If there’s one thing that will get gamers excited, it’s the words “Hideo Kojima.” The man has generated so much goodwill among gamers for the epic Metal Gear series that he might as well walk on water. Just the announcement of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was enough to launch the hype train to near unprecedented levels.
Then Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes happened. The game was released in March 2014 on console for $30 but it didn’t live up to the hype or the price. What was a very solid experience was overshadowed by backlash over fan criticisms of a lack of value.
And now Ground Zeroes has made its way to PC. It made a big splash with a smaller price tag than the console release and getting a 33% discount on release day thanks to a front page appearance during the Steam Holiday Sale. Can the PC port of Ground Zeroes salvage some of Metal Gear Solid and Kojima’s reputation?
I don’t think that we can dance around the elephant in the room straight away so let’s start with the game’s value proposition, such that it is.
The main mission for Ground Zeroes isn’t particularly long. When you include all of the cutscenes and the teaser for MGS5: The Phantom Pain, it took me less than two hours and it was my first time playing a Metal Gear Solid game. Speedrunner have completed the main mission in under four minutes and still gotten an S ranking. That’s not to say that everyone will do that out of the gate but one to two-hours for your first playthrough shouldn’t be surprising.
On top of that, there are four side quests, called Side Ops, that might add half-an-hour each depending on how well they go. I’ve read other estimates that pegged the length of each Side Ops at 15 to 20 minutes so clearly I’m not very good at them.
There are also two Extra Ops which are side ops that are unlockable when you collect nine X.O.F. patches in the Ground Zeroes mission. While there was only one Extra Op in each console’s version of the game, PC users get both bonus missions, each unlocked by collecting those nine X.O.F. patches in the GZ mission.
So without any replaying, and you can replay it a few times if that’s your thing, you can probably get between two to four-hours worth of gameplay out of MGS5: Ground Zeroes. It’s not a full game, it’s a prologue for The Phantom Pain. At $20, it’s priced at as a third of a triple-A release but it almost certainly not one-third of a game, especially not when The Phantom Pain is supposed to be this massive open-world experience.
Of course, it’s not like this is the first time we’ve had a paid prologue for a full game. Polyphony has done is twice for Gran Turismo with GT4 Prologue and GT5 Prologue. The US dollar equivalent for GT4 Prologue’s Japanese release price was $25 and the US dollar price for GT5 Prologue was $40, both of which are more than Ground Zeroes PC price. Capcom also did their own prologue, a $5 prologue for Dead Rising 2 called Case Zero.
Interestingly, while Case Zero had some fan backlash, the Gran Turismo prologues got away without much. Granted, the nature of racing game is quite different from comparatively more story-driven prologues. You’re going to get more mileage out of a racing game (pun intended) with one hundred cars and half-a-dozen tracks rather than a small game with a main story mission to play and a couple of side quests.
At least the $20 price point on PC is better than the $30 that it was on consoles at release. Of course, it’s also $20 for a vertical slice that could have been released with the game as the actual prologue or released as an open beta to test the Fox Engine or even released for a lower price. As much as gamers love MGS and Kojima, asking them to pay the equivalent of a third or half of a game for a small vertical slice isn’t something gamers will put up with for very long. I wouldn’t have spent $30 for this on console and I wouldn’t have bought it for the $20 full price on PC either.
With that out of the way, I can review the actual game. While I’m sure that everyone has a strong opinion as to if and how much a publisher can charge for a prologue, what I don’t think is up for debate is the quality of the end product.
I’ve never played a Metal Gear game before this but the quality of this game makes me want to go back and play the rest of them. This game was absolutely fantastic. The game allows for you to take either the stealth or the run-and-gun approach to situations which opens up gameplay to your strengths and some inherent replayability. And you’re given your goals for a mission but aren’t hand-held through. You have a lot of leeway to get the job done.
While hiding in cardboard boxes wasn’t in Ground Zeroes, the stealth mechanics are pretty good. You put foliage and large objects between you and the guards on patrol. If they think they see you, they’ll investigate further. If they clearly spot you, the Reflex system kicks in which gives you a slow-mo moment to take out the guard or camera that spots you. It’s new to Metal Gear but so is open-world gameplay. It’s new mechanic put in place to help you deal with the new gameplay style.
