Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is a tricky one to peg down. Is is a prologue or demo, and is the boxed code actually worth £30 on PS4 & Xbox One? Gamers have asked Dave Cook many questions about Kojima's latest this week. Here are the answers.
Is Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes worth £30?
No, I don't think it is.
Does that, then, imply that the game is poor?
Not at all. In fact, it's superb.
See, Hideo Kojima has never lied about the fact that Ground Zeroes is a prologue to The Phantom Pain, so it's puzzled me that many gamers out there seemed to be expecting some kind of 10-15 hour epic. This has purely been constructed to showcase the Fox Engine, familiarise fans with Kojima Production's new suite of stealth mechanics and tide us over until the full game drops next year.
I won't get too deep into the game's content and finer points here, because Stace has already written a final impressions piece that goes into how the game feels to play, and covers the base mechanics. You should read it if you're interested in the game or are currently sitting on the fence.
Gamers have been asking me a lot of questions about the game's length, how it expands over time and if it's worth the money on current-gen formats. These things are subjective of course, but I'll tell you what I personally think after having sunk some five hours into it. First and foremost; it's a strange product, one that grows with each completion of the main Ground Zeroes mission, and the side content that follows.
You could say it's as long as you want it to be.
Here's a raw PS4 video of me playing the game slow and methodically
"For argument’s sake, you could probably dash across the whole base in about five minutes if there were no enemies stalking the grounds, but if you want the satisfaction of a high rank you’ll play this slow and methodical.”
The core story mode can be finished in around an hour on your first pass, although I took my time with it to try and complete a passive, no-detection run. It took me about two and a half hours, purely because I'm one of those annoying Tenchu: Stealth Assassins players who likes to choke out everyone on the map and leave no guard standing by the end of a stage. I also took time to explore, try out mechanics and tricks like any good critic should.
This is a different stealth experience to, say, Metal Gear Solid on PSone. The lack of Soliton Radar on your HUD is the biggest game-changer, as you need to carefully observe your surroundings and enemy placement using smarts, rather than simply guiding a dot between clearly-mapped cones of vision. That whole dynamic of skirting around foes and smothering them quietly has changed, bolstered with a simply incredible light system that profoundly impacts gameplay.
Enemy soldiers will swivel glaring spotlights from high in their watchtowers, causing streams of light to dance and warp across the environment without a clear field of vision from the operator. It's up to the player to decide if they can pass undetected or to be patient and seek our an alternative route. Hostiles can also be tagged using Snake's binoculars, which renders them permanently highlighted on the screen, through walls and on the in-game iDroid map device. It's very similar to Far Cry 3's tag mechanic.
This helps cool the game's high difficulty some-what, while other, more aggressive players will find solace in simply gunning down everyone with silenced tranquillizer rounds or suppressed rifle bursts. Those players will reach the end credits much faster than I did, but I don't play stealth games that way. Our methods and experiences will have differed; perhaps even drastically, and you also have to factor in secrets and other curios littered around the sandbox map.
”This is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played, with some of the most impressive lighting effects to date and a slick 60FPS veneer that never let-up once on PS4.”
For argument's sake, you could probably dash across the whole base in about five minutes if there were no enemies stalking the grounds, but if you want the satisfaction of a high rank you'll play this slow and methodical, while interrogating guards to reveal what they know.
Doing this drops map markers into iDroid that reveal ammo caches, collectible 'XOF' patches and cassette tape logs. There are also a handful of POWs to be extracted by chopper, who are then added to Mother Base in Phantom Pain via save transfer.
Once you complete the Ground Zeroes mission you'll unlock five Side-Ops that change several parameters such as time of day, weather and guard placement. These range from providing air support to a fleeing escapee, destroying anti-air cannons and assassinating two rogue agents. There's also the Raiden and Deja Vu bonus missions for Xbox One and PS4 respectively, although they aren't unlocked off the bat.
There's clearly a lot of content in here, with incentives to achieve greater ranks, play around with stealth tactics and test your ever-expanding gun collection, but why don't I feel Ground Zeroes is worth £30?
It's still not long or big enough to warrant the cost.
This is one of the best-looking games I've ever played, with some of the most impressive lighting effects to date and a slick 60FPS veneer that never let-up once on PS4. Yet when I think of the other games you could buy for that asking price I start to scratch my head a little. I'd argue that the £20 price-tag on PS3 and Xbox 360 is in the right ballpark, but to charge £10 more for what are - admittedly - superb visuals doesn't really fly, not when I personally place appearance low down my list of priorities.
Though the sandbox could theoretically be played repeatedly for any length of time, your patience could wear thin quite quickly given how small it really is. At first glance it appears massive, thanks to your rain-swept low visibility, but play a day mission and it's clear that Kojima's stealth toybox isn't all that vast. Some people don't have a problem with replaying content - see Dead Rising - but grinding the same things over and over isn't my idea of a fun time.
You may feel differently of course, and that's fine; no one's judging anyone else here. If I had bought this game at £30 I'd feel disappointed by the lack of content, but just as I did upon completing the main mission, I came away impressed by the gameplay, new mechanics and reeling at the dark ending. It has absolutely succeeded in hyping me for The Phantom Pain, seeing as it's essentially the same format but across a massive region, rather than one small base. That potential scope blows my mind.
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is perhaps the most-expensive elevator pitch I've ever sat through, but while I'm sold on the premise, I'd feel a little short-changed by the price of admission.
Disclosure: to assist in writing this piece, Konami sent Dave a PS4 copy of Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes.