This article originally appeared in Volume XX, Issue XII of the University Observer
Traditionally a new entry in the mainline Metal Gear Solid series is a landmark release in the early lifespan of any new generation of consoles, representing both a major leap forward in technology and the stealth genre.
In this context, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes lands in an odd place. This isn’t the complete fifth instalment of the franchise but rather a brief sampler, a taste of what Kojima Productions are hoping to follow through on when The Phantom Pain ships sometime in the next year or so.
It’s a short but mostly sweet experience, demonstrating a slew of wise game design improvements, making for what is surely the best playing entry in the series’ history.
This is a direct follow up the 2010’s Peace Walker, travelling further down the prequel path and origin story started in Metal Gear Solid 3. Big Boss acts as protagonist again, although controversially veteran voice actor David Hayter has been replaced by Kiefer Sutherland.
It’s an undeniably jarring change initially but one that quickly begins to make sense, Sutherland providing an unsurprisingly great performance. Whether or not he can trump Hayter’s iconic voice in the long run remains to be seen.
Apart from the relatively brief opening and closing cutscenes, both of which are executed with all the panache expected from series creator and visionary Hideo Kojima, there isn’t much narrative here. Kojima’s aim of a darker tone sets it apart from previous games although his lack of subtly in exploring sensitive topics might prove off putting to some.
Crucially, Ground Zeroes plays extremely well. Its control scheme is more accessible but not at the cost of having to sacrifice depth. Clever additions like the ability to tag enemies and the moving of the codec screen into the game world are well conceived and implemented.
Visually the game is inconsistent, presentation limited by Ground Zeroes’ insistence on being a cross generational title. The PS4 and Xbox One versions do however run at a very welcome rock solid 60 frames per second.
Lighting and weather effects are superb but muddy textures and borderline placeholder looking animations, along with a general lack of polish hurt the overall presentation significantly. On a technical level, this definitely isn’t the dazzling showcase it should be.
Ground Zeroes’ perceived value is entirely dependent on what individual players are looking for. Those wanting the next big step in the series’ mythology will be unavoidably disappointed with only a single main mission lasting between one and two hours.
However, those seeking a taste of the tone and gameplay to expect in the future, along with a highly replayable albeit small sandbox to experiment in, will be more than satisfied.