A short game or an expensive demo?
Size isn’t everything and we live in an age where Titanfall checks in at a whopping 48GB install and downloading feature length HD content no longer troubles our ISP, so girth is by no means a measure of quality.Some of the best gaming experiences still come in byte sized packages. My favourite game of last year, Gunpoint, clocks in at only 146MB. Redshirt just about breaks two-hundred and spawned ridiculous comments from users saying that for the price they paid for it they somehow feel diddled by that size. Here, have this unnecessary mega-texture to bulk out your install directory. Happy now?
And yet the diminutive nature of Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes troubled me. I had expected, as is now standard with this generation, to pop the Blu-ray in and then wander round the house for twenty minutes as it installed, filling my harddrive with Lithuanian voice overs. Yet instead it offloaded a mere 4GB before spinning expectantly, Snake sat in the back of a transport helicopter awaiting instruction. Suspiciously I picked up the pad.
Just over an hour later I put the pad back down.
As the credits rolled the overwhelming sensation was one of disappointment. After spending the previous sixty-minutes sneaking through a military camp and beginning to get into the groove of this covert warfare malarkey my play was unceremoniously cut short. I wanted more. Not so much because I thought it scintillating but more because I was still figuring it out, still feeling my way in the world. Ground Zeroes does itself no favours as it ends long before it reaches its stride.
Happy CampersThe whole adventure is set in a single environment, a military base built upon a rocky outcrop by the sea. It’s dotted with guard towers topped by roving search lights, criss-crossed by dirt roads carrying patrolling jeeps, and home to dozens of soldiers and their tents. In contrast to this collection of wood and canvas, there are a series of helipads and concrete bunkers to the north of the camp and a disturbing Guantanamo Bay style prison camp off to one side. It sets quite a scene but to Snake it all boils down to a series of sightlines and cover. Under a cloak of darkness and with the beating rain disguising his footsteps he stalks through the lines of tents, silencing the unsuspecting guards one by one.
What is impressive about the base is that it’s doesn’t funnel the player as most stealth games tend to. Rather it’s a sandbox, dismissing the usual limitations of the genre and presenting you with a sprawling patchwork of obstacles and buildings all offering a wide variety of organic routes to success. More direct ones may be more exposed whereas a more sheltered trip through the tented garrison probably has more guards patrolling, but there’s a host of choices. There are cut backs and short cuts. It allows you to set your own pace and to some extent write your own experience of Ground Zeroes.
Most of that experience will be spent hunched over in the shadows or awkwardly waddling after a guard preying that the jingling hardware you’re carrying doesn’t give yourself away. Having not played any Metal Gear Solid game previously I came at this stealth with few preconceptions and am already taken by how cleanly it is presented. There’s little on screen to intrude, leaving you with your surroundings and the locations of any guards you’ve tagged. There are no light gauges or sound meters, just the common sense of sensory feedback as Snake rattles like a scrap iron wagon when he runs.
This is hide and seek on a very grand scale.
He carries a lot of stuff, too: grenades, automatic rifle, night vision goggles, and for some reason a Sony Walkman. The most useful items by far – assuming you don’t want to listen to 99 Luftballoons - are his silenced rifle and tranquiliser gun, both key to ensuring you’re a threat whilst remaining undetected. Whilst the latter is purely a threat to guards, putting them out of action until a comrade rouses them, the former is not only a longer term solution to wandering guards but handy at taking out lights and handing you yet more avenues to pass through undetected. What provides an interesting balance and prevents you from sneaking indefinitely is the restricted ammo and the limited durability of the silencer. Once that’s gone then expect every guard in the vicinity to come and investigate your shots.
They’re no fools either. If they hear gunfire or catch glimpse of a “suspicious person” they’ll all enter a heightened state of alert investigating your last known location. They’re persistent and it takes a while of Snake remaining incognito before they’re convinced he’s gone. This is again where the size of the level adds yet more to gameplay as with such breadth there’s always the opportunity to survive an encounter without resorting to reloading the last checkpoint. It’s large enough that should you be able to evade your pursuers then there’s bound to be either an alternate route to your goal or a dark corner for you to lie low in until the heat dies down. This is hide and seek on a very grand scale.
A far more effective approach tends to be sneaking up and subduing the guards by hand. There’s obviously a risk in putting yourself out there, an unexpected about face and you’re looking at the entire barracks being alerted, but the payoffs are greater. A quick piece of interrogation before you put them to sleep may reveal a hidden collectible or even a special weapon. Discovering the whereabouts of a sniper rifle or rocket launcher can dramatically change how you approach a mission.
Bonus ContentThey’re particularly handy for the extra missions that become available once the main tale is finished. All incursions into the same camp they’ll task you with a variety of goals from taking out specific guards to blowing up the AA guns hampering your choppers. As opportunities to further explore and test Snake’s talents they’re welcome and all structured differently enough to let you feel that you’re being offered further challenges. However, though fully furnished with their own storylines and unique preludes, some may cynically say they only exist to pad out Ground Zeroes in order to justify a retail release.
None of the extra content adds anything substantial to proceedings and there’s an air of designers trying to wring the most from a single confined space. Despite the qualities of said space, by the time your wandering through the same row of tents for the umpteenth time it begins to lose its sheen. The team involved were obviously caught between a rock and a hard place in terms of balancing out quantity of content versus quality and the strains are obvious. At the end of the main mission I was informed only to be just 9% complete and that I’d unlocked a side mission tasking me with tagging all the soldiers in the base in the quickest time possible. Hardly scintillating espionage. If this is an indication of the depth of the full game when it comes out then there are bright things ahead but on a single level it feels a little desperate.
The main issue with dragging out such content is that it never feels as though the game evolves. In a traditional campaign you join with a character as they go on a journey, experiencing the peaks and troughs that a story graced with more time introduces. With Ground Zeroes there is nothing but a plateau. Your skills, weapons, and talents never change and there is nothing to grow other than your knowledge of the map. Almost inevitably this leads to a lack of investment and after a few hours of trying to eke out the most from the package enthusiasm wains.
Metal Gear Rising
- Fantastic stealth sandbox
- Streamlined UI
- Rewards patience
Metal Gear Sinking
- Far too short
- Content stretched too thin
- An expensive demo
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes PS4 Review
It’s situations like this where I feel a single number can never do justice to a game.
The core of Ground Zeroes shows an extremely enjoyable stealth game that rewards patience and skill. It shows a fresh, cleaner approach to its presentation, forcing you to respond to your environment rather than relying on a host of meters and maps whilst still keeping all your favourite gadgets a button press away.
The star of the show however is undoubtedly the level design. A wonderfully laid out sandbox that encourages exploration and presents multiple approaches to any of the missions. It’s size and scope nip in the bud the usual frustration of being spotted, usually a death knell in most stealth games, as it offers opportunities to hide from danger, counter attack from the shadows, or even loop round and evade your threat entirely.
Yet for all that good work, the solid base is let down by being just a single level. It may offer a handful of unique missions for that level but they soon begin to feel like padding. There’s no story to follow, no progression to be found, and it soon begins to feel like a very hollow experience.
This is an introduction to the full Metal Gear Solid V coming sometime in the future and should not be considered a full game in and of itself. The conflict then lies with it being exceedingly promising but equally criminally short. Ultimately what you must ask yourself is how much you’re willing to pay for such a demo?
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