Running and gunning isn’t quite as intuitive as the stealth. Because I’m so great at stealth games, I spent a lot of time shooting my way out of messes. What I liked about the gunplay is that it didn’t feel as point-and-click as I would expect from most other shooters. You think you’ve got a target dead to rights but it’s not always click and they’re dead. It makes for a much more realistic experience and also drives you back towards stealth rather than shooting the whole place up.
Of course, Ground Zeroes pushes you into stealth because that’s been Metal Gear’s bread and butter since the 1980s. It’s where Kojima Productions has put the effort into the open world here because there are multiple ways to sneak to an objective but there’s only one direct approach.
To help you with either approach, MGSV:GZ has a couple of new mechanics to help you out. You can tag enemies using your binoculars which allows you to see them anywhere in the world with their range and on the map. I understand that regenerating health is a new addition to the franchise for this game. And Snake has a few new mobility options with the ability to roll and jump.
While we can argue all day about the price and value of Ground Zeroes, the gameplay goes a long way to make up for it.
I’ve gone all this way without mentioning the story which would be unusual in a Kojima game but this is just a teaser. Sure, there are no shortage of cutscenes but it’s not what I would expect as Kojima’s standard based on his reputation.
In Ground Zeroes, you’re playing as Big Boss AKA Snake as he infiltrates a secret US prison camp in Cuba to rescue two prisoners from his mercenary group. If that sounds familiar, there’s probably a good reason for that. MGS has always had an anti-war slant to its message and Ground Zeroes is no exception. I’d imagine that we’ll see more of that in The Phantom Pain.
Kojima is known for loading up his games with story and cutscenes and Ground Zeroes is no different. The seamless movement between cutscene and gameplay was fantastic as there was no loading or change in quality.
And those graphics are fantastic. The textures are pretty damn good. The environment and lighting look absolutely spectacular. Between the side ops and main mission, you get to see the Camp Omega black site at all times of day and in different weather conditions. The weather and lighting effects are some of the best I’ve seen in a game. Hopefully we get to cycle through different weather and times of day in The Phantom Pain because the lighting effects, shadows, lens flare and wet weather textures were definitely next-gen quality.
One thing that I can say is that the PC port of Ground Zeroes is nothing short of spectacular. I ran the game on high at 1080p and it held at a consistent 60 FPS regardless of what was thrown at me. There were plenty of graphics options for you to tweak, controls are rebindable and all the usual signs of a good port. What impressed me the most was that I was able to play this game on high at 60 FPS and my PC didn’t crack a sweat. Any other recent release at high would have made my PC exert a little effort. I’m not sure Ground Zeroes needed my CPU or GPU fans to pick up the pace at all. It sounded like my computer was asleep, not gaming.
In explaining why we needed Ground Zeroes to be separate from The Phantom Pain, Kojima explained it as a chance to help players acclimate to the new open-world gameplay and various new and tweaked mechanics. I’m not a video game designer or a long-time Metal Gear fan but if Kojima wanted to change things up, couldn’t 1) including Ground Zeroes in The Phantom Pain or 2) having a little tutorial in TPP work just as well?
And whether you want to call it a $20 demo or a prologue or a tutorial, it’s still brilliantly done. The production values of Ground Zeroes is superb. You can tell a lot of time and money went into it and Konami is likely to recoup a fair bit of that money. I understand that Konami’s in business to make money but there’s something to be said for customer satisfaction. I can’t imagine it’s very high right now which could affect sales of The Phantom Pain.
If you’re a Metal Gear fan, you’ve already bought it. If you’re not, I don’t think that this game is a must buy, even if you are planning to buy The Phantom Pain later on. At its $13.33 sale price, I think I could have understood buying it but not at $20. Production values don’t make up for there being two hours of a game here.
I just wish that the Ground Zeroes mission took longer to play than it took me to write this review… At least The Phantom Pain will be better value for money.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was played on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The review code for this game was provided by Konami. Your impressions of the game may change depending on platform played on, PC specs and whether you think that $20 is worth it for a vertical slice of a game, even if it’s a very nice vertical slice.