METAL GEAR SOLID V: GROUND ZEROES REVIEW:
Tuesday March 14th 2014 by WALLEYE
METAL GEAR SOLID V: GROUND ZEROES is the prologue chapter to METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN, the highly anticipated sequel to 2010's METAL GEAR SOLID: PEACE WALKER. Released separately, GROUND ZEROES serves to give players a chance to get to grips with the new open world style and gameplay mechanics while the wait for METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN's release is on-going.
For this review, the game was played in three sessions across three days, running the PlayStation 3 version on normal difficulty. No updates or patches were installed and the game was played as it was when it shipped. The iDroid companion app was also not used as it was not available at the time of writing this review.
GRAPHICS & VISUALS
Kojima Productions' incredible new FOX ENGINE is at the heart of this game. A number of demonstrations, most notably at the Game Developer's Conference in March 2013, have showcased the capabilities of this new engine with a heavy focus on it's ability to render photo-realistic visuals.
"With no on screen radar, paying attention to your surroundings becomes of paramount importance"
As a result, GROUND ZEROES is an aesthetically spectacular game, and whilst it doesn't get the full array of functionality that THE PHANTOM PAIN will enjoy (dynamic weather, realistic passage of time etc) there's enough there to really demonstrate how impressive the full game will be. The lighting effects at night, in the pouring rain are hugely convincing and additional detailing like the canvas tents, trees and even Snake's facial hair moving as they're battered by the wind shows that there is much to look forward to.
Despite the overall impressive presentation, there are few minor drawbacks evident in the 'last gen' version. Shadows, whilst sometimes crisp and clear will appear to be be jagged, pixelated and very low resolution at others. The scenery will also visibly pop-in as you approach it, often at very close range making it quite noticeable, so although this game is available on both the current and last generation hardware, it's clearly optimised for the former.
The key to METAL GEAR SOLID V's gameplay is the introduction of an open world format to MGS, giving you huge freedom to infiltrate and offering a significant replay value to each mission. In GROUND ZEROES we get a first chance to experience this new style.
Essentially, the game places you outside an enemy prison camp and you're then free to reach the objectives in any way you see fit. Naturally, you can sneak through the mission leaving everything untouched or at the other end of the spectrum you can eliminate all enemies and enjoy free reign of the camp. You're not limited to operations on foot either; a number of enemy vehicles can be commandeered and used to get around the map too, should you desire, although the vehicle handling is a little 'clunky' compared to the refined stealth controls.
Sneaking is the name of the game though, and with stealth infiltration tactics you'll find yourself having a great time. GROUND ZEROES' open world approach to covert operations makes things all the more challenging and above all, fun. With no on screen radar and a non-linear approach to reaching to your objectives, paying attention to your surroundings becomes of paramount importance. Utilising the iDroid and binoculars becomes essential in order to mark targets, plot your way between guard patrols as well as avoiding search lights and the enemy vehicles patrolling the base. Marking targets with the binoculars works very well, but there is also the option to mark closer range targets by peeking from cover. This method is a little more clumsy in it's execution and can often fail to mark a target you're staring straight at.
Stealth difficulty is also increased by the distance at which enemy guards are now able to detect your presence. In past MGS games, and stealth games at large, players have been able to take advantage of guards' limited field of vision to avoid detection. This is not the case in GROUND ZEROES as the enemies can see much further than you'd think. Staying low and making as little noise as possible will really aid your efforts to remain undetected. Once a guard is suspicious, escaping isn't as simple as running away and hostiles will use torches to help them find you in the dark and will investigate strange noises.... Noises such as slamming gates, which no matter how slowly you move through them will still create enough noise for guards to hear and come and investigate. That's a bit of an oversight given how detailed other aspects of the gameplay are - you should be able to open and close gates and doors discreetly, as per the Splinter Cell games.
"Metal Gear fans have waited a long time for a truly next-gen MGS experience. The good news is that MGSV is that game"
In the event that you do get spotted by the enemy, you'll enter the new 'reflex mode', which is essentially a 'get out of jail free' card, slowing down time and giving the player a rather generous window of opportunity to neutralise the enemy that spotted you before they can raise the alarm. Newcomers to the series and those with less experience in the stealth genre may find reflex mode to be incredibly useful, while the more die-hard fans will find it removes some of the challenge, particularly in light of the increased difficulty evident with the rest of the game mechanics. Fortunately, reflex mode can be disabled in the options menu to suit your preference.
Metal Gear's familiar alert, evasion and caution phases are still present, but they are no longer represented on-screen with a timer or a countdown. Instead you'll have to pay attention to transmissions and keep an eye on personnel movements to judge when the coast is clear.
