(Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 30--Though I have to push my "Titanfall" review to next week due to lack of play-time, there's still plenty of gaming goodness to be had this week. Especially if you enjoy short-form gaming.
"Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes" available for $29.99 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and $19.99 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Rated "M" for Mature.
There's no doubt this latest entry in the "Metal Gear" franchise is a great game. But greatness often comes at a price.
In this case, greatness will cost you about $7 an hour. While the length of a game usually doesn't factor into my final score, "Metal Gear Solid V's" incredibly brief running time can't be ignored. The main campaign takes about an hour-and-a-half to complete, and I was only able to squeeze another couple of hours out of the side missions.
Whether that justifies a $30 or $20 purchase (depending on which system you play it on) depends on your love for "Metal Gear." I've been a rabid fan of the series since my senior year of high school, so for me, the purchase was a no-brainer.
Still, I wish there was a little more to it.
Serving as a direct sequel to "Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker," "Metal Gear Solid V" is set on a 1975 version of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where military hero Big Boss (also known as Solid Snake) must rescue two people near and dear to his heart. Though "Ground Zeroes" is a prologue to the full-length "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain" (set for release in about a year), series creator Hideo Kojima decided to break it off into a separate release so fans could get a sneak peak of the full-length title.
I know that's a vague summary, but digging any deeper into "Metal Gear's" confusing plot threads likely would scare away my modest readership. Though the game's hero shares the same name as the protagonist from "Metal Gear Solid," "Metal Gear Solid 2" and "Metal Gear Solid 4," he's actually the father of Solid Snake -- the result of a genetic cloning experiment that has yet to be explained in the series.
Suffice to say, if you haven't played the previous "Metal Gear" games with an overzealous eye for fictional history, you'll be completely lost. Thankfully, understanding the convoluted plot should have little bearing on your enjoyment of the precise game play.
Though the game engine feels extremely close to previous titles in the series, Snake has never looked or controlled so well. The Guantanamo Bay detention camp serves as a microcosm of the open-world environment promised for the upcoming "The Phantom Pain," providing dozens of different avenues for infiltration. Even when you do get spotted, the world slows down "Max Payne"-style, allowing Snake to eliminate the offending guard before he can radio his buddies. For impatient dunderheads like myself, this forgiving alert system is a godsend, allowing more room to comfortably experiment with all the weapons in Snake's arsenal. This is the kind of flexible stealth game that doesn't rely on constant trial and error.
You'll have to find most of the weapons in the detention camp, which is actually a lot more fun than it sounds. Though Snake comes equipped with his familiar tranquilizer pistol, grabbing baddies from behind and threatening them at knife-point reveals all kinds of useful items.
Unfortunately, you don't need any of them to complete the campaign, which consists of nothing more than opening two prison cells and carrying the detainees to an escape chopper. Most of the running time is taken up by fairly lengthy cinema scenes, and your enjoyment of those will depend on your devotion to the series' characters. Several interesting side missions require Snake to make use of his assassination and gunnery skills after the main credits roll, but it's a shame those sequences couldn't have been squeezed into the campaign.
This is all presented with stunning, 60-frames-per-second animation on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and it's absolutely gorgeous. Anyone who has argued against the need for a new generation of consoles need only lay their eyes on this beauty to understand the difference.
A series of audio tapes are waiting for true "Metal Gear" devotees, adding another layer of depth for those who want to discover every scrap of plot available. The writing is just as hilariously over-the-top as it's ever been, but I've always counted that as one of Kojima's charms. Turning the minutia of military life into a radio soap opera takes a special kind of talent.
Then there's the matter of Kiefer Sutherland. When the gaming press broke the news that Sutherland would be replacing beloved voice actor David Hayter as the voice of Solid Snake, "Metal Gear" fans were in an uproar. Considering I've listened to Hayter's distinctive voice for the last 15 years, I was more saddened than angered by the news. I've often said Sutherland's popular TV show "24" was like the television version of "Metal Gear Solid," so I couldn't think of anyone more appropriate for the role.
Turns out I was right. Sutherland is a competent professional who shines in his new role as Big Boss, and since you're actually playing Snake's father instead of Snake himself, it makes a weird kind of sense.
I walked away from "Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes" with a mixed-up head full of juxtaposed emotions, simultaneously delighted by the return of my favorite game franchise and disappointed by its brevity. If you're a true "Metal Gear" fan, you have no choice but to buy this extended demo.
At least you can play it again when "The Phantom Pain" hits store shelves in 2015.
Three out of Four Stars
"Flower" available for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4 for $6.99. Rated for "E" for Everyone
When my wife reviewed the PlayStation 3 version of "Flower" back in 2009, I was rather dismissive. Despite her glowing critique and insistence I give "Flower" a try, I kept putting it off, and the game slowly faded from our memories. I was slow to warm up to the independent game revolution back then, and "Flower" was one of the first casualties of my smug attitude.
What a difference five years can make. The developers of "Flower," thatgamecompany, went on to fame and fortune with the 2012 indie hit "Journey," and independently produced games are now an integral part of the video game industry.
"Flower" always has been a beautiful game, but it looks downright gorgeous on the PlayStation 4. Playing as the wind, the player guides and grows a swarm of flower pedals through the air, causing other flowers to open up in the surrounding environment. The goals and journey in each level vary, but all involve flight and exploration without the fear of dying.
Distilling this enchanting experience into a paragraph of explanation hardly does "Flower" justice, because this is far more than a casual game that takes a few hours to complete. "Flower" is a bona fide work of art, filled with the hidden meanings and subtexts you would find in a museum painting.
If you already purchased the PlayStation 3 version, you can download the game on PlayStation 4 at no extra cost. That's what finally enticed me to try out this masterpiece, and I'm a more rounded gamer because of it.
A must buy.
Four out of Four Stars
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