Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes Review (PlayStation 4)
It's been years since we've had a proper Metal Gear Solid game on consoles, but last year Kojima Productions finally revealed the fifth proper entry in the series, destined for home platforms. While Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is still a ways off, Kojima and his team have graced us with an early look, a so-called prologue, to The Phantom Pain dubbed Ground Zeroes. While it does introduce a host of new gameplay elements and shows off the new Fox Engine with excellent results, Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is a bit of an empty experience. Though enjoyable, calling it anything other than a demo is disingenuous.
What little story there is presented in Ground Zeroes has basically been covered by every single trailer that's been released for Metal Gear Solid 5 over the past year. There are a few elements of the brief narrative that bridge the gap between Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and the upcoming Phantom Pain, but unlike most MGS stories, everything that happens in Ground Zeroes can be summed up in just a few sentences. Longtime fans of the series will no doubt appreciate being filled in with the most minute of details, but there's little enticing here for newcomers to the series. At least from a story perspective. The few side missions do offer some cute in-jokes, and the console specific content also provides fans with more Metal Gear moments. However, much of this is merely fan service, and while its appreciated, it's superfluous to the core experience.
As lackluster as the story content is, there are definitely a lot of new gameplay elements unearthed in Ground Zeroes. Stealth gameplay is still hugely important, but Kojima Productions has revamped almost every single mechanic from the ground up. First, there's no active radar. Instead, players have an iDroid companion to reference with map, intel and uncovered cassettes. Using the binoculars, players can also mark enemies, which will then appear on your map whenever you bring it up. Vision cones are gone, but tracking movements is now possible in entirely new ways. The tracking is certainly interesting, but it's the lack of a map on the HUD that really changes how Ground Zeroes is played. Instead of relying on a radar to determine your movements, you now must pay attention to details like sound and cover more intently. Fortunately, the sound mix is more than up to the task, and truly immerses you in this world.
The open world of Ground Zeroes is also an interesting new direction for the series, and one that actually makes more of a difference than you would initially believe. Though the map gets stagnant after you play more than a few missions, it feels truly liberating to have such a wide arena as your playground. There are few interiors available, but the prison camp does offer some diversity in the types of locations you can explore. Ducking between a maze of tents to avoid a search party offers all sort of opportunities for sneak attacks, and there are just so many more possible ways to go about Snake's business. Add in the new vehicles, which are drivable for the first time ever, and the possibilities for ways to tackle each and every obstacle is nearly endless. Driving isn't all that fun, at least on this map, but it can provide some entertainment when you want to screw around. Strapping C4 to a jeep that you send careening into a few guards is a good time. Trust us.
The combat mechanics have been tweaked a bit as well, and are much more forgiving as a result. As great as the combat was in Metal Gear Solid 3, it's still rather stiff. Ground Zeroes offers a slightly more fluid and impressive bit of melee, and the shooting is aided by a new reaction mechanic that slows time for a few seconds. If you happen to get spotted, you can quickly snap a few shots off at the eagle-eyed enemy to stop his warning shouts from being heard. At first, this idea seemed like it would bend the challenge a bit too far in favor of newcomers, but it's actually a pretty great addition even for longtime fans. Plus, if you're good enough, you'll never have to worry about using it to start with. Of all the hand-to-hand improvements though, the new interrogation technique is by far the best. Previous games made it a bit of a chore to subdue enemies and pull information from them. Now it's as easy as holding down a a few buttons once you've successfully and sneakily grabbed a hold of an enemy. All intel leaked by your captive is then instantly added to your iDroid's map, streamlining the process and thus making it far more enjoyable to do over and over again.
As a way to show off all these new controls and concepts, Ground Zeroes is a success. As a full game experience, Ground Zeroes doesn't quite stand up. For everything Ground Zeroes does new and exciting, it's just a glimpse into the future of the franchise, and isn't a full-fledged game. Does it have us even more excited for The Phantom Pain? Absolutely. Did Ground Zeroes warrant a full retail release across multiple platforms? That's a bit more debatable. There are just too many empty calories here, and despite all the new facets presented, Ground Zeroes left us wanting.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes for the PlayStation 4.