What you won’t like

Ground Zeroes is just as short as you’ve heard

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - Hostage

I cleared the single story mission of Ground Zeroes in 1 hour and 40 minutes despite a death and several unpaused breaks. There have been few examples of gameplay perfect enough to merit $30 ($20 for a digital copy on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) at that length of time, and Ground Zeroes certainly isn’t an exception. The attempts to lengthen the play time with unlocked challenges and audio logs comes off more as an admission of guilt about the paltry core content than any genuine attempt to broaden the experience.

Ground Zeroes operates on constant momentum and a plethora of unresolved story threads. While satisfying in the moment, little is ultimately achieved outside of technical tutorials and exposition. You can’t even properly judge Kiefer Sutherland’s work as the new voice for Big Boss. The vast majority of Big Boss’s dialogue in the mission is reactionary exposition of little consequence to his character. What you get above all else after completing Ground Zeroes is a fervent desire to play The Phantom Pain. That is the goal of a demo, not than a full game, bargain-priced or otherwise. This mission is an incomplete episode of a television show you won’t see until next year.

Unlockables don’t have lasting value 

After finishing the Ground Zeroes mission, you unlock a handful of challenges that play out on the same map. Big Boss is sent back to the Cuban black site at various times of day to assassinate targets, steal intel, or destroy certain objects or items. The mini-missions are definitely a stiffer challenge than the story, with fewer guards patrolling larger areas of the base. But most only last 15 minutes to half an hour depending on skill level, with a few devolving into soulless shootouts with a control system not designed for third-person shooting. Running from a tank is made infinitely more complicated when Big Boss sticks to every flat surface worse than Altaïr from the first Assassin’s Creed.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes - Anti-aircraft

The extra narrative information on certain characters or events gained after completing challenges is interesting but feels like data log entries that usually unlock naturally over the course of a single-player game. You can replay all missions — including the main story adventure — for a higher ranking, but that is hardly enough incentive to suffer the frustration of the challenges more than once. This empty filler feeling never dissipates no matter which extra mission you undertake.

Conclusion

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a demo being sold as a bargain-priced game. While the Metal Gear franchise is renowned for having exceptional game teasers, the idea of selling one of them at this price is absurd. The unsatisfying, unlockable content is painfully obvious filler. Not enough moments of gameplay or narrative consequence happen in the main mission to justify a price above $10, let alone the $20-$30 range.

Pick up Ground Zeroes next year right before The Phantom Pain launches. By that time, it will have dropped in price, and the gap between games will be much more bearable. Even those that haven’t played Peace Walker are better served buying the HD version of that game online rather than sitting through dozens of minutes of plain audio tapes. Until we can get our hands on The Phantom Pain, this pick-pocketing by Konami is the only consequential bit of stealth to be had with Big Boss this year.

Score: 55/100

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on March 18. Konami provided GamesBeat with a PS4 copy of the game at a local review event for the purpose of this review. 


GamesBeat Black Friday Gift Guide: Everything we recommend this holiday season