Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes Review

Played on Windows and PlayStation 4.
Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

So we begin the Humble Monthly Bundle Reviews for December 2018 with Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, which is a mouthful, so I’ll probably just call it Ground Zeroes for brevity’s sake. It’s a game from 2014 that was to introduce people to the new Metal Gear Solid 5 system and the brand new Fox Engine. Now it can be found bundled along with Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain definitive edition. Let’s talk about just the Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes game.

I considered not reviewing Ground Zeroes and instead reviewing both Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain as a single copy, but both games shipped as separate games so I’m going to break them up into single reviews. It definitely will hurt Ground Zeroes a bit as it came out eighteen months ahead of Phantom Pain. Yet in 2018, both games are still available separately, so that why they are being split up.

In reality, Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes was intended as a teaser, a taste of what Metal Gear Solid 5 would be and putting the whole new engine, called the Fox Engine, on display. At the time that was a great idea and got fans excited for what Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain would deliver.

The initial price, though, was forty dollars, which is extremely expensive, especially when the game was only a couple of hours longer. We’ll talk about length but the fact is, this is not a full-fledged Metal Gear Solid game for a number of reasons, and the biggest one was it is just intended to be a piece of the game.

Forty dollars was entirely too much, now with the full game released, I see it still retails for twenty dollars on steam, and the fact is, that’s still too high. It’s a standalone game, but it really should be packaged in with every copy of Phantom Pain, not just the definitive edition. In fact, now that Phantom Pain is out, there are only a few reasons to pick up Ground Zeroes.

Let’s talk about what Ground Zeroes brought out, the biggest thing that stands out with Ground Zeroes is the graphics in the Fox Engine is incredible. By 2014 standards, this was one of the best games out there, and even playing it in 2018, there are not many games that come close to looking this slick and cool while being as playable as Ground Zeroes.

Snake… Boss… Snake, He’s Boss. Big Boss looks amazing!

Admittedly part of that is the limited scope of Ground Zeroes. There are only a few enemies around at any time, and there are some damn clever tricks to limit what can be seen, but the end result is a beautiful looking game. Every character that you get an up-close view of is amazingly detailed for 2014, and the entire game is stunning.

Part of this is there are a number of choices in the main game that really shine. A heavy rainstorm is happening while the main character, Big Boss, infiltrates the base at night. You get to see everything in the absolute best circumstances, of course. Later on after the first mission, you do see the level in the day and it doesn’t pop as much. The graphics are extremely good, but the rainy atmosphere adds a lot to the look of the game. In addition, the game gives players binoculars early on and pushes them to use it so they can look over long distances and it really shows the level of detail that is possible on the game. The game also uses the binoculars for marking enemies so they are brought out often enough but the engine really shines in those modes.

Admittedly, there are some issues, the base isn’t that big, and there is a limit to the amount of variety in it. There are not a lot of interiors, and many buildings can’t be entered. Still, these are minor complaints on a really impressive engine.

The game really handles scale well.

Of course, as this is Metal Gear Solid there’s a story, and to be honest, I’m a little disappointed. Again, this is just a taster of the final game, but it feels almost like a cash grab for Konami for the story. Ground Zeroes’ main story takes less than two hours to beat, and on this playthrough, I was able to beat it in an hour. That’s extremely fast, and I find it quite frustrating.

The story here is basically, Big Boss hears that Chico and Paz are on a secret base and flies in to rescue them both, or potentially kidnap them back as their loyalty is in question. The story here is a continuation from Peace Walker. But I also just gave away everything that happens in the main game. Big Boss has to grab Chico and Paz and exfiltrate.

In most of Metal Gear Solid games, Snake or Boss will go in to do mission A, but find out about Mission B, usually involving “Metal Gear” and then have to tackle it. It’s worked for four games, and about four spinoff titles before this point, so to see the main mission be just given away is a bit of a shame.

