We should get the big question out in the open now: Is “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes” (XOne; $29.99; Rated M) worth the price? The answer, of course, is ... it depends.
The reason this is such a hot question right now is that “Ground Zeroes” is not by any means a complete game. It is a taste of what we will be getting when “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” arrives sometime in the not-too-distant future.
“Ground Zeroes” has a campaign that consists of a single mission, which takes around two hours to complete. After that, the player is treated to a few cut scenes that set up the events of “The Phantom Pain.”
If you’re just playing for the story, then, “Ground Zeroes” probably isn’t worth the money. You may as well watch it on YouTube. If you’re playing to immerse yourself in the next generation of “Metal Gear Solid,” however, “Ground Zeroes” has plenty more for you to do.
There is unfinished business to take care of once the story is out of the way. The most obvious of this business is a smattering of “side-ops” that unlock once you complete the primary mission. These throw you into the same landscape that the campaign gives you, but with new things to do that feel like an entirely different game. You also play that environment during the day, which serves the dual purpose of making stealth more difficult and giving the player a look at the detail that the designers put into the scenery.
The game also encourages different modes of play. Kills are discouraged and time is of the essence. Every mission is scored on getting through the missions quickly, while alerting as few enemies as possible and dying as seldom as possible yourself. Everyone who plays will be able to brute-force their way through these missions. It’ll take some practice to get through them with finesse.
All of that said, the experience of actually playing the game is as strong as “Metal Gear Solid” has ever been. You’ll spend most of your time looking over the shoulder of Snake – now known as “Big Boss” – as he ducks into cover and waits for just the right time to take out a guard or three. At all times, he comes equipped with his trusty silent tranquilizer gun and a rifle for when things get hairy. Far more effective than those weapons, however, is the old “sneak up from behind and apply the sleeper hold” move, which never fails to thrill.
Every enemy a puzzle
Another thrill is that, even on its easiest level of difficulty, “Ground Zeroes” can be punishing. Rather than offering the simple shooting galleries of its military-shooter cousins, every enemy in “Ground Zeroes” (as with the best “Metal Gear Solid” games) is a puzzle in and of itself. Some are social, some are sleepy, some are fighting a cold, some have erratic patrol patterns. Each one has a weakness that can be exploited in a way that makes avoidance – or a quiet kill – a pleasant puzzle.
If you’re spotted, be prepared to run. Standing and fighting is a sure way to a quick bullet to the head.
Really, what you’re buying when you purchase “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes” is promise. It’s essentially an extended demo – a taste of the “Metal Gear Solid V” experience. Paying the 30 bucks is the only way to get that taste. If you’re a fan of the series, or even of stealth-based gameplay in general, it’s worth every penny.
“Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes” is now available on PlayStation 3. PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
New this week: “LEGO The Hobbit” arrives on pretty much every platform imaginable – another amusing, immediately recognizable LEGO adventure only TT Games can deliver. Elsewhere, “R.B.I. Baseball” (Xbox 360) makes its triumphant return, and “Kinect Sports Rivals” (XOne) gives you something to do with that box that’s been sitting on your TV since you bought your Xbox One.