I was so disappointed the first time I saw the credits roll in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. I’d heard it was short before I booted it up, but I don’t think I knew how short. Where were my oddly-timed codec conversations about how Jack met Rose? Why didn’t I have to climb a giant ladder while an acapella version of the theme faintly played in the background? Why didn’t a man that was clearly in disguise reveal his true identity by taking off his sunglasses?
Then I saw a load of side missions unlocked and I started over again. And then again. And again. And again.
Like a more po-faced Hitman, Ground Zeroes lets you figure out your approach, rather than directing you down a set path. At the beginning of the mission you know what you have to do, and where you have to do it, but how you get in there and complete your task is up to you. While avoiding gunfights is still optimal, this Snake is better equipped for battle, so it’s not the end of the world if things don’t go according to plan. He can sprint, dive, shoot behind cover: he’d become a regular ol’ Jack Bauer-type.
Jack never had a magic radar to keep track of where enemies were looking, so it’s only right Snake doesn’t have one here. Instead, you have to mark enemies with your… eh… magic binoculars. It’s still a Metal Gear Solid game, alright! Anyway, as long as you do the work beforehand, this allows you to cast a wider net when tracking enemy movement, which is especially handy when manipulating the baddies’ behaviour by, for example, setting off an explosion and drawing guards away from their posts.
Fans were upset by the lack of silly cutscenes, and the runtime was debated ad nauseum, but Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes was the perfect precursor to The Phantom Pain, representing a new dawn for the series. It challenged our perception of what a Metal Gear game could be. And it would be the basis for every new entry in Hideo Koji-… oh… maybe not.