Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes review

  • Smartly updates Metal Gear play style
  • Has some really gutsy storytelling
  • Looks very next-gen
  • Too short for the asking price
  • Side content stretches the campaign thin

I’m more of an expert on Burger King than French cuisine, but the culinary concept of an “amuse-bouche” certainly applies to Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes. An amuse-bouche is a small sample served, as Wikipedia puts it, “both to prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef's approach to the art of cuisine.” Ground Zeroes is a similar glimpse of all the impressive ways Metal Gear is growing and evolving, meant to prepare gamers for what’s to come. Unfortunately, this delectable morsel isn’t cheap, and comes with the painful knowledge that it’ll be a long wait before the actual meal arrives. Better ask for more bread.

From the start, Snake plays better than ever in Ground Zeroes, thanks to Konami excising the many gameplay hang-ups he’d cultivated in past titles. The changes are evident with your first steps into a 1975 version of Guantanamo, a military prison full of hostile operatives. From grabbing an enemy from behind a wall to shooting a goon from afar with a tranquilizer dart, movement feels natural. Snake's animations are better than ever, making his actions seem far more realistic than they were in the past. Direct visual cues make it clear when you’re in danger of getting caught--no intrusive HUD, lengthy conversations, or vision cones needed.

Adapting to the new style is easy because Ground Zeroes does a great job of incentivizing learning its new systems. For example, you should scan an area with your binoculars to spot exciting combat opportunities, but now the benefits of doing so are easier to see. Scouting enemies from afar gives them an outline in your newly enhanced view (think Batman’s Detective Mode or Assassin’s Creed’s Eagle Vision). This, along with other modern features like auto-lock aiming, bullet time-style slow motion, and regenerating health, succeeds in making it feel as though the franchise is evolving without abandoning Metal Gear’s unique charm.

The price of war

This vision of Snake’s future doesn’t come cheap. PS4/Xbox One versions will run you $29.99/£29.99 and the same goes for the PS3/360 physical copies, though last-gen digital runs you $19.99/£19.99. That's about half the price of a normal retail release, but Ground Zeroes is only a fraction of the length of your average Metal Gear game.

One thing Metal Gear hasn’t left behind is its gift for storytelling, and Ground Zeroes makes impressive improvements in that department too. You’re no longer forced to pause the action for lengthy CODEC conversations, while the cinematics’ camera has more dynamic movement that’s sweetened by clever audio trickery. As for MGS’s convoluted history, Ground Zeroes lays the groundwork well in the opening so you don’t need to memorize an entire Wikipedia to understand it.

This is all in service of a narrative that doesn't shy away from grisly but necessary scenes important to the plot. It approaches dicey topics like state sanctioned torture, illegal rendition, and other horrors of war that most games won’t touch. It's a risky move, the downside being that Ground Zeroes doesn't pull off every aspect with a enough of nuance or subtly.

Snake’s newest mission gives players a lot of room to breathe with an open world map that’s an inviting playground for him to try out his new skills. Guantanamo is a barren camp, and the contrast between the craggy rocks with the bright searchlights makes it obvious where you need to hide, showing that a sandbox style can enhance the sneaking instead of hurting it. The area feels alive, with jeeps making deliveries around the base and guards participating in brief conversations. Metal Gear’s gameplay is all about giving players choice, and the open world leaves you with many more options to complete objectives than you've previously had. It’s also worth noting just how good Ground Zeroes’ big, open world looks on PS4/Xbox One. The textures of the terrain and clothing are some of the most next-gen I’ve seen yet on the fledgling consoles.

Ground Zeroes shows incredible promise for the future of Metal Gear--but just as you get pulled in, it just... ends. The first playthrough of Snake’s one and only mission takes about two hours, and that includes a couple lengthy cutscenes. It feels like a long-ish prologue or tutorial stage to an amazing game, teasing potential that never pays off thanks to Ground Zeroes’ brevity. I can accept a great-but-short game if it’s a full experience, but Snake’s mission amounts to a demo of the real Metal Gear Solid 5 that’s coming months later.

It's a realization made all the more obvious by Ground Zeroes' attempt at recycling its content in fresh ways. One side mission is a daylight search-and-destroy operation, another is an on-rails shooter, and both Sony's and Microsoft's editions come with cute bonus missions that make the unlockables worth searching out. While these extras effectively show how flexible the series' new engine is, they're ultimately more harmful in that they make Guantanamo feel much smaller and boring than it did at the outset.

In another reality, Ground Zeroes is astoundingly good free demo. It expertly showcases Metal Gear's new direction and will hype fans for what's to come, but in the end it's a costly glimpse of the future. MGS diehards that can’t bear waiting for the next game will devour this appetizer, but the curious should be prepared for how unfulfilled Ground Zeroes’ small portions will leave them.

More Info

Release date: Mar 18 2014 - PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One (US)
Available Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Violence, Strong Language

Adding phenomenal, modernized improvements to the Metal Gear franchise, Ground Zeroes is effective at getting you hyped for the future of the series. Still, it feels like an expensive tease that only gives you a taste of what’s to come.

This game was reviewed on PS4.

Henry Gilbert

A longtime GR editor that has written millions of words for the site, as well as hosted hundreds of podcasts and videos.

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000
  • Jimmy321 - March 21, 2014 1 p.m.

