Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a third-person stealth action-adventure game developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on March 18, 2014. It was later digitally published for the PC (via Steam) on December 18, 2014.
The game is a standalone prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, setting up the game’s story while introducing players to both the Fox Engine and the new open-world gameplay structure.
Set in 1975, shortly after the events of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, players take control of legendary operative Snake (also known as Big Boss, leader of the Militaires Sans Frontières) as he infiltrates a clandestine prison camp in Cuba (known as Camp Omega) under control by U.S. Marines (including a mysterious Special Forces unit known as XOF). With radio assistance from Kazuhira Miller and Huey Emmerich, Snake must find and rescue both MSF member Chico and high-value target Paz.
Unlike previous Metal Gear Solid titles, Ground Zeroes puts Snake into a more open environment built to allow players to approach objectives stealthily from multiple directions as well as multiple methods, such as by vehicle. Similar to Metal Gear Solid 4 however, players control Snake via third person camera and aiming, with first person viewing mechanics as well.
The stealth gameplay in Ground Zeroes is quite different from anything fans of the series have previously experienced. For one, there is no longer a radar system to help the player view enemy placement and the surrounding environment. Instead, players must use Snake’s binoculars to mark enemies, vehicles, and other points of interest. Once marked, players can view and track each element’s position on the HUD, as well as seeing the outlines of nearby enemies through walls. The binoculars also include a directional microphone that allows the player to listen to far-off conversations. The player can also hit a button and have Kaz provide information on anything that the binoculars are pointed at, providing additional backstory about the base and its soldiers.
Another new mechanic is the reflex mode. If the player is spotted by an enemy, the game will go into slow motion for around five seconds; this gives the player an opportunity to take down the guard that spotted him/her before other guards are alerted. If the player fails to kill or incapacitate this guard, the entire base will enter alert status and soldiers will begin to converge on the player’s position.
Snake has most of the moves players are accustomed to from previous games, though there are several differences. Snake can aim in all directions while prone by rotating his body, as well as perform a combat dive to get out of sticky situations and into nearby cover. Snake will automatically stick to walls and low cover completely removing the need to keep holding the directional button in order to stay hidden. He can also use CQC from cover and disarm enemies by using the correct order of button presses.
During a mission, Snake can drop a flare grenade to signal a helicopter that can be used to retrieve hostages or abort the mission. After the landing zone is selected the helicopter plays a tune chosen by the player when approaching (e.g Heavens Divide or Ride of the Valkyries), though if the tune is too loud, or if the helicopter is too close to enemies, it can be shot down. It can also trigger a full alert status on the base depending on the chosen landjng zone but will not penalize the player´s stealth ranking, because enemies have spotted the helicopter and not Snake.
Snake also carries with him an iDroid, a holographic projection device that is used to display the map and mission information, as well as allowing him to call in for a helicopter to rescue both prisoners or to extract himself from the base—all of this taking place outside of the pause menu in real time.
The game also features day/night cycles which enhance replay value by mixing up enemy patrol patterns as well as altering how far away guards will spot you, which in turn forces you to play differently.
Knocking on walls is no longer possible, but players can throw empty magazines in order to replicate the effect. Weapons have accessories that can be toggled on and off, such as suppressors and flash-lights. All suppressors—with the exception of the tranquilizer pistol—will eventually break with usage.
Tranquilizer shots no longer affect targets immediately when hit in the heart or genitals: only head shots instantly knocks out guards. The amount of shots below the neck will determine the delay of him going unconscious: one shot will take 30 seconds to take effect, two shots will take 10 seconds, 3 shots will take a guard down after 2 seconds, and 4 shots below the neck equal a head shot and take a guard out instantly.
Almost all of the story in Ground Zeroes is explained via cassette tapes, which the player can collect in Side-Ops and the Main Mission. These can be accessed either in game via the Sony Walkman or in the main menu. These audio recordings provide many smaller details concerning the events leading up to the Ground Zeroes mission and the characters that play a role in the main story. Several of these cassettes also serve as a recap of the events in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Along with the main story mission, there are six additional bonus missions that can be unlocked.
Like the main mission, players are scored at the end of each mission by several factors (including time spent, number of enemies killed, and number of alerts). Players are ranked on a scale from “D” (worst) to “S” (best). All missions have a “Normal” and unlockable “Hard” difficulty setting, changing the difficulty of the enemies and availability of ammunition.
