Update: February 6, 2014
After yesterday's widespread reports that Ground Zeroes could be "beaten" in just two hours, series creator Hideo Kojima has responded to those who have since become somewhat concerned about the upcoming prologue's value for money.
Speaking publicly on Twitter, Kojima stressed the fact that Ground Zeroes should not be treated as a linear game that you play once through and forget about.
"[Ground Zeroes] offers freedom of approach and play style, which we hope players will enjoy over and over without [it becoming] boring," he said. "I believe people will be satisfied with the 'Play Time' of [Ground Zeroes] and will not stress the 'Clear Time,' which is a standard for linear games."
Kojima noted that the game would consist of the main, two-hour mission with five "side ops" to take on, each of which would include online features allowing players to compete against one another -- presumably for things like the fastest completion time and the like. His stressing of "freedom of approach and play style" suggests he hopes players will try to beat the game's various challenges in several different ways -- perhaps through pure stealth, non-lethal means or an all-out action approach. A bold claim -- although earlier MGS titles have had a certain degree of flexibility, they were still largely linear experiences at their heart. That said, other stealth-centric games such as Deus Ex have proven that a "one mission you can approach multiple ways" structure can work very well.
Kojima does sound a little defensive in his comments, but it will be interesting to see whether or not his arguments hold any water when the game is finally upon us.
According to Game Informer, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes' main campaign can be completed in just under two hours.
Note that this is just the main story campaign, however; it doesn't include the side-quests and console-exclusive content such as the Deja Vu mission on Sony platforms.
The news has attracted some criticism -- while Ground Zeroes isn't a $60 game, instead retailing for anywhere between $19.99 and $39.99 depending on which platform you choose and whether you want a physical copy, the dollars-to-hours ratio here initially doesn't seem all that great. Other, recent "prologue" games such as Dead Rising 2: Case Zero tend to be closer to the $5 mark.
However, there are a few things to consider here. Firstly, we don't yet know how much added value the side missions and bonus content provide. It's entirely possible that they're designed to make up the main bulk of the game once you've finished the story; likewise, it's possible that they're fairly throwaway affairs that can be breezed through in an afternoon. We won't really know that for sure until we get a chance to sit down with the game for a protracted period of time and try to complete everything.
Secondly, those of you old enough to remember the level of hype Metal Gear Solid 2 had prior to its release: how many of you bought a brand-new copy of Zone of the Enders with the sole intention of playing the included Metal Gear Solid 2 demo? (Zone of the Enders ended up being pretty great, mind you, so I hope you at least tried it after spending all that money on a demo disc.) The MGS2 demo consisted of the complete "tanker" section of the finished game, effectively serving a similar purpose to Ground Zeroes, albeit marketed as a bonus pack-in item rather than a standalone game by itself.
Thirdly, while two hours may not sound very long, it's actually not all that unusual for a Konami game to err on the side of "quite short" -- even some of the classics. Silent Hill 2 clocks in at around the 2-3 hour mark, for example -- though granted that game has multiple endings and difficulty settings -- and it's eminently possible to romp through the entirety of the original Metal Gear Solid in a similar timeframe.
Finally, short doesn't necessarily have to be bad. Some of the most fondly regarded games in recent memory -- Flower, Journey, Gone Home -- are very short indeed, and some are even published at a similar price point to the bottom end of Ground Zeroes' pricing spectrum.
Ultimately, we'll have to wait and see exactly what Ground Zeroes has to offer before putting a conclusive "yay" or "nay" on whether it's worth the money. Fortunately, it's not all that long to wait -- Ground Zeroes is set to come out next month.
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