With the advent of the epic conclusion to the Metal Gear Solid series soon upon us, I recently picked up Ground Zeroes, as upon release I believe it demanded far too high a price, around $40 USD, however now I feel that the price is concordant to the content. Having played around 9 hours of the game, completing all side ops, I have to say, this is one of the most significant titles in terms of political statement that I have ever seen, and this aspect has largely been overlooked by reviews. This game is much more important than most give it credit for, and I’m here to tell you why.
I know I’m doing a bit of a Randy Orton out-of-nowhere with this review, as I haven’t announced I would be doing any, but since I would love to be a professional games critic when I’m older, I believe this is a great time to review a great game.
The most notable new feature that Ground Zeroes implements is its dramatic change in guard detection. Where in previous titles getting detected by a stray guard would cause the iconic ! to appear, preceding an increased guard alert level, now getting detected triggers a roughly 10 second bullet-time sequence in which you can take out the straggler who spotted you. A lot of people dislike this because it takes away the iconic bowel-rumbling detection sound, that really made you jump out of your body for a second, however I feel that the implementation of bullet time (completely optional, by the way, however activated by default) is a fair advantage as Ground Zeroes contains no mini map that automatically detects guards’ locations as Peace Walker did, let alone a mini map that detects guards and their cones of vision as the original titles had. It is because of this that detection is more frequent, and a high-alert phase penalty would be too cumbersome for your minor slip-ups.
Another notable new feature is the Far Cry-like ability to tag guards through zoomable binoculars. All that is required is that you focus on a guard for one or two seconds, so that once they are tagged they are visible across the entire map, through any obstacle. This acts as your self-imposed guard detector depending on how many and who you tag. Not only the guard’s body becomes highlighted, but a red arrow above their heads indicates state of conciousness, useful when a guard you took out 2 minutes ago will alert his friends imminently if you don’t travel back there to stick another tranq in him. If you find this too generous this can be toggled off in the display settings.
Other than these, most new features are focused on mobility, Ground Zeroes being the least linear title yet. The abilities to sprint and dive are useful when making a quick dash to evade a meandering spotlight, but they also increase your visibility to guards. The variety of movement here allows for more tactical freedom, meaning that you have a wide gamut when choosing how to approach objectives.
For the most part mobility is not an issue, in a stealth oriented game like this, you will mostly only ever sneak or crawl and these methods are very slick, however one gripe I do have is that rolling when prone should simply be triggered by moving the left stick instead of holding LT and clicking the left stick, it requires a bit too much effort and dexterity in my opinion. A negative that also sticks in my mind is that, when entering open sewer channels, there is a very small hole in which to fit through when prone, but if you easily miss it, you automatically revert to standing again. This can hinder your mission if you get spotted for standing, so I feel that if you come into contact with an obstacle when prone, you should remain prone instead of the current feature.
I mostly used the Wu Silent Pistol, equipped by default, Snake and Big Boss’s classic tranq gun with a slightly different model. This, as far as I know, is the only non-lethal and silent firearm in the entire game, so it is imperative that you conserve ammo throughout missions. The Wu pistol has little ammo and a short effective range. This made the game slightly more challenging, because if you did not want to succumb to using lethal weapons (like Hitman, kills have a score penalty) you would have to interrogate guards to find tranq ammo caches. I do like this element of challenge that comes along with having only one one silenced tranq weapon.
Aiming down sights is now enabled, however aiming from the hip provides a bullet-drop trajectory indication on your HUD, which I find more useful, especially since aiming down sights obstructs your field of vision more than otherwise. However, aiming down sights is preferable when using the zoomable sniper rifle.
Silencers are temporary and wear down with use, barring the Wu pistol, which is unrealistic even for the technology of its contemporary setting. However, since the Wu pistol has an indefinitely durable silencer, this only applies to damage weapons, and so I think it is an effective way of discouraging a gung-ho attitude.
Weapons other than the Wu pistol include:
AM MRS-4 Rifle – As all these weapons are fictional, I believe this is some sort of mock modified Galil, with a silencer and flashlight attached. It is Big Boss’s default primary rifle which is automatically unlocked. It is has a moderate fire rate but short-lived silencer and relatively poor accuracy at greater ranges.
AM Rifle Type 69 – I believe this to be a mock M16. It is the standard issue rifle that most guards possess. It has a more effective range than Big Boss’s standard issue, but it is unsilenced, so is only useful when going in loud. You can grab it from most marines, and cannot be unlocked to be available at the start of missions.
