Let us get the not-so-stealthy elephant in the room out of the way: Ground Zeroes is a demo, a brief prologue for a much larger game. Does that mean that it isn't worth playing or that the price point is far too steep?
The first thing I noticed upon loading the main mission of Ground Zeroes
was that YouTube videos do not do the Fox Engine justice, at least on PS4. This is one of the best looking games I have ever seen on console. Not because of the details in the textures, or the amount of polygons in the models, but because of the lighting system that ties everything together and gives the world a sense of physical volume and depth that always seems to be lacking in other games. It manages to get close to the photorealism promised by Kojima during the long wait and slow reveals he gave leading up to this moment.
The one downside is the lack of set dressing. There is little in the way of small details. The guard towers house a desk and maybe an item to collect, but there are no mugs, no equipment beyond a spotlight. Upon further inspection a lot of the assets get reused across the map. The tents have gorgeous rippling fabric animations, but they are obviously copy and pasted with no variations in the models. In the harsh light of day everything looks the same.
Gameplay in the MGS
series has always been touch and go. The controls never quite work as you'd wish, gunplay in the past has been outright terrible. This has changed with Ground Zeroes
. Everything feels quicker and smoother, firing any of the weapons has a satisfying 'oomph' to it - especially if you score a headshot. A headshot gives off the subtle yet clear cracking sound of your enemy's skull disintegrating as a bullet passes through it.
Stealth movement has improved, giving you a moment to recover if discovered by slowing down time and pointing to where the guard is that has spotted you. taking him down before he radios in for backup prevents an alarm and allows you to return to being stealthy.
Guard AI can be doggedly persistent in Ground Zeroes
, and once you're spotted getting away isn't so easy. During my initial play through I found myself reloading checkpoints often after getting hammered by the enemy soldiers. During the night sequences they seem suitably hindered by the darkness and sneaking becomes a rapid series of dashes from shadow to cover.
During the day it is more difficult to stay hidden, especially in one side-op where three guards spawn on a watch tower and make it hard to get to an objective without setting up a distraction first. I recommend calling in the helicopter at a landing zone all the way on the other side of the base and waiting to hear 'All units concentrate fire on that helicopter!' which is a good sign you can proceed with the mission.
So far I've left the story out and that is because there isn't much of one outside of a few cutscenes. There's one at the beginning of the Ground Zeroes Operation and another at its end approaches the length expected from an MGS
game. In this main op you are tasked with rescuing two characters from the Peace Walker
game. The narrative is grim - really grim. It would be easy to spoil the little surprise at the end (although it is telegraphed from the moment you rescue the second character) but I won't.
The main problem here is that the ending of the first mission is very final, but then you're tasked with going back to the base to do various side missions. It feels hollow and one of them I finished in five minutes without even trying. These side ops would have better served to set up the rescue operation in the main campaign instead of being separate, soulless padding to a very short game.
How short? I finished everything in normal difficulty in under four hours, that includes a period in which I sauntered around the whole base looking for collectibles. I finished half of the missions in hard mode before growing bored.
There just isn't enough here to justify a retail release, never mind a 'budget' price point of £29.99 (RRP). If you absolutely need it, get it. If you have doubts then wait for a price drop or for Phantom Pain
to release, because this should have been the tutorial level for the main event.
People unfairly compare it to the Tanker section in MGS2
- unfairly because there was more content in that demo than there is in Ground Zeroes
+ The engine is gorgeous.
+ The gameplay is tight.
+ Keifer Sutherland is amazing...
- ...but he is indistinguishable from Jack Bauer, his character in 24
- Terrible mission structure hinders narrative.
- Not enough content to warrant the price.
SPOnG Score: 3/5