Critical Consensus: Metal Gear Solid proves that size matters

Ground Zeroes' expert design, brief play-time and hefty price sharply divides the critics

Truly divisive games are rare, but in many ways they are more valuable than those that unite opinion. Dead Island, for example, or Deadly Premonition; games whose appeal transcends the criteria by which review scores are generally awarded. Anathema for some, catnip for others, but distinctive to their very core.

The point is that a wide spread of review scores indicates certain qualities that an uninterrupted stream of 8s and 9s seldom describe. Universal acclaim can be applied to distinctive work, of course, but just as often the recipient will be an expertly crafted exercise in covering old ground; another iteration of the same familiar mechanics, with just enough girth and a thick enough coat of polish to avoid easy criticism and tick the box marked, 'Value For Money.'

"The mission is not only short, it's dull. Underwhelming doesn't begin to describe it"


Despite ostensibly being a sequel in one of the industry's most treasured franchises, Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes handily side-steps any fears about playing it safe and walks right onto dangerous ground. Effectively a cold-open for Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain - a game with no fixed release date at the time of writing - it is a brief, contained examination of Hideo Kojima's new direction for the series, a single mission with multiple objectives. It will also cost somewhere between 20 and 30, depending on where you shop.

In an era where games and their special editions are available for as much as several hundred pounds and as little as nothing whatsoever, it could be argued that there's no such thing as an innapropriate price-point. But if Ground Zeroes' army of reviewers holds that belief, it doesn't show in their final assessment. Pretty much every available review starts with a few paragraphs about the game's structure and size: for some, it's the sign of a cash-grab by Konami; for others, it's a unique approach that ultimately disguises the game's admirable depths.


Polygon is decidedly in the former camp, awarding Ground Zeroes 5.5 out of 10 for an experience that, "is hardly worthy of the franchise moniker." Predictably enough, the game's size is presented as the most egregious of its problems, taking just 76 minutes of the reviewers' time - "That's not the game clock, either. That's real time." - to complete a single map that can be traversed end-to-end in five minutes.

"The mission is not only short, it's dull. Your objectives amount to going to one place, rescuing a prisoner, going to another place, rescuing another prisoner, and then calling in a helicopter to get you out of there. Underwhelming doesn't begin to describe it.

"Upon completing the main mission, Side Ops are unlocked. These are missions that take place on the same military base, but with different objectives and parameters... These Side Ops help to pad the play time and value of Ground Zeroes, but you're still returning to the same map, over and over again."

"This is surely the most mechanically sound, fluidly designed Metal Gear Solid game yet made"


Polygon notes that Metal Gear Solid is a "beloved franchise," and while it doesn't regard Ground Zeroes as worthy of the name, that reputation garners considerably more benefit of the doubt than another product offering this amount of content at this price would generally receive. Metal Gear Solid is one of the most dense and intricate universes in the gaming canon, and that lends this single map and its potentially brief play-time an unmistakable and deserved weight. It is a sign of what's to come, and for many that will be enough.

In its 3.5-star review, Joystiq questions the idea that Ground Zeroes is the "glorified demo" the cynics were anticipating, and points to several refinements to the formula for which Metal Gear Solid is known. Perhaps the most welcome of these will be alterations to the series' infamous penchant for epic cut-scenes, which, while still present, now feel like a coherent part of a more fluid experience.

"The game is bookmarked by unflinching, continuous shots that track important subjects like they're in a documentary. These aren't interactive, but they share the same camera that eventually pulls back, just seamlessly, to float above and behind Snake. It's like being a nosy observer spinning around the scene, and sometimes this means you don't get spared from grotesque violence.

"Kojima has brought the camera down, severing us from the radar screen and the days of steering Snake like Pac-Man dodging guards instead of ghosts. He sprints, walks, crouches and crawls in one smooth motion, rolls behind cover and peers over the edge ever so slightly. You feel rooted in the world alongside Snake. You clench your teeth as he picks a lock (no minigame!) and slips out of view just in time. You notice the cutscenes don't really cut away anymore."