AM-69 AAS Rifle – Enhanced version of the above mock M16, with a three-setting variable zoom sniper scope and an underbarrel grenade launcher. This is the default rifle in the side-op ‘Intel Operative Rescue’ but can be unlocked for the start of ‘Ground Zeroes’ by achieving an ‘S’ rank score on the mission itself.
S1000 Shotgun – A mock Remington 870, this is a 12-gauge shotgun that has the highest CQB stopping power in the entire game, but packs a loud punch. This weapon can be unlocked for the start by achieving a rank ‘B’ score on ‘Ground Zeroes’, but is also found in armouries in the actual mission. Some guards also carry the weapon.
M2000 Sniper D – What appears to be a mock Lee Enfield L42A1, this weapon is scattered all across Ground Zeroes‘ map. It can kill multiple targets at once if lined up correctly, and has a three-setting variable zoom scope when aiming down sights. It is bolt action so be careful not to waste a shot because a guard may be alerted in the time it takes to ready the weapon again. It is automatically available at the start of ‘Intel Operative Rescue’, but can be unlocked for the start of mission ‘Ground Zeroes’ by achieving an ‘A’ rank in the mission. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a silencer.
FB MR R-Launcher – This is a mock Carl Gustav M3 MAAWS (I’ll get to that later). It has a high accuracy and effective range, however it has a long reload time. You have to reload manually and I would’ve preferred an automatic reload, sometimes I find myself lining up a perfect shot only to find out the golden opportunity is squandered because I left the rocket in my pocket. It’s found in armouries on the map but can be taken from guards and can be unlocked at the start of ‘Ground Zeroes’ by achieving an ‘A’ rank score in the very same mission.
AM D114 Pistol – A mock CZ-75 (wait for it), this pistol has high damage damage and stopping power in CQB situations. It can’t be unlocked for ‘Ground Zeroes’ but it’s scattered around the map and can be taken from guards. If you’re looking for a gung-ho time I would recommend this and the S1000. It’s also unsilenced.
Uragan-5 Pistol – A standard gas revolver, this is the only other non-lethal weapon in the game. Stuns targets with high pressure gas, however it has a poor range and is extremely loud. I prefer this to the D114, as it won’t kill enemies which would hinder your score. Found scattered around the map, and automatically equipped at the start of ‘Intel Operative Rescue’.
Sz.-336 SMG – A mock Uzi, this machine pistol comes equipped with a short-lived silencer and a flashlight. It has a poor range but snappy fire rate meaning that it is effective in CQB situations. Recommended alongside the S1000. It eats ammo extremely quickly, so it wears down hard on the suppressor. Found in armouries and in the back of trucks, can be unlocked for the start of ‘Ground Zeroes’ by achieving a ‘C’ grade score or higher.
I think the range of weapons allow for a good freedom of approach to ‘Ground Zeroes’ and the side ops, however I have two main concerns. My first is that I think the AAS rifle is an underwhelming weapon to have earned for the best ‘S’ rank, I would have preferred another indefinitely silent tranq weapon for the effort. My second concern is that, considering the credits state that Konami had a whole team of weapons researchers:
That they chose to use the CZ-75 and M3 MAAWS in a game set in 1975 (XOF Trojan Horse operation is GZ),
Considering that the CZ-75 entered service use in 1976 (despite the ’75’ in its name) and the Carl Gustav M3 MAAWS in the late 80s. This may be me misinterpreting the models, but I doubt it. Having said this, Ground Zeroes‘ whole premise is founded on a giant anachronism [see Story].
Depicting Guantanamo Bay, I cannot assess this against a real life environment as I have never been to and (hopefully) will never go to Guantanamo Bay. I can say that the world is big enough to define the game as open-world, it’s no Liberty City but considering that you will be moving very slowly and stealthily from one area to the next, the world seems bigger somehow. It is very detailed and because of its moderate size, it allows for more scrupulously made buildings. Each area of the map has its own architectural tone and it is not so easy to get lost because of this, rather than, in a game like GTA V where every single country section is indiscernible from one another. I do feel that the reusing of assets is a problem, however. There are too many identical hangar and tower structures dispersed around the map, in my opinion. There is not much interactivity within the map except temporarily cutting power to certain areas and opening doors.