All four side-ops, set prior to the events of the main mission, are unlocked after completing the main story mission. While all four missions take place in Camp Omega (this time in daylight), they are considered “pseudo-historical recreations” due to not representing the proper in-universe locale.
Originally a timed-exclusive bonus mission for the PS4 and PS3 versions (and unlocked by collecting all XOF badges in the main mission), Déjà-Vu is a non-canonical mission that has players recreating several “scenes” from the original Metal Gear Solid (by locating familiar sights and completing certain actions).
Though all action still takes place in Camp Omega, the background music and several graphical touches are direct homages to MGS1. At the end of the mission, players are given a quiz over various MGS1 trivia. These questions will change depending on the difficulty level selected for the mission. After recreating all of the scenes and answering all quiz questions correctly on “Normal” difficulty, players will unlock and control the MGS1 version of the original Metal Gear protagonist, Solid Snake. Completing all of the above requirements on “Hard” difficulty will unlock the ability to play as Cyborg Ninja Gray Fox, as well as a winter environment theme for Camp Omega.
Originally a timed-exclusive bonus mission for the XB1 and 360 versions (and unlocked by collecting all XOF badges in the main mission), Jamais Vu is a non-canonical mission that has players controlling cybernetic super-soldier Raiden (in his Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance appearance) as he must eliminate Body-Snatchers (in a direct nod to Hideo Kojima’s 1988 game Snatcher) in an alternate-universe Camp Omega.
Playing as Raiden is a nearly identical experience to playing as Snake, though sprinting speed is doubled and is accompanied by electric sparks. As the Snatchers look identical to human soldiers, players must scan each soldier by focusing on them briefly with the binoculars equipped: Snatchers will emit a bright green glow after being scanned, whereas normal soldiers will have a soft blue glow. The Snatchers must be killed in order to complete the mission, as they can only be tranquilized or knocked out for a few seconds. Normal soldiers must also be subdued before the mission can continue, though they can be tranquilized or knocked out—killing these soldiers will impact players’ ranks at the end of the mission.
After the events of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Kazuhira “Master” Miller hears from contacts within the secretive Cipher organization that Paz had resurfaced in a clandestine prison camp run by American forces off the coast of Cuba called Camp Omega.
Chico, who had always harbored a strong affection for Paz, sets out by himself in order to try to rescue her without telling any of his allies in MSF. He succeeds in finding Paz but is captured by the American troops stationed at Camp Omega before he can attempt a rescue mission.
Both Paz and Chico are brutally tortured and interrogated by XOF leader Skull Face; Chico eventually breaks and reveals information about Mother Base, the headquarters of Big Boss’ private military group, Militares Sans Frontieres (also referred to as MSF or “Soldiers Without Borders”). Chico divulges key information, such as the number of troops and the base’s location out at sea, but most importantly he reveals the existence of Metal Gear ZEKE. He then tries to convince Paz to talk as well, but to no avail.
After enduring more torture, Paz eventually reveals the location of Cipher to Skull Face, who plans to eliminate him once and for all. His reasons for wanting this are not revealed.
Kaz and Snake are both worried that Paz might reveal the truth about MSF and Metal Gear ZEKE. To complicate matters further, the UN (with US forces) is due to inspect Mother Base for nuclear weapons in order to determine whether or not MSF poses a real threat to the world.
This inspection is forced upon them by Huey Emmerich, who, behind Kaz’s and Boss’ back, reached out to the UN and retracted Boss’ initial response to “respectfully decline” the inspection. Huey attempted to justify his actions, stating that transparency is the best policy and that MSF would become poster boys for paramilitary nations after the inspection.
Big Boss and Kaz discover shortly afterward that Chico has been captured following his sudden disappearance, as transmission from him asking for help is being broadcast on open channels. This recording, a final “request” from Skull Face to Chico, raises red flags and clearly signifies a trap.
Snake is forced to infiltrate the prison camp to rescue both Paz and Chico. All he can hope is that Chico is still alive and that Paz can be recovered for questioning. Unfortunately, the inspection team will be arriving the night he leaves for the prison camp, and Kaz warns Snake that he will be on his own without MSF backup for this mission.
