Metal Gear Solid is one of those franchises where just when I think I’m out, I’m pulled right back in. At this point in my life I’ve played most of the MGS Games. I just started playing MGS4 despite the fact that it was released six years ago. Maybe I wanted to wait until the game’s 2014 setting was a reality. Still waiting on those robot walkers by the way. But it was my jealously of the PS4 and their upcoming releases that got me excited for MGS5. Excited because I can still play the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain on my lowly PS3. Until then, MGS fans are being treated to a preview of sorts in the new release: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The game gives fans an early glimpse of Kiefer Sutherland as the voice of Big Boss, the game’s visual style, and some of the upcoming gameplay features. The hitch is you can beat the game in anywhere from two hours to ten minutes. May I remind you that this is being retailed for $30.00! Thirty Smackeroos for ten minutes of pleasure? It’s not even cybersex!
Where Metal Gear Solid games are typically built around densely convoluted plot lines, Ground Zeroes is fairly simple. You play as Big Boss (Kiefer Sutherland), previously featured as the star of MGS3 and MGS: Peace Walker, on a rescue mission in 1975 Cuba. It’s really that simple. Ground Zeroes sets up a few story lines and characters, including the monstrously scarred villain Skull Face, but its primary focus is to demo the gameplay of MGS5. How is the gameplay? Meh. Honestly, I feel like Ground Zeroes is a step in the wrong direction.
Each game since MGS1 has added new features and improved upon the franchise’s visual style. MGS is additionally well known for its climactic set pieces and cinematic cutscenes. With the exception of visual style Ground Zeroes has zero advancements. The gameplay has been stripped down and presented in a way gaming audiences haven’t experienced since the first MGS. Though I can admire simplifying the franchise I don’t enjoy going back to basics after being treated to so much. Where is the radar? Where are the slick camo suits? How come I can’t eat snakes? Why is the game so damn short?
If you’re going to make a game that I can beat in the time it takes to watch an episode of 24, then why not make it the most amazing display of the game’s abilities that you can? I‘m reminded of the opening ocean liner sequence from MGSII. Seeing as that game takes a total 360 after that segment it almost feels like two games. Why was that opening so great? It was cinematic, the setting was different and intimidating, the stakes kept getting higher and higher. Exploring Ground Zeroes setting of Omega Base doesn’t have that fresh new feel nor any elements that set it apart from other MGS settings. I don’t get much from Ground Zeroes that I wouldn’t already get from any other third-person shooter. Fine isn’t good enough, it should be great.
Though I was let down by a lack of new bells and whistles I will say there’s still some fun to be had in the game’s core gameplay mechanics. Sneaking up on people and pulling a knife on their throat is a real rush in Ground Zeroes. And I suppose the desert-like fortress Omega Base provides for at least a SOLID setting. The peculiar thing is that my two favorite things about Ground Zeroes were such minor touches to the overall experience, but sometimes it’s those minor touches that make the game. My two favorite things were the character Skull Face, who although quite similar to Red Skull from Marvel Comics, was an unforgettably creepy antagonist and the game’s inclusion of the song, “Here to You”. I wasn’t familiar with the 1971 track by Joan Baez and Ennio Morricone, but wow, it really sets the tone.
I feel bad for picking at what’s essentially a demo game but I feel a little cheated. The marketing for this game was very misleading. Yes, I did have fun which is my reasoning behind my 3 star rating but this game could have been so much more with a few tweaks. Whatever the case, I don’t think this means we should be afraid of what is to come with the release of Phantom Pain. I’m sure Hideo Kojima will bring out the big guns with Phantom Pain and all will be right again. Until then, Ground Zeroes is a nice appetizer, like potato skins, but nowhere near a full course.