Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes is only a taste of what to expect from The Phantom Pain. It's an effective encapsulation of how Metal Gear is attempting to evolve for the next generation, and teases most of its tools and revisions smartly. However, it's so incredibly brief that this nugget of a game becomes difficult to recommend--and raises concerns about the full adventure.
Ground Zeroes shows us the fateful days that will lead to Snake's nine-year coma. Kojima Productions has become known for its indulgent production values, and they're on full display, even in this "smaller" game. Simply put, the game is gorgeous; the way light shines off wet metal in the military encampment is striking.
The game continues to show off Kojima's penchant for cinematic presentation, albeit with the clunky dialogue that has now become a series staple. The studio succeeds when it needs to be serious; the conclusion is a rare occasion in video games that I felt truly disturbed. Kiefer Sutherland's debut as Snake has tremendous range, although it's nonetheless jarring to not hear David Hayter's iconic voice.
Ground Zeroes offers the most refined gameplay of the series so far, offering a system that is undeniably "western," without reducing the series' original design. Snake's newest bag of tricks lets him mark targets who then remain marked for easy reference, and the sight indicators when a guard notices you are nicely clear and concise. Time automatically slows if you're spotted, which creates more tension to pop off a quick shot without ruining the mission entirely.
This marks the series' first trek into an open-world environment, and Phantom Pain is said to continue expanding on that concept. After Ground Zeroes, I'm now somewhat anxious that a large open environment will come at a cost to the pacing. Open-world games tend to thrive as playgrounds with lots to see and do, and the brevity of Ground Zeroes shows how such a direct narrative focus might leave us wanting for more. The single playable environment is fairly large and extremely detailed, but the objectives are simple: find two POWs and carry them to one of the landing zones so they can be extracted.
Completing these objectives will likely be an extremely short task for most players. It took me under two hours, and would have taken even less if I had not wandered around the field experimenting with different options and weaponry. In fact, when paired with the credits, the opening and closing cinematics, represent a significant chunk of its run-time.
I hope that this is merely a sampling of what Kojima has in store, rather than a bellwether of how a straightforward and objective-based game style like MGS might not comfortably make the trek to open-world. The studio clearly understood that it needed to lengthen the experience, offering the stage in different ways--daytime instead of a rainy night, for example. Those optional stages even have objectives that encourage different play styles. Still, the stage itself remains mostly the same, with enemy placement changing only slightly, and it's clear they're simply remixes of the same basic concepts presented in the campaign. It's simply too content-light, and as a result the experience feels more like a demo than a retail release.
It would be a shame if that were the case. Ground Zeroes shows the enormity of potential for such an ambitious series, but also reflects the dangers of stepping into those waters. It's an intriguing taste of what might come, but this morsel is too small to satisfy in its own right. 
This review is based on downloadable PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is now available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for $19.99, and PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for $29.99. The game is rated M.
Steve Watts posted a new article, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes review: mission briefing.
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes shows a lot of promise for MGS stepping into the open-world arena, but has so little content that it may not satisfy. Our review.