a new vision of old friends: Ground Zeroes review

The release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was the main reason for the creation of my “March Metal Gear Month“. Unfortunately, I’ve accumulated this review just a few h0urs too late, and it’s already April 1st. It’s been hectic in Jryanmua land. Plus, I acquired the game a bit late. But I’m certainly following through with this plan of mine, and including a Ground Zeroes review as part of the March event. So here it is!!

Introduction

Hideo Kojima has stated that throughout his precious Metal Gear series, he’s sought to give the player a realistic stealth experience, but due to technology was never able to accomplish that fully… until now. With Metal Gear Solid V (and its prequel), he claims the series’ gameplay potential has finally been fully realized. Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but think, Kojima, aren’t you missing the point? Metal Gear Solid has never been about stealth action for me. It’s always been about three things: the atmosphere, the unparallelled depth of story and characters, and the pushed boundaries of post-modernist gaming. The gameplay, while ahead of its time in MGS1 and 3, was not the thing that kept me involved in the series. However, I am an enthusiast of badass-ery… Growing up on action films like Predator and The Rock, I’ve always had a soft spot for a great rendition of action. Even in the wake of my new deeper appreciations for things like emotion, music, atmosphere, and intellectuality, there will always be a soft spot for a hardcore goodguy who takes out the trash and looks damn cool while doing it. I love Hitman, I love the Punisher, and those things were brought on by that soft spot. And with those things, it’s a necessity to have an additional soft spot for things like the sheen of a gun barrel, the intricate clanking of a reload, the sound of a sniper shot, the way an enemy looks when he’s been pierced through the heart in the heat of battle… It’s grimm, but it’s a guy thing.

Now, with that being said, I went into Ground Zeroes skeptical of its presentations and decisions on the part of the director, consciously hoping it would satisfy me as a Metal Gear fan but also subconsciously hoping it would provide a meaty satisfaction to the action-lover in me.

I was very surprised to find that it DID… AND fell perfectly into place among the Metal Gear lore. Ground Zeroes, baby.

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I would have to agree with finally agree with Kojima on this gameplay. It is the not only the best of the series, but the best stealth action I’ve ever seen! To put it simply… Ground Zeroes’ gameplay is heaven. It’s got everything from the grand spectacle to the fine details:

Character Movement and Animations

A good developer and myself know that the way your character feels while in your control is possibly the single most important part of how the gameplay feels as a whole. Snake’s character model is so dynamic and his animations adapt to the environment extremely well. Complicated sequences like: standing up quickly from prone, then sprinting towards the fence and jumping over it; all single parts move seamlessly to and from one another giving it any at all combination of movements a very realistic visual. The animations themselves have never felt more real. Snake really feels to have weight – he’s not just crawling around on the ground like worm anymore, every movement in prone position feels like a struggle to pick up and drag his body in a position that really shouldn’t be as easy as previous games made it out to be. Sticking to cover works very well, too, surprisingly. I’ve never liked the snap to cover method of movement – I liked to have to press a button to make my character huddle close to a wall. But in Ground Zeroes, the snapping to cover seems to read my mind and happen at just the right moment. Then, of course, getting off the cover is just as easy – just start going where you want. I also love the dynamicy of being able to climb up and jump over nearly any obstacle. It only adds to the freedom we can experience.

I am always the sort of person to look at my character a lot. I love when games are cinematic, so naturally I gravitate towards performing the gameplay in a really cinematic way. This involves rotating the camera around to see the front of my guy, moving the character in ways I think a real person would move… So throughout my experience with Ground Zeroes, I was giddy with how well it worked with what I like to do. The character model and animations, of course, need to be stellar to be a good addition to cinematicism. That stuff really does add to the experience, for me.

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Graphics

Well… they are pretty much godly. I’ve never seen a game with this few of holes to poke through. Usually it’s, “well that backdrop doesn’t look like it’s really in the distance”, or “this one barrel is really lacking in texture”… but there is really nothing to critique about Ground Zeroes’ looks. Is it the best looking game I’ve ever seen? …possibly. The only thing I had a slight problem with is the rounded models. Metal Gear is still using pentagons a plenty in place of cylinders… but you wouldn’t notice that unless you were looking for it. Maybe that was a PS4 difference. I was playing on PS3, just to let you know. I still thought it looked incredible.

