Where have all the cowboys gone.
Let’s get all of the normal complaints out of the way. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes (MGSGZ) is a $30 demo, Keifer Suterland is not David Hayter and has some gritty vocal shoes to fill, the controls are too streamlined, and the narrative is very loose. All that being said, it was still a short but fun experience with some rough patches here and there. But I’m not just here to talk about my experience with the game, since it is a bit masturbatory to do so and everyone’s experience will differ, but there issome uniqueness to this MGS from previous ones because of the changes in design from sneaking down hallways to sneaking across the playground.
First off, a systematic destruction of these complaints (or at least a devil’s advocate approach. Feel free to contest for discourse). The game is not that long, being only about an hour or two for the main scenario and I can understand the gripes for the $30 price tag for a short, incomplete feeling experience. But let’s be honest, the people that are excited about anything Metal Gear would buy the game. Hell, the only reason why we bought Zone of the Enders (ZOE) for the PS2 (a $50 game) was for the MGS2 demo that accompanied ZOE and that demo was an hour at best. I mean, yes we got a good game with it, but ZOE wasn’t the longest lasting experience either clocking in with an average of 5 hour playtime (howlongtobeat.com). But to get a Metal Gear game, with almost half of the price of the ZOE bundle and with roughly 4-6 hours of content all of which was Metal Gear is not something to overlook. The main scenario containing the majority of the story is roughly 90-120 minutes, but you do get story from the side missions as well as different scenarios to test out the open-world variations making the combined experience a much better buy than the ZOE bundle in the past, not to mention 4-6 hours for a $30 game is comparable considering many AAA titles give you 10-12 hours for a full priced $60 title.
That Voice. That Face
Keifer Suterland’s voice is so completely jarring the moment he opens his mouth, much like this segue . We followed the MGS franchise for over a decade and grew up with David Hayter as our Snake making the voice change feel completely obtuse, a sudden disconnect from this man-beast we knew as Snake, much like not having Mark Hamill as our Joker and Kevin Conway as our Batman. But, with the inclusion of facial capture tech, it made the facial animations during any of the cutscenes much more believable than the previous games and Keifer’s face does resemble Snake’s face more so than David Hayter’s lending to a better realism in the facial acting. That strong-cut jaw line, slightly blockish skull, a man that looks like he’s smoked a crate of Cuban Cigars in his lifetime, an action hero intensity from Keifer’s many years of 24. A much more realistic Snake face than the round face, big cheeks from Mr. Hayter. It is true that Keifer’s voice is such a distraction at first, but Snake doesn’t talk that much in-game anyways, instead leaving the monologuing to his allies and enemies so once you get past the initial reaction and introduction, it’s a much more enjoyable experience becoming accustomed to the grunts and short verses that Snake may occasionally mutter.
You put your gameplay in my story. (How dare you)
The story is a bit lax, but that’s partly because of the heavy handedness that MGS tended towards in the past and moving away from that in this demo. Hour long cutscenes, heavy masturbatory philosophical-monologues, large divisions of gameplay and plot giving clear checkpoints to scenes and chapters of the game, but MGSGZ was much different in this respect. We got a ten minute intro opening followed immediately by gameplay with various cutscenes in between, and another 10 minute cinematic at the end of the demo, but it all flowed in a more contemporary manner because it wasn’t being shoved down our throats as aggressively as previous MGS games. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a narrative to be had in MGSGZ, it was just not an overflow of one and requires you to play the side missions in order to uncover the secrets interlacing the MGSGZ with the main game MGSPP (Phantom Pain) to be released in the future. You still get a clear idea of what’s going on through the main scenario, but more plot points can be understood once you unlock these additional story elements rather than having them all ham-handed like previous MGS games. It does lead to a disjointed understanding and experience of the game, which is something I’m not completely a fan of but other contemporaries are also guilty of this (Bioshock, Batman, Assassin’s Creed). It’s not something that hurts the game to the point of frustration because the story is clear without these additional plot tools, but you can’t have the story rely on the these plot points because it’s not a necessity for the player, instead it leads to missed opportunity for use in the story and collective understanding of the MGS world.
Why am I focusing on the whole screen now?
