Snake is back, but only for a bit. In fact, Ground Zeroes’ incredibly short missions make you wonder if you didn’t just waste 30 dollars on a demo. A great demo of a potentially superb game, but still a demo. And unless you’re a die-hard fan of Hideo Kojima’s work, you’ll be partially right. The game’s ONLY story mission takes around an hour or two to complete, if you’re thorough. Speed runners can cut that time down to 10 minutes or less. Another 5 side missions take 20-30 minutes each, with a total of around 3.5 hours on the first playthrough. MGS games are known to be short, but this one breaks the record.
This and the price of admission can put off a lot of people, which is a pity, because the game itself is amazing. The few bits of story set the stage for Phantom Pain, the next game in the series, really well. They leave a lot of questions, but ultimately fall together just right for a prologue, at the same time showing that Snake is just a human, like everyone else, and he also makes mistakes. Be prepared for a lot of downtime, though, because most of the story is told through cassette tapes. Listening to those during missions is distracting and the only alternative is doing it in the main menu. And if you’re a newcomer to the series, make sure you also look through the Backstory section, which will explain who the hell Snake, Kaz, Paz, Chico and Huey are.
Metal Gear, as a series, has been around for almost 30 years and every game was built on different mechanics and a new formula. With GZ Kojima decided to try out the sandbox model. You are dropped into a large military base loosely based on Guantanamo, you’re given objectives and set loose. The base itself is large, diverse and free to explore – think Shadow Moses from MGS 1 put into one map. How you get to your goals, and in which way you complete them is entirely up to you. You can go in guns blazing, sneak in and out undetected, create a distraction with some C4, snipe enemies from afar, make use of plentiful vehicles and so on.
The smart AI helps keep the different styles of play entertaining and challenging. Even on the lower difficulty enemies easily see or hear you, react to busted cameras and lights, call search parties at first sight of a fallen comrade and organize into an effective combat unit when it all hits the fan. And just as you think you have these guys figured out, their patrol routes change or a new shift of guards comes into the area. This makes you think very carefully about your every step, because one stray supply truck can ruin your perfectly set ambush.
The way you play determines how you’re rated at the end of each mission and which unlocks you get. Those include weapons, trials, tapes, etc. Add to that some hidden optional objectives and you’re looking at one extremely replayable game that almost justifies its hefty price tag.
The PS3 version’s visuals, however, aren’t as easy to forgive. While it’s understandable that FOX engine is aimed at PS4 and XBO, the amount of pop-in is surprisingly high. Some objects are also scaled down, like bushes and tires, and end up looking like something out of a 2003 FPS. Textures are generally blurry or load late, lighting is uneven, sometimes going through solid walls. The only things that look really good in gameplay (cutscenes are as awesome as ever) are character models and weather effects. GZ can look good, but very rarely on last-gen. The screenshots you can take with the companion app further diminish the visual quality (which you can see for yourself).
As for one the fans’ main concerns –- don’t worry, Kiefer Sutherland does a great job of voicing Snake. It’s not David Hayter, sure, and the new voice takes some getting used to, but after a few minutes the personality takes over the delivery and it’s just Snake again. You won’t notice much difference. The rest of the cast is voiced by the same people who did Peace Walker for PSP – Robin Atkin Downs, Tara Strong, Antony Del Rio and Christopher Randolph – all well-known by fans and newcomers alike, so expect nothing less than great acting from them.
If you decide to go through with spending $30 on Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, be warned. This game is unforgivingly short for just a single playthrough. The PS3 version also lacks a lot in visuals department. But it’s also a challenging, fun, diverse, tactical action game with tons of replay value and it serves as a great stop-gap for fans waiting for Phantom Pain and entry point for newcomers curious about Metal Gear in general. Even if it is just for a bit, Snake is back. So give him a proper welcome, if any. And if you’re not ready yet, wait for Phantom Pain’s special edition or a price drop.