‘Metal Gear Solid V’ Review Roundup: Critics Hit Ground Zero

Metal Gear Solid 5

You can trace the roots of the Metal Gear franchise all the way back to 1987, but the series we know today didn’t really kick off until Metal Gear Solid hit the original PlayStation in 1998. That game was considered revolutionary at the time, and its three main sequels have widely been considered masterpieces of the form. That’s a lot of history for a game to live up to. How does the fifth main installment stack up?

To kick things off, Metacritic has tallied up scads of published reviews and awarded the game a 75 out of 100. That’s not bad for an average game, but it’s fairly low for a series that normally lands safely in the 90s on the site. So what’s going on?

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is different from its predecessors in a number of ways. Lots of changes have been made to the standard stealth gameplay, but the biggest difference is that Ground Zeroes isn’t a full game at all. Instead, it’s a prologue chapter to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which is set to release next year. As such, Ground Zeroes costs half as much as most new games and is significantly shorter, ringing in at about two hours for a single play-through.

However, those issues didn’t bother Peter Brown in his GameSpot review. He says that, “After the credits roll on the main mission and a handful of side activities unlock, the best part of Ground Zeroes is just getting started. With a wealth of secrets to find, and new challenges to master, chasing the endgame will keep you entertained for hours on end.” Kotaku wasn’t quite so charitable on this point in their review, calling it “short and narratively unsatisfying.”

Other changes to the Metal Gear Solid formula are pretty major as well. Previous installments were made up mostly of closed-off environments, which allowed the main character Solid Snake to sneak around through rooms, hide in boxes, and stealthily dispatch enemies in close confines. The game world in Ground Zeroes, on the other hand, goes full throttle into open-world territory, letting the environment sprawl in all directions. This gives the game a fresh feel compared to previous installments, and opens up your options for how to accomplish missions.

Also, going open-world doesn’t mean that the developers have gotten sloppy with their game design. According to Edge Online, “Every inch of Camp Omega’s open world has been touched by a designer’s hand and built for a reason: each blade of grass has been placed to give you time to hide between searchlight sweeps; all the patrol routes give you windows to exploit; every worthless crate will suddenly become a vital hiding spot in some unexpected emergent situation.”

A number of other gameplay changes have appeared, and IGN’s Lucy O’Brien thinks they’re mostly to the game’s benefit. “[Ground Zeroes] avoids lengthy cutscenes, climactic boss fights, and the usual frayed and tangled plot strands in favor of smart, tactical gameplay.”

So many changes to such an esteemed series are bound to be controversial, and that’s exactly the case with Ground Zeroes. Despite Metacritic’s fairly middling score of 75, just as many publications loved the game as hated it. For instance, The Guardian granted it a perfect score, calling it “exceptional” and “meticulously designed.” The Escapist, on the other hand, wasn’t thrilled by the experience, giving it only half of the available stars and laying much of the blame on the game’s brevity. Average those two scores together, and you come up with the same percentage Metacritic did when they blended 60 reviews together.

In all likelihood, it comes down to your expectations. If you know what to expect coming into the experience — especially the game’s length and relatively high price for what you get — Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes delivers tight, finely tuned stealth gameplay.

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