More teaser than game, Ground Zeroes was released to some controversy over its run time. Yes, you can complete the main mission in an hour, but you’re definitely not seeing all of what the intricate sandbox has to offer. Ground Zeroes gives the player a handful of scenarios within the same area, at varying times of the day, under different weather conditions. Within the fictional American blacksite, called Camp – definitely not Guantanamo Bay – Omega, there are easter eggs to be found, systems to be poked at, guards to be choked and collectibles to… collect.
The main mission sees Kiefer Sutherland’s Snake infiltrating the blacksite to extract two of his operatives: a young boy called Chico, and a woman called Paz, who may or may not be a double agent. It begins with Snake overlooking the camp at night. You use your binoculars to spy through the rain, marking as many guards as you can spot from the vantage point. This makes them visible through surfaces, giving you situational awareness without needing to bring up your handheld device (called an iDroid) to check your map constantly.
This is Metal Gear for the modern age. There are a lot of design decisions like this, that keep the player immersed instead of staring at a map or a ‘game over’ screen. Like when you’re spotted, time slows down enough for you to get in a quick reaction shot on the person who spotted you, dispatching them before an alert triggers. Coupled with the audio cues, and lens flare used as a visual cue, for when you’re about to be spotted and you have lots of little systems working in tandem to keep the player’s eyes fixed firmly on the action. And what action it is. The controls just feel so snappy, like a perfect evolution from previous games in the series. Snake has never been this nimble or well animated. A squeeze of the trigger snaps you straight into aiming, whether you’re stood up, laid prone, or even on your back – the gun points where you tell it and Snake writhes around to compensate.
The stealth is a mixture of position-based, lighting and cover. You’ll be crawling through foliage, pressing up against cover, sliding through vents, shrouding yourself in shadow, avoiding knocking items over and just generally trying to be a ghost. Again, the controls shine when slinking between guards. Snake will change posture immediately, even when running – you can even jump between rooftops to get a vertical advantage on Camp Omega’s soldiers. There’s also a button to dive straight into prone position, which comes in handy when the headlights of a passing truck catch your silhouette. Speaking of passing trucks – all the vehicles in the sandbox are derivable, including the APCs. If you want – and if you’re careful – you can drive right into the camp. The vehicles are weighty and slow, and handle just as you’d expect from a military vehicle. If you’re more of a passenger, you can hop in the back of a truck and be ferried into the site.
When you finally get to your objectives, you need to get them out. Throw them over your shoulder and try extract. Obviously, you can put them down and clear a path with your silenced rifle – or tranquilizer gun, if you’re going for a ‘no kills’ run – and scoop them up after. Or you can just weave through he patrols with careful timing. Once at one of the multiple extraction zones, you can call in the chopper with a flare grenade and pop the target on board. You can rescue the other prisoners at the camp, too – you can even extract sleeping guards. Good training for The Phantom Pain’s fulton hijinks. The only thing letting the main mission down is some mishandled story elements, which feel controversial for controversy’s sake and jar against the general tone of the series this far. Other than that, though, Ground Zeroes is spectacular. You’ll play the main mission over and over, chasing that S-rank. And when you’ve finished, you’ve got the side missions: a daytime assassination contract, a mission where you provide air support to a virtual Hideo Kojima, a demolition raid on a constantly alert camp and more. Don’t be put off by the seemingly short run time – Ground Zeroes needs to be experienced.