around or shooting, I was having a great time. It does come with some new stuff including a new mechanic called Reflex Mode which can be disabled. With it enabled, whenever Snake is spotted, he will enter Reflex Mode where time briefly slows down, allowing him to neutralize the threat before an alert is triggered. Also new is the iDroid which shows Snake a map of the area, mission-related information, and allows him to call for a helicopter for extraction. But beware, if enemies spot the helicopter, they will attempt to shoot it down.

Camp Omega is open-ended so you’re free to go anywhere you want and approach situations however you see fit. You can sneak around or shoot everyone. It’s up to you. Furthermore, you can find vehicles and tanks around the base and drive them. Snake is equipped with binoculars that he can use to scout areas and even tag enemies to keep an eye on them. Weapons can be found in the environments and will be dropped by enemies and some have to be unlocked first by meeting specific requirements. Once you’re spotted, an alert is triggered and enemies come after you in typical Metal Gear fashion. Enemies can spot you from quite a distance and will communicate with each other during investigations so you do need to be mindful of your surroundings. They stand and patrol, drive around, and enemies in guard towers will use spotlights in the dark. Just like the previous games, remaining undetected will mean staying quite and out of sight and hiding bodies if necessary.

I would consider Ground Zeroes a looker and is easily the best looking game in the series up to this point. Outside of some pop-in here and there, I have no real complaints with the presentation. Everything ranging from the environments to the character models to the visual effects looks great. But what really impressed me was Snake’s animations. He has a great running animation, the transition from an upright position to crawling is smooth, and you can even do it while running, and just his motions in general are fantastic. It really is amazing when compared to the previous games and that’s why I’m so surprised by it. So much jank was eliminated and Snake’s movements feels so much less stop-and-go for lack of a better description. On the audio side, the sound work is well done and the soundtrack is quite good. It really helps drive home the tone and atmosphere the game is going for with a nice mix of somber, dramatic and intense tunes. On the technical side, the game ran smooth but does seem to come with a very annoying issue and that is a constantly visible mouse cursor. I got it to go away once but every other time I played, I couldn’t get it to go away and apparently, I’m not the only one. Other players have recommended different solutions including a program that hides the cursor. If you use multiple displays, you can move it off your primary.

Even with all its improvements over its predecessors, I do feel Ground Zeroes is an underwhelming experience. There’s just not enough content here and if it wasn’t for The Phantom Pain teasing, I feel this would definitely be more problematic because Ground Zeroes is considered an actual game that we, the players, have to pay for and it really doesn’t offer much. As I said before, it feels more like a prologue. It’s a big tease. I enjoyed the gameplay a lot and only wish there was more of it. And that’s the thing. There is more of it in a separate game with more content. What’s great about Ground Zeroes is the many improvements and solid gameplay but the actual game itself is lacking. I would love to see The Phantom Pain re-released with Ground Zeroes as a part of it. Not like The Definitive Experience package but just one game with everything.

I would only recommend Ground Zeroes if you can get it on sale or if you plan on buying The Definitive Experience which comes with both Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. I find it hard to recommend on its own. It’s the appetizer before the main course. It is considered a standalone game and from what I understand, it released at thirty or forty dollars. That’s why I’m on the edge about recommending it. As of this review, it’s going for twenty on Steam. You should definitely play it if you’re a fan of the series or already invested in the overarching narrative but just know as a standalone game, it doesn’t offer much.

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