Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes takes the patented Kojima formula and polishes it until it shines – leaving it with a slick, frictionless surface, punctuated by jagged spikes of shock content. Brenna’s not sure how to feel.
MGS 5: Ground Zeroes
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is not the full MGS5. It is a prologue, and a tutorial, for the full game – Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain.
Ground Zeroes exists to give fans something to chew on while Kojima Productions labours over its first true next-gen release. It is cheaper than a full game. Nevertheless, Koijipro expects you to get a full game’s value out of it.
Ground Zeroes hits PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on March 18 in North America and March 20 in Europe. Do your eyeballs a favour and get a next-gen version – although the more humble consoles offer lower price tags.
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is a feat of technical wizardry. Kojima Productions doesn’t do nearly enough talking about its new Fox Engine – not near as much as Epic, Square Enix and Crytek do – and I don’t have the knowledge or the language to explain what makes it so brilliant. Happily, you’ll only need a minute or two in-game to be completely au fait – the water, the lights, the animations, the physics, the silky frame rate are immediately apparent. It’s probably the best-looking and smoothest game I’ve played or seen on PS4 so far.
In my demo, I was tasked with breaking into a military compound to rescue Chico and Paz, characters who ought to be familiar to series fans as they were prominent cast members in Peace Walker (a game franchise creator Hideo Kojima once described as “Metal Gear Solid 5”; if you haven’t played it, correct this oversight). The action began with – what else? – a lengthy and very cinematic cutscene, “filmed” from a strange perspective – a free-floating camera that hung about at eye-level but never looked straight at whatever you were most interested in. Kojima’s been watching too many French films, I’d say.
In the course of this cutscene we met the antagonist – or rather, what we believe to be the antagonist now, but this is Metal Gear, so god knows what we’ll think 12 hours in (“I’m confused,” most likely). Our hero, Snake, is the leader of Fox, a freelance army-for-hire, and its rivals are the dastardly Xof.
Xof. Yes, Fox backwards. Its logo is the same as Fox’s, but facing the other direction. “This is definitely a Metal Gear game,” I said to my PR minder, who politely didn’t immediately kick me out for being cheeky.
Xof is led by Skull Face, a dude with a serious skin condition, bless him, but Snake didn’t have to deal with him, because he flew off in a fleet of helicopters to inspect Mother Base, the abandoned oil platform home you spent all of Peace Walker laboriously upgrading. Snake and Fox decided to use this opportunity to sneak in and rescue Paz and Chico, who were captured because – hang on, let me check the in-game briefings… oh you know what, come on, let’s just go choke some guys.
When Snake appears at the start of the game, he removes his mask and says “kept you waiting, huh?”, which is an in-joke. The difference between this and other in-jokes in the series to date is that it’s not funny. There’s no reason for Snake to say it at that point, because he has not kept the guy on the radio waiting in any way. He says it because we’re playing a Metal Gear game, and that’s how they start. If you’re a really intense fan, you’ll hopefully squeal with delight. If you’re only a pretty intense fan, like me, you might start to worry a bit.
The reason I started to worry is that once I got control and actually started playing, I noticed a couple of things. One: this is very clearly a MGS game, with the familiar controls, UI and sound effects you know and (hopefully) love. Two: The gameplay has evolved considerably, taking lessons from modern stealth titles while maintaining the core MGS gameplay loop. Three: it’s not funny. More on that later.
I really enjoyed playing Ground Zeroes. It’s wonderful how many of the franchise’s rough patches have been smoothed away. The perspective no longer feels unnaturally caught between top-down and over-the-shoulder; Metal Gear Solid 4’s camera issues were, for me, one of its greatest weaknesses, and that’s all been rectified. Loading times when you restart a checkpoint are delightfully brief. Codec conversations are short, and take place while you’re playing (welcome to the future where the future is about 2005 I guess).
Kojipro seems to have rid itself entirely of soliton radar and other HUD visualisation devices like the sound detector, in favour of pure sensory stealth – you look, and you listen, and you bloody well hope you’re getting it right. To make things easier, you can use the binoculars to tag enemies. They stay on your map permanently then – your map that does not pause the game when you look at it, by the way, and takes up your entire field of view – but also outlines them in glowing auras that show through walls, ala Far Cry 3. It seemed like you could only see them through walls if they’re moving or very close, though, so it doesn’t make it super easy – especially as patrols are cleverly designed to maximise your chances of making a terrible mistake. It’s sort of a visual representation of Snake’s senses and trained instincts, which are much better than yours, Mr “a twig snapped I think the enemy has gone away NOPE HE IS BEHIND ME SHIT FUCK JESUS CHRIST RUN”.
Here’s the iDroid map, blocking your view.
You can view this on a Vita, tablet or smartphone, thankfully.
When you do have to run, it’s best to have a plan, as the enemy are much better at taking you out than in previous games, and Snake can take far fewer hits. The various tasks I had to complete took place in a map that felt much too large when I was picking my way across it, and instantly claustrophobic every time I found myself in a jam. It adds up to a tense and challenging stealth experience, but one that feels fair once you learn the rules, and immensely rewarding when you get it right. Gunplay isn’t dreadful when it all goes shit-shaped, either, which is a relief.
As ever, the wonderful sandbox-style approach means you have loads of infiltration options. You can ghost it; tranquillise the guards; get in close to stun them; or even kill them. Again, as ever, exploration yields more resources in support of different play styles, like more ammo. I can really see myself having a ball running even this one mission multiple times, finding the optimal strategies.
Even from my few hours with it, I can see Ground Zeroes has been thoroughly polished; no corners have been cut. I had a great time running around exploring the base, capping fools and slipping through the shadows, and I absolutely would not hesitate to recommend the gameplay, nor to praise the wonderful things Kojipro has done with the PS4 (I haven’t seen any other builds, unfortunately).
Click through to the next page for the less fun parts.