The second AAA game offered as part of the Games with Gold series on the XBox One was Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It is a stealth action game primarily focused on rescuing two main prisoners from a US Army (?) installation in Cuba. I have not played a MGS game since the original was released on PC some time ago, but was a fan of the first two Thief games and Splinter Cell through Chaos Theory. I like stealth as an option but it has been a while since I looked for games that focused on that play style.
The first thing that strikes me about the game after playing for a few days is it cannot seem to decide if it is a demo or a stand-alone part of the series. Some aspects are very polished but others seemed half finished, and a lot has been said about the length of the game. I suspect if I paid the original price, many of the issues outlined below would be much less palatable. As a result, my comments are based on me considering this a demo or preview of the main MSG 5 game.
One issue struck me immediately. When the game first starts and is loading, the player is presented with a black screen and “loading” rotating graphic in the upper left corner. This is something I would expect from a broken webpage, not a title from a top tier developer. It was generally followed by a series of connection failure messages, but occasionally it would connect to something but not sure why a single-player game would need to. I loaded the game I got a poor “first” impression every time. It was in the back of my mind as other issues presented themselves.
Hideo Kojima is famous for massive cut-scenes and confusing/dense story. I did not find much of that here, but I have no idea who the people were at the beginning other than having a Mirror-Universe version of the FOX patch. The ending was supposed to be either horrifying or heart-wrenching, but I found it neither. Fortunately, most of the time spend without control for a cinematic during the game was short and too the point. The most oddly annoying thing for me in the cinematics were the earbuds plugged into a walkman – the game was supposed to take place in 1975. Both that and the holographic display could have easily been done using more period styling to improve the feeling of “this takes place in Snake’s past” instead of a muddled blend of time periods.
The game really shines once you get playing. I love the concept of scoping out the enemy with your binoculars but they should have included an option to lean out from cover as you do with your weapons. There were quite a few times that I was on the corner of an object and pulling out my binoculars gave me a great view of the wall or box I was hiding behind. The graphics were some of the best I have seen recently, both the rain and lighting were solid, but it was hard to tell where the guards were looking unless you were right up to them.
The stealth aspect is top-notch and the graphics upgrade factors into the gameplay. The searchlights cast very distinct cones of light unlike some games that need to rely on HUD elements to tell you how visible you are. The indicator that you are in danger of being spotted gives you a good sense of direction and while I didn’t always know what was seeing me I did know what direction I needed to go to get out of its line-of-sight. The AI and the escallating alert system makes the enemy seem competent without being psychic and therefore overpowered. When you are spotted, the combat is fluid and Snake seems like he can handle himself.
The only major play issue is the completely disconnected vehicle controls. The designers should have left accellerate/reverse on the stick instead of moving them to the triggers where you would normally expect the aim and fire from the rest of the game. The player must completely change the grip on the controller to use the armored vehicle, which is a poor design choice.
Minor issues included the checkpoint system seeming to leave me in very bad spots. My guess is that no matter which direction you are going or how far in the mission you are, when you trip a geographic based checkpoint there was only one spot it would put you. I felt like the game was punishing me when I wanted to play around or I needed to get back to my real life. I also found the myriad close combat options, where certain moves chain into specific events, overly complex and unnecessary. I noticed that a series of three button combinations could get me the enemy’s weapon and I could hold them at gunpoint. But why would I do that when one or two presses gets them in the position to be interrogated or silently killed?
Finally, while there are side/alternate quests there does not seem to be any compelling reason to replay the main part of the game. With a few map changes, the two prisoners could be moved around creating new challenges and a reason to replay the core content. This is probably the biggest reason the game felt like a pay-walled demo instead of a discount/smaller game.
Summary: 8/10 probably a point lower if you paid for it, but it is a premier stealth game hobbled by the designers not knowing if it is a demo or a real game.
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