Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
I have a theory that people laugh far more at movies in the cinema than they do at home. They enjoy the experience when they pay for it rather than when they receive it for free. It’s self-deception. It’s the way we convince our inner selves, our great ancestors, that we haven’t wasted our time, our money, our effort. So what all of this means is that it’s slightly unusual to buy a game and then not find it just a little bit enjoyable. And that can be a good thing… pondering over whether to get Watch Dogs or not this week, I reminded myself: I knew if I bought the game it’d probably be decent, somehow I would make myself like it, just like I did with Far Cry and Assassin’s Creed, for a while at least. But then I thought, hang on! Why do I even need a new game right now when a couple of weeks ago I bought Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes?
Well, let me tell you. There’s not a whole lot to see.
“What it boils down to is I must really have failed spiritually to not at least find some of it fun”In general, it would be interesting to compare the review scores given when the product is provided for free versus those that are bought by the reviewer. But of course this throws up the very thorny issue of the strings attached to those supposedly “free” review copies. Some places don’t touch them as a rule. Plus, it must feel slightly harsh to beat on something that was given to you, like if a friend has a spare ticket to a show that you don’t enjoy. But ultimately, I don’t know. I had a gig at another website that unraveled when I couldn’t be bothered to review the awful free game called Fight Club I was sent for more than a paragraph… Quote: “a little too casual in your tone… Not good for the developers(!) reading.”
Dear reader, you can thus rest assured that I wasted my own money on Ground Zeroes (and what makes it worse is it’s not a trivial amount either for such a short game), so perhaps this allows a certain casualness in tone? What it boils down to is I must really have failed spiritually to not at least find some of it fun. But it was truly dull, repetitive to the extreme and a waste of time.
That said, it’s also fair to point out that Metal Gear Solid games have always been a bit, shall we say, polarising. What with their long, long cutscenes and eccentricity. So maybe I just don’t GET IT? And it’s true in a way, I could never force myself into the early ones, but I wanted to get into this because MGS3 really did it for me. I always figured it was because the stealth survival aspect is better suited to exploring wilderness areas rather than infiltrating buildings. Whatever it was, back then all those long cutscenes were fresher, like a new kid on campus, whereas here they are shot through, cliched, becoming the weird old postdoc trying to cut it with the kids. Maybe games have just moved on. The Last of Us features some long cutscenes, sure, yet I’d say they tend to give the player more agency in the vital sections, whereas Ground Zeroes feels like it has the opposite emphasis: we get to do the boring sneaking parts (and they ARE boring; particularly, after the first attempt at a section that involves waiting for a guard to turn and walk away time and again while you inch closer to where you need to be when they are not looking), and when we’ve gotten through the reward is to watch a movie, worse a movie that is ever-more-over-the-top.
By the end of Ground Zeroes I was desperate for the game to finish rather than give me another ending, and then an epilogue, and a post-credit reveal, and another, and another, and then some music starts… it’s almost as if the game has an innate sense of its own lack of value, what with the way it bounces you back to the first menu excitedly with some new modes to play that are all stuck in the same map with (exciting!) different times of day…?
It’s odd because as a game with wide-ranging themes focused into the smallest of spaces, Ground Zeroes should, on paper, offer a concentrated and pure stealth experience of the highest order: with the map shrunk down, the areas in which to hide are equally reduced and the skill needed increased. There should be nowhere to run. Sadly it doesn’t work like that. Yeah it’s still all too possible to sprint out of range of chasing guards and have them forget all about you. Worse the game often forgets what you have done even more literally — the checkpoint system is heinously broken.
During one of the “extension” missions (I think they’re called Side Ops or something) I managed to tranqualize my target only to be told that he had to be killed. So what am I supposed to do now? Blast him in the face and leave a big pool of blood? Instead, I tried carrying him away and then loaded him into a car ready for some kind of Weekend at Bernie’s picnic, aiming to drive off a cliff, thinking at this point, hey this is kind of emergent, this is kind of cool… I passed a save point as I pulled up a hill and then off I went. Only the way I went was not allowed, and so I quickly failed the mission for leaving the area. Boo. So, now cursing, but still committed to killing this guy by vehicle, I eagerly await the re-load to drive a different way to see if I can come across a suitable drop off. But no dice. When the checkpoint reloads my quarry is exactly where I left him, behind me in the car, only there is no car there anymore; he is sprawled on the ground, Snake is standing, and the car is nowhere to be seen. What kind of a checkpoint is that?
“The game becomes underwhelming and out of step with the rest of the world, stubbornly stuck in the last generation despite its pretty new engine”So the obvious question is whether the game is worth it. I wanted to believe it was. I wanted to enjoy myself. I bought the damn thing, after all. But in the end I just didn’t care about these characters in any meaningful sense. In going over the top in the ways it does (best left to experience or else all value drains) the game becomes underwhelming and out of step with the rest of the world, stubbornly stuck in the last generation despite its pretty new engine. What exactly is the big “next-gen” step forward here? That guards sneeze sometimes? That they look over their shoulders? So what?
Of course this has been an issue with many of the new games coming out; particularly, those still releasing with previous generation support too. I felt genuinely excited when the radio operator started directing traffic to my location, noticing when a guard no longer replied and sending backup, but a quick jog away shows it’s all hollow, it’s fake. And while it’s true that all games are to some extent, this one is squeezed into such a small space that the many possible grains of interest and emergent behaviour it might contain soon slip from its grasp.
Ground to zero, more like. The theme doesn’t feel resonant, it feels played out. The surprises aren’t surprising, they are obvious. The conflict is unrealistic, the shocks ridiculous. The motivations are all off. Shades of grey are in turn too black, too white. There might be an interesting game in this engine, but it’s not here, not yet, and as a result Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is at best a very expensive demo that should only be approached with the lowest expectations and at worst a cynical cash grab. It is no doubt accomplished in what it does; it just doesn’t do very much.