Despite what Hideo Kojima says the Meal Gear Solid series doesn’t plan on giving up the fight anytime soon. With Solid Snake’s journey finally “over” Big Boss takes center stage once again in Ground Zeroes. Filled with many core changes the past performs better than Snake’s future endeavors in this prequel, and in spite of the overall experience being extremely brief it is one worth crawling through.
Metal Gear Solid has delivered some of the best – and convoluted – storytelling on the planet. Simple sneaking missions always unfold into a bigger plot involving a cast of extraordinary human beings capable of bringing the world to its knees. This time around you can expect the same thing, but it won’t happen. For the first time in the series’ history you are given a mission and more or less everything goes according to plan.
Big Boss goes on a solo mission to Cuba to rescue two high valued targets from the previous game Peace Walker and return them to Mother Base. After both are extracted and out of harm’s way you are free to sit back and watch the credits roll. There are two cutscenes (yes, only two) at the beginning and end with the latter delivering the majority of the story and production value. Besides the new antagonist Skull Face who is the leader of the mysterious organization XOF, you will not be introduced to any new characters or unit of Meta humans to stand between you and your goal. You will be introduced however to a different sounding Snake since David Hayter has been replaced with Kiefer Sutherland with unsatisfactory results. The main story will take no more than two hours to complete and the game feels more like the prologue to future title The Phantom Pain than the first half, yet the story is still short, sweet and to the point.
The series invented and improved Tactical Espionage Action with each new title and has combined everything over the years to create Tactical Espionage Operation. The gameplay delivers many core changes that simplifies things without taking away any depth. The most noticeable is that the HUD is completely clear. As Snake sneaks around there is no map, weapon icon, or any other statistical information displayed. This clear field of vision is not only welcome from a cinematic point of view, but adds to the feeling of true stealth. You have to visually mark enemies with binoculars, which by doing so gives them a white outline that allows you to sense them from behind walls and track their movements around the area. If Snake draws suspicion a recital will appear and lean in the direction of the soldier allowing you to re-position or sneak out of sight before being spotted.
With no type of sonar to rely on you must become self aware at all times. To help avoid a full blown alert Snake can enter a slow-motion bullet time mode when spotted by an enemy. You have a precious few seconds where you can take them out via CQC if you’re close enough or use your quick draw skills and eliminate the threat before they can call for back up. It won’t save you if you’ve majorly screwed the pooch, but it can keep you from fighting a full blown war because one solider turned the corner and got lucky.
The CODEC and weapon systems have been redesigned with same amount of success. The CODEC has now been mapped to the options button allowing you to call at anytime without interrupting what you’re doing on screen. This means no more pausing the game and flipping through numbers to call clearing the clutter of past Metal Gear Solid games to improve the overall experience. Weapons have been micromanaged to four slots. One for heavy, small, thrown and assist weapons each mapped to the D-pad for easy equip. The default view for a weapon is over the shoulder with each weapon having its one unique firing pattern. The over-the-shoulder view takes a while to get use to for series veterans, but you have the option to set first person to your default view, so it’s all about personal preference.
Sneaking and crawling is the best it has ever been with Snake able to use his environment for simple stealth takedowns to leaping from buildings or over fences. With options like sneaking into a back or a truck or using spotlights to illuminate new paths, you never feel as though you’re being funneled to your destination. Even though all the new mechanics add great depth to a series that was facing stagnation, you can still find yourself lying in one spot for minutes doing your best not to get spotted without making any noticeable progression.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a gorgeous game that delivers your typical Metal Gear goodness with a lot of the excess fat trimmed out. Even though the game is at a reduced priced it still falls very short of what you should get from a numbered title. With the bulk of the gameplay coming for the four Side Op missions and the main story taking as long as your average movie it leaves a lot to be desired. Short doesn’t equal a bad game, but it does hinder the experience when the game could have worked just as fine as a demo for The Phantom Pain.