The best thing about its look is the lighting. It looks like the environment was drawn in light rather than 3d shapes. It looks terrific, especially in the intel operative mission. Those golden sunspots against the cool blue shadows… beautiful. And in the night mission, the rain looks awesome, and that sort of waterfall falling off the cave near the one LZ looks totally real.

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Weapon System and Stealth Action

This is the first Metal Gear installment to not use the left and right shoulder buttons to select your item and weapon. Instead, it uses a much more modern selection system with the D-pad, and there’s a lot less crap to choose from. As a bit of a purist, I am not sure it should have deviated from the old ways, but as far as usage, it couldn’t feel simpler and more natural. The guns themselves are perfectly modeled and feel nice in the characters hands. A gunshot has nice force, but that’s something that MGS3 was class-A in as well, so it’s not a big deal – just more reasons the game feels great.

One of Snake’s most valuable weapons, as you know, are his methods of “persuasion”. In other words, he likes to sneak up behind people and knock them out, and hid their body in the grass – if he’s feeling generous. Those aspects in Ground Zeroes have never felt better. Carrying an enemy, or POW, to a different location is also pretty thrilling because it’s not just Snake who must stay out of enemy sight, but the captive as well.

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All the stealth action basics the series has defined seems to have been enhanced in one way or another for this game. Everything feels smoother and more natural than ever, but also some classic elements resurface, like the drainage crawlspaces and the surveillance cameras. I like that after all this time, the surveillance cameras are dealt with the same way – waiting until it’s facing away from the you, then walking right under it to remain out of sight.

Map Design

Maybe the coolest thing to happen to the series’ stealth action is the map. Surely this is part of Kojima aiming for a more realistic stealth adventure. With a giant enclosed map to run around causing trouble in, and with millions of combinations of ways to proceed, the map provides hours and hours of replay value. Remember how the Hitmans felt? You are given a giant map and allowed to go around doing whatever you want to do to accomplish your mission however you want? That’s exactly how Ground Zeroes is, and excitingly tells how Phantom Pain will be. Snake’s path is no longer linear, but more like a reach the objective point however you can sort of thing. It’s really exciting to delegate with that much freedom.

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The map designed for Ground Zeroes’ one story mission, is the same one used in all four side ops. That’s perfectly okay, because it’s big enough and diverse enough to have more than enough potential for handling multiple missions. It’s a great level, that I find has got just the right amount of confusingly laid-out areas and difficult-to-get-through-unseen areas. And I must add… I saw videos online featuring the map prior to my play of it, but I’m so glad that certain spoilers were kept out of said videos, because there’s one part of the map that floored me – the inside of the prison. I wasn’t expecting it to be as detailed and frankly frightening as it was.

Popular Criticisms

I would have been one to sign the petition banning “reflex” and “tagging” after first hearing about them. But I will say I have actually enjoyed those aspects at times in my experience. The reflex, I didn’t realize before, but is actually something these games needed, because there was always a moment in previous games where one guy sees me when we are relatively out of site of any other people, and I think, “so what if he saw me? I should be able to just take him out before he alerts anyone else”. But it didn’t work that way. The very second he saw you, the entire base was somehow alerted at that same second, and you had to run and hide. Well, now Ground Zeroes gives you the chance to do what I believe a real operative would get the chance to do – eliminate someone before he alerts others about your presence. In some cases it does feel a bit cheap and uneeded, but in some other cases, it feels very justified… The tagging system I thought was completely unnecessary, and kind of still do. It just makes the whole thing infiltration a lot easier and a lot less exciting (plus, it was just stolen from the Far Cry series). So I didn’t use it most of the time. But I did find it useful when I wanted know where that stupid cargo truck was at all times. Tagging the truck allowed me to follow it to a parking spot.

