Metal Gear Solid has been one of the very best franchises in gaming history. Developed by Hideo Kojima and Kojima Productions, each new title has always been able to reinvent itself, bringing fresh gameplay mechanics, in depth stories and pushing the graphical power of consoles to their limits. Now, six years since Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Konami have released Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.
A prologue to the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Ground Zeroes follows legendary soldier Big Boss after the events of Peace Walker. His mission; to infiltrate an American blacksite on Cuban soil and to extract two prisoners from the site.
It's important to first acknowledge the elephant in the room when it comes to Ground Zeroes, and that is the price. Many believe the price of £30 is too high for what's been called a demo and a cash cow, and we understand why. The main Ground Zeroes mission is short, with an average completion time of 60-90 minutes depending on difficulty and play style. Even if you take the extra side missions into account, it'll take you around 3 hours in total to complete every mission once on normal difficulty. If you want to complete all the missions on hard, complete in-game challenges and get all the achievements, you could round it all up to a 7-hour experience. Ground Zeroes is basically a padded out demo. It feels like it was ripped directly from the start of Phantom Pain and thrown onto a retail disc. It was made for Metal Gear fans and they will happily go and buy this in droves, as we've seen before. Zone of the Enders, another game created by Hideo Kojima, did strong numbers partially because it had a demo for Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty included. That's basically what you are getting with Ground Zeroes, a demo, and it's unfortunate because the game that you do get is such a joyful experience. The gameplay is a perfect blend of stealth and action, the small amount of story that's there is gripping, and the graphics are awe-inspiring.
Those who've played either of the previous two Metal Gear games - MGS4 or Peace Walker - will find some of the gameplay in Ground Zeroes familiar. Though, the intuitive controls and systems are straightforward enough to allow newcomers to pick it up with ease. Stealth is the main tool in Big Boss' arsenal, as he uses a variety of techniques to move around enemy threats in the familiar stand, crouch or prone stances. Unlike earlier Metal Gear games, there is no camouflage system this time round, so using cover and shadow is more important than ever. To counterbalance the inability to blend in with the environment, Ground Zeroes offers a new target marking system similar to ones seen in the likes of Splinter Cell: Blacklist. You can mark enemy threats and vehicles from great distances through your binoculars and once marked, they will stay on your hub and mini map. There isn't really a need for an in-depth camouflage system when you are operating in a large open world and can sneak around hostile areas from a distance.
Fans have wanted an open-world experience in a Metal Gear game for years and now it's here, it doesn't disappoint. The map is well designed with distinguishable areas to explore including holding cells, tent sites and an admin complex, all divided by main roads. Even though it's the only map featured in the game, each of the side operations are set at different times of the day. By simply changing the lighting conditions, the dynamic of the game changes simply because the enemy can see better and will spot you from a greater range.
Should you end up in a situation where you do get spotted, you have a split second to fix it with the new Reflex Action. When activated, the camera will automatically snap toward the enemy that spotted you and time will so slow down in a bullet-time effect, giving you a small window to eliminate the hostile before he raises the alarm. It's a great addition that you would naturally think is over powered, but there's no guarantee that you will succeed. Unlike your standard bullet, your movements also slow down, so if you misjudge the aim, get obscured by the environment, or even have an inefficient weapon selected, there is a high chance of failure.
The graphics in the game look stunning. Not including Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, Ground Zeroes is the first game to fully use Kojima productions new FOX Engine and the result is jaw-dropping. There's something magical about looking at a character's face and not only seeing the light reflect realistically off their eyes, but to be able to see their pores as well. On Xbox 360, the game looks fantastic, surpassing the graphics seen in MGS4, but on the Xbox One, it can bring a tear to your eye. The graphics, lighting and textures are impressive and if Ground Zeroes does anything, it shows in spades that FOX is a major new contender in the world of video game engines.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes does exactly what it was meant to do. It's a calm before the storm experience released to get you foaming at the mouth for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Despite the slightly expensive pricing of a new retail copy, Ground Zeroes shouldn't be missed. But if you aren't sure about the price point, you should certainly give it a chance when that price comes down. Once again, Metal Gear Solid has shown that as a series, it's a master of stealth action in a small, yet extremely well crafted experience that you will enjoy and play multiple times, right up until the release of Phantom Pain.