The stealth is as solid as ever, but in a different packaging. I believe this game borrows slightly form Far Cry 3, in the sense that you can throw one of your weapon magazines to attract a guard’s attention to a certain point, and that being in a guard’s field of view will trigger a white blip in their direction, but, unlike Far Cry, this blip on the screen does not indicate suspicion intensity, which means you have to determine for yourself whether walking past a guard that suspects your presence is worth the risk. The playboy magazines used to distract guards have been taken out of this game, unfortunately. Shame, considering it would have been a historically accurate feature (Playboy since 1953). As with other titles, drawing your weapon within close proximity of a guard will cause them to surrender, where you can then interrogate, kill, or stun them, as were the options in Peace Walker.
Unlike most of the previous titles, health is a regenerating system up until a certain level, where snake has to stop moving and spray himself with ‘Med Spray’. I prefer the regenerating system to rations in an open world environment, as rations are a finite resource and, once used, may limit the health you need to re-explore areas for collectibles during the course of one mission, depending on how many times you are hurt.
Playing on an Xbox One, the framerate felt like a smooth 60fps throughout, I didn’t even see any discernible drops during explosion animations or any other situation needing beefy rendering.
Playing on Xbox One, I had no idea I was playing a 720p game. The impressive lighting and lens flare effects probably masked that misfortune. The game looks fantastic, and the wet terrain of the main mission highlights the power the Fox engine can produce, with photo-realistic rain and gleam. Every minute detail has had life breathed into it, whether its the rippling of the tent tops in the wind, to the individual droplets of rain running down a guard’s anorak.
I did experience a lot of texture pop-in on the Xbox One, it was usually high-quality textures like tall grass, but I usually only experienced it when sprinting or driving. The game, on console, has a relatively low render distance, unfortunately.
There’s not a lot to say here, it’s about as photorealistic as the rest of the game is. Can I just say how different Kiefer Sutherland looks from the normal Big Boss? It was very hard to accept him as Big Boss but I found it in me to let him into my life. I am a good person. Anyway… one problem I do have is, despite the facial animation being extremely well done, I do feel that some guards look a bit too relaxed when you’ve got a knife to them in a headlock.
This is the only game I know of where they had real dogs do the mocap for the in-cutscene guard dogs. They’re not even in-game NPCs. They mocapped cutscene dogs. Yeah, it’s really good. No complaints.
The cutscenes run on Fox engine and they run the same as the game. There are no ‘cinematic’ black bars or anything similar, and the cutscenes merge into gameplay seamlessly with a simple camera angle change.
In the real world, Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born anarchists in the US who adhered to a kind of anarchism that was against war, violence and oppressive governments. The two were convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during an armed robbery of a shoe company in Massachusetts in 1920, and were electrocuted in 1927. Soon after, news of their innocence in the wake of empirical evidence surfaced and protests rung around the world as far as Tokyo. Ultimately killed for either their heritage or their beliefs, or to set an example for future anarchists by the type of government they hated the most, their deaths served as one of the most famous unjust executions in history.
So what does this have to do with Ground Zeroes? That is, actually, too small a question. The question should be ‘what does this have to do with Metal Gear Solid‘? Kojima has a self proclaimed love of the film depicting the Sacco and Vanzetti case, and there is one particular line in that film that holds a great significance to the series:
Which is seen all across Ground Zeroes and Peace Walker:
It is abundantly clear throughout Big Boss’s story line that Kojima wants sympathy for him because he has been burned by such oppressive governments. Big Boss wants what Sacco and Vanzetti wanted. A world where men are free from the grasp of control, a world where men can be safe. This is why he creates MSF, because these oppressive governments mistreat soldiers, double cross them, and kill them like they did The Boss (Big Boss’s mentor). But we’re talking about governments that use cyborg ninjas as weapons, remember that. Metal Gear has never been some progressive anti-government vive-la-revolution game to rile the proletariat.
It is through this portrayal of the (very silly, very comical) governments as harmful that Kojima allows sympathy for Big Boss, who, despite his good-willed intentions, is still very much an anti-hero. Metal Gear Solid fans have spent decades as Solid Snake, trying to foil Liquid and Solidus’ plans to fulfil Big Boss’s intentions, which have been painted as morally wrong. Because of this, I find it hard to sympathise with Big Boss. His objectives can easily be seen as honourable, but then to hold that view would be to go against all Solid Snake ever worked for until his dying breath (uh… in the future though). And this is ignoring the fact Big Boss unflinchingly recruits child soldiers, capitalises on countries and institutions killing each other, and hides nuclear weapons and incriminating documents from the UN. Big Boss is not a good guy. But he is a good guy. It’s a strange situation in which games featuring Big Boss as a protagonist need to feature those opposing Big Boss as the bigger baddies.
