maanantai 24. maaliskuuta 2014

REVIEW - Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes | PS3 | 2014

GENRE(S): Action / Stealth
RELEASED: March 18, 2014
AVAILABLE ON: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
DEVELOPER(S): Kojima Productions

Six years ago, Solid Snake finally ended the reign of the Patriots and said goodbye to his father and once greatest rival Big Boss, before retiring from his life as a soldier to live out his last days in peace. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was a definite conclusion to Solid Snake's story, but creator Hideo Kojima - who has claimed just about every Metal Gear game to be his last - was far from telling Big Boss' story, and how he became what he was. 2010 saw the release of a critically acclaimed PSP game called Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker - another handheld game based on tactical operations and micromanagement; it was most essentially about building your own army. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is to take the Peace Walker formula to the big league, and much further with a whole new game engine and open-world possibilities. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes serves as a prologue to the upcoming The Phantom Pain, and a direct sequel to Peace Walker, a conclusion to that game if you will. Practically, it's a demo of the new FOX engine, and a taste of things to come. That's how it should be treated instead of a game... and so far, it hasn't. I've got to admit, it's hard.

Rush hour

Kiefer Sutherland : Big Boss
Robin Atkin Downes : Kazuhira Miller
James Horan : Skull Face
Tara Strong : Paz Ortega Andrade
Antony Del Rio : Chico Libre
Christopher Randolph : Huey Emmerich

Big Boss infiltrates a black site in Cuba to extract his allies, Paz and Chico, who have been imprisoned and violently interrogated by Skull Face, the leader of a mysterious military organization dubbed XOF. Unbeknownst to Boss and his most trusted comrade Kaz, the extremely cruel, intelligent and resourceful Skull Face has prepared for any rescue attempt; mission failure is inevitable.

Kept us waiting, huh?
Metal Gear - so good to have it back after Metal Gear Rising, a game that is still just gathering dust on my shelf, practically still in plastic wrap. I reviewed Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots four years ago, and back then, and lots of times since, I have constantly called it the "end" of Metal Gear. I really thought that it was the end-all game of the series. I thought Kojima would be done with Big Boss, too, but obviously he likes the character so much, even so much more than he ever liked Solid Snake, that I guess he won't be done with him until he's squeezed out absolutely everything out of him. I think Big Boss could be easily called the lead character of the whole series, since once The Phantom Pain comes out, he has appeared at some capacity in a total of nine main series games - whereas his son has only appeared in five, and will probably never return (though in Kojima's surreal universe, everything's possible...) In Ground Zeroes, it's the year 1975. In The Phantom Pain, it will be 1984. That leaves 11 years between the events of The Phantom Pain and the first Metal Gear game, so do I think we'll have a Metal Gear Solid 6? Or 7? I find it very likely, yes. But, we'll have to see what The Phantom Pain is all about, first, before we can be sure.

Ground Zeroes merely scratches the surface - if you're an experienced Metal Gear player, you will most certainly want to beat this mission in various different ways, and you're allowed to do that. A casual player who just zooms through the story and might not be familiar with the series, will probably be left wondering what the hell's so incredible about Metal Gear, and why in the hell did he pay 30 bucks for a demo. You might've heard Ground Zeroes lasts for two hours - nah, more like ONE hour. The series that was once known for very complex, but rewarding stealth gameplay, has now taken a turn to a much simpler action game with much less advanced features. You have no camouflage, and no classically cheap ways to distract enemies, for example - you can't throw stuff around or knock on walls. You can sneak through this mission if you want, by merely staying out of enemy sight the best you can, but you aren't really punished if you decide to take the easy way out and kill everyone. In fact, it's more fun to shoot guys than do this quietly. Fun, and even lucrative if you're going for all collectibles, but considering the brand name, it feels wrong. I'm guessing that The Phantom Pain is going to be chocked with all sorts of advanced features, judging by the gameplay videos, but none of them are really on show here. It feels like a mission in Peace Walker, only with (much) better enemy A.I., and naturally, better controls. The thing I'm most amazed about? It doesn't even look that fancy.

Though I'm kinda thankful for it - or at least my bank account is - I've no idea why they decided to make seventh-generation versions of both parts of the game, 'cause it's obvious they didn't really put their hearts into it. Ground Zeroes looks decent enough on the PS3, but Guns of the Patriots is six years old and it still looks better, in fact it's no less than one of the best-looking games on the PS3! Of course you'd expect the sequel to look better, especially when we're virtually talking about a technical demo that's supposed to stun you in every possible way. It's very dark and rough around the edges, and the background textures blur from time to time. Facial animation is simply superb, though, and this brings me to the incredible characters and voice acting. Every actor from Peace Walker reprises his or her role; not only do they nail 'em perfectly, but their transition from comic book characters to dynamic CGI characters makes them feel so much more alive and interesting.