    Just a side note... Hijack the tank and laugh ur butt off for as long as u want^^ very fun
  • xxsaturnxx1 - April 14, 2014 3:44 p.m.

    Ohhhhhhh....I'm going to try that tonight!!! lol
  • Jimmy321 - March 21, 2014 10:38 a.m.

    Ok. What everyones failing to mention is; a fast runthrough of the game only completes 10% of the actual content lol... Stop bitching about 30$ like its a huge waste for a "demo". This game is a uber demo at the worst! Unlockables, extra missions, absurdly great graphics and bonus content for mgs phanton paid when you register for ground zeroes that you will most likely not be able to obtain otherwise. Not to mention the actual gameplay is very tight and fluid;"no glitchy crap here!" This game is well worth the $$ spent as is. Hideo and his team have done an amazing job! The mgs games have and ever will be a sneaking experience with the option to go crazy and blast everything and everyone to bits and walk away from it. Who cares if its only 1 map for now, ive put in 5 hours of very appealing replay value so far and still not even close to >.>
  • ClevernameX - March 20, 2014 4:23 p.m.

    I love Ground Zeros despite the length, as the reviewer said it just ends...but it is has the most polished gameplay of all the MGS games. Having a blast replaying it in different ways. For me it was $20 well spent,l.Wouldn't recommend it to those new to the series expecting a massive game, but if you have been a fan of the series for a while...well you probably played it already.
  • TurkeyOnRye - March 18, 2014 8:28 p.m.

    I WILL play this... but I have enough backlog to satiate me until it goes on sale either on Live or at Gamefly during one of their monthly cleanings.
  • Chris_Danger_Donahue - March 18, 2014 7:14 p.m.

    Just beat it in 1.5 hours...and I was taking my sweet time. I barely got my money's worth and I rented it for $2 at Redbox.
  • Redeater - March 18, 2014 8:13 p.m.

    Holy crap. While that is pretty brutal, if you are complaining about paying $2 for a largely excellent (albeit short) experience, you clearly never visited an arcade before.
  • Chris_Danger_Donahue - March 18, 2014 8:23 p.m.

    I just feel sorry for the people that paid $20-30 for the game. I think it's a crime to charge that much. Now I do have to say, the 1.5 hours of the game were VERY GOOD, and I'm excited for the full version. With that said, I do not respect this new wave of developers that throws out expensive, valueless games.
  • Redeater - March 18, 2014 10:50 p.m.

    Fair enough. I may buy this when it drops to $10 or I may just wait until the inevitable free PS+ release. I just can't justify spending almost half the price of Dark Souls 2. I'll be 45+ hours in the next couple days...
  • MidianGTX - March 21, 2014 9:15 a.m.

    I just got 8 hours out of it, which is more than I got from Portal and Bioshock Infinite, and just about matched my Tomb Raider completion time. No regrets.
  • winner2 - March 18, 2014 5:19 p.m.

    There's a point where I can't agree with the skew between price and quantity of something obtained. Would I pay 100$ for a steak? Hell no, unless it's a 5 pound steak. There's a point where quality doesn't matter anymore, if i'm not going to be full I'm not paying that much. Same with this game, I'm not paying 30$ for a 2 hour (and apparently 10-20 minute main story according to some vids) demo. Hell, 30$ is a few games on steam that could keep you entertained for a month.
  • shawksta - March 18, 2014 1:51 p.m.

    So pretty much a decent introduction, great
  • PlainLikeVanilla - March 18, 2014 11:08 a.m.

    There's a great Eurogamer video of them beating the main story in 10mins.
  • Redeater - March 18, 2014 11:44 a.m.

    That's nothing. There is a video of them getting an S rating in about 17-18. :D
  • Redeater - March 18, 2014 10:37 a.m.

    Here's a couple of reasons why I don't intend on touching this game. 1. I'm 40+hours into Dark Souls 2 and have barely scratched the surface. 2. Second Son is being released in a couple days. 3. This game is going to be returned in DROVES by every idiot who thinks it's the new Metal Gear game. Seriously, this game is going to be marked down to a cool $20 in about a month. If you don't like the price, give it a month or so.
  • xxsaturnxx1 - April 14, 2014 3:53 p.m.

    Yeah, I admit, I didnt do my research and bought this NOT knowing that it was just a little demo, BUT, Im not too upset though, because it really is pretty badass!! I have fun with it and always try to outdo myself from the previous run. If this is just a demo, I cant wait for the full game!!!!
  • Jackonomics2.0 - March 18, 2014 9:11 a.m.

    Puns aside, this is only the beginning meat hopefully
  • TheGreyWizard - March 18, 2014 8:09 a.m.

    Well, I didn't expect better than that. This is an all time low for MGS...
  • Alphonsedabeast - April 21, 2014 2:07 p.m.

    Dude whatever at least they allow us to play this demo just buy from game stop used and take it back before 7 days no money spent and if your a real fan then this demo is sure to please
  • CitizenWolfie - March 18, 2014 6 a.m.

    At that price I'm very tempted to say no but then, it's Metal Gear Solid. I have played the MGS2 demo loads of times and found something new to amuse myself with almost each time. In fact I probably put more hours into that than I did the main game. So basically I hope I can do the same here. For me it was never about how fast I could beat it, it was always about screwing with the guards, shooting every object to see if it did anything, exploring every room and air vent and locker. I can't wait to jump into Snake's shoes and then play as if I was Sterling Archer