While “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes” may be the biggest change in the series since its shift into 3-D, Snake’s latest mission will keep fans waiting for more.
Hideo Kojima’s latest addition to the franchise acts as a prologue to the overall story of “MGS V,” similar to the Virtuous Mission segment in “MGS 3.” The game is a direct sequel to the spin-off title “Peace Walker,” and it is essential that players bone up on their lore before tackling the latest installment. “Ground Zeroes” features a brief segment to explain the backstory, but this is still “MGS” — the plot is just as dense and complex as ever.
Without spoiling the story, the game’s most significant change is the shift in tone. The “MGS” story, while mostly serious, has always had its campy tendencies, from its over-the-top voice acting to the ridiculous plot elements. In 2013, Kojima indicated his desire to tell a more mature story, saying the main themes of “MGS V” would be race and revenge. One of the biggest signs of this shift is the decision to replace Snake’s original voice actor, David Hayter, with Kiefer Sutherland of “24” fame. As risky as it was dropping Hayter, who has voiced the character since 1998, Sutherland’s more somber tone matches the story more so than Hayter’s iconic, exaggerated style. Alongside darker character motivations and uncomfortable, graphic cutscenes, “MGS” veterans will immediately notice the change.
The gameplay has also evolved while retaining the core stealth experience expected from “MGS.” The most obvious change to the formula is the new open-world environment. Players are forced to navigate through a prison camp in Cuba as well as the surrounding area. The size of the map allows for several options for navigation and infiltration. Because the game provides multiple solutions to any given problem, players can experiment with different paths and play styles. While the game rewards stealth and nonlethal actions, the action and gunplay in “Ground Zeroes” are just as satisfying.
“Ground Zeroes” also includes several new features to aid players in getting through the game unseen. Binoculars are a traditional piece of equipment throughout “MGS,” but the latest installment has added a new tracking system to the mix. After focusing on an enemy, they will be engulfed in a glowing silhouette that can be seen through walls, similar to “Far Cry 3.” Once marked, players will know where a particular enemy is at any given time. It is possible to mark every enemy in the level, making stealth a breeze. The other new feature to the game is “reflex,” which slows time down when Snake is seen by a guard, allowing the player to try and incapacitate the guard before he alerts the entire base. Both abilities make stealth much easier than past “MGS” titles, almost to a fault. Fortunately, players can disable the features within the options menu for a more traditional experience.
Perhaps the biggest mark against “Ground Zeroes” is the overall length of the title. The game’s campaign clocks in at about two hours. While “Ground Zeroes” also features side missions, collectible items, time trials and a harder difficulty option, these features are mostly padding and only add a few extra hours to the overall experience. The title’s discounted price partially makes up for the length, but players will be left wanting more regardless.
Despite its disappointing play time, “Ground Zeroes” is essential to the story of “MGS V.” The story embarks from the traditional tone and formula, and the game acts as an essential step for series veterans to temper their expectations before the release of “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.”