Teashade Reviews Vol. 4 ~ Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
In early 2014, Japanese gaming conglomerate Konami released the first part of the Metal Gear Solid V Experience - the prologue episode, Ground Zeroes. Developed by Kojima Productions, Ground Zeroes takes place several months after the ending of the previous entry in the series - Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Peace Walker was originally released as a Playstation Portable exclusive title before being re-released as part of a HD Collection for the Playstation 3, Playstation Vita and Xbox 360.
With the sequence of Ground Zeroes' narrative events stemming from the ending of Peace Walker, the audience found themselves once again inhabiting the shoes of legendary mercenary Big Boss - as he infiltrates a U.S. black site on the southern tip of Cuba.
But, just how did this prologue entry in the Metal Gear Solid V Experience turn out? Was it worth the exorbitant price tag?
Narrative & Presentation
As with most of the games in the Metal Gear Solid series, Ground Zeroes continues the tradition of incorporating a strong and impactful narrative into the game. Taking place in mid-March 1975, Big Boss heads to Camp Omega - a U.S. black site on the southern tip of Cuba. His objective there is to rescue two former allies of his - the Nicaraguan child soldier known as Chico and the spy Pacifica Ocean, known by her alias of Paz Ortega Andrade.
Although Big Boss never meets the mastermind behind their capture, the audience is introduced to this mysterious disfigured man during the opening cinematic - the man (voiced brilliantly by James Horan) is revealed to the audience as Skull Face.
Despite his brief appearance in the opening demo, Skull Face's character is explored more in the form of optional cassette tapes that the player can collect over the course of the game and its subsequent side-ops. This feature was first introduced in Peace Walker as a way of filling in the series lore without having cutscenes every five minutes - a frequent complaint from gamers.
The cassette tapes in Ground Zeroes do a great job in filling in some of the space between the end of Peace Walker and start of Ground Zeroes - including recounting Chico's escape from Mother Base and desperate attempt at rescuing Paz only to be caught himself. The tapes also painfully detail some of the torture that both Chico and Paz went through during their time at Camp Omega - some seriously uncomfortable listening for those sensitive to breaches of human rights.
In regards to the actual prologue mission itself - it contains a number of cutscenes that reveal to the audience the fate of both Chico and Paz, as well as their subsequent retrieval and rescue. One notable fact with the game is the absence of veteran Solid Snake/Big Boss actor David Hayter - instead, the role of Big Boss is played by famous celebrity and prestigious actor Kiefer Sutherland. Whilst the change is noticeable, Sutherland provides an excellent and fresh take on the iconic mercenary.
Chico (played by Antony Del Rio) and Paz (played by Tara Strong) are both well-portrayed characters - with both actors maintaining their characters' accents from Peace Walker without any discernible difference. Huey Emmerich (played by Christopher Randolph) is given some brief character development but is portrayed well by the series veteran. Big Boss' best friend and business partner, Kazuhira Miller (played by Robin Atkin Downes) is also granted some development and a physical presence in the game's closing narrative. Robin Atkin Downes' performance, as always, is exceptional - closely resembling the accent and nuances of Cam Clarke, the original voice actor for villain Liquid Snake who impersonates Miller in the original Metal Gear Solid.
Despite the great acting performances, however, the story is a rather brief one - with Big Boss infiltrating and retrieving Chico and Paz only to witness the downfall of Mother Base, the home Big Boss' military organisation (the Militaires Sans Frontieres) operates from. The demos are well-directed and the cinematography is fantastic. The addition of Akihiro Honda and Ludvig Forssel to the composer team is a welcome change - although regular series composer Harry Gregson-Williams still makes his presence felt through a number of select tracks.
Once again, however, the story is considerably short - from the start of the Ground Zeroes mission through to the ending cinematic takes only about two hours for a novice player. Speedrunners have finished the mission in less than ten minutes. In regards to the cutscenes and cinematics - there's about a good 30-40 minutes of visual content available and about an additional hour's worth of audio content through various cassette tapes.
Whilst not necessarily canon, the four side-ops and two extra-ops each contain a degree of narrative elements in them as well - extending the story's longevity. However, they take place in earlier points than the Ground Zeroes mission or, in some cases, different timelines altogether. So, it's up to the individual player to discern whether they treat the side-ops and extra-ops as canon content.