Of course, there’s more, but it’s all done in a final cutscene, and if there’s a reason to play Ground Zeroes at all, it’s that final cutscene. I won’t talk about it but it does set up the full game/sequel, Phantom Pain extremely well, and the scene is not contained in Phantom Pain, but one can always Youtube just that scene.

Even the portable games, Portable Ops and Peace Walker, had better moments and more gravitas to the story than Ground Zeroes, and it’s a real shame because a big pull of Metal Gear has always been the outlandish and extreme stories that they develop and to see it done so half-heartedly here is disappointing.

I know I’ve said this is a taster of the final game, and I can accept that but at the same time it also was a 40 dollar “taster”, so I expected something of substance. Even at 20 dollars, it’s hard to get excited for an hour of main story gameplay.

There is more though after you beat the main story, four more missions unlock. These are unofficial missions, called the Side Ops. They each have a simple goal. You have to neutralize two targets, rescue a certain VIP (which is a rather good on rails mission), do an intel drop to get a special cassette tape, and finally blow up air emplacements. Each mission is interesting but these take about fifteen minutes to complete. They’re additional content but still rather short.

The VIP Mission is great, high action and octane while riding around on the copter and killing everyone.

But as you beat each of the four mission there’s a few seconds of story for each. It’s not complete canon as I believe only the main story mission actually occurred in the Metal Gear Solid line, but the ending does destroy the base satisfactorily. Yet it’s not a major twist or accomplishment, it’s just what happens over the course of those four missions, and sadly, it’s not enough.

If you only play Metal Gear Solid games for the story, this game is both needed and insulting. The story is just too short for any price, though.

But there’s still that Tactical gameplay. Metal Gear Solid as a series has always been known not only for its stealth but the tactical gameplay that comes with it. The ability to infiltrate and exfiltrate with no one knowing is a major part of why Metal Gear Solid is a popular series.

Ground Zeroes and the Fox Engine tries to take that tactical gameplay and elevate it. In the first game (Metal Gear Solid), you had a top-down view of everything, in the second (Metal Gear Solid 2) the view cones were all you really needed, the third game (Metal Gear Solid 3) stripped everything else away from the game and gave you a little too realistic simulator. The fourth game (Metal Gear Solid 4) gave Snake entirely too much power and made him almost a god that could avoid anything and kill anything he couldn’t hide from. So Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes actually goes back towards Metal Gear Solid 3.

Personally, I found Metal Gear Solid 3 to be good, but only after playing the Subsistence edition. Here, there’s even less feedback from the game outside of the game giving small warnings when the player is seen. Though those indicators are amazingly useful. In addition if spotted, the game gives the player a short window to react before the alert is called out, called “Reflex” mode it allows the player to do a quick shot or two and is quite useful. In fact, when I was playing Hitman I really wanted this type of ability (or something similar) so I could make a precise shot.

Tagging enemies gives Boss a major tactical advantage.

Unfortunately, reflex shots only happen when you’ve been seen, and that can mean a number of them happen in a row, but ultimately, they are there to help you avoid being seen rather than a togglable ability.

In addition, healing can be done while hiding from combat and has a small cutscene that’s excessive. This is likely why it was mostly removed from Phantom Pain.

What Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes does right, though, is that it gives the player and the enemy realistic abilities. There are no fake enhancements, or magical technology outside of the iDroid (a holographic map projector that still is impossible to create in 2018, when the game is set in 1975). The player has to use his abilities to move unseen across the world.

Of course, the engine is supposed to improve the AI in addition to just the player’s abilities and this is where the Fox Engine shines. Enemies will act intelligently and investigate things that happen, which gives Boss a chance to respond. If you don’t interrupt them, you’ll hear a number of them have conversations in what feels like a fluid system, though is probably heavily scripted. There are also shift changes and more in the game.

