In preparation for Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain, due to grace consoles “sometime in 2015,” Konami decided to release a prologue to the game entitled Ground Zeroes. Here, Snake is let loose in an enemy’s camp and ordered to rescue and extract Paz and Chico, characters who made an appearance in Peace Walker, the last title in the Metal Gear franchise. For those unfamiliar with Metal Gear, there is little to fill you in on backstory. Thankfully it’s not entirely necessary.
Because Ground Zeroes acts as an introduction to the newest game, even a demo of sorts, there isn’t an entire need to go deep into the plotline of the game, nor to fill in much backstory. The $29.99 price tag is what has a lot of people up in arms though, considering an entire playthrough can take you between 18 minutes to three hours, depending on how you play and how often you go back. The question then is, “Is the price justified?”
Yes and no.
OK yes, vague answers to self-imposed questions are cliche, but there’s really no other way to answer that question and, if you’ve paid attention to gaming, it’s a question that everybody is asking. If you’re a Metal Gear enthusiast or if you’re someone who replays your games over and over again, squeezing every ounce of playability out of them, you’re going to be very happy. Transversely, if you play Ground Zeroes and move on, you’ll feel cheated.
The gameplay is very reminiscent of Splinter Cell, which is to say both are three-dimensional, espionage, third-person shooters, where you find yourself putting a bullet into every light bulb you see. Like spies do. Initially though, you’re only objectives are to find Paz and Chico, captives within this military base. Because you start outside of the base, using “spot and mark” tactics works best to keep an eye on where enemies are as they patrol on foot or in military vehicles. Sentries are also in guard towers, meaning you need to have eyes on your enemies at all times, otherwise you’re spotted and all hell breaks loose, typically ending with you standing over a pile of dead bodies.
Victorious? Yes. Covert? Not so much.
You’re a spy, so you need to stay hidden and take enemies out without them (or their friends) becoming aware of you. That also means disposing of bodies that are both dead or simply knocked out (you can do both). After all, you don’t drive around a military base and see your buddy Frank lying on the pavement without getting a little curious. Even if your buddy Frank is a drunk, it still throws up some red flags.
So it’s up to you, as Snake, to stay hidden, stay quiet, dispose of enemies, and hide their bodies. Precision controls are required in that case, as moving from cover-to-cover can easily be ruined with an unintended leap over a barrier or if you accidentally slip into an open, well-lit area in front of a group of guards. Which happened.
There is a feeling of precision when you’re firing your weapon -- even if you’re not in the slo-mo “reflex mode” that occurs when you’re spotted for the first time -- that makes you feel like a well-trained killing machine. Transitioning to movement is a hassle though, as it feels a little too loose. While crouched behind a box or on the side of a wall, often a directional command was misconstrued and resulted in me popping up and seemingly yelling, “GUYS! HEY! I’M HERE!” before a flurry of gunfire left me sobbing in a bloody heap.
Slowing down and playing covertly versus a run-and-gunner definitely helped remedy that, but if you’re in a situation where you’re forced to make a split decision, you may end up reloading a checkpoint. Granted, most of these issues happened while in the open, which takes place during the first part of Ground Zeroes. After moving inside it was easier to maneuver, but could also be that I had become more familiar with the controls by that point.
After rescuing each captive, a grizzly scene that impacted me far more than I was expecting due to the nature and subjects (they’re children), Snake is required to get each of them to their own individual extraction point. That’s when Ground Zeroes is over, at least the main story portion.
Here’s where it gets interesting, because after that initial run-through, a fairly simple, straight-forward mission with an enjoyable ending cut-scene, players are greeted with an enormous amount of content that they unlock depending on how well they performed. New weapons are introduced to offer variety if you grew bored of the pistol and assault rifle you start with. Side missions, called “Side Ops”, are also newly available and offer four new objectives to complete. Depending on your console of choice, additional characters can even be unlocked.
With collectibles, multiple characters, unlockable weapons, gadgets, and missions, as well as the prologue to a highly anticipated game releasing on Xbox One and Playstation 4, it’s hard to see how anybody can argue that Ground Zeroes is lacking in content. That $29.99 price point is the reason, particularly if you play it and never go back.
The intent of the game is clearly to have players enjoy multiple playthroughs, try different tactics or paths, and get better at maneuvering Snake overall. It’s a good introduction to Metal Gear Solid V, a game that will probably be heavy on cutscenes due to the massive amounts of backstory that needs to be filled in. If you’re looking for a quick payoff though, something you can play without giving it a second thought on completion, Ground Zeroes is not it. You’ll be left feeling used and cheated.
For those who want content though, those who take a walk down the same road every day and see something new each time, you’ll easily find enough content to justify the purchase. The question is whether Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain will follow the same formula or if it’s just the Ground Zeroes prologue.
Overall Score: 8 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided for review purposes.