Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

It’s no secret that I’ve been playing absolute boatloads of Hitman lately. I’ve been streaming huge blocks of playtime several times a week, working on unlocking every single thing there is to unlock, and even trying my hand at escalation challenges.

But Hitman‘s mission structure — which is built from a series of stealth sandboxes — was starting to remind me a whole lot of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. So I decided to meet up with Snake again and see how Ground Zeroes feels after so much time away (I haven’t played Ground Zeroes since 2015).

At the time of this writing, you can get Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience on sale for a mere six bucks, and buying this bundle seemed way easier than trying to dig up the discs for Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain, which I’m sure I’ve got buried somewhere in storage at this point. (Plus, horse armor.) So I opened up my digital wallet, dropped six bucks, and fired up this aging-yet-still-definitive stealth gaming experience.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

When Ground Zeroes first launched back in 2015, people were pretty sour on the fact that we were promised a massive stealth experience and ended up getting a chunk of game the size of a demo, with the real Metal Gear Solid V pushed back to an uncertain time. I get why people were upset, I suppose, but I loved Ground Zeroes (and so did my fellow Half-Glasser Julian).

In replaying it, I’m remembering just how much depth there is to Ground Zeroes. This is a small game that does so much.

Mechanically, the game is astonishing, giving you an incredible versatile toolbox to apply to the game’s core mission (and then later to side missions). You can replay Ground Zeroes a dozen times and still be uncovering new mechanics — or new ways to combine familiar mechanics — in your twelfth playthrough. Ground Zeroes is so endlessly replayable that it makes The Phantom Pain‘s open word just feel ridiculous and unnecessary.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

I’m also surprised by the game’s atmosphere. I honestly don’t remember Ground Zeroes feeling so oppressive, but this is a game world drenched in bleakness. The unrelenting rain suggests this visually, but the game’s narrative themes also delve into some really dark topics, such as torture, betrayal, and governments that only exist to draw out a power struggle that bleeds the citizens dry.

Honestly, when I played Ground Zeroes back in 2015, I skipped a lot of side stuff. For example, I didn’t take the time to listen to all the cassette tapes that you start out with. This time, before Snake’s boots ever hit the mud, he and I sat in the mission helicopter and listened to every single tape. This is probably 45 minutes of content (you can actually listen to these tapes while out in the field if you want to multitask). While some of it feels unnecessary, there’s an entire story told via cassette tape that I found really compelling.

So I’m really rooting through the mud on this set of playthroughs (there will be more than one), and taking the time to scope things out, listen to enemy conversations, and explore corners of the map that I missed back in 2015.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes‘ small size belies the leagues of depth it contains. Its stealth mechanics are still among the best the industry has ever seen. The story is concise and coherent, though not without Kojima’s specific brand of weirdness. The UI is ugly and chunky in the best possible way (making this feel like a game set in the 1970s instead of some near-future date). The audio is incredible, unflinchingly nodding back to the PSOne Metal Gear Solid game at every opportunity. And while sparse, the licensed music is chosen with the level of excruciating care that only Kojima can manage.

Ground Zeroes is one of the stealth game genre’s highest achievements. As I’m replaying it, I’m constantly astounded by the fact that it ever managed to exist at all. The weird release circumstances (this came out as sort of an appetizer to the much bigger Phantom Pain that would follow it) allowed Kojima and crew to release something that’s too small for a triple-A flagship franchise, yet too packed with content (in terms of narrative, game mechanics, and environmental details) for a game this small.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a masterpiece that benefits from its small size rather than being hindered by it. It’s way better when you play it slowly and savor it. If you rush through it to see the (admittedly mind-blowing) conclusion, you’ll miss so much about what makes it great.

With the Metal Gear series out of Kojima’s hands, we might never see a stealth game this good again. We certainly won’t see one with this specific brand of cinematic style and weirdness. And while that’s truly a loss for the gaming community, Ground Zeroes exists. And as someone who’s been enjoying Metal Gear for decades, I’ll forever be grateful for that.

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