A new Metal Gear Solid game is always something of a special event, with each new chapter in Hideo Kojima’s increasingly convoluted grand story typically answering as many questions from past games as it does create new ones.
The releases in the series have come out in something of an odd order continuity wise. While numerically following Metal Gear Solid 4, this is actually a sequel to Peace Walker, which was itself a sequel to Metal Gear Solid 3, and is set decades before 4 with a completely different cast of characters. The development of the game has been almost as convoluted as the plot, with it first being presented as a totally unrelated game, and then when it was revealed to be Metal Gear intended to be separate to The Phantom Pain (which is out later this year as the other part of Metal Gear Solid V) and then them being combined into a single game as Metal Gear Solid V, and then finally being split back up again as two parts of the same game.
Thankfully, Ground Zeroes is a lot more straightforward than all this makes it sound to be, with it actually being the least continuity and story heavy game in the series in a long while.
Ground Zeroes consists of a single main story mission and half a dozen side missions that are unlocked through completing the story. The main mission pits Big Boss/Snake with rescuing some of his team members who have been captured by mysterious new villain Skull Face. Snake has to break into a secret military base in Cuba in the middle of the night to perform the breakout. As is standard with Metal Gear games, you have the choice of sneaking in and avoiding detection and combat or with going in guns blazing and taking out all the enemies.
The side missions have some variety to them, with various objectives such as rescuing prisoners, destroying anti air guns and an aerial assault. These are even less story oriented than the main mission, with only a brief introduction to each, but also give you lots of choice as to how you want to complete the mission. Completing each mission unlocks its hard mode, and to complete and unlock everything you have to score highly, find collectables and finish the extra bonus mission. The PlayStation versions of the game have the Déjà vu mission that has you recreate key scenes from the original Metal Gear Solid, while the Xbox versions have a mission starring divisive character Raiden fighting Snatchers, an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers concept from an old game by Kojima.
While these extra missions add quite a bit to do, this isn’t the longest of games. My first play through of the story mission clocked in at under an hour and a half, and while I’ve been back through it several times experimenting with different playstyles and finding everything that’s still very short for a game, especially one that is notionally a full retail title (though admittedly at a slightly lower price.)
The classic control scheme, slowly changed little by little in each game since Metal Gear Solid 3 is finally completely gone. The old weapon selection method using the triggers/ L and R buttons has been replaced with the D-pad, fairly similar to weapon selection in Portable Ops. Snake is much more agile than ever before, and overall it feels more like a modern third person shooter and less like a typical Metal Gear. The weapon mechanics are much more intuitive than in previous games, and the whole thing feels much more modern.
I’ve picked up the previous generation version of the game, on the Xbox 360. While naturally not as shiny as the PlayStation 4/Xbox One version, it’s still quite an attractive game, especially the night setting of the main mission. There the constant rain and wind have some great water effects, and fabric such as tents and flags are constantly in motion. Snake’s outfit as well as most of the surfaces glisten with the rain and show off some nice lighting and reflection. Most of the side ops take place at day, and the game isn’t quite as pretty here as some of the textures are noticeably lower resolution than you would expect.
It’s difficult to talk about Metal Gear Solid V without mentioning the casting of Snake. Long time series lead David Hayter has been replaced with actor Keifer Sutherland as the voice of Snake, while the rest of the characters retain their voice actors from Peace Walker. Sutherland has long been likened to Hayter’s performance of Snake, with a similarly gruff and growly voice, though it is a bit strange to have Snake sound different now. Much like the recasting of Sam Fisher, it’s far from a deal breaker and I’m a fan of Sutherland anyway, but it does make the whole game feel a little... off somehow. I’m still holding out hope that the recasting is due to both Big Boss and Solid Snake appearing together in The Phantom Pain and that this is to prevent David Hayter from having to talk to himself, much like at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4, but only time will tell on that.
It’s certainly not going to be a game for everyone. Those who like to just play through the story in a game to finish it will certainly be disappointed as the short length of the main mission wouldn’t really justify the cost, and there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a very slight game. The extra content in there is more than it first appears however, and for those who like to unlock everything there is a fair amount of replay value. It’s certainly served its purpose in getting me excited for The Phantom Pain, and it’s going to be an essential play for anyone who is a Metal Gear fan.