Review by KMAnsem

Reviewed: 03/24/14 | Updated: 03/26/14

Two parts underwhelming tech demo and one part toe-curling torture porn, Ground Zeroes fails to impress on every level.

The game is an hour long.

I mean, that's it. That's the elephant in the room, and that's all you should ever need to know about Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. That is the game in a nutshell: It is an hour long. You are being asked to shell out twenty or thirty bucks for a short, shallow, empty, unsatisfying sham. That's how little the publishers think of you. That's how desperate they are to reach their grimy little fingers into your wallets. That's what their mindset is, and, believe me, it shows.

The story is this: Your character, Big Boss, world-weary leader of a sprawling mercenary force that doesn't care about race, religion, color, creed, nationality, or even morality itself, has just received word that two of his buddies from the last game in the series have been captured and detained by the U.S. government, so he sets off to infiltrate a thinly veiled analogue of Guantanamo Bay to find and rescue them. And...that's it. That is the story. That's not a summary. That's not a setup. That's the entire thing. You land in the camp, find one of your old friends, bring him to an extraction point where he can be helicoptered out, do the exact same thing for the other one, watch a completely tasteless final scene that comes out nowhere and has absolutely nothing to do with anything you just spent an hour doing, and that's the end. Nobody receives any characterization, there is barely any dialogue, and the entire thing is over before it begins. There is no sense of accomplishment. There is no point. There is nothing. There's not even a climactic boss battle or something to top it all off -- in fact, the villain of the piece only appears on-screen for literally about thirty seconds, and Big Boss never meets him face-to-face. There's no conflict here, no character, and no meat to sink your teeth into, just an endless supply of nameless, meaningless goons to kill can.

The plot is slightly padded out by a series of mostly-optional cassette tapes you can find throughout the game, but these are a measly little stop-gap measure at best. People already liked to joke about how Metal Gear straddled the line between games and movies; at least that was better than straddling the line between games and radio plays. These audio-only indulgences mostly serve to chronicle the grisly fates your friends faced in the prison camp before you got there, so you really never need to listen to them to understand what little's actually happening, and they come off as horror for the sheer sake of horror. It's all a matter of cheap shock value, like a seedy old Z-grade exploitation movie. If you enjoy hearing the only female character in the game be repeatedly tortured, beaten, and raped, then have at them, I guess. If not, then...well, you're still not in the clear because the game has plenty more senseless, needless, thoughtless degradation, violence, and gore in store for her in the unavoidable last scene of the game. It's repulsive and pointlessly cruel, and anyone who had anything do to with it should be ashamed of themselves.

The one tape that actually means something is basically a seven-minute soliloquy from the would-be villain, the one who otherwise only appears in what's almost a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo. The attempt to inject a little bit of world-building into the game is appreciated, but honestly, his personality doesn't really extend beyond a general malice, and his back-story is shallow, trite, and nothing we haven't already heard more effectively from more interesting villains in the series. You can tell the voice actor is really trying hard to make it all interesting, but his effort is ultimately fruitless because his character doesn't play an active role in the game. We have no reason to care.

Speaking of voice acting, Kiefer Sutherland plays Big Boss in this one, marking a drastic and incredibly controversial departure from the former star of the series, David Hayter. Honestly, I don't mind the idea of Sutherland taking over in theory, but in practice, I really couldn't tell you if he did a good job or not. If you've heard his line from the trailers -- "Kept you waiting, huh?" -- then you've basically heard the most he ever has to say in this game. As mentioned earlier, the script is unbelievably sparse. Even the old codec conversations don't exist anymore, and for the most part, characterization is nonexistent. In fact, if I hadn't played the rest of the series, I would have no idea who any of these people are or why I should give the tiniest fragment of a darn about their lives. Having played the other games, I know that Big Boss was once a legendary American soldier with a compassionate heart, an irrational fear of vampires, and a passionate love for bizarre food. I know that he was forever changed by a time when he was forced to kill his own lifelong mother figure in a gambit that saved the world but cost him his soul. I know about his friendship with David Oh, codenamed Major Zero, co-founder of the Patriots, and I know about the personal betrayal that sparked Big Boss to break ties with him and form his mercenary force to begin with. I know all that. But if I had only played Ground Zeroes, then...well...I'd know that Big Boss has a beard. That's about it. Seriously, the man does not display a single identifiable character trait whatsoever. Neither does anyone else. It's soulless. It's totally and direly soulless, and the same goes for the gameplay.

