I found the idea of the iDroid’s functions to be cool, but in practice I barely got any use of it. The map has some good information, such as a trail leading up to your current location (helpful for knowing which way is forward) along with general areas to indicate where your objective is. You can place markers that will show up on screen whenever you’re looking in that direction, and various viewing methods to help you figure out the camp.
It sends you into first person view and pops up a transparent overlay without pausing the game, and because it only covers part of the screen you should be able to move around while using it in theory. However, this slows your movement speed and restricts your actions (because Big Boss is actually holding it in his hands) which means this is pretty much a gimmick to be able to use it on the move. You’re also supposed to be able to listen to Cassette Tapes and audio logs, but the menus are a mess and the audio logs are always pretty much useless. The one part of the game where you’re told to play a certain tape (to deduce the location of your next target) only serves to highlight how badly designed the interface is. The game plays the tape for you, which I strongly suspect was done out of necessity, even though it feels like a clear attempt to teach the player how to use more of the iDroid features. And if I may add, the audio clues given by this particular tape also betray how clever Ground Zeroes thinks it is, and how arrogantly it assumes you’ll follow along with its logic. Kaz talks over the tape to give you extra clues, and even then I’d be surprised if 1% of players found their objective due to following the tape’s clues.
Viewing intel using the iDroid is a waste of time too, since it’s the information is too vague and the photos are poor quality. Each mission has different intel available, but it’s never fun to open the iDroid and do your homework. Once upon a time, amusing and multipurpose cutscenes handled this kind of exposition.
Like many things, the iDroid was designed for the huge open landscapes of The Phantom Pain, but were introduced in Ground Zeroes to beta test it and allow players to become familiar with the new toy. If you were stuck in the middle of nowhere for long enough with a loose mission objective, you might actually feel compelled to open up your iDroid and do some looking around, but Camp Omega is too small and the missions are too narrow for it to be much help.
Calling a helicopter using the iDroid requires redundant menu actions that become very frustrating in an emergency (or a typical speedrun to get a good Rank), and it makes me wonder why the game pretends you’ll be walking around with your iDroid open when it could simply devote the controls to accomplishing important tasks faster.
Kaz, I’m already tired of your yakking
I haven’t played Ground Zeroes for a hundred hours like some people, but even I got tired of Kaz’s incessant talking while replaying missions or restarting from checkpoints. This is a big problem with a quasi-open-world game like this, where hints are handled linearly but your bite-sized “missions” are meant to be played a hundred times over (for the all-important Completion Ratio, of course!) and each mission consists of restarting from checkpoints a dozen times (because getting a good Rank is super important!). Did they really think this through? Why is the radio so useless when you actually want to know something, but so damn talkative when its repeating the same lines of dialogue over and over?
A bigger support team, more options for what type of information you’re looking for, and the ability to manually ask for a reminder instead of automatically playing it, would all help alleviate this mild form of torture. Watching our friend Threedogg play, I heard him complaining about how Kaz’s lines will sometimes even interrupt crucial story dialogue given by prisoners you rescue, and I saw it for myself. Subtitles can become glitched as the game struggle to show you the correct information, and generally it seems to presume that you’ll be moving slowly and therefore not in danger of overlapping dialogue. Again, the speedrun nature of the game contradicts this.
Purely in terms of gameplay and action, Ground Zeroes is pretty damn good compared to your average fare. You can tell it isn’t as polished or deep as other Metal Gear games in terms of A.I. or features, but it still sucks you in and encourages you to use your brain. It’s easy to find flaws, but it’s also easy to find fun, with moments reminding you of classic sneaking thrills. Broken game mechanics such as the tall grass and unlimited empty magazines feel like apology letters from KojiPro for not including “proper” stealth tactics like knocking on walls and hiding in cardboard boxes, but it’s still not sacrificing the core principles of the series.
Thinking of Ground Zeroes months after release, I still get tempted to jump in again and mess around. As a big fan of Peace Walker I appreciate the “mission” structure getting me to the sneaking that much faster; but I wish there was some greater sense of progression and challenge beyond a mere letter grade. I believe games need to either be properly balanced and satisfying on their own — such as a Counter-Strike — or they need a metagame that rewards extended playing, whether through progression, discovery or variety. If they can have both, it’s even better. Ground Zeroes has no progression, and while its core gameplay has all the ingredients of an addictive espionage experience, it’s just not woven together by the right systems.
Does the new gameplay surpass the 25 year legacy of quirkiness? All things considered, no. There are exciting parts, and it may be unfair to even directly compare them, but how can you not? It’s so proud of its evolution. But while it has the pedigree, it hasn’t received the same good breeding. Yes, it’s interesting enough to give it a spin, and in some ways serves as a refreshing appetizer for what The Phantom Pain will be — which we already know is going to evolve the gameplay enormously, especially when you add the Mother Base layer — but this isn’t The Phantom Pain. This is a confused little $40 game, reaching for many things and not fully grasping any of them. For $40 you should rightfully expect more gameplay than this. As a result, it comes off as arrogant and unfinished. Worst of all? The tension is so easily deflated that it requires active player creativity just to maintain it. That’s a problem I can’t easily overlook.