Tonight's forecast: heavy rain. An assload of
Every actor...? Don't think I've forgotten. In perhaps his most outrageous move ever, but one you'll most definitely see the meaning behind once you play this game, Hideo Kojima replaced David Hayter - who's voiced both Big Boss and Solid Snake since Metal Gear Solid in 1998 - with Kiefer Sutherland. Not only did Hayter's retirement piss off a lot of fans in itself, but it seems they are even more pissed about the fact that he's replaced by Sutherland who will most likely make a Jack Bauer out of their beloved character. Well, in a way that's true, even Bauer's trademark "Damn it!" comes up, but let's face one truth here. The Phantom Pain is probably meant to be a really dramatic, cinematic experience, Ground Zeroes already is one - this series has always been known for its cinematics, and Ground Zeroes takes that side of the franchise to a whole new sphere. It's all way more balanced, though. In earlier games, there was a cutscene or two coming up after each two steps. Here, there's a lengthy cutscene in the beginning and another one at the end; everything in between is clean, uninterrupted gameplay. That's good, really good - I'm guessing anyone will appreciate that, be they long-time fans or people who are not really familiar with the series and have always thought of it as less of a game and more of a movie. Anyway, what I meant to say was, that it's high time Big Boss got a REAL voice actor. Hayter was comfortable and good at what was asked of him, but we're heading to a really dark and dramatic phase in the series timeline where that comfortable and familiar, all-purpose gravelly gargle just ain't enough - it needs more emotion and determination, and if Ground Zeroes is a sign of things to come, I think Kiefer Sutherland will turn out more than a handy substitute for the legendary David Hayter.

So basically, Ground Zeroes is like the intro mission in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, released as a retail game. Even the objective's the same: extracting a P.O.W. from foreign soil. In this case, two of them. If you haven't played Peace Walker yet, I suggest you at least try the game out, 'cause storywise, Ground Zeroes is really hard to follow if you don't, and will most likely feel really detached from the timeline to you, not just by terms of gameplay. Initially, I was kinda sad I never had time to finish Peace Walker, now I'm not so sure if I even want to 'cause I know what happens in it and the characters play out their parts so much better in this CGI environment. To be completely frank, I think now they _matter_. However, beating the intro mission in Snake Eater probably took you much longer than it takes you to beat the whole of Ground Zeroes' main campaign, first and foremost 'cause the FOX engine is so simple. Gone are the classic pause-action item and weapon menus - you simply choose weapons with the digital pad like in so many other modern action games. Two different weapons of the same type (one-handed, two-handed, explosive) can be stocked at the same time, and you can choose between two different weapons by holding down the corresponding button on the digital pad. You can use binoculars at any time by pressing the right trigger button, and by pressing left on the digital pad you can use items; only night vision goggles are available in this part of the game, though. Boss' (or Snake's) health regenerates automatically over time, but if things get really sticky, you need to find a safe place on the field to lay low and apply some of your endless supply of first-aid spray. Doesn't sound too familiar, huh? Well, get ready for an even further sideway stroll. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes isn't quite the Metal Gear you knew.

Before the breakdown, I'll tell you about the iDroid, which is Boss' personal terminal for all sorts of information, including map and mission data - and like you could use the iPod in Guns of the Patriots to listen to music, you can also use the iDroid to play... cassette tapes. Tapes recorded by different characters and tapes which contain musical tracks are found as collectibles, and you can also play up to ten of your own tracks from the hard drive (about as much songs that fit on a 60-minute tape). There's another hitch, right there... for some God damn reason, at least the PS3 version won't let you pick the tracks yourself. I have something like 250 songs on my hard drive, and the game won't give me the option to browse through the list like most games with custom soundtracks do; it just picks them at random. Let's just say that Cannibal Corpse's "Hammer Smashed Face" suddenly blasting through the speakers doesn't really help my concentration. As if the game really requires it that much.

The side ops bring in lots of wanted variety.
Yeah, so at least Ground Zeroes is not really a stealth game. You can tell by the nature of the equipment at your disposal, alone - and despite Boss' general movement being so straightforward and less stealthy, the combat mechanics are definitely buttered up from last time. CQC works much quicker and smoother, and if you're discovered by a single enemy, the screen goes to Reflex Mode - in other words, slow motion - which you can use to your advantage and pull a quick headshot before the guard's able to alert others. Of course they're still attracted by the sound of gunfire, but if you're quick about it, you can pick up the body, and in this dark and rainy environment, you don't need to carry it all that far to make a whole bunch of guys think they're just hearing things. First I used the vintage tactic of just tranquilizing everyone I could from afar, but it turned out a really slow and awkward tactic here, as I simply couldn't avoid some serious fights. I think this game was designed so that you couldn't get through it without killing at least one dude. It's not impossible, but it's really hard to resist the temptation. Especially since there are no essential rewards to be had in the main campaign for being a nice guy, and long-distance sneaking past guards while having someone on your shoulders is really frustrating.

