More than meets the eye: Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes reviewed

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You may have heard that Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes (MGS: GZ or just plain old GZ) is a very short game. While that’s true – the game can indeed be “finished”  in around two hours – don’t let that put you off: like many things in life, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

On the surface, though, Ground Zeroes is a bit of a baffling release. Firstly, it’s a one-mission prequel to the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, itself a bizarre idea since it comes with a steep price-tag, and secondly it can be finished quite easily in a lot less than two hours. If all you do is play the main mission, you’re left with the feeling that you’ve paid full price for a game demo, and that’s not a nice feeling at all.

But should you take the time to finish the main mission, you’ll unlock four side-missions called Side Ops that mix up your starting point, enemy placement and your objective, all set within variations of the same level where the main mission is set. These Side Ops aren’t easy, either, and beating them will take you a lot longer than the initial mission did. As a further bonus, if you manage to pick up specific collectibles hidden throughout the main mission – itself quite an achievement – you’ll open the fifth and final Side Op. Effectively there’s a lot of bang for your Metal Gear buck here – it’s just hidden beneath layers many gamers likely won’t peel back.

Not a spoiler

While this may sound a little like a spoiler, I include it to put paid to the game’s reputation as being incredibly short and not worth its asking price created by gamers the internet over mouthing off about how they feel “ripped off” by its brevity. Some have even gone so far as to say that GZ represents a new gaming industry looking to screw gamers out of cash with half-assed demoes passed off as full games. They’re wrong, of course – that is certainly not the case, it’s just not obvious from the get-go.

Okay, so that’s out of the way. What, exactly, is Ground Zeroes? Well, it’s a stealth/action game by gaming great Hideo Kojima, one of the videogame industry’s legends, and it’s a prologue to the main Metal Gear game that’s coming out later this year, MGS V: The Phantom Pain. Those calling it a demo do have a point, if only slight, as it’s partially a showcase of that game’s new Fox engine, and partly a demonstration of how it’s going to play differently from Metal Gear games of the past. For instance there’s no CODEC in this game, no mini-map or health bar, something that MG fans may find a bit upsetting. Me, I liked the changes.

MGS GZ (7)

Story-wise, Ground Zeroes about a rescue: two Metal Gear characters, Paz and Chico, have been captured and imprisoned in a detention camp, and it’s up to Big Boss (Snake) to rescue them both using any and all means at his disposal. He can silently take enemies out from the shadows or he can run and gun, although the latter tactic is much trickier to pull off thanks to good AI and a constant string of reinforcements. This is especially difficult when it’s time to get the prisoners to the extraction zone as Big Boss has to carry them on his shoulders and stash them somewhere safe when a firefight breaks out.


I liked that I was left to figure out how best to tackle the task, giving the game a nice open-ended feel that responds fairly to whatever actions I took, whether they were sneaky, direct, lethal or non-lethal. The game’s story, such as it is, serves as a bridge between MGS: Peace Walker and The Phantom Pain and sets the scene for the latter game that’s out later this year.

MGS GZ (1)

The level in which the game takes place, Camp Omega, is a large detention camp that hides a complexity not seen in many games. It may look like every other military installation you’ve seen in other games, but do some exploring and you’ll find vehicles to hijack, hidden caches and secrets to uncover, including secret passages and alternate routes to your objectives. These hidden gems made exploring not only fun, but useful too. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that GZ has a subtle AI that responds realistically; I stole a truck once and drove it around the base at a reasonable speed, and nobody seemed to notice me because I wasn’t driving like I didn’t belong there.

More game, less movie

In a change of pace for Kojima, GZ doesn’t have nearly as many cinematics and unlike the movie-like cutscenes of previous Gear games, the ones that do play are just long enough to set the scene, introduce characters and establish the dark, brooding mood of the game. It’s a definite improvement over MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots, which played more like a movie with a few gamey bits sandwiched between clips.

Interestingly, despite the lack of feature-length cinematics, Kojima manages to get across much of his own take on the necessity of war, the atrocities men commit in their service including a subtle disapproval of Guantanamo-like camps where prisoners pretty much go to die without so much as a blink from the governments ultimately responsible for them.

MGS GZ (6)

The PS4 version sports some excellent graphics. Kojima and company pulled out all the stops to make this one of the best-looking PS4 games to date, and while I feel like I say that about every new PS4 game I play, it’s especially true of this one. Textures look so lifelike, and rain-drenched scenes so realistically wet that I found it easy to suspend my disbelief that I was playing a mere game.

Honestly, you have to see this game in action to appreciate just how gorgeous it is. I can’t comment much on the previous-gen versions of the game since I reviewed it on PS4, but I will say that if you’re a PS4 owner GZ is a fantastic showcase for what the console is capable of.

The sound is likewise a polished piece of digital art, with multi-directional cues that tipped me off to enemy placement, what surface they were walking on and even how far away they were. Technically, GZ is a brilliant achievement.

So is the game worth the asking price? Even though it is somewhat limited in its scope, I say yes it is, but more importantly it’s a rather exciting taster of what MGS V: The Phantom Pain will deliver later this year. You should definitely not let word of its brevity stop you from playing what is a very polished and very enjoyable entry into the Metal Gear Solid series.

Ground Zeroes is out on PS3, PS4, Xbox One and Xbox 360 now and retails for R399.

Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.