Review: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (360)

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes has been under fire for its surprisingly short main campaign, but is there still enough substance to justify the $29.99 price?

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (360)
Score: 8.5/10

Platform: 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4
Release Date: 3/18/2014 (USA)
Developed by Kojima Productions
Published by Konami

Metal Gear Solid V is broken into two parts, the first being the recently released Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The considerably larger main story, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will release on an unspecified later date; due to the sheer scale of the proposed world, Kojima Productions needed much more time for development than originally expected.

Ground Zeroes follows shortly after the events of Peace Walker, meaning this is another chapter of the “original” Snake/Big Boss saga. The main campaign- the “Ground Zeroes” mission- is placed within an XOF military compound and prison camp in Cuba. The special forces unit has captured child soldier Chico, and Paz, a Cipher agent who infiltrates the Militaires Sans Frontières. Unlike other Metal Gear Solid titles, there’s an obvious lacking of cutscenes to flesh out the plot and any other background information. There’s an opening cutscene to establish the story- the same one shown as the E3 reveal, and ending cutscene that bridges Ground Zeroes with The Phantom Pain, and a few brief gameplay-integrated scenes within the mission. Bold players who choose to disregard stealth, could breeze through the main campaign in well under an hour; those who take the more traditional route will have a much longer experience. (Personal Note: I chose to use stealthy tactics; my ending play-time was 2 hrs, 9 min.)

The core stealth-based gameplay remains intact, but most of the features in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes are a large departure from previous titles. The Soliton Radar system has been removed, along with almost all HUD information. The Codec has been replaced with the new iDroid device, though it operates in roughly the same fashion. The iDroid can be used to call other characters, listen to audiotapes obtained during the mission, and can be used to call an escape helicopter. While it’s unclear what the full capabilities of calling a helicopter could do in The Phantom Pain, it’s used as a rescue device, cover-fire and a mission-exit vehicle in Ground Zeroes. Unlike the Codec, the iDroid does not pause the game, meaning the player needs to have situational awarenes, and make absolutely sure his/her position is safe before using it. While there’s no HUD map or radar system, the iDroid itself has a map feature; waypoints can be placed on the map in the iDroid, thus creating a marker for the player to follow in the actual game. While the other features within the iDroid freeze Snake in his place, the player is free to move around while having the map screen open.

Previous Metal Gear Solid titles featured a standard health bar that would decrease with damage…and smoking cigarettes; the only way to replenish health was through Rations found in each environment. That style of health carried into Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, but not Ground Zeroes, as Snake’s latest mission features regenerating health. Whenever damage is dealt to Snake, the screen turns a light hue of red, and burn-spots begin to appear; after a few seconds of inactivity, the screen shifts back to its normal state. As there’s no radar system, there’s really no place for the iconic “cone of view”. If the player is within range of a guard or security camera, a halo will appear on the screen, with a highlighted sector corresponding to where the closest threat may be (i.e. if a Guard is behind Snake on the left, the bottom-left part of the halo will glow). When the player is actually spotted, Reflex Mode will activate; this short state slows time, and allows the player to quickly snap to whatever spotted him/her, and take it out with a precised shot. While the gameplay mechanic is a welcome addition for the open-world environment of Ground Zeroes, it makes stealth seem almost unnecessary; with Reflex Mode enabled, a player can intentionally walk into a guard’s line of vision, then either tranquilize or kill them with a slowed-down head-shot. Those who want more of a challenge can turn off the mechanic in the Options menu.

Initially, guard positions will not show on the iDroid’s map: Players can use Snake’s binoculars to scope out an area, searching for guards; once a guard is found, if the player holds a guard in his/her sights for a few seconds, the guard will glow, and be marked with a red triangle. Once this is done, Snake can see the current position of that guard, even if he is behind or within a building. Marked guards will then appear on the iDroid map as a red triangle, moving in real-time with their positions. CQC or “close quarters combat” returns, allowing players to either subdue, execute, or interrogate bewildered guards. The drop-down, swiping inventory has been replaced with a “modern” weapon and item selection interface, mapped to each direction on the D-pad.

While it isn’t as dynamic a feature as it may be in MGS V: The Phantom Pain, Snake can drive any vehicle found in Ground Zeroes, including an armored tank. He can also crawl into the bed of trucks and utility vehicles, for an enemy guard to unknowingly transport him around the base.

Once the “Ground Zeroes” mission is completed, several other side and challenge missions are unlocked, reminiscent of the VR Missions found in previous MGS titles. Collectible XOF patches are scattered through the military camp; finding all of these unlocks the special Microsoft-exclusive “Jamais Vu” mission with the Metal Gear Rising version of Raiden.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is the first game from Kojima Productions to utilize the Fox Engine. While it may not have the same impact as its next-gen Xbox One counterpart, this is one of the best-looking Xbox 360 games to-date. Noticeable sacrifices have been made, as the opening and closing cutscenes are choppy, and have a considerable amount of “tearing”; the lighting is still exceptional, but at times shadows can appear ridgid, with “pixelated” borders. Nitpicking aside, weather effects are still present, as rain can be seen bouncing off of character models, with water rippling down the fabric of raincoats and structures. The overall lighting is very well done; lighting is of utmost importance in stealth games, as it essentially defines areas that are safe within shadows. With active search-lights, flashlights from guards, and ambient lights from structures, the lighting in Ground Zeroes is actively changing with every moment. Reflections are still present, but have been reduced in comparison to the Xbox One and PS4 versions, where mere puddles are capable of reflecting gameplay events in real-time.

Ground Zeroes doesn’t offer much in the music-department, but when it does, it does a superb job of accenting suspenseful, heart-pulsing moments. Music only activates during Reflex Mode, and after a full-alert has been initiated after Snake has been spotted. The music during these moments emphasizes the harrowing-tension at hand, and sends adrenaline through every vein of the player. Apart from these action-filled moments, the only other music is found within the opening and closing cutscenes. For an added touch of customization, any music track stored on the Xbox 360 can be used in-game as a theme for the helicopter; whenever the helicopter is called to a landing zone, the player’s chosen track will play loudly over the helicopter’s speakers.

While it may be a short experience, the amount of content does justify the $39.99 (US) price-tag. After the main campaign is completed, the player can choose to go back through in search of the XOF patches, or he/she can attempt the unlockable side missions. The sole purpose of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is to ready MGS fans for the upcoming large-scale epic that is Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, all while introducing them to a slew of new gameplay mechanics, shown in vivid detail with the new Fox Engine. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a must-experience for MGS fans, and those who are solely interested in MGS V: The Phantom Pain alike.

Images courtesy of Kojima Productions, Konami

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