After the success of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, it would’ve been a shame to let the series end there. The story of Big Boss and the exploits of his progeny, has, and will remain, one of the strongest stories in video game history – even if it is a tad bit complex. Refusing to let the story die with Solid Snake, Hideo Kojima (the man behind the legend), has decided to expand the series and tap into the untold stories of Big Boss and his arch enemy, Cipher.
When The Phantom Pain, and subsequently Ground Zeroes, was announced, it was very clear that Kojima had a different idea of how things would pan out in the next major installment. Shifting away from the usual linear levels, game footage for The Phantom Pain showed a more free-roam approach. To help ease newcomers to the series and reassure die-hard fans, Ground Zeroes was created as an introductory prequel, a bridge between the main games and quite possibly as a tutorial for the main game.
The story is as simple as it is short, and starts off just a little while after the events of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. If you haven’t played the game yet, make sure you do before playing this game. The events that unfold during Peace Walker, specifically what happens after you’ve completed Metal Gear Zeke, is crucial to understanding the depth and tragedy of game’s meager story.
Big Boss is on a mission to rescue two high priority targets, Paz and Chico. Behind the scenes, Kazuhira Miller and Huey Emmerich are providing Big Boss with mission support and preparing their military base for a vital inspection. Things are busy for the team and they might have the work cut out for them, but what they don’t know, is that there’s a lot of trouble brewing around them. After the initial introduction, much of the story is put on hold until you rescue your two targets, after that, you’re left with a massive cliffhanger and a big desire to ‘klap’ Hideo Kojima.
In total, the main mission took me about an hour and ten minutes to complete, which many might think is a total waste of money. Thing is, there’s actually a lot of extra stuff to do and it’s fairly replayable, especially if you’re the competitive type. The map itself is rather big and there will always be something you didn’t notice the previous time you played it. There are a fair amount of easter eggs to hunt down and plenty of ways to redo and hone your stealth skills in the main and 6 side missions. You’ll need it too, as Kojima didn’t only change the linearity of the game.
Say goodbye to the days of using L2 and R2 as your inventory selectors and Snake’s Mary Poppins pockets. You can only carry one of each type of weapon or gear, so if you want to use two different handguns, you’ll have to ditch the one you’re currently using. It’s different, but also a lot more realistic and believable, especially now that the visuals are more lifelike than ever. Ironically, Big Boss has now been given Wolverine’s healing ability – get hit by 5 bullets, hide in a corner and you’ll miraculously heal without any medical intervention (unless he’s severely wounded, then he must use Resident Evil’s miracle spray).
The control system also gets a nice shake up and it’s rather easy to adjust to. The D-pad controls your inventory, L2 for codec, R2 for the binos and select for the iDroid. The codec system is super simplified and used in real time, so there is no leaving the action if Kaz has something important to say.
You can once again interrogate your enemies, and it’s remarkably smoother than ever before. Simply sneak up behind him, grab him and begin the interrogation. The information you get varies, but most of the time the info is useful. You’ll either get intel on your objectives, weapon locations or enemy locations.
The cheekily named iDroid device is a new feature in the game. It’s basically a handheld machine that acts as a map, intel source and general spy gizmo. But what really makes this device amazing, is that you can mark each and every enemy unit with your binoculars, and track them using the iDroid – essential if you want to remain undetected.
Once again, the core feature of the game, and in a few of the other side missions, is stealth. However, being stealthy isn’t easy. This game truly tests your patience, observation skills and knowledge of the map. There’s not a whole lot of hiding places and very few foolproof hiding spots available. Many sections don’t have cover at all, so knowing when to be slow and sneaky, and when to be fast and noisy, is crucial if you get away without starting a firefight. Fortunately, if you do get caught, the game slows down (we’re talking bullet time), giving you some time to whip out a gun and kill or neutralize the oke who spotted you, before he can alert the others.
Lighting is also a key feature in the game and is used brilliantly and to maximum effect. Darkness hides you, but also your enemies. Sunlight exposes you, but helps you see clearer for better aiming. It really rounds off the whole experience and, together with everything else, delivers a wonderful punch.
Despite the very short main campaign, Ground Zeroes has a lot more to offer than you think. The side missions are entertaining, it’s a visual wonder, the stealth is more real than ever and there’s a library of intel tapes to listen to. The main drawback of the game is the change in Big Boss’ voice. The role has been passed on to Keifer Sutherland, whose voice isn’t necessarily unpleasant to the ear, but it might not be the one you want to hear. All in all, it’s a great game to play and will possibly keep you entertained until The Phantom Pain releases sometime next year.