Metal Gear Solid; one of the most recognizable and longest-running names in the industry. Released in 1998, it covers over two decades in gaming; three, if you count from the original Metal Gear released in 1987. With now five entries in the Solid series and numerous spin-offs, it tells an intricate story of love, friendship, loyalty and war. Few games dare even dream of maintaining such a narrative, let alone across so many games. After the fourth entry, with Solid Snake’s tragic story seemingly concluded, the return of Big Boss himself rose over the horizon. And Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes served as an exciting, even if a rather short beginning to that.

Following events depicted in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes starred Big Boss on his mission of saving Chico and Paz. His companions were captured by a new mysterious villain — Skull Face — who made a brief appearance during the game’s introduction. He also represents Cipher, an antagonistic organization familiar to the fans of the series. With certain information at risk, Big Boss must infiltrate a heavily-guarded compound, locate his targets and rescue them, if possible.

Snake? Snake!? Snaaaake!

Perhaps the most controversial change in Ground Zeroes came in abandoning the iconic voice behind Solid Snake / Big Boss: David Hayter. Over the years, David’s gruff voice became synonymous with the game’s protagonist. And it was unimaginable to think that this would require change. Nonetheless, the well-known Hollywood actor Kiefer Sutherland took the role of Big Boss. With mixed results, dare I say.

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It wasn’t simply about who among them was the better actor or had a greater name recognition; both were great in their own right. But David played the character for over a decade and knew him all too well. He could perfectly convey a character tired of losing his friends and loved ones, tired of war and being a mere tool in the hands of the government. Replacing him after so many years — after so many games — felt abrupt.

Kiefer Sutherland did an admirable job, all things considered, but hearing him as the legendary Big Boss, felt unusual at the very least. His voice lacks the same kind of tone and depth, making the character feel foreign. At that point, it might as well be a completely different character altogether. And to this day, I still cannot get used to it.

Many explanations roam across the internet as to why this sudden change occurred. Perhaps, to differentiate between the characters of Solid Snake and Big Boss. Or to simply bring a celebrity actor who could garner more exposure towards the new title. Director Hideo Kojima himself commented on multiple reasonings, but whether or not they were true, remains a mystery. One thing is for certain: David Hayter didn’t deny the role.

Moreover, David never was Kojima’s first choice; at one point, he wanted actor Kurt Russell to play the role of Solid Snake. Partially because the character’s likeness was based on Snake Plissken, which Russell portrayed in 1981’s Escape from New York. But alas, negotiations with him failed and David Hayter retained his role.

Remember, This is a Sneaking Mission.

Thankfully, none of this affected the game itself and Ground Zeroes held the sub-title of Tactical Espionage Action to its highest degree. Taking place within a single environment, Ground Zeroes featured many familiar mechanics from its predecessors. But this time, visibility indicators were no longer present and players themselves had to gauge every situation. It was up to the player to avoid sources of light, hide in vegetation and move as cautiously as possible. During the main story mission, the addition of a nighttime rainstorm made doing this much easier.

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Like before, Big Boss, aka Snake, had an assortment of lethal and non-lethal weaponry at his disposal. And many more tools were scattered across the environment. Big Boss could strategically survey his surroundings, apprehend guards and gain valuable intel from them. Afterwards putting them to sleep or neutralizing them permanently. As straightforward as Ground Zeroes was, it offered multiple opportunities to complete any given task. Players could go straight for their objectives or explore the environment, discover secrets or partake in optional tasks.

Here’s to You.

Players and critics alike battered Ground Zeroes for being way too short, and some — like Jim Sterling — even called it a demo. And I find it hard to disagree with him. To give you an idea of how short, the record completion time for the story stands at under four minutes. It might take you the same amount of time to finish a game for £19.99 as it takes you to down a lukewarm cup of coffee. And it was supposed to be even more expensive, but Konami dropped the price less than a month before release.

Hideo Kojima even stated that Ground Zeroes was intended as a single mission for The Phantom Pain, but something obviously changed.

Nonetheless, this “demo” came with a reasonable amount of optional content, which somewhat compensated for its lacklustre length. Aside from the main mission, Ground Zeroes featured a number of engaging Side-Ops with different objectives and conditions, as well as collectable items: patches and cassette tapes.

And even during its short story, Ground Zeroes managed to provide some truly emotional moments. For instance, when Big Boss discovers other prisoners of war, they cry in gratitude as he carries their tortured bodies to the helicopter.

Sadly, when Kojima left Konami not even two years after its release, Ground Zeroes turned out to become a short introduction to the last true Metal Gear Solid game. Likely the last one we will ever see.

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As a cross-gen title, it gave current-gen players an opportunity to see what the new consoles might offer. And to the owners of Xbox One and PlayStation 4, it served as an appetizer of what would later come in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

If you wish to experience this brief chapter in the Metal Gear Solid history for yourself, then Ground Zeroes is available on the official Xbox Store at the same ridiculous price tag. Which I cannot justify. But getting the game in physical form, at a much more reasonable price, may just be worth it.

Alternatively, you may wish to consider Metal Gear Solid V: The Definitive Experience, which contains both — Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain.

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