Game On: Why size matters
Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes

Gamers have been queuing up to attack and defend the campaign length of Metal Gear Solid prologue Ground Zeroes with equal ferocity.

Unimpressed with the price tag attached to the world’s most expensive demo, Mark Butler claims that the ‘quality over quantity’ argument has undeniable limits.

Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes

Over the past 24 hours, I’ve looked on with morbid fascination as the controversy over the campaign length of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes has reached fever pitch.

Eurogamer posted a video showing how the game could be completed in just ten minutes, while producer Ken-Ichiro Imaizumi has now entered the fray, retorting: “If you can beat all the missions under two hours first-time, we would love for you to work for us!”

Whatever the extremes, many gamers seem to be reporting somewhere between two-three hours to complete the campaign. Which might be fine if Ground Zeroes were a £10 digital download. But it isn’t.

Instead, this prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has received a full, standalone release. And in the UK, it is currently retailing at around the £25 mark.

Imaizumi, along with many others, has pointed out that the experience has substantial replay value due to the enemy AI, different ways of solving tasks, and the quasi open-world approach.

In all fairness, if you sit through all the Kojima cut-scenes, experiment with different tactics and complete various side-missions, the content is clearly going to last you longer.

But there does seem to be a very definite ‘value for money’ issue here. Even someone like me, who enjoys exploration and experimentation while playing, will seemingly struggle to get much mileage out of this. By contrast, Far Cry 3 was also an open-world game where you could experiment with tactics. It cost me about £35 on launch – and I was still playing it weeks later.

I’ve heard all the usual arguments before. “Quality is more important than quality’, defenders cry. ‘Better an excellent short campaign than a huge, mediocre one.’

But just where do we draw the line?

Ground Zeroes may be an exceptional glorified demo, but it’s a glorified demo all the same. And you could reasonably argue that releasing the prologue for MGS V as a stand-alone title, with a price-tag to match, is effectively a cynical tactic to milk hard-earned cash from franchise fans.

It’s been getting rave reviews from many quarters of the gaming press. And yet many of these writers will not, of course, have paid for the pleasure of experiencing it. Are they really putting themselves into the shoes of your average consumer when they defend its length?

I’m old enough to remember the days when games came on a cassette tape, took five minutes to load amid ear-shredding white noise and – when all was said and done – often took just an afternoon to wade through. Or completely failed to let you past the first screen, for whatever reason.

But in those days I could pick up games for just £2 a pop. And if anyone had suggested I pay ten times that amount or more for the privilege, I’d have laughed in their face.

Hell, I remember feeling slightly disappointed upon completing the original Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 – and that took me a full day rather than a couple of hours. I’d rented it for three nights, and as the credits rolled I sat there thinking: ‘That was amazing – but what the hell do I do now?’

Replay value is a thing, of course, but just how much mileage is there in Ground Zeroes anyway? A fair few diversions it seems, but little consolation to those who’ve bought and aced it within a couple of hours of opening the box.

For me, if we accept and praise Ground Zeroes now, despite its length, we’re setting a dangerous precedent. Other companies may note with interest how standalone prologues – sweet, but short – can be put out as full games in their own right to drum up more cash, and whet the appetite for the full game to come.

As such, it might not be long before we see a whole raft of pricey demos coming our way. I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to vote for such a thing.

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Mark Butler

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