Was this game some kind of bureaucratic mistake? Somebody misfiled a form, and a demo accidentally wound up on the shelves for thirty dollars? Then the mindless machinery of a corporation takes over, every individual actor blaming this nebulous group-think. I can see the hypothetical situation already taking shape: Says Kojima off-the-record, "Oh, I didn't want to release it as a game, this came from 'the higher ups'." And the higher-ups blame the game developers. The game devs blame the marketing guys.. And the marketing guys blame one Shiro in the mail room, who accidentally spilled coffee on a memo from Hideo, which was then photocopied and sent around the company, making everybody believe this game had to be released in this woeful state. What do you do with Shiro? Fire him? Nah. Give him a promotion. Look at the scam Konami got away with.
"Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes"* is without a doubt the very worst Metal Gear Solid game ever made. And already I feel as though I'm doing my readers a disservice by calling this thing a "game". It is definitely interactive media, that much is clear. There is a goal, there are penalties for failing the challenges set up by the game and rewards for succeeding them, and your physical actions on the controller result in direct feedback on screen, so it certainly looks like a game. But once you actually play it, you'll realize that no, "Ground Zeroes" is not a game. It's an ad. It is a teaser. You could not call "Ground Zeroes" a game any more than you could call a trailer a movie. Yeah, it is indeed technically a motion picture with sight and sound simulating real people acting out a story, but that is not a movie. It is the taste of a larger movie.
The difference though is that a trailer is free. "Ground Zeroes" is not. This was sold in stores - it still is being sold in stores right now. Somebody played through this game and said "yup, this is a product I am shameless enough that I am willing to offer this in exchange of monetary funds". The "game" is only two hours long - and that's assuming you're playing terribly. A second playthrough could complete the entire experience in a half hour. A speedrunner could be done in five minutes all without any kind of cheats or hacks. As soon as you become accustomed to the controls and adjust to the strategy of the gameplay, "Ground Zeroes" is over. The game is all warmup and stretching, no exercise. You finish the foreplay, then as soon as you're ready to have sex, "Ground Zeroes" is out the door with your money ready to fail to please more clients. I sure hope you were not attached to those thirty dollars, jackass. But don't worry - there is a real "Metal Gear Solid V" coming in the near future. But it is not this one.
So first allow me to describe - in detail - the entirety of my "Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes" experience. This will not take very long:
Having heard all of the controversy surrounding this title, I rented "Ground Zeroes" for one day from Redbox for two dollars and a bit of tax. "Ground Zeroes" is the first video game I have rented since Blockbuster went bust. I think the last game I rented was "Metroid Other M", which doesn't exaclty put "Ground Zeroes" in exalted company, now does it? Anyway, I booted up the game on my PlayStation 3 and discovered depressingly that it demanded a full download from the disc in order to play it. Yes, the world's smallest PS3 game cannot run off the disc, it needs to be on the harddrive. Recently I had run out of space, so I needed to delete a bloated waste of space that I had no intentions to ever play again. Luckily "Metal Gear Solid 4" fit the bill exactly. With 8,000 MB of space finally open, I could then load "Ground Zeroes". So now I was ready to play.
Oh wait, PS3 system update first. Dammit. Remember when you could just put a cartridge into your Nintendo 64 and start playing a game immediately? I guess that was too easy and convenient - we need to make gaming needlessly complicated and frustrating.
|I hope you like rainy dark gray military bases. Because that's the whole game.|
Ten minutes later I stumbled onto my objective by assuming correctly that an evil military base would hide an important person in the basement. I stole a tank, killed a bunch of people until the alarms stopped, and rode a helicopter to victory. THE END. Total playtime: two hours. Half of which was spent cursing at the TV because I didn't know how to control the game. A quarter of which was spent with the game on pause as I walked my cousin home because he had grown bored of watching me play the game. Ten minutes had to be cutscenes. Yup, Hideo Kojima put in so little work into "Ground Zeroes" that he couldn't even muster the enthusiasm to force us to watch a half hour of cutscenes. So... twenty minutes. I paid two dollars to rent this game - and I still fucking feel ripped-off.
|To run across the entire game would take you two minutes.. at walking speed.|
Really though, time is not how you measure the worth of a video game. You could conceivably make a game that lasts about two hours and make it interesting, creative, and innovative. "Portal" is not much longer than this, and that's a masterpiece. Most classic platformers take a few hours to beat - Hell, I could finish "Super Mario Bros" in five minutes using the Warp Pipes. Time and length and content is not really how you measure a video game's completeness. "Ground Zeroes" is not complete, by any standard. You start off with a small collection of tools, there is a brief learning curve, not really of mastering skill but just of learning controls, and after that's done you have basically conquered the entire game. There is no later twist or trick beyond that. It is simply walking all the way to the conclusion. All you do in "Ground Zeroes" is either stealth around enemies, or shoot them and then run away. There's nothing more sophisticated than that.
