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Bad for Unusual Reasons
on March 22, 2014
When I think about a "bad game," what pops in my head is something like Superman for the Nintendo 64: a product that is unplayable, unenjoyable or a combination of both; in short, something you'd put down after about an hour or two because you couldn't stand playing it. With Ground Zeroes, though, I put down the game in that time frame for the most bizarre reason - I finished it. Yes, the length of Ground Zeroes is certainly something that will set the tone for the rest of this review, but please bear with me because, while it was unforgivably short for the price tag, it's by no means a bad game on a functional level.
Ground Zeroes is essentially a prequel to the upcoming Phantom Pain, which will (presumably) also carry the connotation of being the fifth game of the series; ultimately, Kojima Productions decided to offer a small slice of Phantom Pain as a kind of tech demo/promo piece for the public at large. Having played all the previous games in the series (yes, all the way back to the MSX), I naturally bought this to whet my appetite and assumed that it would not be a full, 12-hour game - instead, I assumed it would be perhaps 6-7 considering it was half the price of a newly released AAA title but, unfortunately, it looks like this only lasts 1-2 hours, the latter time relevant if you wind up dragging your feet through the mission. Putting the length of the game aside for a moment, I have to reassure you that this game is by no means unplayable or unenjoyable; in fact, it's one of the most tense, fun and organic stealth experiences I can remember.
It would be difficult to condense the amount of differences between, say, MGS4 and Ground Zeroes, but it can be summarized in one word: "astounding." Kojima and his team put an immense amount of effort into revamping the control scheme while still being familiar enough for series veterans, adding in the ability to drive vehicles, dash, roll continuously, and move at a brisk pace while carrying prisoners/bodies. While they do not sound like much on paper, the difference is incredible for those who have played the previous games. Not only are the controls different, but the A.I. has improved greatly from the "what was that noise?" tunnel vision problem previous guards in the series had, opting instead to have a more natural field of vision (with a flashlight to extend that even further) and a reactive attitude that makes them call in extra patrols if they even kind of think they saw you. Furthermore, the old Alert - Evasion - Caution - Clear system has been made less rigid, not giving the player a numerical hint but rather relying on music cues for each stage (including when a guard almost sees you), which empties more UI space to show off the gorgeous graphics.
While my version was PS3, I have to say that Ground Zeroes is the most impressive game on the system graphically. Although there were a few instances of framerate chugs when things got hot (presumably because this was geared toward PS4 anyway), the experience was exceptionally smooth. The environments looked great and the character models (as well as their animations) followed in suit. While I'm not one to put a lot of weight on graphics, it's worth noting how pretty this game is.
Sadly, though, the big elephant in the room breaks in and stomps all over the place as soon as you end the game: it was far too short. While side ops are available to lengthen the experience, the main mission will only take about 1-2 hours depending on skill level, which is unacceptable for a $30 game, let alone something you would need to pay over $5 for. You get a great time, yes, but it unfortunately ages like milk and your money would be better spent saving up for Phantom Pain. It's very unfortunate that such a wonderful experience lasts for so little time, yet asks to be bought for so much.