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Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Xbox 360) artwork

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (Xbox 360) review

"Metal Gear Solid games seem to have an overarching theme of defying expectations."

It's true: on the first playthrough, you can normally complete the main story mission of Ground Zeroes in just around two hours. There are several factors that lead to this eventual outcome, the first of two main headliners being the depth of the American military base the entire game takes place at, which is approximately similar in size to Metal Gear Solid 3's Groznyi Grad. I think. GZ's base is not even that cramped compared to its predecessor, either, encompassing a couple warehouses that can't be entered, some refugee camps with tiny tents, a chunk of space reserved for Landing Zones, and an "interior". The second primary contribution to the game's length is the extreme straightforwardness of your mission objective, involving the rescue of two prisoners. You won't be constantly interrupted by extravagant cutscenes or go to a different screen for extended radio conversations, as the only long cutscenes you encounter bookend the title. There's not even a boss fight!

That's not to say getting near the prisoners is going to be an easy task, as several handicaps are imposed on your protagonist, the battle-hardened Big Boss, that long time Solid fans need to get accustomed with. The selection of camouflage outfits and their percentage display, a mainstay of the series' recent games, is missing in this outing. Also absent is the ability to knock on walls to coax guards to a specific location, being forced instead to rely on an infinite supply of magazine clips in your arsenal. Big Boss must have huge pockets. Another hit to nostalgic sensibilities is the exclusion of a radar or sound device, meaning you'll have to depend on Peace Walker's method of actively seeking guards and tagging them with a zoom-up, either with your binoculars or other close-up tactics. The tranquilizer gun, too, a weapon Kojima's been gimping since its MGS2 appearance, now has the bullet drop system (the farther you are, the more guessing it takes for accurate shots) to contend with and ammunition sparsely scattered around the base.

With a lack of gadgets to work with, the first trek into the U.S. "black site" on Cuban soil is one that is going to be filled with tremendous caution; you'll make Big Boss sneak past search lights, crawl through grass, narrowly evade guards' sudden appearance and suspicion of a weird dude crouching out in the open, and carefully aim his lethal, suppressed gun, because missing and hitting an object nearby immediately freaks them out and into alert mode. You will screw up, get caught, and put the entire base on edge, but even then, you'll still likely complete the brief story mode in an estimate two hours.

If you've never experienced Peace Walker, as well, which I'm discovering a lot of people skipped out on, GZ's scenario of Big Boss rescuing two notable characters from that game and the climax won't have as much impact as it should. Despite being perceived as a "watered-down" portable game by people who never touched it, the supposed irrelevance of its story in the grand scheme, and the fact that there's no number that comes after the word "Solid", Peace Walker is very much a full MGS title that's a legit follow-up to MGS3. The length of GZ is a main concern for many, sure, but the short story is going to serve as a dilemma, too. While this is very much touted as a prologue to The Phantom Pain, and a brief one at that, it has more strength as an epilogue to Peace Walker's narrative. Kojima Productions tried a compromise by including a written backstory and some of the cassette diary recordings from Peace Walker, but it's just not the same.

So if you were looking forward to a classic Metal Gear Solid experience, one with a drawn-out story of dramatic cutscenes and radio conversations galore, various locations, gizmos aplenty, quirky bosses, and a plot that's not a continuation of an "inferior" title, you probably will dislike Ground Zeroes. Now, while it's far from being the traditional fans' dream MGS title, to proclaim it as a bad release in general is a gross overstatement, because there's definitely content and value in the game, albeit one catered to specific players.

When you beat the game for the first time and return to the main menu, the completion percentage at the bottom left is likely going to be something like 8%. Why so? Well, you may be done with the main mission for now, but there's still the additional missions, or Side Ops, and even if they all take place on the same base, each one has a distinct scenario. Eliminate the Renegade Threat, for one, involves killing two soldiers, which is harder than it sounds since your info doesn't outright tell you where they are. On top of that, they're constantly moving throughout the map and always with backup. Adding to the tension is the tidbit where, if the base goes into alert status just once, both targets try fleeing the map. Other missions involve such activities like an action-packed rescue attempt and destroying anti-air turrets in a base continually on alert, all having their interesting twists and turns along the way.

