Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes Review: A satisfying appetizer
Let's get the glaring and most obvious item off of our checklist right now: Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is short. But it's also long. See, the amount of enjoyment a player will get out of Ground Zeroes is purely based on their own gameplay styles, enjoyment of the Metal Gear lore, and how much of a completionist they are.
Ground Zeroes takes place after the events of Peace Walker. Paz and Chico are imprisoned in a base called Camp Omega in Cuba. The words "This is a sneaking mission" will remind players that the 'right' way to play the game is by making sure Snake is in and out of the camp unseen; a ghost, with two captives freed.
The beauty of Ground Zeroes sets in after you've completed the main mission and realize that you can now replay it in a completely different style. You can take the stealth approach, eliminating enemies with tranq darts, or go in guns blazing. Purists like me wouldn't even dare to play a mission any other way than the former. Still, after completing the mission, my curiosity got the best of me and allowed me to experiment with tackling it differently.
The first playthrough of the main mission took me 106 minutes in total, from start to finish. Of course, knowing the locations of the captives will make additional playthroughs a lot shorter. The grading system at the end of the mission will let you know what you got penalized for, and what you can improve on, making each subsequent playthrough a learning process.
Length aside, Ground Zeroes does two things fantastically, both of which have me even more excited for the upcoming Phantom Pain. First and foremost are Snake's new, improved and much tighter controls. Everything feels immediate. Where CQC usually felt delayed in previous titles, everything happens as soon as you press a button in GZ.
Snake's overall movement has been streamlined and modernized. You no longer have to press a button to take cover. Instead, Snake naturally hides behind objects if they're high enough, still allowing him to peak around corners and take aim when enemies come into view. Snake is also able to sprint, which makes covering longer distances from one side of the map to the next a much quicker process. The change to the controls here feel just as revolutionary as they did when Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence introduced the ability to move the camera around. Yeah, they're good.
The other shining star of Ground Zeroes is most definitely Omega Camp. It's not a large sprawling map by any means, but it has plenty of nooks, crannies and alternate routes, making exploration a much more satisfying affair. Kojima went for quality over quantity, and it shows. However, the map's versatility really shines in Ground Zeroes' Side Ops, which are five other missions you can play through once you've beaten the main mission. Each mission (save for the one that is basically an on-rails shooter where you have to save a high valued VIP, won't spoil that surprise) places you at different points of the map, and challenges you to think about the layout a bit differently.
Each version of Ground Zeroes comes with its own Side Op specifically for that system. Xbox 360 and One owners can play as Raiden, and PS3/PS4 players will get to play as retro Snake, glorious PS1 polygons and all, recreating his mission from the first Metal Gear Solid game.
Ground Zeroes also introduces the new Reflex mechanic. When enemies spot you, you'll get a brief bullet time segment where you can take care of the enemy before they can raise an alarm. Not only is it helpful to stay concealed if you're quick enough, it looks freaking amazing, especially in the main mission. The rain literally slows down to a crawl around you as you slowly raise your weapon of choice up, aim carefully at the target's head and achieve the previously impossible--remain undetected. However, as cool as it is, you are penalized for using it when it comes down to your final grade, so don't rely on it too much.
This is the first time we're getting a tease of Kiefer Sutherland as Snake/Big Boss, and I have to say, I dig it. Before I get burned at the stake, I definitely do miss David Hayter and I will always consider him as the true Solid Snake. Still, Kiefer's voice doesn't sound as jarring as I thought it would. He doesn't really try to mimic Snake's voice. Instead he just plays himself, or you know, Jack Bauer, which works for me. Be prepared to hear very little of him anyways, since most of the dialogue will be from Snake's partner, Kaz Miller. Kiefer's true performance as Snake will come whenever Phantom Pain hits store shelves.
This statement will come across as an obvious one, but Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes really is only for the hardcore fans. Like the hardest. If you have a passing fancy for the series and are possibly thinking of starting your Metal Gear journey with Ground Zeroes, I'd say hold off. As great as this appetizer to a much larger picture is, a lot of people will get turned off by its length, and that's understandable.
At full disclosure, my score fully reflects my willingness to dive deeper into the game, and also the fact that I'm genuinely into the Metal Gear franchise. For me, the short mission time wasn't completely awful. If anything, Ground Zeroes helped me build excitement for what's to come. A promise of a bold new direction for the franchise. One that's teeming with great new gameplay mechanics, gorgeous graphics, and an open structure that will turn the tried Metal Gear formula on its head.
[Reviewed on PlayStation 4]