Ground Zeroes is supposedly an open-world stealth game, but you'd really never know it. The so-called "open" world is really just a moderately sized rectangle. You can walk from one end of it to the other in just a couple minutes, and you're certainly not allowed outside of it. Meanwhile, true interaction with the environment is almost nil. Can you hide in lockers or dumpsters anymore? No. Can you scour the area for tasty rations to boost your health? No. Can you recover psyche or stamina by taking in the scenery or hunting for delectable little critters? No. Can change your camouflage to blend in to all kinds of different terrain? No. Can you even tap on walls to make a distracting noise and lead enemy sentries in the wrong directions? No, you can't even do that. Walls still exist. Your hands still exist. But, apparently, it's just too difficult to put those things together. If this game is open-world, then why are we more cut off from the world around us than ever before? Where has all the depth gone? Where is all the fun? We don't even have our trusty old cardboard boxes anymore because hiding in a cardboard box is -- apparently -- too silly to fly. My question is, "When did a series with a wall-crawling vampire, a human beehive, and with psychic powers who read your memory card and broke the fourth wall become afraid of being silly?" It takes courage to be silly. It takes creativity to be fun. And I guess those are qualities that Ground Zeroes just can't muster up.

Taking the cardboard box out of Metal Gear is like taking the mushrooms out of Mario or the blocks out of Tetris. It's just plain wrong.

Subtractions aside, Ground Zeroes does make a few additions to the old gameplay formula, and truth be told, they're mostly welcome -- or at the very least, unobtrusive enough not to be actively bothersome. Now, when you're spotted by an enemy, you have the option of going into a brief Matrix-style bullet-time mode to handle them before they alert their friends. It's definitely clumsy and prone to failure, but getting caught in this game does seem to carry more weight than it has before, so the extra burst of time to react and handle a situation is appreciated. Snake can also see through walls in a manner somewhat resembling Batman's Detective Mode, and straight out of Far Cry 3, you have a little visual indicator that appears whenever someone nearby thinks they can see you. Obviously, these things aren't exactly dripping with originality, but they're useful enough all the same.

It's worth mentioning that the game does have a small handful of bonus mini-missions outside of the main one, but they're really nothing to write home about. They're usually just ten- or fifteen-minute low-stakes trots around the same stupid rectangle you already spent the entire main game running around, and by the game's own admission, these little side objectives aren't even canon. The most novel one is where you lay waste to the camp from a helicopter, and even that's really just a brainless copy of something you'd see in any given generic shooter, so it's still not must-play material. If you really devote yourself to powering through these affairs, you could probably pad your game time up to about two hours -- maybe even three or four if, for some truly inexplicable reason, you wanted to do absolutely everything on absolutely every difficulty, but it's a truly repetitive, monotonous chore.

And that's the really conniving thing, mind you: The completion percentage the game shows you assumes you're going to do exactly that. It assumes that you're going to collect every little thing in every little side mission on both difficulties while simultaneously earning an absolutely flawless score in every gameplay category along the way. So, when you beat the main story, it says that you've only beaten about ten percent of the game. That is -- effectively -- a lie. It's deceptively weighted to pull emphasis away from the story mode and shift it onto the mundane, irrelevant, mind-numbing, and tedious minutia the game throws at you in a desperate attempt to trick you into thinking it has more content than it really does. The other 90% is not unique or novel content. It's just replaying and replaying and replaying and replaying until, finally, you achieve a state of anal-retentive nirvana. At that point, you could probably draw a perfect map of the game's (one single) level in your sleep. Or while in a coma. Or while dead.

Graphically, the game is okay but never outstanding. It doesn't have any of the interesting cinematography or the surreal imagery seen in the trailers for The Phantom Pain. A lot of its shots are actually quite cluttered, and since there aren't many scenes to begin with, they never get a chance to play around with neat effects or impressive set pieces. While the game overall pretty enough from a distance, Big Boss' hair looks like a flat, grainy sheet of pixels close-up and most shadows in the world are distractingly pixelated, too.

Musically, there are no standout compositions. The only notable song is Ennio Morricone's "Here's to You," which was already put to better use years ago in Metal Gear Solid 4. There, the lyrics actually had resonance, as Nicola and Bart's agonizing but proud march into the arms of death echoed that of Solid Snake. There, it actually meant something. Here, all it does is prey on my nostalgia of a better game and make me wish I was playing it. The one small plus I can allow is that Ground Zeroes plays the original version of the song, the version with real pathos, with tragic energy and a sense of driving, pounding momentum, instead of the weirdly slowed-down, dirge-like rendition the fourth game used, which missed the point of the song entirely.

The long and the short of the matter is this: Do not buy this game.

Also, do not borrow this game. Because that implies that someone you know still bought it. And that should never happen. Konami does not deserve your money or your friend's money or your family's money for this game. Konami does not deserve any money for this game. If you're feeling particularly curious, head out to your Redbox rental machine, pay the two bucks it takes to get the game for a night, blow through it with a buddy, and be done with it.

Shame on you, Konami. Shame on you, Kojima. Shame on everyone involved with the decision to sell this lackluster cash grab.

This wasn't a short game.

This wasn't a prologue.

This wasn't even a worthy demo.

Any of those would have been fine.

Instead, it was just a mess. It was overpriced, underdeveloped, slap in the face of a mess.

Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Product Release: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (US, 03/18/14)

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