The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Before the announcement of The Phantom Pain, Ground Zeroes appeared to be the next full Metal Gear game. Once Konami and Kojima Productions clarified the scope of Ground Zeroes – a prologue to The Phantom Pain's larger tale – I was still excited to get back into a sneaking suit and see the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Big Boss. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm didn't last long after picking up the controller. Ground Zeroes looks and plays like Metal Gear in some ways, but it feels hollow in others, resulting in a disappointing and unsatisfying glimpse into the future of this series.
Ground Zeroes makes a fantastic first impression. It is gorgeous, from the facial capture to the environmental textures. Even the little touches, like lens flare and particle effects, are impeccable. The camera angles are cool, the art direction is interesting, and the production values are high. Snake’s mission in the prison camp is undoubtedly a feast for the eyes, but if you want meaningful content, you’re going to leave hungry.
Your mission in Camp Omega is to find and extract Chico and Paz, two key characters from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Of course, infiltration missions are never so straightforward; something always comes out of left field to complicate the situation and force you to modify your objectives – except this time, it doesn’t. Your goal is as simple as it first appears: You extract Chico, extract Paz, then watch the credits roll. The mission clock on my first playthrough stopped at 87 minutes.
Short games are not bad. Quality isn’t about price or how long a game takes to complete. It's about how well the game uses the time it has, and that’s where Ground Zeroes stumbles. If it were 87 great minutes, I wouldn’t mind at all. Unfortunately, this game isn’t particularly dense, exciting, or deep. Apart from the two cutscenes that bookend the action, no standout moments punctuate your time as Big Boss. You don’t have any boss fights, memorable dialogue, or interactions with new characters. You sneak from point A to point B in the camp, shoot (or tranquilize) guards who get in your way, and you’re done.
On subsequent playthroughs – which the game encourages – you can round up collectibles, rescue POWs, and scour the camp for more interesting weapons like sniper rifles and rocket launchers. They’re neat to try out, but none of them have a significant impact. Additional playthroughs also let you discover alternate approaches to your objectives, since you have some freedom in how you reach certain areas. For example, you can hide in the back of a truck as it drives into a restricted area, or you can sneak around until you find the side door. This kind of experimentation can be fun, but ultimately, they are just brief detours before you’re back on track.
Once you’re tired of the main mission, you can delve into the side ops, which are separate operations that take place in the same single-map location. Each of these focuses on a central goal, like escorting a strangely familiar intel operative, destroying AA guns, or taking out specific enemies. The side missions are straightforward and unimaginative, but if you’re determined to get 10 hours or more out of Ground Zeroes, you could play all of them to perfection. While that level of replayability is technically present, Ground Zeroes exhausts its store of compelling content quickly.
For all of the ways this installment disappointed me as a fan of Metal Gear, Ground Zeroes gets some things right. Even if it doesn’t take you to interesting places, the stealth gameplay is polished and tense; the lack of enemy-tracking radar means you can get caught at any moment, which adds to the thrill. If you are seen, the new “reflex mode” gives you a few precious slow-motion seconds to neutralize any guards who could alert command. This addition (which can be disabled if you’re a purist) is my favorite new mechanic, since it adds little spikes of excitement while still allowing you avoid full-blown combat. I also enjoyed the ability to get feedback from Kaz (a.k.a. Master Miller) at the push of a button, eliminating the need for long codec conversations on a different screen.
The nudge forward that Ground Zeroes gives the story happens in the final cutscene, which takes the series to some dark and gruesome (and potentially offensive) places. It’s not for the sensitive or squeamish, but one way or another, it certainly made an impression on me. I expected the coma, but another plot development means that the world of The Phantom Pain will be slightly different than I thought.
Even for longtime fans of the Metal Gear franchise, Ground Zeroes may not be worth playing. It spreads its strengths thin over too little space, relying on the repetition of a handful of unremarkable missions in the same area. That's the bad news. The good news is that the core stealth is fun, and the innovations on the gameplay front are promising. When supported by enough variety, progression, and story development, these mechanics could form the foundation of a fantastic game. The Phantom Pain could eventually be that game, but Ground Zeroes is definitely not.
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