"Ground Zeroes" is so skimpy with its content that the main story concludes with Snake landing on his base fighting off bad guys and shooting down a helicopter - that is entirely non-playable. No no no, there was TOO MUCH ACTION in "Ground Zeroes", we couldn't possibly let the player take part in that fight. It had to be a cutscene! Fuck you.
Immediately my mind goes back to the Tanker chapter of "Metal Gear Solid 2", which I do not believe was all that much longer than "Ground Zeroes". It was definitely shorter if you throw in all the optional side-content. It came with the main game, you did not need to pay an extra thirty dollars to get the privilege of playing it. But even when I compare the gameplay to "Ground Zeroes", "Ground Zeroes" fails in comparison. "MGS2"'s Tanker chapter had: puzzles, exploration, a boss fight, a silly stealth minigame, the picture taking minigame. There was a lot going on there, a lot of different tones, a lot of different kinds of gameplay. Much more story, with twists and turns, and surprises. "Ground Zeroes" is just this sad little empty playground, this bare-bones thing that can only do the stealth stuff, and has nothing else to offer.
|Snake has definitely seen better days.|
But strangely the gameplay is there - what little there is - but the story isn't. The mood is all wrong. "Ground Zeroes" barely even feels like a Metal Gear anymore. And I'm not talking about how David Hayter has been replaced by Keifer Sutherland**, there's something more fundamental that is missing.
What happened to the cola-drinking monkeys? The codec conversations where Agent Zero would squee his fangirl love for James Bond? Where are the wacky group of bosses with insane magical powers? All those things are gone. There's no maniacal villain with a ridiculous SciFi plan to conquer the world with memes on the Internet or a giant robot with a dick made out of nuclear weapons. Instead we have what is basically just a horrible little story where Snake rescues two children who have been kidnapped by the US government. Those kids have also been raped and tortured repeatedly by a psychopath who is basically the Joker without a sense of humor. Then everybody explodes. The final twist, by the way, is simply gross***. That is going way too far. There are stories that can accommodate details like that, Metal Gear is not the one. Need I remind anybody of that "Metal Gear Solid 2" happened to feature bad guys such as a vampire and a fat bald explosives expert on roller skates? Remember "I need scissors! 61!"? Now that's gone to bring on this sick George R. R. Martin wanna-be shit?
|Seriously, what in the fuck?|
I know Hideo Kojima has made a career out of shocking swerves and messing with audience expectations. He's created a mystique for himself that everything is a grand insane plan, and gamers actually believe it. But "Ground Zeroes" is not some meta-twist. This isn't a clever switch-around like with Snake being replaced by Raiden. This is trash, frankly. You cannot simply release the intro to your bigger title and expect it to stand alone as a video game. If you released the first level to any video game, it wouldn't make sense. Imagine paying thirty dollars to play the first dungeon of "Final Fantasy VII".
I know some people are going to convince themselves that "Ground Zeroes" is well-worth the money because the gameplay is good. There are some people who have even less standards than that and will like the game just because it happens to be called "Metal Gear". Here's the thing: gameplay is not really the end-all of a video game experience. Gameplay is simply a tool, like any other, to telling a great effective storyline, and creating a narrative for the player. The narrative in "Ground Zeroes" is unfinished, that's the fact. You have these fantastic tools at your disposal, this generally good game system and gameplay, but they are not being used correctly. There is no narrative being completed, there is no accomplishments being reached, there is nothing to enjoy here. Just a few minutes of decent gameplay without a purpose. It could be a great game. In fact, one day I think this will be a great game. And that game will be known as "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain".
Until then, all we have is this. Momma BH didn't raise no dummies, I can see a scam when one is in front of me. This kind of crap is not acceptable.
* Confusingly this is not the real "Metal Gear Solid V", that's "The Phantom Pain". This game is just a part of "Metal Gear Solid V". Um.. what?
** If anything, Sutherland is an improvement. At least I can close my eyes and pretend I'm playing "24: The Game".
*** SPOILERS with a capital everything: Paz, the girl you're supposed to be saving, actually has a bomb implanted within her abdominal cavity. You remove that in a really gross cutscene. Is everything safe? No, the bad guys hid another bomb up her pussy. BOOM! DEAD! By the way, in "Peace Walker", this character had a bubblegum J-Pop theme song. Listen to that music and watch her little skinny body get ripped apart from the sexual organs. Nice, Kojima, real nice.