Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes takes place during the gap between Peace Walker and its main game, The Phantom Pain. What makes Ground Zeroes stand out from previous entries, is the smart approach that has been taken to the level design. No longer was I pushing past the gameplay to see the next piece of the story, but found myself enjoying the gameplay more than the story.
The game takes place on a rather small “open world” prison compound, known as Camp Omega. The setting oozes espionage, as you eavesdrop on unsuspecting guards or free prisoners to gather information. The ability to Interrogate guards at knifepoint is extremely amusing.
The openness of the level design is a good addition, making gameplay a lot more engaging. The game opts for a more action-oriented Metal Gear experience compared to the previous games, ditching the long cinematic cutscenes and eccentric boss battles for a more tactical experience. For those who are not used to stealth games, the game has a very clever “Reflex” mode, which slows down time upon being seen by the enemy, giving you a vital few seconds to take out the witness before the alarms are raised. The gameplay overall is given a huge boost due to the tactile controls. Your character feels extremely responsive to the keyboard and mouse. The ability to switch to first-person while aiming results in the shooting feeling the best it has ever been in the series.
The menus do suffer from a lack of mouse support, which can make the previously mentioned interrogation menu a little tricky to navigate, along with the pause menu. Apart from these nitpicks, the controls function well and are easily remappable in the games settings.
There are also multiple vehicles present on the compound, which can be driven by Big Boss to either transport multiple prisoners to an extraction point at once or to provide you with additional firepower if you plan on going loud.
After completing a mission, you are given a rating depending on your performance, such as how many people you killed, or the number of prisoners you have rescued. This is the main source of replayability in Ground Zeroes, as you try to better your score by learning of the different aspects of the level. As for the replayability, since the game is so short, once you have finished each of the side ops, there is little reason to return to the game.
For new players, the story presented within the gameplay is a little lackluster. A backstory is present in the main menu, but it seems quite distant from the ingenious gameplay and can be quite draining to read through. As “Big Boss” you learn that Paz and Chico are being interrogated by Cipher. Your mission is to extract the two prisoners and return them to “Mother Base”, an offshore base which Big Boss’ private military company, MSF, use as a headquarters. After being dropped off by your pilot Pequod, you are tasked with extracting the two prisoners from the island. While I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, things go wrong for Big Boss, who ends up in a hospital by the end of it. The length of the story is pretty short, especially for a standalone game.
Ground Zeroes is well optimized, with extensive graphics settings to fine tune the experience. There is great detail in the game’s textures. The visuals suffer greatly however from the depth of field, however, which is not possible to disable within the game. While it does cinematically add to the cutscenes, the effect is simply too strong in normal gameplay, and Big Boss will be little more than a blur most of the time. This also negatively affects the first person aim, with the sights occasionally being blurred, making it extremely hard to see where you are aiming. As for the sound design, it is top notch. It is clear the sound designers went to great lengths to design the sounds featured in the game, from the gunshots to the squelching of Big Boss’ boots. Unfortunately, there is no option present within the game to adjust sound at all, meaning dialogue sounds extremely quiet at points.
There are two difficulty modes present within the game, those being Normal and Hard difficulty. Normal difficulty is the recommended difficulty. Guards notice you if you get too close, but are admittedly dumb if you are a suitable distance away, and are mostly deaf to noises due to Big Boss’ sneaking suit. Once the game is switched to Hard mode, however, it feels like a completely different game. All assists, including reflex mode, are disabled, and the enemy will spot you from miles away, so going prone is essential for stealth. You are forced to think about your actions far more carefully. This is especially true in tight areas, as the noise you make is picked up from the far more acute guards. Hard mode is a good addition, especially for veteran players who were able to breeze through Normal.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a part of the Definitive Experience bundle, which also bundles The Phantom Pain And all of its content. The bundle retails at $29.99 on Steam.