In addition the player can’t see the enemy initially unless they are physically visible, however, if the player uses the binoculars mentioned above, they can “Tag” targets and that will allow the player to know exactly where the enemy is even when they are behind buildings, it’s an amazingly useful tool and while the game can be difficult, the tag function makes the game far easier if the player spends more time planning, which is probably where the game should be. Now looking at the base from an overlook has an advantage beyond an initial scouting of the base.

Prisoners can be moved and placed as necessary to prepare for a pick up.

In addition, if the player holds up or chokes an enemy, Boss can interrogate enemies and they’ll give him intel. It’s usually about ammo, which isn’t critical, but sometimes they will talk about collectibles or the main mission objectives.

I mentioned shift changes above and this is one of the features that isn’t really required by the game. The mission is so fast, taking less than an hour, that shift changes and more aren’t required. The bases aren’t heavily fortified that they need that, however Ground Zeroes has a number of these systems that are not required, but it is interesting if you search them out.

A similar one is rolling while prone. I never used it in combat, but it looks and feels great, and the ability to snap off shots and the animation system makes Boss take an interesting position in all of them is quite welcomed.

You can even jump in the back of vehicles, or drive them if you want. It’s really not that useful as the enemy will spot Boss quickly if he drives by, but it’s possible and just shows the attention detail the game has provided. There are also additional prisoners that boss can extract if he wants to and more.

As mentioned above there are seven total missions here, four missions unlock after beating the story mission, and they give a little more content. There are two more missions if the player collects all the patches in the game, and that gives the player a little more content. However, it’s hard to find the patches and the collectibles. There are guides online but personally, I didn’t feel like I really wanted to chase them as I wanted to move on to The Phantom Pain and chose to do that.

The additional missions are great for some more content but they all work about the same. The goal is slightly different and there are different ways to beat them. Each has a Hard mode as well but personally, I don’t think there’s much reason outside of completeness to play each mission more than once.

The distance of sight and the quality of the graphics are really what is the most impressive part of it.

In reality, you can play Ground Zeroes for more than 6 hours. If you want to go for S ranks, Hard mode, or mastery, you could. There’s a completion counter on the main menu and that will take time to work on it reaching 100 Percent, but personally, I didn’t feel the need to keep chasing those small percentage points. There is just not enough content here to play for long unless someone is a completionist, and the fact is, there is a much bigger and better game out there which this was supposed to get people excited for. Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain is out and it’s the improved version of this.

Ultimately, once The Phantom Pain dropped, that was always going to be Ground Zeroes’ problem. When Ground Zeroes released, people were foaming at the mouth to play Metal Gear Solid 5 and many people grabbed it to tide them over even at a high price. I remember that I bought it when it dropped to thirty bucks.

The problem is with the full game out, there are a limited number of reasons to revisit Metal Gear Solid 5 Ground Zeroes. At 20 bucks it’s very expensive, and even 10 is hard to really justify for how long it is. It does come as part of the definitive edition of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain at 10 bucks more with extra content as well, and that’s a bit, but it’s hard for me to say not to get it. It does have a critical piece of the story of Phantom Pain, and for that, it’s important, yet youtube exists.

I would be lying if I said I hate this game, though I would also be lying if I said this felt necessary and must be played. Personally, I’m so mixed on this, that I had to think and I ultimately ended up with giving Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes a


It was one of the most impressive tech demos, and definitely was closer to a 4 on the initial release, but with The Phantom Pain out, and The Phantom Pain clocking in at closer to 60 hours, there’s not a strong reason to pick up Ground Zeroes. It is a good game, and I had fun for the six hours I played it, but I may never play it again, and I’m very ok with that. If you are going to get this game, only pick up it in the Definitive Edition as it’s too expensive to be bought on its own.

Final Thoughts: An amazing tech demo that now only holds a small piece of the story that’s needed. It’s a fun game, but instead, you should probably just pick up The Phantom Pain and enjoy that.

Stats: 6.5 hours played 3/16 achievements earned