For Kotaku - which rather artfully describes Ground Zeroes as, "a small plate at an expensive restaurant" - in certain respects this marks a new high-watermark for the Metal Gear Solid series. It may just be, "a sliver of a larger, more complete game," but it is also "beautifully constructed" and full of "good ideas." The action between Ground Zeroes' opening and closing cut-scenes may be brief, but Kojima Productions maintains an admirably high standard of execution.

"Camp Omega is an intricately designed, fun-to-explore place, a large military compound loaded with guards, watch-towers, and roving vehicles. There is great joy to be found in poking and prodding at its various interlocking systems, just to see how they react. This is surely the most mechanically sound, fluidly designed Metal Gear Solid game yet made.

"You can't put a price on class like this"


"At any given juncture, players can choose to act in any of a number of ways, provoking any of a number of responses from their enemies. A purely silent approach tends to be the best-and most satisfying-way to play, but more so than any past Metal Gear game, Ground Zeroes leaves the door open for guns-blazing action. The game doesn't control as well as, say, Gears of War, but Ground Zeroes' opened-up action is smooth and, when the tanks roll out and the red barrels start exploding, awfully bombastic."

Under its own binary rating system, Kotaku stamps Ground Zeroes with a "Yes," and an enthusiastic "Yes" at that. But no website is more enthusiastic than Eurogamer, which awards a rare 9 out of 10 and urges its readers to "forget" the discussion about size, length and price and just focus on the quality. "You can't put a price on class like this," it states.

"The very best thing about Ground Zeroes is how the series has cast away so many of its cinematic pretensions and fallen in love with being a video game all over again. As a precursor to Phantom Pain, it suggests that greatness awaits, but even on its own terms Ground Zeroes is something special. In the purity of its systems and the focus of its action, it's not just an antidote to the glut that had begun to weigh down Metal Gear Solid but also to the bloat that weighs down so many of the series' big-budget peers.

"Welcome back, Snake. You've been missed."

Latest comments (18)

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 4 years ago
I love metal gear and have heard nothing but good things about this game. I see this as a DLC but they are selling it to you before the main game is even out. In one aspect its worth it, if it means I have to wait till 2015 to play the main game. However the game is increadibly short. Two hours is hardly worth 30$ to me. In which case Im thinking this can be a way to sell games that have a huge amount of production value. At least 6 hours of game play would have warrented the price tag. Right now, I dont know how I should feel. But i think of it it in variouse ways to try to justify it in my head... Cause its either this now or I have to wait another year to play anything... if you think about it that way, its not so bad.

I just think about how down the line this can be abused, with developers selling you chunks of a game on a monthly basis for 30$.

However I think the low reviews scores and the reviewers behind them fail to understand what this game is. Its simply a prologue and introduction to gameplay mechanics. Its not showing of the game story, but rather gameplay mechanics. Its more of a glorified demo than anything else. IGN gave it a huge 8.0. out of 10. They praised the gameplay saying it plays better than any previouse metal gear and they praised its replayability saying you can approach the same missions in numerouse ways. So those 2 hours can easily become 10 hours or more.

Again this is me trying to justify it in my head, but at the end of the day no.... just no.

Edited 9 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 18th March 2014 9:14pm

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Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek4 years ago
With the Phantom Pain shipping in 2015 it would fall in a grey area for 360 and PS3. Will people still be buying last gen games at that point? But at the same time would Phantom Pain have enough consoles out there to make a return on the investment? It feels like by release Ground Zeroes they buffer themselves between the two generations. If Phantom Pain comes out mid to late 2015 does it really make much sense to develop for 360 and PS3? There has been rumors about the PC version of Phantom Pain. I get the impression most publishers aiming to release 2015 are skipping last generation and investing the money in PC Linuq as a better return with less development restrictions of the previous generation.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Richard Gardner on 18th March 2014 1:36pm

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Craig Burkey Software Engineer 4 years ago
I'm reminded of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon but I haven't really seen a review that compares the two
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Show all comments (18)
Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital4 years ago
This reminds me of "Amadeus", when Salieri trashes one of Mozart's compositions because 'it has too many notes in it". Here, some people are saying that Ground Zeroes cannot be fun, because it is too short.