Controls for the most part are familiar to those who have played METAL GEAR SOLID 4: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS but there are few key changes that feel a little alien at first. The best example is the start button. Traditionally used to pause the game, in GROUND ZEROES the start button brings up the iDroid while the select button pauses the game. It's not a huge problem, but goes against the conventions that date back almost as far as console gaming itself and as such is likely to catch you out a few times! Swapping the two buttons over seems the more intuitive option, but the controls can only be customised by picking a control type - neither of which swaps the start and select button functions. A few other controls are mentioned by Miller over the radio, but the vast majority are left for you to investigate yourself through the controls option from the pause screen. Fortunately, Miller will make you aware of this option and suggests you take a look at it to familiarise yourself with the controls.
MUSIC, VOICE ACTING & DIALOGUE
Kiefer Sutherland is the big news here, as we get our first gameplay with him in the role of Big Boss' voice actor, replacing David Hayter. As with the clips in the trailers, it initially takes some getting used to as we're all so familiar with the voice of this character from past titles, and equally fans of '24' will immediately draw comparison to Jack Bauer (one or two of his lines even act as easter eggs for '24' fans!), but once you get past that it seems quite a good fit for the gritty character portrayed in GROUND ZEROES. It's difficult to draw too many firm conclusions though, as there's not a huge amount of dialogue for Snake - radio transmissions are short and sweet and Snake doesn't have much to say in the cut scenes either, as the FOX engine's impressive visuals and good motion capture can often paint the pictures where older MGS titles would have used a thousand words.
Between the cut scenes and collectible audio tapes, there's quite a lot of MGSV's main antagonist 'Skull Face' to listen to though, and despite well-delivered dialogue, the voice doesn't quite match the imposing character design and as a result he's not as intimidating as past villains - Colonel Volgin being the obvious example. That's a slight disappointment.
The iDroid pocket projector is a useful tool in Snake's arsenal, providing maps, mission details, logs of recent communications and providing options to send for a helicopter to extract targets, prisoners and new recruits. Slightly less useful is the satellite-navigation style voice that will provide vocal confirmation for pretty much every interaction you have with your gadget, such as prompting you to pick landing zones, setting custom waypoints and so on. Besides the obvious visual markers, your actions are usually accompanied by a string of text on the screen. Combined, those two are more than sufficient, rendering the voice confirmations both pointless and irritating, especially as your mission info can often change whilst you're listening to other in-game dialogue, at which point the iDroid will butt-in and speak over other characters.
On the whole, the quality of voice acting is very good, especially during gameplay. Cut scenes are a mixed bag - while the opening scene is stunning, others do come across as quite wooden in parts.
The soundtrack fits the game very well, and the reliance on ambient sound effects and simple tones to create tension combines with the atmospheric visuals to create a deeply immersive experience.
STORY & LIFESPAN
There's no other way to put it: GROUND ZEROES is short. In terms of available missions, the disc is loaded with one story mission and five side ops. My playthrough of the "GROUND ZEROES" story mission was completed in just over an hour, but accounted for just 10% of total game completion and 9% of the available trophies. I did complete a second play through, in which I tried a variety of play styles and gameplay mechanics, while also taking on optional objectives and hunting collectibles. Upon completion, my play time was recorded as over four hours.
"MGSV Ground Zeroes is aesthetically spectacular"
Two difficulty settings are available for each mission: normal and hard. The latter can only be unlocked by first completing the mission on 'normal' while side-ops can only be unlocked by completing the main story mission. A successful mission completion will also reward you with unlockable challenges such as marking every single soldier in the enemy prison camp as fast as possible and neutralising every enemy. The game also compiles a comprehensive list of your gameplay statistics, such as longest headshot range and furthest distance that you have sent an enemy flying.
In addition to challenges, there are also unlockable weapons, tapes and nine hidden XOF unit patches to find. You can also choose to tackle non-lethal and no-alert playthroughs to add replay value and extend your game time.
After the disappointment that was METAL GEAR SOLID 4, Metal Gear fans have waited a long time for a truly next-gen MGS experience. The good news is that MGSV is that game, and GROUND ZEROES marks a serious return to form for the series after several years in the wilderness. The new game mechanics, stunning visuals and open world format bring MGS right up to date, and represents the biggest leap in MGS gameplay since PS2's Metal Gear Solid 2 superseded the original PSX game.
The bad news is that GROUND ZEROES is short - very short. It's the tanker chapter to MGS2's full game, and as such offers us little more than a tantalising glimpse of things to come. Rumours are that it'll be another 12 months before the full MGSV release hits shelves.
Hideo Kojima is on record as saying that THE PHANTOM PAIN will be 200 times larger than the map in GROUND ZEROES. Even taking into account the side-missions and replay value, an RRP of £29.99 for a physical copy is too much for what is essentially a demo disc that represents 0.5% of the final game.
- 8.5/10 -
METAL GEAR SOLID V:
|Genre :||Stealth Action|
|Developer :||Kojima Productions|
|Platform :||PlayStation 3|
|US :||March 18th 2014|
|JP :||March 20th 2014|
|EU :||March 20th 2014|
|UK :||March 21st 2014|
|PC :||December 18th 2014|