And Kojima, instead of using a routinely camp setting like the fictitious jungle of Russia or the Aztec ruins of South America to house his equally camp and convoluted storyline of political subterfuge involving characters that shoot lighting bullets from their hands or have metallic cigarette-lighter fingers, in order to justify Big Boss’s goodness… takes a really weird step away.
Ground Zeroes is not set in the fictitious jungle of Russia, or in a top-secret Alaskan base. It’s straight up a mock Guantanamo Bay. Ground Zeroes is the real Guantanamo Bay simulator. And it’s… so weird. But it’s good. Very good. I’m not opposed to dark or mature themes in games and I embraced this with open arms. Ground Zeroes has you rescue former comrade Chico and traitor Paz. Chico was captured in search of Paz out of his love for her, and she was also captured and sent to Guantanamo. The beginning features the eerie Sacco and Vanzetti song ‘Here’s to you’ playing over antagonist Skullface entering a helicopter to leave the camp in order to go and blow up Big Boss’s Mother Base. Chico has told them the co-ordinates of Mother Base under torture. As they leave, Big Boss enters the mock Guantanamo Bay, to rescue Chico and Paz, not knowing he is too late and that Chico has relented and given information. Once you rescue Chico and Paz, on a helicopter back to Mother Base, you discover a bomb has been surgically implanted inside Paz’s chest cavity, and you remove it. When arriving at Mother Base, it is too late, Skullface and his men have begun bombing the facility. Saving as many of your men as you can by allowing them on the helicopter before the Base is fully destroyed, you then discover that Paz has a second bomb inserted into either her vagina or her anus. She attempts to save the helicopter and the crew by jumping out, however she only falls a short distance before exploding, taking the helicopter down with her, sending Big Boss into a coma.
Yeah. There weren’t any mecha robots, bisexual vampires or wall-e type electronic companions in this one, folks. And the anti-american pulp doesn’t stop there, collectible audio tapes depict scenes of torture and forced child rape under Skullface’s command (Skullface operating under American orders), and the open-world shows egregious mistreatment of soldiers; sticking bolts through their feet so they can’t walk, covering bags over their heads so they can’t see etc. It’s very explicitly attempting to be a sobering reflection of a very real and very shameful spot of American history, the only thing missing is an entire photo gallery expressing the sexual humiliation Iraqi prisoners were subjected to by American soldiers in Abu Ghraib, where prisoners were genuinely dragged by their penises across the floor and much worse. But the thing I ask myself is… wwhhyy??
This narrative is awkward any way you look at it. If you look at it as a Metal Gear Solid game with instances of Guantanamo Bay style torture then you have to question the validity of a game set in 1975, because of its binding to the series, taking place in a kind of prison camp that wasn’t established until 2002. If you look at this narrative as a sobering tale of a fall from grace of the American government, with elements of Metal Gear, then you have to question the validity of a character with a name as ridiculous and juxtaposing as ‘Skullface’, raping a prisoner to get information about a base that houses a tank that can walk, the tank itself created out of the destruction of another tank that was possessed with the spirit of Big Boss’s mentor… you get it… it’s hard to take it seriously either way.
Kojima is trying very hard to stop making Metal Gear-style games. We saw it with P.T
look behind you and it is very visible here I said, look behind you. You can pick out the awkward moments in Ground Zeroes where Kojima thought to himself ‘oh, cock, I forgot, this is meant to be a Metal Gear game’ and he reluctantly hammered in something actually concordant with the Metal Gear Solid lore. This is so close to being a politically meaningful and cathartic title, but suffers by being so closely associated with Harry Potter style invisibility cloaks, giant robot fights and transplanted arms that control the minds of their hosts, that from a distance it just look laughable. It’s as if they made an 18 rated Avengers film where Iron Man got addicted to heroin and Hulk turned anorexic, and Captain America ran a slave plantation. The themes and messages are there, even quite maturely executed, but the stage in which its set is unequivocally the wrong one.
