Metal Gears Solid 5: Ground Zeroes Review: A Short But Oh So Sweet Demo For 'Phantom Pain'

By Alex Riviello , Updated Apr 07, 2014 08:15 PM EDT
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Let's get the elephant out of that room first- I beat Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes in an hour and twenty minutes. That includes the lengthy cutscenes that series director Hideo Kojima is famous for, which are just as nonsensical and verbose as we've come to expect. The reason it's so short is because the entire game is actually one mission culled from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the real Metal Gear sequel, fixed up and repackaged as its own game. It's a simple one too- a rescue mission that sees you infiltrating a military base in order to extract to POWs. If you know where to go you can beat the mission in under ten minutes, as shown on Youtube time and time again.

But once you beat the mission you unlock additional missions that all take place in the same small base, as well as harder difficulties, weapons and features. Here's where the real fun of the game emerges, because even though the main mission is over and done with in no time, Ground Zeroes still offers a staggering amount of replay value, and is well worth it for fans of the series. That said, there's no denying that it feels like an extended demo, one that costs $20-$30 depending on your platform.

Now calling it a demo isn't conjecture, either. Back in 1998 when the first Metal Gear Solid demo was released it was an absolute revelation. Konami spent $8 million for advertising and demo giveaways and an estimated 12 million demos were producing, allowing for a massive number of people to become amazed at the cinematic experience it offered. You have to remember, there was nothing like it at the time- the graphics and production values were unheard of, the stealth genre basically nonexistent, especially in beautiful 3D graphics. It was also one of the first games to cleverly implement the DualShock's rumble, which offered an amazing new way to feel like you were immersed in the game- a cutscene that featured a slow rumble speeding up as a helicopter swooped by overhead made more than a few jaws drop.

Right from the start of Metal Gear Soild, where Snake emerges from the water and the opening credits roll as you walked around- well, we had never seen anything like it before. Then there was the freedom it offered up. Even though the demo only featured the first two sections of the game as you tried to sneak into an enemy base, you could go about it a ton of ways. Of course the biggest challenge is to get through it without being seen once, but you could also just take out every soldier one by one, enter the base in a couple of different ways, find hidden weapons, and just generally make your own path. When the game was finally released we all fell in love with the rest of it, but we never became as familiar with an area as that opening sequence.

Ground Zeroes feels very similar. It's less about beating the mission and more about exploring every part of the base, seeing what it has to offer, noting enemy patterns and locations of weapon stashes and escape routes. You'll learn the layout of the base better than any game you've played, loving listening in on guard positions and finding little easter eggs hidden around.

Like many others I'm the type of person that gets easily frustrated after a snafu in a stealth game and tries to just go through guns a' blazing, and I'm happy to report that's entirely possibly (albeit hard) here. When an enemy spots you you're given a moment's grace period where time slows down and you have a second to react and silence the foe before he radios for help, which makes taking out surprised guards that much easier. Thankfully one of the missions (one that contains a great and unexpected cameo) lets you go on a full-on attack run from the helicopter in order to rescue a VIP, a welcomoe change of pace the action junkies.

The game on a whole has been a bit simplified for the more impatient among us. For instance, it's now much easier to keep an eye on enemy soldiers. When you look through the binoculars and hold it on an enemy you will mark them with a red arrow, and that will stay forever and let you track their movements. It even becomes a mini-game after you've beaten a mission- tag all the enemies as fast as possible. Fortunately you can use your own mobile phone as a second screen, tracking enemies and calling in helicopters with ease and without stopping the game. 

One nitpick I have is the pop-up of enemy soldiers. Occasionally when you scan an area you'll see no enemies, only to have them pop into view a couple of seconds later. One would hope this issue isn't prevalent on the next-gen consoles but on the PS3 it's a minor annoyance and makes you scan areas with no enemies just to see if someone will pop up.

A single playthrough isn't enough for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It's small, it's short, but once it opens up and you start to realize all the possibilities it affords you'll find yourself returning to it again and again. It's easy to wonder if this isn't where the Metal Gear Solid series shines in the first place. With a smaller area to focus on and plan for, you become more familiar with the terrain than we likely ever will with a vast open world. The Phantom Pain could prove us all wrong later this year but for right now Ground Zeroes really is nothing more than a glorified demo- it's just one of the best ones ever made. Whether that's worth half the price of a retail game is up to you.

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Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was reviewed from a PS3 code provided by publishers. It is also available for the PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will be released on the same platforms sometime next year and continue the progress you made here.

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