At first, people were criticizing the length of the game. I don’t think anyone who has bought and played it would still have those criticisms. They must have noticed by now just how much replay value there is here, but more importantly, it’s all in the spirit of looking forward to the next main installment! It’s so exciting playing this game largely just because I’m anticipating how well this gameplay will translate to the new game! Along with the five missions, piles of extras have been added to make the game seem a little beefier and less like just a demo. It didn’t fool me, but then again, I was happy just playing the main story mission over and over. There’s a large selection of unlockables and hidden gems in the game, and like I said, I couldn’t really give a hoot about them as much as the main selection of story. I am interested, however, in unlocking the “deja vu” mission, which I would have no idea about if not for the wonderful spoiling internet.

Which brings up another topic: Kojima must know how much fans of his games scour the online FAQs and breakthroughs because he has made some unlockables so ridiculously UN-intuitive, that I’m certain it would take a miracle for someone the achieve them without any help. Peace Walker saw this with unlocking the final mission. There were a crap-ton of hoops to jump through just to get to that very important part of the game. I had to read FAQs extremely carefully to get through it. Now, he’s done the same thing with these “XOF Patches”. Basically they are like GTA’s hidden items, but a LOT more hidden, and in locations I would never think to look. I won’t spoil anything… but just let me say one of the hidden patches in particular is an extreme farce. This is why I think Kojima is a jerk sometimes, lol. But surely fans of his will know that Ground Zeroes IS A KOJIMA GAME. It feels like it, it’s there. His antics are prevalent as always.

Finally, the most unanimously criticized aspect of the game is the new voice. Keifer takes over Hayter’s infamous voice acting job in an act of fan-cruelty the likes of personally executing a terrorist-bombing on Comicon… But, coming from a die-hard fan, I doubt this change will make that much of a difference. The way I’ve been looking at it, Big Boss is becoming the Big Boss of Metal Gear 1. And with it, a new voice means a change in personality and directive. I think it’s okay, when looking as a state of transition… He doesn’t talk that much in the new game anyway.

Personal Criticisms

I have a few small personal criticisms. One is the “checkpoints”. I can’t stand when the game will sometimes decide to autosave. It’s usually once an objective has been completed. But what if I didn’t want to complete the objective in that way? I would have to start from the beginning. And when one loads a checkpoint, the character is placed in a seemingly random location – not at all where you were when the autosave is made. The new location will be somewhat similar (like in the same quadrant as you left in), but I would really like it if it returned me to the exact spot. It got annoying to have to regain my bearings after loading a checkpoint.

Another small criticism is the health system. Clearly the series has switched out its outdated health bar for the modern damage-in-a-row system (I don’t know what else to call it – you can only die if you take too much damage in close time-proximity. If you don’t take too much, then it eventually recovers to full health). A lot of newer shooter games have that system. I don’t see why this new Metal Gear had to make that sacrifice and be like the rest. I personally will miss the rations and syringes.

Lastly, and I’m not sure if Phantom Pain will hold up this change, but there seems to be a lack of items. Actually, it seems the only item we have is night vision goggles. I always thought items were such an important part of Metal Gear, but Ground Zeroes has you focusing on character movement and use of one or two particular weapons. That’s pretty much it. In Ground Zeroes, I hope to see a reprise of such things as Chaff grenades and Motion Detectors.

The Story

The last thing to talk about is the canon. Ground Zeroes walks us through a very small, yet VERY important part of the story, and is complete with signature Metal Gear signoffs like the post-credits cliffhanger and lengthy cut scenes. Fans of the story and characters aspect, like myself, will not be disappointed as to whether or not the game has lost sight of its storytelling prowess. I’m telling you, it hasn’t. All the characters from Peace Walker are back, and in a new stunning form. As for what happens to them and the actual events in the story, I was pleased and shocked… but I won’t go into any details.

Looking to the Future

Holy shit. The Phantom Pain is going to be killer. I could not be any more excited. Everything we’ve seen in Ground Zeroes PLUS open-world exploration, which is my personal favorite way to play. It will be exciting to see my two favorite things – open worlds and great, cinematic storytelling – coming together. It’s just too bad that we might have to wait a couple years… But it’s been solidified by the end of Ground Zeroes… “to be continued in The Phantom Pain”. Whether sooner or later, it will surely come. And it will be more heaven.

My rating for 2014’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes for PS3 is…

★★★★

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One response to “a new vision of old friends: Ground Zeroes review

  1. Pingback: Great Expectations: Review of The Phantom Pain | Jryanm's Views on Video Games·

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