This is a competent tale of Big Boss beginning to slip into villainy, of him beginning to sink into hatred for governments that would destroy anarchists like himself, Sacco and Vanzetti, but this plot is overshadowed by a somewhat dulled attempt at conflating epic and epicly camp character arcs with awkwardly inserted real life modern politics. There is little development of Big Boss himself, as this is simply too short a title, so all we see is the very beginnings of what looks like a far more entertaining story. Ground Zeroes is unfortunately little more than the inciting plot point to really begin The Phantom Pain, but with some interesting character sub-plots intertwined.
Before I start I should say that no side-op in this game is canonical. Also, you’ll need a guide to find all 9 XOF patches across the map in order to unlock the extra ops Deja Vu and Jamais Vu. If I was a critic under embargo without a wiki I could never have found them. I was under the impression that Jamais Vu was Xbox One exclusive and Deja Vu a PS4 exclusive but on Xbox One I got both.
Eliminate the Renegade Threat
This is a standard find-two-targets mission. It felt more like it should have been an optional objective in the main ‘Ground Zeroes’ mission rather than its own side op. Not very exciting, unfortunately.
Intel Operative Rescue
This is an on-rails turret shooter from on board a helicopter, which I found was a nice release after having to be all stealthy during the main mission. I also liked Kojima’s classic wanky self-insertion at the end. Some things never change…
Classified Intel Acquisition
Like Eliminate the Renegade Threat, this felt relatively uninspired to be its own mission. The title encapsulates all the content, really. Again, I would’ve preferred this as an optional objective in the main mission.
Destroy the Anti-Air Emplacements
You have to blow up three Anti Aircraft guns under high alert. It’s always satisfying to blow things up.
This is a very clever and very fun side op. The sky and lights are changed slightly to resemble the Alaskan base from the original Metal Gear Solid from 1998. As Big Boss, you have to recreate scenes from the original game which will trigger a short flashback sequence, showing a screenshot of the same scene from the original game, and the sweet nostalgic tune of the original theme chimes along. There are 9 to complete, but once you do one you can leave the mission. Doing all nine will trigger a very difficult quiz on the original MGS game after completion (use a wiki). Completing the quiz successfully unlocks classic skins from the original game. It’s a really fun mission, and if you interact with the prisoner at the Old Prison Camp then you can see Kojima’s classic use of metafiction. My one gripe is that if you fail the quiz you have to redo the entire mission with all nine scenes again, which I thought was unfair.
As Raiden you have to identify and kill all the body snatchers invading the base. I love Raiden, which is why I hated this mission. The only ability you get is his lightning quick sprint, you don’t get his agility or his sword or anything like that. It’s pretty much a re-skinned Big Boss. Completing an optional objective of erasing all Metal Gear Solid logos throughout the map is fun but you just get a white version of Raiden instead of a default grey version, which I found disappointing. There’s very cool mission-specific rock music playing in the background however.
There’s a quite weak selection of side-missions here, I would only keep about half of them myself. The ones worth keeping are very entertaining, having said this.
Throughout various missions you can collect Chico’s tapes. They provide exposition over what happened to Chico and Paz in the run up to the mission’s events. I think the content of the tapes is substantial, albeit hard to listen to, but I don’t think they should have been confined to audiotapes. You can listen to them while playing but this hinders your ability to hear for guards and sometime Miller will start speaking over them without pausing them, so it is better to listen to them on the helicopter. I think a lot of these could have been cutscenes because it’s very boring just staring at a tape selection screen as your mind fills in the nebulous possibilities of what might be going on visually. The tapes are very gritty and it’s where Chico is subjected to sexual humiliation and psychological torture, bearing in mind Chico is 13 years old. It’s not a Hannibal Buress audio CD.
Ground Zeroes is a fully enjoyable contributor to the series that only hardcore fans should buy. The story assumes that you grinded for days to unlock a secret ending for the PSP and HD Collection title Peace Walker, so if you’ve played only Metal Gear Solid 1,2,3,4 and Peace Walker but only the default ending, you’ll have just about no idea what’s going on. This is one of the prettiest games available for this console generation and the stealth gameplay boasts the best yet, but is held back by an overly ambitious story.
Is it worth buying?
If you unlocked or are familiar with the secret ending to Peace Walker, at current retail price, yes.
Goethe’s 3 questions:
What is the creator trying to do?
Create an eye-opening game about the oppressive nature of nations.
Was the creator successful?
No, as this title has major dissonance with the rest of the series.
Was it worth creating?
No, as the game is awkwardly short and should have been left either in the main game or as a free demo.