Snake arrives quietly at the base and manages to rescue Chico, who becomes terrified and aggressive upon seeing Snake. Snake subdues Chico and carries him to the extraction point. Before Chico is extracted, he remarks that Paz is dead and gives Snake a cassette tape to prove it—this tape is a recording of Paz’s torture and supposed death. Listening to the tape, Snake uses audio clues to deduce where Paz is being held and makes his way to the boiler room of the prison camp. There he finds Paz still alive and bound in chains. Snake frees her and carries her out for evacuation via helicopter. While en route to Mother Base, it is discovered that a live bomb was surgically implanted into Paz’s abdomen by removing some of her organs in order to fit; it is promptly removed by the medic inside the helicopter and thrown into the sea by Snake.
Snake arrives back at Mother Base to find it under heavy attack—the inspection team was actually a ruse designed to give an enemy assault force access to the base. Snake attempts to rally his forces and fight back, but he is forced to extract with Kaz and fly away as the base explodes and crumbles into the ocean. Kaz is visibly shaken after witnessing the loss of Mother Base and lashes out at Paz, who he sees as the main culprit—he does not yet know that it was in fact Chico that gave XOF the intelligence about Mother Base. Snake and the others are closely pursued by enemy helicopters, which seem to be under the orders of XOF.
Paz then awakes and stands up in fright, stating that there is a bomb implanted in her body. Snake tries to calm her down by saying that it had been removed, but as this is being said Paz opens the door and reveals that an additional bomb was also implanted inside of her. She then throws herself out of the chopper in an attempt to save Snake and the others, but the bomb goes off when she is just outside the door, causing the chopper to lose control and collide with a pursuing enemy helicopter. At this point the screen fades to black before showing a preview of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
At the Metal Gear 25th Anniversary event, Kojima Productions showed a twenty-minute demonstration of the FOX engine and the game to attendees. Photography or video was not allowed, although excited reactions from attendees surfaced via Twitter.
Konami also released a promotional image from the demonstration. The character appeared to be Big Boss, indicated by the “Militaires san Frontieres” patch on his shoulder and his sneaking suit (from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker). The image shows a deliberately backwards phrase that when flipped reads as: “From ‘FOX,’ two phantoms were born.” The meaning of the phrase has yet to be fully detailed.
A few days later at PAX Prime 2012, Kojima showed the same trailer and gameplay at his “Past, Present, and the Future of METAL GEAR” panel, and shortly later released it online. The trailer was as much of a reveal of Ground Zeroes as it was for FOX Engine. The setting for the footage was Camp Omega during a rainy night, showing rain and wind effects. Also detailed was plot points for the game, and Snake’s objective at the facility.
Shortly after PAX Prime 2012, Kojima tweeted that Ground Zeroes is not what was known as Project Ogre, another “open world” game on the FOX Engine. Project Ogre was later revealed to be Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Ground Zeroes received overall positive reviews, averaging 75, 76, and 80 Metacritic scores for the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC versions of the game respectively. The game was praised consistently for its graphical fidelity and gameplay mechanics, providing an immersive espionage experience: “[w]ith Ground Zeroes’ minimal HUD, a narrow third-person camera angle, and a sprawling base filled with potential threats, sneaking behind enemy lines has rarely felt so tense and immersive,” said Gamespot staff member Peter Brown in his March 18, 2014 review. The game was also praised by some outlets for its exploration of various political themes, particularly the imprisonment of war criminals in “black site” prison camps akin to Camp Omega. Reviewer Rich Stanton elaborated on this point in his March 20, 2014 Guardian review: “…as the repeating structure and evolving narrative are at pains to point out, black sites like this and their grey legal status are a tribute to bureaucracy’s unerring ability to triumph over ethics and what is ‘right’ – just ask President Obama. If Kafka was alive today he’d be writing about Guantanamo, but instead we have Hideo Kojima and an irony; a medium predicated on interaction, a game about tactical espionage action, with an overarching theme of political inaction.”
The overarching criticism of Ground Zeroes was the length of its primary story-based mission, which could be completed in less than one hour. This led many to compare the game to a playable demo, which, when paired with its original price point of $40, led many to label the game as a “cash grab.” Reviewer Jim Sterling stated the following in his Escapist Magazine review: “The problem is, Ground Zeroes truly, honestly, does not feel like much of a game. Not a complete one. Not a full product, worthy of charging money.” Konami responded to these criticisms on February 24, 2014 by reducing the cost of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions of the fame to $30, which was equivalent to the price tags of the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions.