A few weeks ago, when Game Informer’s cover story on Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes came out, the tidbit that was most disseminated and discussed was that the writer had beaten the game in just two hours.
That this playtime, the writer noted, was just for the game’s main mission, and didn’t include any of the side missions, was sadly lost amid the hullabaloo, but it didn’t seem to matter to many gamers. The new Metal Gear Solid was short, real short.
But is it really?
As with so many things that become controversial these days, the length of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is both not as big a deal as some people have made it out to be, and it’s a far bigger deal than others would like to admit.
It’s also not an exaggeration.
Days after the Game Informer story hit, the publisher of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Konami Digital Entertainment, hosted a group of journalists at their Work Facility in Nasu, Japan, where they were given hours to play the game. Far more than just two short hours.
As one of those journalists, I can tell you, unequivocally, that the main mission in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is really that short. Not including the opening movie or the ending cutscenes, credits, and trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain — which Ground Zeroes really is the first chapter of — it took me exactly 78 minutes to complete my mission.
And those were not an easy 78 minutes, either. I died multiple times and had to restart from my previous checkpoints. If I had been a bit more patient, or just flat out better at these kinds of games, I probably would’ve finished in a little over an hour.
But here’s the first wrinkle in the whole “too short” thing. It was a damn fun 78 minutes. A far more fun 78 minutes than I’ve had in a lot of other games I’ve played recently.
Set in 1975 — right after the events of 2010’s Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and nine years before The Phantom Pain — Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes has the original Snake infiltrating Guantanamo Bay to rescue a couple kids. Using his usual mix of stealth and shooting, Snake has to locate the children and get them to a helicopter landing zone for extraction without being killed, or getting them killed, by all the highly trained soldiers who are, let’s be honest, just doing their job.
What makes Ground Zeroes different from previous Metal Gear Solid games, sort of, is that Guantanamo Bay is a wide open battlefield. Granted, it’s not a huge open world.
This isn’t 'Grand Theft Solid'.
Nor does it have the tons of mid-mission side quests of a typical open world game. But for a series built upon narrow corridors inside installations, it’s a radical departure.
While Ground Zeroes may not be biting Grand Theft Auto, Saints Row, and other open world titles, it does crib from some other games, including some similarly sneaky shooters. For starters, the controls feel very much like those of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, though it seems more likely that this is more of a coincidence, or that the two were both influenced by Gears of War, than a direct connection.
Similarly, Snake now has a slight aim assist, one that’s more pronounced than the one in the Halo games, but less aggressive than the one in Call of Duty. C.O.D. players will also notice how some enemies who get shot don’t die instantly, but instead will fall down, wounded, and can still take you out in their weakened state.
Then there’s the second wrinkle in the whole “two hours” thing: the side missions you unlock by completing the main one. Set in the same location, these bonus levels aren’t like skill challenges in the Batman: Arkham games; you’re not doing something like, “Choke three guys from behind in three minutes.”
Instead, they play like alternate versions of the main mission. In one, for instance, you have to destroy the anti-aircraft emplacements so an incoming helicopter assault squad wouldn’t be shot down, while another tasks you with locating and eliminating some high level soldiers.
Which isn’t to say they’re not challenging. For starters, they’re all set during the day, and a sunny one at that. So unlike the main mission, which takes place on a rainy night, it’s not as easy to hide or sneak past people. In addition, these side missions are all set when the base is on high alert, while the main mission starts with the guards being lulled into a false sense of security.
Even with these added missions, though, Ground Zeroes still taps out at about five hours. So in a way, the length of Ground Zeroes is kind of like Schrödinger’s cat: it’s around two hours long, and also longer than two hours. Which, let’s be honest, is still pretty short.
Except for yet another wrinkle: you’re not just going to play Ground Zeroes once. And not just because, as with previous Metal Gear Solid games, Ground Zeroes gives you so many different ways to accomplish your mission — such as reversing the order you rescue the kids, trying to complete the level without killing anyone, and so on — that you’ll probably want to play it a couple times, just to try and see it all.
No, if you buy Ground Zeroes when it comes out March 18th, you’ll want to play the main mission twice because, as we noted, it’s actually just the first part of Metal Gear Solid V, with The Phantom Pain being the rest. In addition, you can unlock things in Pain by finding them in Zeroes, including weapons and other kids you can rescue.
Which really means that — even if you only play the side missions once, but still do the main one twice — Ground Zeroes actually taps out at about six or seven hours. Which, again, is still pretty short, but it’s not two hours short.
Ultimately, though, the deciding factor when it comes to buying or not buying Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes isn’t one you should base on its length as it relates to its cost.
Instead, it’s more a question of 'when' than 'if'. If you’re weighing the cost/time quotient in regards to Zeroes, you could probably wait.
Like we said, you’re going to want to play it before you dive into The Phantom Pain anyway, and since there will probably be a two-fer of both games — or, at the very least, Zeroes will be pretty cheap by then — budget conscious gamers can afford to wait.
Somehere, Erwin Schrödinger is wondering what to do.