Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes was my most anticipated game of this year. Whilst it is undeniably great in a lot of ways, it definitely does not live up to my expectations as a long term fan of Metal Gear. The game is of course mired in controversy and before I get into the usual meat and bones of the review I'll address the two big conspiracies.
First of all; the length. If you take into account the replay value, side missions and collectibles then you can pour dozens and dozens of hours into the game. However the bits of story that the collectibles unlock are only rewarding for those brushed up on the inner workings of MGS lore and the side missions are largely fictitious and don't actually happen in the MGS canon. The actual main story that fits into the main canon can be beaten in minutes and took me only one hour on my first run through. The cutscenes that add depth to this story have largely been shown in trailers and previews, in fact almost all of the keys points of this game have been announced and or shown before. If you're looking for an amazing MGS story then wait for The Phantom Pain, which I'm sure will deliver one.
The second controversy I won't examine in detail as it contains spoilers. Essentially something happens that seems unearned, unjustified and totally shoehorned in. It flies in the face of the narrative tone of the game and the entire series and is quite frankly awkward. Hopefully this narrative discordance will be sorted out in The Phantom Pain.
Fortunately, outside of these two huge issues, the game is absolutely fantastic. Whether played stealthily or heavy handedly the game is a joy to play. I spent the first half hour interrogating guards for secrets or item locations, knocking them out and remaining unseen. The ability to tag guards and see them via the tags through obstacles came in handy here, though purists will be pleased to know this feature is optional. In the second half I charged around like Rambo, the new feature where, a second after being spotted, you have a brief slow motion chance to take out the guard who saw you before the alarm went off (also optional) was ignored. Instead I tore through guards with my bare hands like the CQC master Big Boss is, I gunned down squads of men with an assault rifle and stole a tank, engaging in a dog fight with another tank. It's this variety of gameplay that gives the game it's immense replayability.
The other great thing is that Camp Omega, the game's setting, feels truly alive. Guards patrol naturally, they banter with each other, let patrolling jeeps, trucks and tanks pass and everyone of them acts with purpose. The camp feels like a military camp. Also the design hits home, the camp is a morally ambiguous prison camp, not unlike Guantanamo Bay, which strikes real chords with modern issues.
Big Boss himself, as well as his gameplay, has been overhauled. Sutherland is no Hayter and the decision to replace Hayter still seems totally unfounded, unfair and ill advised. Still he does a good job and the facial capture is eerily realistic. So too is the body capture used for the character's movement. Big Boss looks badass, plays badass and acts badass, it's just a shame he isn't Hayter underneath. A real shame.
Graphically the game is, unsurprisingly, amazing. At best it looks almost real, at worst it looks like the best looking game on a console to date. Animations are fluid, weather effects and lighting are breathtaking and I saw no visual bugs in any of my run throughs . The sound is just as good with another superb score from the mighty Harry Gregson-Williams complimenting the game sublimely. Am I the only one who thinks it's reminiscent of Nolan's Batman trilogy soundtrack?
Ultimately Ground Zeroes amounts to being an odd mix, by any other series standard it's an amazing game but by MGS standards it's little more than an enjoyable disappointment. It's the best looking, sounding and playing Metal Gear to date but the story is woefully lacking and considering how important the story is to MGS this cannot be overlooked. Hopefully Kojima will include this prologue with The Phantom Pain in some way so you don't have to buy it separately because I find myself struggling to recommend it to an MGS fan and yet suspect it may be important in appreciating The Phantom Pain. I'd say It's not worth the money. I had to choose between this and Infamous: Second Son. I wish I chose Infamous.