Return To Camp Omega – A Re-Evaluation Of Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid 5 has been marred with many controversies over the years. Series creator Hideo Kojima’s very public fallout with publisher Konami and The Phantom Pain’s subsequent unfinished nature were at the forefront of them, and the effects of both can still be felt to this day. However, the game's first major controversy dates back to the launch of its prologue: Ground Zeroes.

To be as blunt, Ground Zeroes is a $30 demo of The Phantom Pain. Word is, because Phantom Pain was taking so long to finish, Kojima decided to split the release into two games, with the game’s original prologue section being launched as Ground Zeroes so that players could get a feel for the new gameplay of MGS5 (and likely so Konami could recoup some of the game’s famously high development costs). Once word got out that the main storyline lasted around 90 minutes, Ground Zeroes’ $30 price tag garnered an overwhemingly negative reception from fans.

I wouldn’t say Ground Zeroes was panned; quite the contrary, the game received relatively high review scores at the time, with the only two major complaints being the aforementioned time and price – but with so many games out there competing for your wallet, those two things matter. Even to this day, the prevailing feeling about Ground Zeroes is that it was nothing more than a chunk of a larger game removed and sold to us separately. Like an inverse version of post-launch DLC.

However, looking back on it after Phantom Pain, it’s clear Ground Zeroes was one of the best parts of Metal Gear Solid 5. It’s just a shame it was sold separately.

Ground Zeroes takes place in 1975, one year after the events of the woefully underappreciated Peace Walker and nine years before The Phantom Pain. The story follows Big Boss as he infiltrates Camp Omega – a US naval base situated in Cuba – to rescue Paz and Chico, two of the central characters from the Peace Walker incident.

The main attraction of Ground Zeroes is Camp Omega itself. As well as being Kojima’s extremely subtle representation of Guantanamo Bay, Omega is one of the most intricate and detailed areas in the history of Metal Gear, rivalling the likes of Snake Eater’s Groznyj Grad.

As anyone who has played MGS5 will know, it is arguably not just the best Metal Gear, but the best the stealth genre has ever been in terms of core gameplay. While Phantom Pain feels like an evolution of Peace Walker in its mission design and mechanics, Ground Zeroes strikes a balance between the new and classic MGS. Instead of dropping in fully decked out in your own choice of gear, you have to work with what you’re given with any extra weapons and equipment being procured on site. Feelings of infiltrating the likes of MGS1’s Shadow Moses are evoked the first time you sneak into the camp in the pouring rain.

As well as the satire from Kojima, praise has to go out to Hiroaki Yoshiike and his team of level designers. The true horrors of this camp can be felt through the use of the environment alone; even the complete power fantasy of being Big Boss can't distract from how depressing the atmosphere is. To this day I’m impressed at how the team managed to pack so much into one area. With all of the different sections and paths throughout the base, it’s highly unlikely you would take the same route through each mission more than once. While The Phantom Pain may have had two huge open maps to explore, no area in the full game feels as memorable and tightly designed as the one in the supposed demo.

I won't disagree with anyone who felt ripped off by Ground Zeroes at launch. $30 for a 90 minute experience is a hard sell no matter how strong that 90 minutes is. Even so, I ended up playing it for around 40 hours. Now that it's available on the cheap, I'd recommend giving it another look. You might even prefer it over some sections of The Phantom Pain. I know I did.

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