Gameplay & Feel
For Metal Gear Solid V, director Hideo Kojima opted to create a brand new engine for the game. Known as the Fox Engine, Ground Zeroes was the engine's maiden voyage into the consumer world. Right off the bat, the controls feel tight and responsive - at least, moreso than in previous entries in the Metal Gear series. Big Boss can crawl, crouch, crouch-walk, walk, jog and run - six completely different animations and dynamic motions to immerse the player and adjust to ever-changing scenarios. The left analog stick is used to move the player character, with L3 reserved for running whilst moving. The right analog stick is mapped for moving the camera, with R3 alternating between left and right over-the-shoulder view.
The weapons/aiming system and reconnaissance/intel system have been given a massive overhaul as well. Weapons and items are assigned to specific buttons - on the Playstation 3, the directional pad is used to access these. Up is for hip weapons (assault rifles & shotguns), down is for secondary weapons (handguns & sub-machine guns), right is for support weapons (fragmentation, flare and smoke grenades, C-4 & empty magazine rounds) and left is for items (in the case of Ground Zeroes being restricted to mainly night-vision goggles). The left bumper buttons are reserved for aiming weapons and using the radio to call Miller for intel. Whilst holding an enemy sentry up, the left bumper buttons are also used in conjunction with the right analog stick to interrogate them. The right bumper buttons are used for firing weapons/using CQC and equipping the Int-Scope (binoculars outfitted with a directional microphone to observe and overhear conversations from a distance).
As for the shape buttons, the cross button is reserved for crouching down/crawling onto the ground and standing up depending on the length of the button press. The cross button is also used to confirm choices in the menu screen and cassette player. Circle on the other hand is used to cancel choices in the menu screens and stop cassette tapes in the cassette player. It's also used to reload weapons and carry unconscious bodies. Triangle is reserved for climbing and lockpicking - a sort of interactive field action button that can also be used to aim in first person whilst holding the left aiming bumper button. Lastly, the square button activates a kind of 'dolphin dive' move - a quick jumping sequence in which Big Boss leaps in whichever direction the left stick is moved towards. This move is a quick way of jumping out of sentries' lines of sight before they can spot the player character.
The controls are mapped in a mostly logical fashion akin to most modern action games - and as such, frequent gamers should adjust to the changes fairly quickly. There's also an option to choose from several alternate configurations - mostly swapping some bumper and shape buttons around for ease of convenience.
What surprised me the most during my time with the game was how natural the controls and interaction with the environment felt. Of course, there are some jarring moments - for example, dolphin diving off a high ledge leads into Big Boss miraculously fixing his body position in order to land on his feet. The map of Camp Omega provides enough of a playground for players to practice the controls and hone their skills. Weapons and equipment feel natural and realistic - with bullet drop introduced for weapons, a first in the Metal Gear series.
All in all, it's a definite improvement from previous games in the series. The ability to inhabit the shoes of Big Boss feels more realised than ever before.
Overall, Ground Zeroes manages to establish itself as a well-rounded and thoroughly designed introduction to Metal Gear Solid V. The controls are mapped well and feel mostly natural, with a variety of dynamic options available for the player to alternate their stance in order to adjust to an ever-changing environment. The narrative is well-written and executed perfectly, with transitions between gameplay and in-field cutscenes taking place with no obvious load time.
As for the exorbitant price tag - it's ultimately up to the player in question. Those looking to just play through the story might feel let down by the price tag - which, here in Australia, was $49 when I picked it up back in 2014. Then again, most games released in Australia are naturally more pricey than across the ocean.
Playing the game normally can see a player finish it in around two hours. Adding the Side-Ops and Extra Ops to the mix (along with all the various Trial challenges available) can extend the life of the game to a more healthy run. For me personally, I spent a total of around 21 hours playing through the game completely - finishing the story, passing all the Trial challenges, finishing every Side-Op and Extra-Op and collecting and listening to every cassette tape available in the game.
On a side note, I'd also like to point out that there's a companion app available on the Android/Apple Store which allows one's smartphone to act as a map and cassette player for those with an online console gaming ID. As of July 2017, the app is still active as far as I'm aware.
So, after all is said and done, what is my final mark for the game? Well, after a lengthy consideration, I've settled on a healthy 8 out of 10. Ground Zeroes is well-designed, with a compelling story and tight, responsive controls that encourages re-playability and a variety of hidden secrets for those with a healthy curiosity.
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