I remember, back in the 1998 when Metal Gear Solid 1 was about to be released, I got a demo from the OPSM, which contained just the initial dock and helipad sections - that could be completed in about 5 minutes if you knew what to do. Still, I spent perhaps tens of hours with it. Trying new tactics, experimenting, being totally amazed by the MGS. I am looking forward to Ground Zeroes to recapture those moments again. Can't wait.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee4 years ago
I remember the criticism Gran Turismo 5: Prologue got, being called a 'glorified demo' on release, but compared to this, is it as much of a demo or did it have more value for money at the time? I don't know, but MGS does cost 50% the price of a full game.

I can see why Konami have done this however, as a promotional tactic excitement for the full game can be built on the prologue and potentially, some of the production costs restored through it.

Amazon are using the clever tactic of 'bought together' though, so this + Final Fantasy X HD make for a nice purchase on the PS3.
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Ralph Tricoche Studying MA, CUNY4 years ago
I have major issues and concerns about this. Even if this was the best game designed in history, the implications are far reaching. Give the public a tidbit and charge half of full length game. This is bad, bad business. The message will be clear if this experiment is successful. I apologize to Kojima and his team but this is something I cannot abide by. If this was released as free demo, there would be no discussion here. This is simply the wrong attitude, the wrong message and a disservice to the loyal fans of the series.

First full price for one "type of game" namely Titanfall, now this. The future of gaming is piecemeal and very bleak.
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Neow Shau Jin Studying Bachelor in Computer Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia4 years ago
One thing that bothers me is that gaming media always like to bring out the "length" of a game as a measurement when reviewing a game, as if it factors into the quality. Other forms of Entertainment, like movies, musics and books don't seem to need to justify their price with their length.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus4 years ago
I have a video rental store that I'm able to visit that's about 20 minutes from my house, and it's in the way of a lot of things I do, including work. It's one of the last ones left, ever, but they rent new video games.

That sounds like a PERFECT chance to check out this game. Congrats, Konami: you have singlehandedly validated the video rental business.
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Caleb Hale Journalist 4 years ago
Imagine the shrieking that will be heard if "Ground Zeroes" ends up being tacked on to the full release of "The Phantom Pain." Will we ever trust again?
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Nick Wofford Hobbyist 4 years ago
All of those things are judged on their length. One cannot sell a short as a full movie. It would be laughed out of the theater.

And I'm sure that's going to happen. I can't wait for that to bite them. This is absolutely ridiculous. At some point, people forgot that reviews are there to inform the reader about whether or not they should purchase the content being reviewed. That is directly linked to quality, yes, but we can't confuse the two. They are fundamentally different.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus4 years ago
@Nick - And yet reviews are just a chance for people to attack the writer of the review for "attacking" a game they never played. It doesn't help that 7 has become the new 4, and has been for years. People don't trust reviews anymore, and frankly, they're right not to.

Even the largely negative review from Polygon scored an "above average" 5.5.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 4 years ago
I don't think Ground Heroes will be "tacked on" at all, but added into the game as a more complete/complex mission based area that ends up possibly playing very differently from the "demo" game and will throw people off if they try to play by memory of this release. I could also see some in-game rewards in store for those with a save game file who yes, pretty much paid to play a really pricey demo.

