Honestly, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Granted, it was the first game I acquired and played on my PlayStation 4. That maybe had more to do with its budget price though. That, however, was also a factor that colored my interpretation of the game when it launched March 18, 2014. Most of what I remember about the game’s reception was negativity regarding its length and cost. I totally agree with that assessment after playing it, but I also agree with those who praised it for many reasons. It’s an incredibly polished, brief experience that one can easily be seduced into playing for more than the requisite hour.
The “core” mission is very short – I believe I completed it in about an hour. Snake infiltrates an American black site on Cuba with the goal of rescuing two young members of his special unit. The game opened, per usual, with a lengthy, awe-inspiring cinematic cutscene. The focus was a man with a disfigured face and his conversation with one of the hostages, just after he’d (presumably) violently interrogated the other. As I haven’t played any of the games dealing with these characters and this time period, I was a little lost in regards to their importance. Still, Snake had his mission and I obliged.
Upon the completion of the game, a handful of other “Side Ops” could be unlocked. These weren’t cinematic ventures directly related to the impending big show (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), but rather, just more missions. Everything took place in the same environment, and after playing for a half-dozen hours, I’m very familiar with this black site! The lack of variety didn’t bog down my impressions of the game though. If anything, it helped me to appreciate it more.
As I went Trophy hunting, I replayed these missions a handful of times, and restarted more than I’d like to admit! After all of this though, I’m very familiar with the depth of my actions in tackling any given scenario – it had a definite open-world vibe to it. The game was difficult to get acclimated to at first, especially as I haven’t played a game in the series in two or three years. But, as I was driven to collect Trophies, I stuck with the game after each mission’s initial completion, and really grew to relish the opportunity in sneaking about and stealthily resolving enemy threats how I wanted.
I won’t dive too deep into the nitty gritty of the gameplay, but there were a couple new mechanics worth mentioning. In my opinion, “Reflex Mode” was the most impactful. If I was spotted, time would slow for about three seconds and I’d have the opportunity to react and potentially prevent a compound-wide alert from taking place. Most usually, I’d land a headshot with a tranquilizer and instantly put my foe to sleep. Maybe I was close enough to grab hold of him, get some information and then knock him out. I probably wouldn’t be careless enough to have a lethal weapon equipped, because after I landed the fatal headshot, another guard would’ve possibly been alerted by the sound. In any instance, I would immediately stash the body.
Another new element to the series seems to have been lifted directly from Far Cry 3. Snake has a great pair of binoculars in his possession, and when an enemy is spotted, they’re permanently marked. A red triangle hovers above that enemy’s head which is visible from any point on the compound. The enemy is also permanently visible on Snake’s iDroid (an all-in-one map utility), which seems out of place considering the time period, if only name wise. Also, when nearby, Snake would occasionally catch a glimpse of the enemy in detail, even through walls; this is described as a “stealth instinct”, or something to that effect, but it’s very reminiscent of the abilities of Batman in the Batman: Arkham series.
The Metal Gear Solid series is one of those series’ that if it wasn’t around, video games would just feel different. Early on the series had an impact that few other games can claim – it inspired other game developers. I don’t know if the series has that same weight behind it today, for whatever reason one can gin up. One thing remains the same: the attention to detail and care that goes into these games’ development is palpable. Despite this game’s length and stated purpose as an introduction to the “true” Metal Gear Solid V, the level of its refinement and depth is kind of crazy. It’s a very challenging game, especially if one’s driven to collect Trophies, but it’s an incredibly well-playing game. It may have been decisive when it released with a $40 price tag, but at its current $20 (or even $7 on PSN!), it’s a no-brainer.