You're probably thinking they won't be much of a hassle, since it's the same base with the same soldiers in the main story mission, but each mission has their own subtle variation of the original guard placements. The dev team was very sly about where you think guards are going to be, only to have your poor Big Boss sneak into a spot where a soldier will be glaring at him pointblank. And just when you think you've finally figured everything out, accomplishing a certain task in a mission usually triggers a shift change or something more menacing. Each Ops even takes place during different periods of the day, which dramatically influences your ability to hide. When I tried sneaking into the base's interior during a nighttime setting, I narrowly got spotted, but when I tried the exact method in a daytime scenario, a Marine off in the distance immediately noticed something was up.

As you can tell, Kojima Productions made damn sure you're going to fight for an S-Rank in each Ops, and the more you dig your heels in for the battle, the more you realize how thoughtful they were in designing the game. The base may not have as much "furniture" as something like Groznyi Grad, but combine that with the meandering and supple supply of guards looking in every direction, and you have no choice but to use all your resources creatively for success: toss that magazine clip to distract a guard away from a door, grab and interrogate someone for useful info, climb on top of buildings to get a better view of your general surroundings, and risk it all to take a guard out in the open and hope no one spots you as the body gets carried away. Some people detest this style of play due to a lack of tech goodies for a more convenient sneaking experience and others flatout call it cheap. I consider this Tactical Espionage Action in its purist form.

I'm fully aware this kind of thing, beating the game in a particular way for a good overall grade, has been present in the series for a long time, but never did it have to take center stage in a main MGS title due to a lack of the... usual suspects, so to speak. So, seeing it from that perspective, I think the dev team did a very admirable job at making this work in a game with such limited material. Completionists and oldschool-style players are gonna get the most out of this product, thanks to its statistical nature of having to play on a map or level over and over again for a better score. Almost as if the game was acknowledging its own length, GZ even includes speed-run trials that involve marking all the regular guards or eliminating them, which, upon success, will then be uploaded to leaderboards where, of course, the top five times are insane.

Don't get me wrong, GZ is far from phenomenal, because despite all the variations, we're still looking at a game that takes place solely on a base roughly the size of Groznyi Grad. I am disappointed, too, by the lack of Side Ops, a total of five to work with. Though overall not amazing, I do feel the amount of bad rep this game is getting, due to its length and retail price tag of $30, to be abnormally out of hand and really embarrassing. And I'm not talking about the people that are simply saying, "Eh, I'll just wait for it to drop in price" and move on with their lives, but the fans that are screaming bloody murder, calling it a rip-off, a disgrace, a simplification of mechanics, and other such things. Fine, everyone has their views, but with the amount of stuff people are reaching to complain about, you'd think it's on par with the Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle... except the months of information, video trailers, and demonstrations for GZ actually showed up in the final product.

You want my opinion on the price? Of course you don't, so I'm gonna write it anyway. Video games are fun, people who make video games also think they're fun, but at the end of the day, this is still a business, and particularly in this case, a lot of time, effort, and money has clearly been put into this title. I mean, they need to make a profit off this somehow, since development, publishing, and marketing cash doesn't appear out of thin air. So the fact that they released it at $30 (from a previous $40 tag, mind you) is surprising. I mean, they easily could've released it at $60 with, like, a bandana or FOX patch as bonuses. If you still don't want it for $30, then okay, rent it or buy it used. Shoot, knowing MGS release history, I wouldn't be surprised if they attached this with The Phantom Pain as a special edition when that comes out, likely filled with extra missions and with a subtitle of Supersubscissorstance.

Then we can all play The Phantom Pain and live happily ever after. Or complain some more.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (March 28, 2014)

Gomu Gomu no Bō...

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Germ posted March 29, 2014:

Hey! For such a controversial game it's amazing we arrived at the same numeric score, which is something I always have trouble determining. I like that you covered the side ops a lot more in this review than I did in my own. I kind of regretted it, but I think our reviews complement each other nicely.
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pickhut posted March 29, 2014:

Yeah, a 7 seems about right with me, as even though I enjoyed the game, I couldn't justify giving it anything above that. And thanks for reading!

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