Ground Zeroes: Does Size Matter?

by on March 21, 2014

We’ve all heard the line: size doesn’t matter. Apparently though, this rule doesn’t apply to video games.

You may not have noticed, but Kojima caused quite a stir last week with the length of Metal Gear Solid V’s prologue Ground Zeroes. While reviews have been favourable on the whole (I gave it a glowing 9/10), a scroll to the bottom of Metacritic’s user reviews shows the opinion of the gaming public. Apparently it justifies the title, Ground Zeroes, all because of the length and it’s perception as a demo.

On the face of things, these complaints appear valid. My first playthrough of the main mission took 45 minutes, shorter than one of the developer’s famous cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4. Even with the side missions, you’re looking at about five hours worth of gameplay for £30. That these five hours are perhaps the most polished you will experience this year is swept under the rug.

But short games are nothing new. Take the average Call of Duty campaign, four to five hours in length, with little replay value in the sense that there is only one linear way of progressing. For that privilege, you have to cough up £55 for a full price release.

Call of Duty Ghosts Featured

Of course the counter argument is the multiplayer, which increases longevity by a large amount. Traditionally it’s been an extra edition to a game, though it has become the series’ forte in recent years. But if you’re not interested in multiplayer, does that mean you shouldn’t purchase CoD on the strength of its campaign?

Titanfall has taken this one step further and done away with a single-player campaign entirely. Instead, the two sides of the story are delivered across nine multiplayer levels, all of which is completable well within a three hour time frame.

This then is actually two hours shorter then Ground Zeroes’ length, but you don’t hear anyone complain, because multiplayer adds replay value. Arguably in the same way, so does Ground Zeroes. Its open world playground is full of secrets to discover, as well as having various ways to tackle each mission. Add in a ranking system at the end of each level and it’s clear to see that it’ll keep you busy for a while.

Being too large can even hinder a game. Take Skyrim, which is one of my favourite games. Bethesda produced an open world that can consume hundreds of hours, over dozens of playthroughs. Yet it is forgettable. I couldn’t tell you any specific quests, at least not in detail, and the world is bland for the most part. I love it, and I will undoubtedly go back for more, but the best aspect of it is the fast travel system, and crossing the map becomes an annoyance, rather than an asset. The size of the undertaking also produced bugs, most infamous on the PlayStation 3 version, which drove people away from the game.

With X amount of resources, increasing the size lowered the quality. Ground Zeroes takes the opposite route and gives us a smaller size but much higher quality, and that makes sense with what it is: a prologue to the eventual final release of The Phantom Pain. Some have described it as a demo, and they’re right, because it’s a chance to show off the game at its best, and how better to do that than with an incredibly polished chunk? And perhaps complaints of length would be justified if it had been billed as a full price release, but it wasn’t. All along this has been a prologue, an extended taster, for a price. At a ratio of £6 per hour, you could do worse: you could spend £14 to see the new Captain America Movie.

Games have never been about length, and they shouldn’t become so. Content for the sake of content is how we ended up with collectible feathers in Assassin’s Creed. If you do not want to spend £30 for one map, that’s absolutely fair enough, but you’re missing out on a great experience for the wrong reasons. Someone I used to live with asked me once if racing games were not boring because you drive round in circles for ages. She missed the point, just like people are with Ground Zeroes. The joy of a racing game is the challenge that happens with the AI, with your opponents, not just the track, and Ground Zeroes is great because the missions are fun and infinitely replayable, all with the backdrop of one compact and incredibly polished level.