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Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes review

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A sublime taster of things to come, Ground Zeroes is short but sweet and a must-play for series fans

The Metal Gear Solid games are renowned for their intensely cinematic cut scenes, story lines heavily influenced by global issues including the war economy and a dependence on technology, and the enigmatic main character Solid Snake, but each game has been a largely linear experience. Series creator Hideo Kojima is looking to change all that for Metal Gear Solid 5, and is giving gamers an early taster with Ground Zeroes.

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes

Picking up right after the events of Peace Walker, the PSP-exclusive Metal Gear prequel set in the 1960’s, Ground Zeroes sees Big Boss (otherwise known as Metal Gear Solid 3’s Naked Snake) infiltrating Camp Omega, a US-controlled black site on Cuban soil. Metal Gear fans may find it difficult to adjust to Snake’s new voice actor, with film star Keifer Sutherland taking over the role from series stalwart David Hayter, but he’s still the same gruff, moody special forces agent underneath.

Ground Zeroes might sound like a familiar sneaking mission, but from the outset players are given total freedom in how to enter the base, and how to extract their imprisoned comrades to safety. There’s no set route to follow, no onscreen markers to point towards your next objective, and multiple ways to tackle each obstacle. Hide in a passing lorry, crawl through the underground sewer system or tranquillise the guards and walk through the front door; how you proceed is entirely up to you. This is a huge change from previous games, which had set routes and linear progression.

You can’t rely on the series’ signature Soliton radar to show the way, either; it’s gone, replaced with a static map accessed through the pause menu. Unless you equip your binoculars and tag enemies, there’s virtually no HUD whatsoever – even the audio cues that point you towards the position of a captive require some lateral thinking, rather than simply studying a map.

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes

The iDroid map replaces the Soliton radar, but you can’t see enemy locations with it

The camp itself is a mixture of billowing tents, ramshackle huts and filthy cages, juxtaposed with sturdy military buildings and heavy artillery. There are hiding places everywhere, which you’ll need to use frequently to stay out of sight of the guards. They are all armed with flashlights and have much longer cones of vision than the laughably short sighted genome soldiers of the original Metal Gear Solid, so you can be easily spotted if you stay in their view for long.

Catch one off guard, however, and you can use the revised close quarters combat (CQC) system to knock them out without resorting to a weapon. You can threaten them too, in order to extract useful information about the camp including the location of weapons, guard patrols and anti-air emplacements that will make short work of your escape helicoptor.

As well as providing you with a quick escape at the end of the mission, you can call in a chopper at any time to extract captured soldiers or to free political prisoners. Hit a certain milestone and you’ll unlock bonus weapons for subsequent playthroughs, but if you don’t clear the landing zone first you run the risk of being shot down on the way out.

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes

Vehicles can be commandeered if you want to go on the rampage

The Metal Gear series has always encouraged stealth, but Ground Zeroes finally makes a full frontal assault a viable tactic. The control scheme has been completely overhauled to play more like a traditional third person shooter, with an over-the-shoulder view and twitchy analogue sticks that make lining up a headshot a joy. There are plenty of weapons strewn throughout Camp Omega, but as soon as you set off an alarm reinforcements can quickly overwhelm the unprepared.

The game world might be small, but it feels like a real life location thanks to the power of Konami’s Fox Engine. It was primarily designed for the Xbox 360 and PS3, but scales beautifully on next-generation consoles. At 1080p, everything looks pin-sharp and the level of detail is astounding in places, particularly on characters and clothing which reacts realistically to wind and rain. There’s an awful lot of lens flare, making us wonder whether Kojima has been watching too much of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, but otherwise we were impressed with the visuals. It bodes well for next year’s Phantom Pain, as the development team will have learnt lessons and hopefully will squeeze even more out of the hardware.

Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes

The time of day and weather conditions change depending on the mission

There’s no escaping the fact that Ground Zeroes is short; players familiar with the Metal Gear universe will be able to finish the main mission in less than 90 minutes. The four additional bonus missions can be finished in under an hour each, and unless you’re determined to find all the hidden collectibles it won’t be long until you’ve memorised the small map in its entirety.

To rush through the campaign would miss the point, however. There are so many new gameplay mechanics to try, alternative routes to explore and subtle tweaks to the Metal Gear formula that Ground Zeroes is still a must-buy for fans of the franchise. It evolves the Metal Gear universe from a linear roller coaster ride to a sandbox playground that can be explored at your own pace.

There’s not enough content to keep you playing until The Phantom Pain arrives next year, but it’s a mouthwatering taster of things to come.



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