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Written by  :  krisko6 (704)
Written on  :  Aug 27, 2015
Platform  :  PlayStation 3
Rating  :  4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars4.43 Stars

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An enticing, delicious appetizer

The Good

MGSV: Ground Zeroes takes place in 1975 at Camp Omega, a black-site prison camp located on a small island off the coast of Cuba. Snake is sent in to rescue two key characters from Peace Walker : Paz and Chico, just before a UN inspection of the MSF Mother Base. There's a pair of really shocking twists at the end that immediately set the stage for the epic main course, The Phantom Pain. The ending in particular, will hit you harder if you spent a lot of time playing Peace Walker. One thing is clear while playing GZ - this is easily the darkest Metal Gear game ever. It delves into some seriously controversial stuff. In general, the tone is much more grim and dour, with most of the series' trademark humor being entirely absent.

Perhaps the boldest departure, and most controversial twist, however, is one which occurs at the beginning of the game - as soon as Snake takes off his goggles and says his famous line, the voice that comes out of his mouth is not the Snake that MGS fans grew to love over the course of the series, David Hayter. Instead, it's the voice of Kiefer Sutherland, best known for playing another covert agent on television, Jack Bauer. I have absolutely no idea why Kojima decided to replace the voice of such an iconic character - it's not like people were playing these games to hear "name" actors anyway. That's not a knock against Sutherland, however, who does a fine job with the role.

MGSV feels less like a classic stealth game and more like a stealth "sim", reminiscent of the Deus Ex and Thief games. Light and shadow, movement and noise play a huge part in whether or not you get detected. Enemy guards are eagle-eyed and can spot you in some of the most out-of-the-way places. I once had a guard spot me through a small window in a door - from a tower. At times, the spotting can seem almost unfair, but it's more about simply paying close attention and knowing how fast you can move so that you don't give away your position.

The previous MGS games, especially 3-4, were very linear sneak-fests. They were simply all about traveling from screen-to-screen, taking out soldiers and trying not to get caught. MGSV does away with this entirely in favor of an open-world setting. No longer can you simply rush to the next checkpoint to get rid of the alert - you'll have to complete your mission regardless of what happens.

Camp Omega has some really interesting opportunities for emergent gameplay for those who wander off the beaten path. For instance, there's a power station which can be shut off to provide a temporary escape from the guards. Your helicopter pilot can be called in from anywhere, allowing him to serve as a distraction.

There is no radar or solid eye to assist in situational awareness this time around. Instead, you have to mark enemies by staring at them through your binocular. This allows you to see them through walls, and get their locations on a map. Of course, this could easily backfire on you - forget to mark an enemy, and you might rush into an unsafe area and be spotted. It's very tense, and requires you to look around and be vigilant at all times, not just simply relying on your markers.

The game's most controversial addition is undoubtedly "Reflex Mode". Reflex Mode is a slo-mo, bullet time effect that kicks in whenever an enemy spots Snake. It gives you JUST enough time to fire a shot at the guard who saw you - if you can kill or knock him out before reflex is over, the alert won't begin. Luckily, purists can shut it off, but even with this "safety net" on, the game is still incredibly challenging.

Of course, tranquilizing a guard isn't always as easy as it seems, as the shooting mechanics have also been changed. Every weapon, from pistols, to sniper rifles, is affected by bullet drop when fired. This means that if you're out of range, you'll have to aim further above a guard's head to compensate for gravity's pull, and this distance isn't always easy to gauge.

I haven't even talked about the new gameplay controls, which have been changed from MGS4. There's an emphasis on verticality that wasn't present in the other games - Snake can climb obstacles and even up onto rooftops. The controls for changing weapons and items is now completely different and takes a bit of time to get used to, but it all comes together to create the best playing MGS game.

When you do get spotted and decide to fight your way out, you are treated to tight, snappy combat, with a sharp lock-on system and a cover system that works automatically when Snake is pressed against an object. Fighting isn't always the greatest option, as it could prevent you from fulfilling the mission goal.

Ground Zeroes is both cross-gen, and the first simultaneous multiplatform release in the Metal Gear series. This game, and Phantom Pain are running on Kojima Productions' Fox Engine, which has been in development since at least 2008. You would think that playing on old-gen hardware would make for a rougher experience compared to the next-gen systems. You would be right, but within the confines of comparing it to other PS3 games, and in particular MGS4, I'd say that Kojima Productions did a really good job making use of the hardware here. YouTube videos of the game don't entirely do it justice. There were plenty of times where I simply could not believe the visuals my PS3 was outputting, and forgot I was not playing the game on a next-gen system. The rain effects, lighting, and animations are impeccable. There were some unfortunate frame-rate drops during heavily lit scenes and when lots of particle effects were on-screen, but it was never worse than anything in MGS4, while still managing to look better, in my opinion. You can really tell that the game is pushing the hardware, as the console's fans spun louder than any other game I've played on PS3. A lesser game would have had me worried for my console, but Ground Zeroes is so engrossing, I didn't care.

The Bad

There's not a whole lot actually there. You have the main mission, Ground Zeroes, plus a small handful of "side-ops", all taking place on the same map. These side missions are varied, ranging from simple infiltration missions, to barnstorming the camp from a helicopter, and even stranger mission types. There are two side missions that you can unlock by collecting all of the XOF patches during the main mission While it is impressive to see just how much mileage Kojima Productions was able to get out of one small-sized map, you'll have seen pretty much all there is to see in a matter of hours. The game is hugely replayable, but that doesn't entirely excuse just how thin the game is in terms of content.

As this is Kojima's first open world game, there are a few odd bugs here an there, such as vanishing markers, soldiers popping into view when zoomed in, and odd physics bugs.

I also had issues with the cover system. It seems like I had to run into walls a bit more in order to stick to them. An annoying thing is trying to use your binoculars behind cover is that as soon as you use them, you won't be stuck to it anymore. This can be the difference between not being spotted. There is a "peek" function that lets you mark enemies fairly close without the binoculars, but it only works up to a certain range. And popping up from cover to get a mark on an enemy, is a risky proposition, at best.

The Bottom Line

MGSV Ground Zeroes is bold. The game strays quite far from the other Metal Gear games in terms of story, tone, and gameplay. And yet, at the end of the day, it is unmistakable as a Metal Gear game, down to its very core. As an appetizer for the Phantom Pain, it is utterly satisfying. It is even more astonishing seeing a game of this level of depth and graphical quality running on such old, outdated hardware.