The Metal Gear Solid series is one that flourishes amongst complication and oddity. Ground Zeroes still has minor instances of the strangeness from its predecessors but has been stripped back in terms of its length, story, and playable content. It acts as a long demo for what is to come in The Phantom Pain, this fall’s closing chapter in Big Boss’s grizzled saga. Despite only taking around an hour to finish its main campaign, numerous side operations are available to extend this meagre run time. Short it may be, but the stealth gameplay of Ground Zeroes has been superbly polished and is extremely fun to boot. Snake’s sneaking has never been better.
Ground Zeroes’ third person stealth is the best of the series thus far. The enemy cone of vision from previous games has been removed, allowing a more realistic detection system to be implemented: getting spotted depends on distance and proximity rather than a rigid area of sight. When an enemy sees you, a white lens flare appears momentarily, indicating their location, allowing you to hide below a wall or amongst some foliage until they have resumed their normal military duties. If you happen to be seen, a limited period of slow motion is given to take out the enemy before the alarm is raised. Moments like this are extremely tense but allow an opportunity to survive if your stealth is sub-par; Ground Zeroes does not punish you for mediocrity.
Realistic details also play a large part in Ground Zeroes, as it crafts a greater stealth experience through atmospheric changes in the weather and time of day. These adjustments allow your play style to remain variant, as visibility fluctuates between clear moments of sunshine and stormy nights of darkness. Enemies react accordingly to these shifts, creating a world that is fluid and true to form; the running and gunning of night time ventures is substituted for a more methodical approach during the day.
Enemies can be identified through tagging, enabling you to pick them off one by one from any angle or order. Experimentation with stealth is key, as you discover different guard positions, various patrol routes and hidden weapons and items to make your experience more achievable through repeat playthroughs. The world of Ground Zeroes allows this trial and error approach to flourish, as the confined locales of previous games have been replaced by a more open and prettier sandbox. This reduces the role of linear, cramped corridors and encourages the use of multiple play styles to increase the length of an otherwise diminutive game. Although the U.S. military base on show here is far from massive, it provides a glimpse into the larger world that is to come in The Phantom Pain. Freedom, exploration and great visuals abound despite its smaller size.
The miniaturisation of the world is also mirrored by the game’s story. You are tasked with infiltrating Camp Omega in order to rescue both Paz and Chico, two youths that may hold compromising information regarding Snake’s private military organisation: Militairies Sans Frontieres. The tale is straightforward due to its minute length, preferring to focus on the brilliant game play at its disposal instead. It also includes some mature as well as ridiculous content, continuing the sacred, wonderful trend of bonkers Metal Gear lore. The name of the main antagonist alone, Skull Face, shows that Hideo Kojima and his team have not forgot their love of the bizarre. Despite the simplicity of the plot, a myriad of background information is needed to understand why Snake is actually undertaking this mission. An eleven page guide to the previous game is provided, but this contains a plenitude of heavy content, and may be difficult to understand for first-time players.
A number of side operations are included to lengthen Ground Zeroes significantly. These take place outside of the main campaign and involve rescuing other targets, assassinations and for PlayStation users specifically, a strange midnight level focusing on the original Metal Gear Solid, containing some great Easter eggs. More freedom is also given within these missions, as they can be completed in a variety of ways. For example, sneaking into the compound via a large truck, sniping all enemies from afar, going full auto in an attack chopper or driving a jeep nonsensically throughout the level amidst chaos and silliness. The openness of each mission is a refreshing change from the restrictive scenarios of previous titles.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes acts as a short prologue to the surely epic future instalment, The Phantom Pain. Its stealth gameplay is fluid and precise, it looks wholly realistic through improved lighting and world changing weather systems and the freedom of its mission structure is a welcome relief from the constant starting and stopping of past entries. Despite its short length, Ground Zeroes is a great new chapter in the Metal Gear franchise and provides a tease for the brilliance to come.
A great tease for the brilliance to come.