Enough about what other people think about the game, but let’s talk about the gameplay itself. You get dropped in, with very little on the screen except for a Snake to maneuver around, a lifebar and a currently selected weapon. We’re normally used to HUD elements littering the screen, but the game opted out of this. No radar, no status on Alerts or Cautions, no immediate tutorial on “How to use your Snake” (hah, phrasing), nothing. Your main focus is on what’s perceivable on-screen. You mark enemies with the binoculars in order to track movement patterns, making it hard sometimes to understand if you’re in the danger zone of enemies spotting you, but a site-aware compass shows up telling you to GTFOASAP. The one thing I can say is that the minimal UI made for a more tense experience since you aren’t just focusing on map patterns, but actually trying to figure out windows of sneaking opportunity based on your gut and preparation. Much like the sixth-sense gripe that I talked about in the Tomb Raider article, MGSGZ removed this completely making the game harder to navigate and more skill based. In essence, the focus was shifted from the minimap to the screen. Instead of leaving all of you guesswork and ability to your sixth-sense, which would’ve been the map and keeping your dot out of enemies cone of vision, you’re focused on keeping yourself out of the enemies field of vision. The two are essentially the same, but the lack of minimap creates a better connection between the danger of what’s occurring instead of the abstractness of keeping dots away from cones. This creates a phenomena of the player developing better area awareness rather than screen awareness. You look around, mark enemies so you know where they are and when they start walking, nothing ever startles you, unless you forget to look around because you’re focus on taking down your next enemy and someone walks up behind you and you get spotted.
Why do I love to have guys in my arms?
With a minimized emphasis on the UI, there was also a streamlining of the controls of the game. Taking a page out of the Peacewalker book, the CQC (Close Quarter Combat) skill was reduced to a shoulder button and a menu of “How would you like to fondle this enemy? Interrogate him? Make him pass out?” (I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Dave) This does throw any CQC skill out of the door, but does it hurt the game really? In the past I only tended to use CQC to knock baddies out, so there was no real change for me in this respect. On the other hand, I found that I interrogated people a lot more in this game than previous MGS games. Partially because interrogation was such a chore in previous ones, but also because it was just so much easier to choke the baddie out and leave him in a locker somewhere to sleep it off. Making the interrogation easier to perform does punish the people who learned the skill in the past, but it does also open up the usage to people that wouldn’t have otherwise performed it in the past. Path of least Resistance and all that good stuff. But it almost felt like a necessity in MGSGZ since interrogating enemies felt rewarded in this game. In previous games you would get a dog tag once in a while or some ammo, but in MGSGZ you get rewarded with story points to pick up, better weapon locations designated on the map and intel on enemy patrol locations. The rewards had more meaning to the gameplay and actually enhanced the overall experience of the game in the long term rather than the short term “Just because I want to feel like a badass”.
This game was also the first to have an emphasis on “open-world” hide and seek rather than wandering around inside of a building playing box-crawl. This meant that your path was only ever as clear as the preparation of marking enemy locations and knowing where you are trying to go to next instead of playing path crawler and happening across a door that you haven’t been through yet where suddenly “A cutscene! Must’ve been going the right way.” This leads to more tension when sneaking around since enemies are all around you and patrol routes aren’t as clear as before, but it also leads to a lot more badassery when you actually do make it to your desired locale with minimal takedowns. This is still a difficult thing because with no radar, it makes it hard to know when there are enemies around the corner, especially when leaving the wide outdoor areas and move into building environments. There were a few instances of where I was trying to make a run for it, from the outdoor to the indoor, to stay out of sight and ran a bit too far into the adjoining room completely littered with patrol guards. Oops. No HUD, disregard caution.
The only other problem with the open-world ness is that once you are spotted, assuming you have enough openness to run, you aren’t necessarily in eminent danger. During both hostage rescue attempts, I was spotted with the hostage over my shoulder. In previous MGS games, you would run to the Manchester Pub, Grab a Pint and wait for it all to blow over, but given the open-world nature of MGSGZ my GTA instincts kicked in and instead I went Last Action Hero and made a run for the Landing Zone where my chopper was going to pick up the hostage once the danger had cleared. The first time this happened, I was planning to drop off the hostage at the LZ, pull out my trusted rifle and get the guards attention in a different direction, but the guards didn’t follow me the whole way. They stopped at a ledge that I dropped down from and switched form “Alert” to “Caution” in that area as they tried to find where I had went. Then the “All Clear” came up, so I learned I don’t have to deal with the threat every time, I just need to outrun them until they forget about me. So when I had to extract the second hostage, I disregarded most sneaking protocol once I was only a minute run away from the LZ and made a sprint for victory but only a short moment prior when I was still in the enclosed environment I fell back to the old tactic of “shit they spotted me, find a location to them to hopefully ignore, wait for problems to die down, and restart my escape to Witch Mountain.”
We can’t give the game too many faults for the changes that they took in MGSGZ. The developers are trying to give us a different experience from previous games, and I can completely get behind this. As much as I liked the previous MGS games, I don’t want to keep playing the same game every iteration. Giving us something new is refreshing, what they gave us was still very enjoyable. While some things are more simplified, they make them more accessible and more common to use than before. While some gameplay elements change the dynamic of the game, they make the game feel tenser, more energetic, more hectic. Not bad, not against the credo of Metal Gear. Just different.