Published March 26, 2014
The military tactical espionage series “Metal Gear Solid” is back, and protagonist Snake has a new voice in Kiefer Sutherland, star of TV’s hit show “24.” But does the latest entry in the video game series live up to the legacy?
While the Metal Gear series can be traced back to 1987, “Metal Gear Solid” – released in 1998 – was a seismic event, a detailed story packed with intrigue and incredible stealth action gameplay that introduced new concepts at every corner. The game was one of the greatest in video game history, and the MGS series has been a hallmark of quality ever since.
Next year will see the release of “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.” But for 2014, Konami has released “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes” – a prologue to “Phantom Pain” that is selling for half the price of a normal game: $30 for next-gen consoles, $20 for last-gen.
This may seem like a bargain, but most gamers will complete its main campaign within three hours. On top of that, there are five side missions in “Ground Zeroes” that take it up to the five-to-eight-hour mark, depending on skill level. This not only brings up questions of value, but also of immersion: Just as you’re getting into the main story, it ends.
Which is a shame, because “Ground Zeroes” is stunning, and gives a tantalizing glimpse into next-gen MGS.
You play Big Boss, code-name Snake. It’s 1975, and, following the events of “Metal Gear Solid 3” and “Peace Walker,” Snake is in trouble. The enormous private military base he set up is being eyed by the I.A.E.A., and a former KGB agent named Paz, who knew all the base’s secrets, has been captured by the CIA, along with a punchy kid named Chico.
They are being held at a U.S. base in southern Cuba where human rights don’t apply. It’s named Guantana….. I mean Camp Omega. Yes, that’s right – it’s another heavy-handed, and slightly outdated, swipe at real-life U.S. foreign policy (although, in fairness, the real bad guys aren’t the U.S.). But, strangely for MGS, the story doesn’t play too much of a role.
Apart from two epic cut scenes at the beginning and end that turn the “Peace Walker” story around perfectly for “Phantom Pain” – and that give Sutherland just enough time to show why he might be the perfect choice to take over from David Hayter for voicing Snake – the title is basically all gameplay.
And it’s amazing.
“Ground Zeroes” uses the Fox Engine model that will be featured in “Phantom Pain,” and not only does it look lovely, it also offers both realism and flexibility. Radar is relegated to a small device in your pocket, and you can now “mark” enemies by scouting them with your binoculars, meaning they can be seen even through obstacles. So if you are careful and scout, you will have a better sense of where everyone is, If you run in, you’re going to get blindsided.
But gun controls are much easier, too, allowing you to fight your way out of trouble. Notably, if you get spotted, time slows down for a few seconds to allow you to take out the guard before he calls for help. It won’t let you storm into a base with guns blazing, but it does give you more confidence to move around, knowing that a single mistake can be taken care of without alerting the whole camp.
Multiple options assist in this sense of realism. When you break into a base, do you slip in through a grate, hitch a lift in a truck, or set off some explosives to create a diversion?
The gameplay in “Ground Zeroes” is tighter, more responsive and packed full of different approaches. It will have many players dying to get their hands on the much, much bigger “Phantom Pain” next year to see how these flesh out.
What a shame, then, that it fails to offer the value for the money of previous titles. They could have staved this off either by cutting the price further or bundling in some more material, such as the PlayStation Portable’s (a now basically defunct console) “Peace Walker” – a great handheld MGS that offers over 60 hours of gameplay.
By not doing do, it grates on what is otherwise excellent. While “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes” offers a tantalizing preview of “Phantom Pain,” with top notch graphics, superb gameplay and some fun side missions, many gamers will understandably balk at a $30 game that can easily be completed in an evening. While still a great, short and sweet slice of MGS, one can’t help but feel that Konami has shot itself in the foot with this one.