We first saw a glimpse of Ground Zeroes and Hideo Kojima‘s FOX Engine back in 2012. This prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was finally released last Tuesday, and gave us a pretty good idea as to what we should expect from the upcoming open-world title. While it may be a short affair, Ground Zeroes features some of the best stealth the series has ever seen, and proves to be a worth-while experience for fans of the franchise.
The most notable change in Ground Zeroes is the shift to an open environment. Players are immediately thrown into the outskirts of Camp Omega and must figure out how to navigate their way through security. The initial target is marked on the map, but players will have to deduce the location of their second target based on hints. There are several different ways to go about this mission. Whether players disable the camp’s spotlights, commandeer a vehicle or stay to the shadows and slowly sneak their way around, is entirely up to them. If The Phantom Pain is as open as this game, players may find themselves replaying sections several times in order to find the best strategy.
How players handle enemy combatants has also been greatly altered. If players are spotted, the game will automatically go into slow motion, allowing players to quickly dispose of any threats. We found it difficult to take care of these guards in a non-lethal manner before they alerted their comrades, but having a few seconds to figure out exactly where we had been spotted from was a huge help. Those who don’t care for this new feature can toggle it off in the options menu. Guards will also be able to spot suspicious activity without going into full alert mode. If a guard isn’t entirely sure of what they just saw, they will take a flashlight out and begin investigating. This is relayed to the player with a visible glare on the screen, which also conveys the enemy’s direction.
Players that are able to sneak up on enemies will be able to quietly grab them. Ground Zeroes makes it easy to interrogate guards, who will offer up useful information regarding extra ammo, guard placement, the location of security cameras, as well as other information pertinent to the mission. Big Boss can also command his foes to call other guards to their location, leading them into a trap. Players can then choose whether to take care of the guard non-lethally or with a stealth kill.
The soliton radar and motion sensors from previous games are gone. Players will now have to scope out their surroundings through Big Boss’ binoculars. This allows players to mark enemies, whose locations can be further tracked across the map. While it initially feels very limiting, careful marking gives the player more aid than radar ever did. We loved this feature, but it soon began to feel too empowering, as marked guards could be tracked indefinitely, regardless of how far across the map they had moved.
Ground Zeroes also features a companion app that functions in a similar way to Big Boss’ in-game “iDroid.” Synching the console with this app allows players to view the full map of Camp Omega, call a helicopter and listen to data logs on their tablet. There’s also a side game that allows players to build their own Mother Base, in a similar vein to 2010′s Peace Walker. Being able to look at the map at any time without having to take yourself completely out of the game is incredibly useful, and we look forward to seeing how this feature, as well as the Mother Base builder, are expanded upon in The Phantom Pain.
The game’s graphics are some of the best we’ve seen on consoles. The FOX Engine has been proven to be a powerful tool that brings realistic textures, lighting and animation like few engines have before. We played this title on the PS4 and rarely encountered any sort of graphical snafus. There were a few clipping issues and one guard’s poncho seemed to have a mind of its own, but there was nothing jarring that removed us from the experience completely.
Lastly, let’s address the biggest complaint people seem to have with Ground Zeroes. It’s true that the game is incredibly short. Most people will take about two hours to make their way through the main mission for their first time. The side missions and collectibles add quite a bit of gameplay, but the meat of this title will have still come and gone by this point. The $30 price tag for the PS4′s digital version may be a little steep, though Ground Zeroes‘ excellent layout gave us a good reason to replay these missions a couple of times.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is now available for the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The Phantom Pain does not currently have a release date. 8/10