For nearly 15 years now Metal Gear Solid has been my favourite game, top of a list including such greats as Super Mario Bros 3, Sonic the Hedgehog, Half Life, and RoboCop vs Terminator. It laid the foundations for a series that I have followed ever since.
If you asked me to rank the games I’ve played series so far then it would look like this:
4. MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots – The series’ one full 6th generation entry again wowed us with its looks, and tied up everything we had seen so far. With some well placed nostalgia it seemed a fitting end for Solid Snake.
3. MGS 3: Snake Eater – Took us back to the 60’s as we followed Snake’s Dad Big Boss. Starting with a great Bondesque opening sequence, and setting the scene for future stories, it pushed the PS2 to the limit to create a jungle environment that was a joy to sneak through. Snaaake Eateeeerrrrrr…..
2. MGS: Peace Walker – Originally released on the PSP system, I picked it up when it was released on the Xbox 360. Not only did it play well but it took the Boss on a journey that pleasingly explained his change from famous soldier to leader of an ‘army without a nation’. We’re left with him in possession of his own nuclear equipped Metal Gear, and a stern determination to do things his own way now.
|Listen to Otacon for ten minutes or have my dinner? Hmmmm.|
Then there was the control scheme, which stubbornly refused to conform to modern conventions. You’d always have to feel your way in as you remembered that ‘X’ was cancel and ‘O’ was confirm.
The stories were also labyrinthine in their scale and complexity, with terms such as the ‘La-li-lu-le-lo’, and ‘The Patriots’ completing bamboozling me several times (and I thought I had a handle on it!).
So now, we have a new MGS. Ground Zeroes is the first part of Metal Gear Solid V. With 4 years passing since the release of Peace Walker, and 6 since the last big console release (MGS 4), has creator Hideo Kojima learnt anything? Or is he still being stubborn?
From the looks of this very expensive demo, it would appear not.
Lets deal with the two big cardboard boxes in the room first. The game’s length and Big Boss’s voice.
I completed the main story mission in 90 minutes. That’s not long however you cut it. But as far as I’m concerned this is a prologue and it’s if you want to buy it it’s up to you. There are side missions and other objectives which I haven’t really got into yet (maybe I’ll cover that at another point).
What I have been doing is running around shooting everything and blowing things up. Not exactly in the spirit of a sneaking mission! But it’s fun. Moving to an open world and just letting you get on it with it is a great move. Much like GTA, if you want to get on with things you can, but if you want to muck around, then fill your boots. Considering it will be at least a year before we get the main title The Phantom Pain, I’ll take what I can get. What we’ve got is an area that lends itself to exploration and far more than the initial 90 minutes in replay value.
Onto the bigger deal now. David Hayter is Snake. Having played both Solid Snake and Big Boss, Hayter’s growly “Metal Gear!?” is one of the most recognisable voices in gaming. I, like many others, was up in arms when Kiefer Sutherland was announced as the new voice of Big Boss.
When I first heard Big Boss speak it was jarring. Seeing “Kiefer Sutherland” produced a snort of derision. But then it was all finished, and I realised that not only did I not mind the new voice, but I think I get it. I get why Hideo Kojima ditched Hayter and picked up Jack Bauer.
Hayter’s Boss/Snake was a caricature. A larger than life action hero who defied expectations.
Sutherland’s Boss is a real person.
A lot of this may be due to the script, which whilst still full of jargon, doesn’t meander like in in previous games. Regardless, there is a realism and level of nuance that just wasn’t there before.
We also need to bear in mind that Big Boss is present in MGS4, yet Hayter didn’t voice him then. It would have been weird having an old Snake taking to an Old Boss and them sound the same. I’d like to think the gap is being opened so that Hayter can come back to voice Snake when Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 are remade or future games ret-con them. Could be jarring, but it would be cool.
But how does the game play?
Big Boss’s movements are fluid and convincing, with the transitions between stances and speeds of movements particular impressive. The main character of an MGS can finally sprint properly! Obstacles that would have flummoxed our hero in the past, such as fences, are now cleared easily, whilst taking cover is context sensitive with no button press needed.
Selecting weapons and equipment has now moved to the D-pad. No more holding a shoulder button and selecting. This is not only welcome, but necessary, as using weapons has finally adopted the ‘L2 to aim/R2 to fire’ convention for a main console release. Much nicer.
You can now tag enemies using your binoculars. This leaves a marker on them that you can always see, giving you situational awareness. A nice substitute for the Soliton Radar.
As I’ve pointed out, each title has been a benchmark for console graphics in its time. Ground Zeroes is no exception. I wasn’t that impressed with some of the textures on the the main menu screen, but the opening sequence (using the same FOX Engine as the game) soon made me forget that. It looks fantastic. Textures hold up to close scrutiny whilst fabrics move realistically in the wind and rain of Camp Omega. You can see great details on soldiers holsters and weaponry, whilst even the dogs were motion captured! The Fox Engine has been well thought out it seems, working on the previous gens hardware whilst still delivering a next gen feeling.
The attention to detail extends to the audio, with the noise the binoculars make when being equipped and unequipped feeling reassuringly solid.
I won’t spoil any story details for you. But I will say that this is the most adult story series creator Kojima has written. One scene in particular left me squinting. I had no problem with it though, as I’ve seen plenty worse in other media. Once I find more collectibles and find out further story details that could always change (I’ve heard about some other more unsettling aspects to the story but have yet to experience them).
Ground Zeroes may be a glorified demo when all’s said and done. But with streamlined storytelling, top notch graphics and audio, modern controls and strong replay value it’s worth paying out for. On first impressions it currently sits around Peace Walker on my list. A good start, but I’ll know for sure when the full experience is released next year in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Age hasn’t slowed this series down one bit.
Love a bit of MGS? Check out my interview with Meryl herself…Debi Mae West!