Few games have a legacy as long and winding as Metal Gear. I remember back when “the truck have started to move,” and here we are, a quarter century later with Snake, now Big Boss, rendered in almost unbelievable detail on the new generation of consoles.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is meant to act as a prologue to the upcoming Phantom Pain, and is priced to match. How does Kojima’s newest outing with the longest lived video game soldier fare?

Eric Frederiksen

I’ve had a lot of emotions about Metal Gear over the years. I sometimes wish I could play Metal Gear Solid again for the first time. I also remember being disappointed and confused by the sequel, only to have the third game completely redeem the series for me. I’m still not sure what I think about Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots beyond “yep, that was definitely a Metal Gear Solid game.”

Ground Zeroes has the simultaneous tasks of justifying Snake/Big Boss’ continued existence and, at least for Japanese gamers, justifying the existence of the PlayStation 4.

Ron Duwell

I’ve always been a fan of the series from Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation, but never on the die hard level of love many people feel towards these games. I especially like how Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots tied a nice, neat bow on the series’ impossibly complex story line. It’s no easy task to wrap up decades of conspiracies and lies that tie into reality.

When Konami announced Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I grumbled after seeing that ribbon torn to pieces. Luckily, Big Boss is being put back into lead role of this game, continuing the trend of Kojima slowly making him out to be the main hero of this series, replacing Solid Snake and stealing the long term glory.

Now that the plot is coming around chronologically to the start of the first Metal Gear game on the MSX2, it’ll be a huge revelation to see how Big Boss lost his way, or rather, how the world loses its way and pushes such a hero into his questionable decisions. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes shows a few hints of what is to come.

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Eric

It’s interesting that you describe Big Boss as being a replacement for Solid Snake. While they’re technically different people, even if they’re clones in series creator and director Hideo Kojima’s convoluted storyline, I don’t think of them as separate people. It almost feels like a more literal take on James Bond.

They’re the same character, doing much the same thing, in different eras. The overall message reminds me of the catch phrase of another game about nuclear war: War never changes. Big Boss and Solid Snake are the proof of that idea.

Let’s attack the story and its few beats right away, then. Kojima has always walked a weird, fine line of ultra serious topics handled by what I’d call G.I. Joe characters written for young adults. Sometimes he’s successful, sometimes a bit less so.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is meant to be a prologue, and the story feels like it. But I don’t think that’s a problem, either.

Ron

If it’s a prologue, then Ground Zeroes certainly doesn’t give too much away. There isn’t much to speak about in terms of an overall plot here. Big Boss enters a base to rescue a few kids from his private military, and he has to get them out for the shocking conclusion. That is the extent of what is shown here besides a few familiar faces like Kazuhira Miller, Snake’s teacher from Metal Gear Solid.

The heart of this game’s story is told through radio contacts and other bits and pieces that are uncovered, like cassette tapes. You can learn more about the torture the kids went through, the set up and circumstances of the mission, and even the political situation of the world, which sound a lot like the torture accusations you see on the news today.

Kojima said that he didn’t want to dodge sensitive topics with Ground Zeroes, and he certainly doesn’t in regards to pulling in real world issues. It’s all there, and its far more interesting than Chico, Paz, and her slightly eye-rolling fate, but you’ll have to go looking for it rather than have it told through cutscenes.

Kojima’s childish sense of humor also hasn’t been merciful to the game. Snake carries around a device called an iDroid and Kojima even programs himself into a certain part of the game. No other game designers would be allowed to get away with nonsense like that in such a serious game.

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Eric

I really took issue with some of the story beats, as well. Creators of not just video games, but of many of different forms of media, take these shortcuts with their characters and writing to convey that their character is super evil, damaged, strong, whatever. It’s like a cheap way to give the character weight, and to give the playable character impetus to have feelings and take action.

What’s even worse here is that Kojima not only used one of these shortcuts, but then relegated much of it to an optional cassette tape. I’m trying really hard not to spoil the game as I talk about this. The fact is, you might make it through the game and wonder what I was talking about, but if you find it, it’s impossible to overlook.

More generally, I’ll add that if you skip the cassette tapes, you’ll think the game doesn’t have much story – most of it is in those tapes.

The upshot of this is that the story is meant to, like I said, work as a prologue, and it’s really secondary to the real purposes of the game – to modernize Metal Gear Solid and show off the new Fox Engine. In this realm, the game is much more successful.

Ron

Kojima Productions’ latest graphic engine looks great, even on an aging console like the PlayStation 3. Character faces, weather effects, explosions and other warfare sounds. Everything looks pristine while still keeping the series’ classic feel intact.

The game doesn’t run as perfectly as it could though. Textures on PlayStation 3 come off as a little dull compared to shots from versions running on newer consoles, and plants pop in and out while walking. The sky has also attracted some attention because the earlier builds never change weather or the time of day.

I suffered a little bit of slowdown while sniping and during some of the heavier action scenes in the game, but it’s very clear that the game was intended with the current generation in mind and will only look better on superior hardware.

