Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes PS4 review – Snake’s in the rain for brilliant but not so Big Boss prologue

You want to know how short Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is, right? The answer falls somewhere between the length of Bilbo Baggins’ little finger and your average episode of Pingu. That’s the conundrum when reviewing Hideo Kojima’s oh so slight Snake teaser: how do you score a game that is unquestionably brilliant but lasts less than a Corrie omnibus?

MGS5: Ground Zeroes PS4 review

Assuming you’ve skipped ahead to that respectably sized digit, though, you’ll see I’ve clearly managed. Yes, this espionage appetiser is over sharpish. But for the time it lasts, the Phantom Pain’s prologue is better than the majority of full-length games on PS4.

I finished my first run of Ground Zeroes in 65 minutes and 48 seconds. Now admittedly, I’m the madman who’s gone through MGS4 an existence-questioning 16 times – check out our MGS 5: Ground Zeroes 18 min speedrun guide for tips on how clear the game in under 20 minutes (and to help me feel 7.2% less ashamed for wasting my life). So feel free to add a good half hour to that initial number. Nevertheless, it’s hard to escape the reality this is essentially a beefy demo designed to prime you for the bonafide main event that will take place when the full fat Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain most likely launches next year.

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Thankfully, there’s plenty of scope for replay – I’ve spent a good six hours hungrily seeking out every secret the main mission and its five unlockable Side Ops challenges have to offer. The latter usually last around 30-40 minutes and range from delivering a pair of specs to a very special operative, to hunting down a sniper and his spotter. This is an experience rich in possibility and hidden gems, though how much value you ultimately rinse out of the overly purse-pulverising £29.99 price tag depends on your aversion to repetition and desire for chasing high scores and S ranks.

And yet, I still absolutely recommend you stump up the cash for this brief, utterly excellent stealth starter. In many ways, Ground Zeroes is a similar prospect to MGS2’s legendary tanker demo. Back in early 2001, Kojima Productions rolled out Zone Of The Enders to act as a glorified delivery device for that soaked Sons Of Liberty teaser. And while there’s far more content here than the iconic PS2 boat provided, this base infiltration remains a primer for a grander espionage adventure. As was the case thirteen years ago, you’re still dealing with a grizzled dude skulking around in pissing-it-down-conditions, knocking out guards and getting into all sorts of involving stealth pursuits.

I still absolutely recommend you stump up the cash for this brief, utterly excellent stealth starter. In many ways, Ground Zeroes is a similar prospect to MGS2’s legendary tanker demo

What plot setup Kojima serves up is surprisingly brief considering the series’ love for a codec chinwag or 27. You join Big Boss in the middle of infiltrating Camp Omega, a sodden military stronghold on the southern point of Cuba’s coast. Tasked with busting out a young boy named Chico and his friend Paz, you outmanoeuvre the base’s 40 or so marines as the new proprietor of your hero’s larynx, Kiefer Sutherland, grumbles under his breath a bit. And yes, the Hollywood thesp currently sounds exactly like the slightly phoned-in, shouty Jack Bauer you probably expected.

Meet the iDroid – your new all-in-one wonder map.

While Kief’s performance will hopefully prove more compelling in The Phantom Pain, in the here and now Ground Zeroes at least represents a radical, and entirely positive, mechanical overhaul of MGS4. Since 2008 the sneaking landscape has been reshaped by the likes of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Far Cry 3 – reference points Ground Zeroes sensibly takes into consideration. Five minutes in Snake’s damn manly boots is all you need to see we’ve come a hell of a long way since an eyeless PS1 hero only had a corner peek and a packet of fags stored in his stomach to keep himself out of strife.

New features slink their way into existing systems with reassuring ease. Taking a cue from Brody and Bats, Snake can tag and highlight enemies with his binoculars, coating them in a Detective Vision-like glow that makes long-distance reconnaissance a breeze. For the more wonky-thumbed, Koj also introduces Reflex: a slow-mo mode that gives you a couple of seconds to shoot an alerted guard. A concession to modern sneakers, sure. But you thank your lucky La-li-lu-le-lo every time the big hand strikes Bullet Time ‘o clock.

Though Big Boss can’t match WayneTech’s Brucey bonuses, he’s in no way lacking on the gizmo front. The new iDroid acts as a real-time 3D map, doling out missions objectives, hints and the ability to call in a chopper for extraction at specific landing zones. You can even serenade your eardrums with classic Metal Gear tunes via Snake’s 1979-era cassette player. It’s a cute reminder that despite the fancy tech, the game is actually set in a time when the average PC was bigger than a semi-detached bungalow.