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Game Info:

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Developed By: Kojima Productions
Published By: Konami
Released: March 18, 2014
Available On: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Stealth, Action
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Violence, Strong Language)
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $19.99
(Humble Store Link)

Before 2014, if anyone said "wouldn't Metal Gear Solid be fun as a wide-open sandbox", you probably would get some funny looks. However, Hideo Kojima agreed, and since developing MGSV: The Phantom Pain was taking a long time, Ground Zeroes was released as a prologue and introduction to features that TPP would fully realize.

Before we continue, some important background. Ground Zeroes was intended to be part of the complete MGSV game, but was split off and turned into a standalone title because development had taken a while and they wanted to recover some costs from development. It's intentionally a gimped version of the full engine with some features (like the real-time weather cycle intended for the full game) not fully included because to be blunt, this is a teaser and tech demo disguised as a full game.

The plot is set about a year after the events of "Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker". Big Boss has had two members of his team kidnapped and taken to Camp Omega, which is a serial number filed off Guantanamo Bay, more or less. His mission is to rescue them from what is a US black site for POWs and other prisoners captured deniably by US intelligence agencies and tortured and interrogated for whatever purposes deemed fit.

The actual mission goes off mostly well, but as Big Boss is leaving the area, he gets wind that his offshore HQ, Mother Base, has been attacked by an unknown force. As he arrives, the converted oil rig he was using to house his forces is going down in flames, and his helicopter is attacked. As the game ends, he's sunk into a coma, and will only awaken in the upcoming MGSV Part 2 (The Phantom Pain), which will finish the story begun in this game.

The actual story is very short, and the open-world is not all that big, mostly confined to the actual Camp Omega and its surrounding areas, which anyone can easily traverse in their entirety in fifteen minutes. Regardless, the classic stealth gameplay of the series allows players to discover multiple methods of investigating and infiltrating the area.

Once the main story campaign is beaten, some added side missions can be unlocked. Most of them have some minor (if semi-canonical) tie to the main plot, and a save file from this game with those missions completed will add content to the follow-up title if imported. These missions also provide some valuable teaser information hinting at the motivations of the overarching villain who provides the plot of both halves of the MGSV experience. There are also some amusing "Extra Ops" with shoutouts to the other games in the series, and even a cameo appearance by Raiden from Metal Gear Rising Revengeance.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Highlights:

Strong Points: Very well optimized engine; good graphics even on low settings; well-done port of a console series to PC; open-world and stealth mechanics are combined in a well-done fashion
Weak Points: Some may not like Kiefer Sutherland taking over David Hayter's voice role
Moral Warnings: Intense violence; scenes of torture and one rather graphic if brief scene of surgery; PG-13 level language used throughout (b**t**d, a**, s***, etc.); audio descriptions of rape; infiltration and subversion of a United States owned facility and it's USMC personnel essential to gameplay (with the caveat they are committing war crimes themselves, so the situation is morally grey all-around)

Finally, despite all this, it's still not a long title. While you can drive vehicles, interact with the various facilities and defensive structures of the camp, and even make early use of the unit capture mechanic that will see more fleshed-out use in the follow-up title, this still is a short game. Eventually, you will wear out its novelty.

The sound is excellent, with the soundtrack providing both tension and drama like one expects an MGS title to do. Voice acting is superb, but fans may be disappointed that Big Boss is now voiced by Kiefer Sutherland, not David Hayter. I personally loved Hayter and would have preferred him, but Sutherland still does an acceptable job at voicing Big Boss and conveying the ever-darkening aspect that would become part of his slide into being an outright villain in the series post-Peace Walker. Sutherland returns in the follow-up to this game, and while he still sounds like he's getting the hang of being Big Boss in this game with some occasional pauses in his inflection, this game is a good preview of his more extensive voice acting in The Phantom Pain.

Controls are usable via a keyboard and mouse or controller, whichever is preferred, and both work well with plenty of key remapping options for either. I found the keyboard and mouse very intuitive, so if you don't have a controller, this serves as a perfectly accessible fallback option.

The stability is very good. The FOX engine that powers this game is very well optimized and even a low-end laptop with a barely acceptable integrated chipset stands a decent chance of playing this with acceptable framerates and decent quality if they can at least handle the game on low settings. Max settings look great of course, but even on a low-end system, Camp Omega looks amazing, with complex lighting, wetness effects, and the facial animation engine is incredibly well done. Linux users may have a few issues, but it should run well for most out-of-the-box in Steam Proton.


Morally, this title has issues.


Violence remains entirely in the realm of letting the player, if they so choose, be an utter lunatic who violently riddles enemies with bullets, slit throats, and otherwise blow up everything around them. Of course, stealth and non-lethal gameplay are encouraged and rewarded, but both remain viable options. The other characters, both by implication and as shown onscreen, aren't above bloody violence. We also get to see some gruesome scenes of bloodshed, some implied rape and torture (via audio logs) and even get to see parts of an emergency operation that is performed that are quite graphic in terms of blood and gore.

Language isn't too much more earthy than is usual for a Metal Gear title, though some of the recorded conversations you can gain access to have some disturbing sexual references, including references to underage sex (forced on the parties involved, granted, but it's still disturbing).

Actual sexual content is very, very low. We do get to see one female character semi-naked, but she's been starved, tortured, and the scene is in no way played for anything other than horror. The occult and supernatural have a nonexistent presence, as the horror is more than adequately filled in by the evils actual people can commit in very realistic situations.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 84%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 42%
Violence - 1/10
Language - 2/10
Sexual Content - 3/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

And that brings us to the incredibly questionable ethics in this game. Camp Omega is established as a US-sanctioned military facility and your opponents are US Marines. On the other hand, it's also established Camp Omega is intended to be deniable by the US government, and is using torture to extract information from prisoners who have been abused and mistreated. While you might be a mercenary attacking the uniformed combatants of a nation-state, the soldiers you are attacking are keeping secret a lot of barbaric violations of the rules of war and treatment of captured prisoners. In the real-world, torture is generally not regarded as reliable, and the United States officially condemns its use, so what is depicted is not considered officially sanctioned nor lawful.

It's a morally grey situation all around. There is a saving grace on your end, as you are encouraged to extract both the soldiers and the prisoners as opposed to letting them die, and some side missions reveal many of the soldiers are incredibly disgusted with the secrets they are protecting at Camp Omega, so while it remains an ethically dark situation for all concerned, the player is given a chance to save and rehabilitate the occupants of the facility and encouraged to do so.

Overall, Ground Zeroes is not a long nor especially memorable game, except as a nice prequel/prologue to its larger follow-up. It's worth buying along with The Phantom Pain or getting while on sale, but it's not going to be all that much fun entirely on its own. Morally, the game explores some very dark and disturbing territory regarding war prisoners. As a result, this is not fit for anyone except adults willing to handle this very dark-themed subject matter.

With all that in mind, it's a short but sweet prequel to an even better sequel, and like all Metal Gear games, if you love stealth gameplay and excellent story, then this will deliver on both counts.

About the Author

Daniel Cullen

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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