On the flip side... isn't that sort of what a LOT of Greenlight, Desura and indie published games do that ask people to pay for the privilege of playing LESS complete and buggier alphas and betas? I've seen $20 - $30 or more price tags up for incomplete game access (although that cost goes to lowering the final price of some of these games when they're finally done). Not sure if Konami will do that rebate thing at all, but they MAY have to do something to placate those who pre-ordered or bought this (despite plenty of word that it WAS a two-hour or less tour if you just played it through once)

Granted, that price IS a bit steep for Ground Zeroes, but the hardcore MGS fans who don't care and bought this also don't care what anyone says against it. Me, I'll wait for a used copy to roll up on a trade site or into a shop or ask around among friends to see if they're willing to trade/sell it cheap once they're done. My own funds are low these days, or else I'd have snapped this up just to poke around past that hour or two of standard gameplay.

I just hope the negatives thrown at this don't give the impression that MGS V: TPP will be "short" or not as fleshed out as some may think based on GZ... Eh, I bet E3 shows some surprises to blow people away. We'll see...
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 4 years ago
Opinions may vary but a 2 hour game isn't worth $30 to me. I always bring up the last gen game Wanted. I liked it but it was a 7 hour(max) single player only game. Luckily I got it on clearance for $12 but had I paid the full $60 for that I would have been extremenly disappointed. And I imagine thats how some are viewing this.

What Konami should have done is go the Capcom route and released MGS5: Ground Zeroes in a similiar way as Capcom released Dead Rising 2: Case Zero. It was a download only title that served as a demo and prologue to the full game and was only $5, complete with it's own achievements that did not require the full game. If released in that manner and at a similiar price point people might have been able to swallow the bitter pill that MGS5: GZ has seemingly become alittle easier.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 19th March 2014 2:31am

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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd4 years ago
What Konami/Kojima should do is let people who purchased Ground Zeroes get $20 off The Phantom Pain.
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Marty Howe Director, Figurehead Studios4 years ago
It's about value for money, isn't it? If I spend X dollars, I deserve to be entertained for Y hours.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 4 years ago
@ Nick Wofford
Other forms of Entertainment, like movies, musics and books don't seem to need to justify their price with their length.
All of those things are judged on their length. One cannot sell a short as a full movie. It would be laughed out of the theater.
But one can sell a 200 page novel at nearly the same price as a 700 page epic. And one can sell an EP for half the price of a full-length album.

@ Marty
It's about value for money, isn't it? If I spend X dollars, I deserve to be entertained for Y hours.
Yes, but "entertained" has different meanings to different people. Someone coming to this MGS and just wanting to play it once will feel short-changed. But what about someone who replays it over-and-over? And, indeed, that's just the start of it. Neow Shau Jin's point about that I quote above (the first quoted text) is true. In other media, length does not equal entertainment value. Lawrence of Arabia isn't a great film because it's over 3 hours long. It's a great film because of the acting, writing, cinematography, music. Frankenstein (the book) is only about 200 pages, but does that mean it's worse than the 1200 page Lord of The Rings trilogy?

Question: Is it ever okay to charge full-price for a short game? I've seen many AAA publishers charge 35-40 for something which only lasts about 4/5/6 hours, and gets mediocre reviews to boot. If we're going to take MGS to task for this, then let's actually be fair, and complain about it with everything.
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital4 years ago
The length of a game has nothing to do with its quality. Look at Gone Home and how many awards it won. Yes, the price can be considered to be too high, but that is a matter of value proposition. Metal Gear Solid is a beloved franchise and Konami knows that a lot of people will gladly pay the money for Ground Zeroes. If you have the hype, you can set your price.

I mean - how is that different from let's say iPhones? It is obviously over-priced, when compared to some Android phones with similar hardware specs. But that does not matter! You are buying AN IPHONE and that comes with its price. And Ground Zeroes is similar. As was stated in one of the reviews - you can't put a price on class like this. If you can put such a price on a product and know it will sell, there is no reason why you shouldn't.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 4 years ago
If you can put such a price on a product and know it will sell, there is no reason why you shouldn't.
Indeed. As long as consumers have been warned about the length, then they can make an educated decision on whether to purchase it at full-price, or wait for it to come cheaper.
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