THE epic expository ambition of Hideo Kojima’s series has often resulted in sprawling cutscenes that make the canon of George Lucas look like a masterclass in brevity.
Scotsman Games review: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - Playstation 4 (reviewed) / Xbox One / Playstation 3 / Xbox 360
Score: 7.6 / 10
With only two relatively brief sequences, Ground Zeroes does not suffer from such problems; unfortunately, the frugality also extends to the game proper.
Billed as a prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, it is essentially a cluster of vignettes that showcase the latest evolution of the series mechanics while signposting a notably darker narrative tone. Set on Camp Omega, a small yet densely designed island military prison, its main narrative tasks Big Boss - now voiced by Kiefer Sutherland- with extracting two allies from under the nose of a vigilant phalanx of armed sentries.
The gameplay devices echo this pared-back plot. With no radar, a Far Cry 3-inspired marking strategy is introduced via a pair of binoculars that allow Big Boss to survey the scene before him and take note of enemy movements. Generous in theory, its impact is limited and proves no substitute for wits and prudence.
‘Exhilarating and tense’
Indeed, this stripped down iteration of the franchise’s traditional stealth action makes for an exhilarating and tense experience. Even after extensive reconnaissance of the encampment, uncertainty remains as to whether a previously unseen guard might rumble your cover. Faced with sprawling open areas and squat clusters of buildings, the player must rely on instinct and a narrow field of vision to progress.
Springing the prisoners to safety will take less than two hours. Our initial playthrough - a cautious, stealth-based approach - took less than an hour and twenty minutes, although YouTube is already awash with footage of players rushing through the scenario in little over a quarter of an hour.
Completion opens up five side missions, each of which offer a new set of challenges on Camp Omega. Some make for subtle shifts in the game’s dynamics, especially when the prison is bathed in unforgiving daylight, but together they can be overcome in an hour, leaving players the option of filing the game away on a shelf or attempting to improve upon the campaign, beating their time and alerting fewer guards the second time around.
Hard to see as value for money
Cumulatively, it represents a miserly package for the majority of gamers, with only Metal Gear aficionados likely to sink in the additional hours in search of self-improvement. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to regard Ground Zeroes as value for money, especially the next generation iterations, which carry a £10 premium.
However, the game’s quality is undeniable and although it draws to a close just as you are getting to grips with the refined mechanics, it remains an appetising entrée for the main course that is The Phantom Pain. Konami have certainly not covered themselves in glory with their pricing strategy for Ground Zeroes, but it is important to distinguish the cynicism of Ground Zeroes marketing campaign from the game itself.