I remember when Ground Zeroes came out. It was released at a budget MSRP and touted as a prequel to the proper Metal Gear Solid V that we'd eventually know as The Phantom Pain. I also remember that when Ground Zeroes came out it was pretty critically panned for being a glorified demo that was charged a retail price. Having just now finally played through this prequel, I have a bit of a different take on it.
Let me backtrack for a moment, though. The Phantom Pain is - in my eyes - an absolute masterpiece. It's probably the Metal Gear game I've spent the most time with over the years. And yet I'm still nowhere close to beating it. That's not a knock on the game, but rather on my gaming abilities. The Phantom Pain is a gigantic game. And I love that about it. But it's sort of like Breath Of The Wild. Both are huge open world games that I adore BECAUSE of their freedom. Yet, they're both so overwhelmingly large, that I can't really sit down with them with the intention of beating them. Instead, they remain comfort food games that I can come down to and chip away at over the years.
The other thing is this: I am awful at Metal Gear games. I appreciate everything about them. I love the weird juxtaposition of tones. Meaning, sometimes Metal Gear is presented as super serious espionage. But more often the games are drenched in sort of over-serious silliness. They're like the kind of b-movie takes on war that you'd see at video rental stores in the late 80's and early 90's. That these b-movies are made with a AAA budget and played with a straight face only makes them more endearing to me.
But Metal Gear games also tend to have a reliance on stealth. Something I'm terrible at. What keeps me coming back to these games is how solid the game play is, and how awesome and ridiculous the stories are. It's like, even though I'm bad at them and fail a lot, I just can't help but getting sucked in anyway.
Like I said, Ground Zeroes seemed to have really annoyed folks who plunked down $40 on day one and found the game beaten a couple of hours later. But to me, I don't know. There's something kind of refreshing in this day and age of overly long games to have a really impressive AAA game that CAN be completed in two hours. I also admire that the series branches out into these odd diversions. I mean, here's a Metal Gear game that's totally got the speed-run community in mind. Not that I'm from that world. But I still can appreciate it.
The entirety of Ground Zeroes consists of being dropped into an imprisonment camp and being tasked with rescuing two prisoners. Very simple stuff. And yet, I found the whole experience super compelling. Even me - a self-proclaimed not-gud was able to pull this off in around just a few hours. But again, that just further reminds me of sitting through an old action VHS. Let's call this USA Up All Night.
In the first half of the campaign I had to find Chico, and was given clear directions. I spent my time carefully sneaking around. I felt like a badass when I killed two guards and then hid in some plant life while others came to check it out. They didn't spot me so ran off in the other direction looking for me, while I freed Chico. Good stuff.
Finding Paz took way more work. And it didn't go quite as smoothly. Especially AFTER I found her. My goodness, the evacuation took me A LOT of tries. At one point, I found myself in a tank. At another I tried to get us out in a truck. I tried sneaking around one side of the base, then another. I threw the controller in disgust at myself. And eventually, I found a path that worked.
We hid in a cave waiting for the chopper to arrive. A guard came sniffing around so I shot him. The sound of my gunfire alerted others to swarm. It was tense. They got to us at the same time as the chopper. I had a decision to make - fight back to clear the area, or just haul it to the helicopter. I chose B and luckily, it worked - by the skin of my teeth.
But that's the thing about Ground Zeroes. It's a cool story to tell. It's exciting and fun. Ultimately the point of this game is not to just play the brief campaign and move on. It's to replay the campaign and get better at it, improving your rank. It's about finding new side missions to complete to further the experience. It's about getting familiar with this one map and just knowing it inside and out to create even more interesting stories.
In a way, I find it really interesting to take the open world genre we're all so familiar with and boil it down to this little micro experience. I think Ground Zeroes is so much better than it's given credit for.