Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is out now for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
- Short two-hour central campaign
- Several more side-ops and "covert missions" adding hours of game time
- Beautiful 'fox engine' graphics
- Engaging stealth gameplay
"World-renowned Kojima Productions showcases the latest masterpiece in the Metal Gear Solid franchise with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (on sale Spring 2014) is the first segment of the 'Metal Gear Solid V Experience' and prologue to the larger second segment, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain launching thereafter."
Existentially, as has been widely noted, Ground Zeroes is problematic. That's not only because its central mission is very, very short - just two hours, or less, which is minuscule when compared to most games, and especially to the sprawling open-world odyssey promised as a follow-up (2015's 'Phantom Pain'. It's also because out of context the whole thing is extremely confusing.
That's not much of a surprise, though. The lore of Metal Gear is sprawling and often idiotic. It's a nightmare nest of dead-ends and amnesia, and that's just the way it is.
Unfortunately, this episode isn't so much an 'introduction' as a mid-season head scratcher. You arrive on a Guantanamo Bay-like Camp to extract some prisoners. Fine. The rain is pretty and the graphics beautiful. Also fine. But to understand why you're there, who's running the camp, why that guy with a skull for a head just flew away on a helicopter, who you're extracting, who exactly is American, or just sounds American, or like the bloke from 24, and why any of it matters, will take literally hours of back-reading (or playing). As a result the political allegory and emotional resonance of the setting is actually a bit deflating - a series of cliffhangers, going nowhere.
Which is a shame, because the mechanics of the game are neat and engaging. The mix of stealth and problem solving is improvisational and creative, and the controls are simple and effective enough to tease the existence of a real and classic video game underneath. The HUD is minimalistic and clean, and lets you focus on what matters. The quick-draw binoculars, directional microphone and use of sound are all excellent. And once the main mission is done - it will be done, quickly - there are lots of side tasks and retreads that extrapolate out the central themes, and let you play around with strategies and tactics in ways you won't appreciate unless you give the game some real time. That said, they all take place in the one location, which is rich but samey.
There are still problems with how the game plays, though - such as the AI's unrealistic ability to get shot at directly, lose you, search the area for three minutes then return to normal. There's also the price, which gaming fans will debate forever but which still seems high for the amount of content on show.
The result is a game which is an undeniably interesting and fun take on the Metal Gear formula, looks stunning and promises great things to come. But on its own it's not quite enough to make excavating your way through the MGS backstory all that rewarding.