I've got to admit that I played through this game a lot quicker than probably any game I've really looked forward to for a long time. I just felt that maybe I should just check it out and leave the perfect run for whenever The Phantom Pain comes out, 'cause you tend to lose your touch to Metal Gear games if you leave them be for too long. Well, Ground Zeroes ain't like that, it's easy to access, and I'll probably go on a perfectionist's round pretty soon - it won't take long. This round includes finding all collectibles, and a Trophy hunt for the very few Trophies this game has - none of which seem too hard to get, either. I think the most boring task that lies ahead of me is rescuing all the prisoners in the camp; it's something a perfectionist just has to do. I'm guessing rescuing prisoners in The Phantom Pain will help you with the construction and maintenance of the Mother Base like it did in Peace Walker, here there is no Mother Base - therefore, there really ain't nothing to the rescue except a lousy Bronze Trophy for a certain prisoner whose identity I believe to be randomly generated. The whole P.O.W. extraction thing in Ground Zeroes probably has no effect on The Phantom Pain, either - Kojima hasn't really commented on that - I guess they just wanted to show how the system works. Which is ironic, 'cause extracting people is what you're doing in the first place; they didn't need an optional side mission to show it off.

The way this works is that you carry a prisoner down to a landing zone, summon a helicopter with your iDroid, and then... you wait. Sometimes, for really long periods of time, for a chopper to come, and then wait for a little more for it to actually land. The landing zones are marked on your map as red or white circles, depending on their threat level, and there's a total of three in the whole camp, making the last trip to the nearest landing zone a particularly tedious one, as it's the same long distance away from every damn zone. At this point, I had already extracted three optional prisoners, and the first mandatory one, and I was really eager to do something else for a change and see what else this game had to offer. So I simply blasted through everyone I saw, and just ran towards the landing zone with maximum speed with that second and last mandatory P.O.W. on my shoulders. What I got in return was one of the best damn cutscenes I've ever seen... and the credits. WHAT?! It's over?! I knew this game was short, but... damn. Just... damn.

Driving vehicles is not the most fresh new
addition to the Metal Gear experience, but a
neat one, I guess.
Well, now that I've spent tens of minutes just bashing this game, I think it's high time to go to the good parts, and why I'm still shitting my pants out of excitement for The Phantom Pain. Like I said, the ending, I liked it very much - I think people are so critical about the ending 'cause it's so predictable, it doesn't really tell us anything new. After all, we've watched the trailers for The Phantom Pain, we know the basics of what happens in the end of Ground Zeroes. Still, to me, it's a treat to watch how it actually comes together, and the acting's just so spot-on, we might be in for the best cinematics in the already colourful history of Metal Gear, even if this version of a dying generation isn't quite of the "end of an era" type of technical quality we expected. The most important upside to Ground Zeroes is its variety of side ops, the first of which are unlocked after your first playthrough - the others are unlocked when certain criteria is met. These side ops go to show what could potentially make The Phantom Pain a great game; although they all take place in the exact same level as the main mission, they're all completely different from it, and each other. They go to demonstrate the FOX engine's possibilities a little further, by showing off how the day/night cycle affects gameplay, and how important stealth can actually be in the long run, among other things. It's the same level, yes, but it feels like a different one on each mission. Stick around for a side op called "Deja Vu". If you're a long-time fan initially kinda disappointed in Ground Zeroes and really doubtful of The Phantom Pain, there's a good chance your heart will be won by this one.

The bottom line is, you can't really live without this small - not to mention cheap - bundle of joy. It's not really the Metal Gear you grew up with, and it ends long before you get the slightest chance to really get comfortable with it, but don't let the staleness of the main campaign get you down. Go for the collectibles, trials, and the side ops, and I think you'll walk away happy, and in huge excitement to see what's next for Boss. Weighing and comparing Ground Zeroes' notable downs with its just as notable ups leads me to the conclusion that we might be in for a great game in the main course. Whenever that one comes out - hopefully soon.

+ Great characters who totally dominate their previous incarnations in Peace Walker, and superb voice acting updated to current standards; Kiefer Sutherland's arrival to the scene is a blessing after all (My friend's honest reaction to when he first heard that Boss is now voiced by Sutherland: "Damn it!" :D )
+ Great story with a bone-chilling start, and an explosive ending - literally
+ More weight on gameplay than ever before in the whole Metal Gear Solid series; even the radio conversations take place in real time. Shows great promise, be the main mission as disappointing as it may.
+ Good, diverse side ops, with treats for long-time fans
+ Simplified, and somewhat more responsive combat mechanics...

- ...Too bad the game itself feels too simplified, and much less of a stealth game with the removal of helpful stealth abilities and items, including camouflage; I'm guessing this doesn't quite reflect on the main game though, as we've seen him wearing all sorts of different clothes in gameplay videos for The Phantom Pain
- Disappointing visuals
- Stale (and short) campaign; extraction is boring in itself - most of all waiting for that damn chopper to arrive - and that's what it's all about
- All-around left hand design and programming for this PS3 version

< 7.5 >

Ei kommentteja:

Lähetä kommentti