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Eric

And it really does look incredible on PlayStation 4. The game runs smoothly, is populated by great looking textures, and animates very nicely.

This is especially impressive considering the game straddles four platforms – maybe even a fifth with the PC, later on – and looks as good as it does. I really got tired of talking about video game graphics at the end of the last generation of consoles, but Ground Zeroes has me excited again.

The game runs very steadily and holds onto that 60 frames per second marker. With the game’s focus on photorealism, it not only matters, but it helps the game accomplish its goal.

The visual fidelity is, also, a great reason to make sure you don’t miss the side content. It wouldn’t make much sense to have a day-night cycle in a game as short as Ground Zeroes, but the other missions that use the map change up the weather and lighting, really showing off just how good the game looks and how well the dynamic lighting works.

Ron

It’s very important for the Fox Engine to make Ground Zeroes look fantastic. Not only does it give us a preview into the next-generation that Konami has waiting for us, but even for its own sake of selling this base that the events unfold in.

I’d go so far as to say that this base is one of the most fully realized and well used set pieces in modern times. Every corner has something of value. Every building, roof, and tower can be interacted with, and the layout shows how much thought was actually put into designing it. It’s hardly the random scattering of structures you get with a lot of open world games.

Perhaps because it is so small, Kojima Productions was able to put a lot of focus into one small area to make it brilliant, and you’ll be seeing a lot of it too while running through. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes features no helpful map in the corner, no enemy eye-cones, no visual aid in seeing their sight patterns.

You’ll have to pay close attention to detail in mapping out enemy patterns and looking around every corner to make sure the coast is clear. It’s a far more natural experience than anything the series has ever seen.

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Eric

Exactly. I think past Metal Gear Solid games have taken some interesting steps toward more organic gameplay, with the battle against The End in Snake Eater coming most readily to mind, but Ground Zeroes is the most successful so far. I remember Kojima tweeting about how depressingly awesome the world of GTA V was for him, but if Ground Zeroes is an indication of things to come, I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

From a control perspective, this is most definitely a Metal Gear Solid game. You’ll use every button on the controller, and chances are you’ll use many of them at the same time.

Just about everything feels good, though. Once you get accustomed to the control scheme, getting done what you want to do is usually very satisfying. I still can’t quite get crawling into those drainage channels right, but everything else is great.

The game might seem easier than past Metal Gear games at first glance, but this is a game meant to be replayed multiple times. There are collectibles that add to the story and unlock additional modes, additional difficulty levels, side missions, and just plain and simple exploration and experimentation with the small island the game takes place on. Everything is graded, as well. While things might not seem difficult from moment to moment, refining your skills and getting the best score will be a feat that requires plenty of effort and skill.

Different weapons offer different approaches to situations, alongside the new element of driveable vehicles. You mentioned that the minimap is gone, and this is one of the best changes to the series. It rewards learning your way around the world, and makes you feel like that much more of a pro when you learn to use the layout to your advantage.

Ron

Even after beating the main mission and following bonus missions, I’ve only completed 20 of this game. There is more than enough to do once before diving back in a second, third, fourth, and even fifth time. Experimentation, finding your own way to approach missions, replicating what you think the development team wanted you to do. This is a game solely based on the idea of replay, where you make the fun yourself rather than have it served on a platter to you.

There is no other better comparison of this approach than the demo and opening scene of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty when Solid Snake find himself on a frigate surrounded by U.S. Marines. That set piece was one of the finest in gaming history because it gave players a chance to get acquainted with the new controls and feel of the game on a new generation machine. Once it sunk in, it provided further fun with an amazing playground to toy with Snake and all of his mechanics, really giving the pure experience a chance to thrive even mores than the main game itself.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the exact same deal, but the biggest issue of them all is determining whether this is just a demo for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain or a full game.

Some have issue with dealing out money for a demo, but at the $19.99 PlayStation 3 price point, I more than feel like it has paid off its value and would consider it a full blown purchase based on the amount of things to unlock and do.

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Conclusion

Rating

8.0
Is Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes a demo, or a prologue? And what does it mean for the Metal Gear Solid series?

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

I don’t normally like judging a game by its price tag, but the concerns when the original word came that the main story only took about two hours to complete, I understood.

Aside from some skinned knees earned by stumbles through the story, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a great starting point for this generation’s big Metal Gear Solid experience. I’m more excited than I might’ve been otherwise for The Phantom Pain.

With that in mind, it would be a lie if I didn’t say that The Phantom Pain, appropriately named in this case, haunts every corner of this game. Everything feels like a taste of what is to come. Call it a demo or a prologue, it isn’t a full game.

That $29.99 price tag really only matters if you don’t intend to check out any of the side content, improve your scores, or explore the world. You’d be missing the brunt of the game, and that would do this game a great disservice.

Disclaimer: We purchased Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for the PlayStation 4 with company funds and completed the campaign and side content multiple times before writing this review.