It’s time for the moment many of you have been waiting for: my review of Hideo Kojima’s epic masterpiece: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
SPOILER ALERT: This review may contain story spoilers. Read at your own risk!
Operating mostly on the basis of a promised beautiful, cinematic, amazing future of games, the PS3 launched back in November of 2006 with many of its purchasers anxiously awaiting the arrival of one specific game: Metal Gear Solid 4. Arriving quite some time later, is this the game to finally make the PS3 a worthwhile purchase? Let’s have a look.
One of the main questions on everyone’s mind when MGS4’s launch neared was whether or not the game would be able to wrap up the multitude of sometimes downright ridiculous plot points laid out by the six or so canonical games that have come out over the last twenty years. I’ll tell you outright that they definitely did manage to get it all figured out in a mostly satisfying way and with a pretty great premise that relates rather well to the previous games in the series. Unfortunately we lack some of the major themes of the typical MGS game, which is quite unfortunate, since the game is now more about Snake getting revenge and, to borrow a marketing blurb from Halo, finishing the fight.
The premise behind this new game is as complex as any other Metal Gear game. “War has changed,” as Snake tells us right from the get-go. The world economy revolves around war instead of oil with major private military corporations handling military operations in lieu of the more typical government-handled warfare of the 20th and 21st centuries. Snake’s major antagonist, Liquid Ocelot, happens to control the five major PMCs and is about to stage a revolt. Colonel Campbell will have none of that, so he’s sending in Snake to put an end to Liquid once and for all.
If you’ve ever seen a clip or footage of old Metal Gear Solid games, you’re no doubt wondering why Snake looks so old in this game. Simple answer, Snake, being a clone of the great Big Boss, is actually suffering from rapid cellular degeneration as a direct result of his cloned nature. So begins the tale of the living legend as he pursues Liquid across the globe. I’ll leave the synopsis at that, since the rest is best experienced in person.
The Metal Gear Solid series has always suffered from rather obscure control decisions, resulting in a finger-twisting control scheme that was definitely frustrating. For the last game of Snake’s career, Kojima teamed up with Ryan Payton to try and “Westernize” the controls of MGS to streamline the obscure decisions that have been a hallmark of the past ten years of Metal Gear. By making these controls work better in the post-discovery, action-oriented parts of MGS4, Kojima also inadvertently made it much easier to NOT play MGS as “Tactical Stealth Espionage” game. Really, what is Metal Gear without the stealth? The game was punishing when you messed up because you weren’t supposed to get caught. Your gameplay should be much more deliberate, slow and controlled than a straight-up action game because this is NOT an action game. That disappointment aside, the reworked controls do make the experience that much smoother and help to bring modern game design to the classic series.
Extra Spoiler Alert
Also new to the mix is the way that the levels are laid out. The first zone, the Middle East, has you more or less in the middle of a battle between the PMCs and militia insurgents. While these two factions are battling it out, you can choose to sneak, stealthily, around the fighting, help the militia take out the PMCs, gaining their trust and making them allies on the battlefield, or kill/stun both PMC and militia alike, making enemies of both. This first section on the game also hapens to be one of the best done sections, with the interesting dynamic of warring factions, tension resulting from battlefield sneaking, and a overall cool locale.
Act two takes place in South America, in a throwback type situation to MGS3. It doesn’t quite take place in the jungle, but its got a similar aesthetic to it and is the second most fun zone in the game. There is one area of complaint, the part where you have to “track” Naomi’s footprints to get to where she’s being kept in S. America. it’s just not as fun as the game thinks it is to look for footprints. This section also features some of the militia/PMC fighting of the desert.
The third act is the weakest of the bunch, taking place in Europe, you mainly follow a member of the resistance in an attempt to locate the headquarters of said resistance and “Big Mama.” It’s just plain not as fn as other parts of the game, even if it forces a bit more the stealth aspect of MGS that I love so much.
Act IV has the third best section of the game, as you return to Shadow Moses Island hunting Liquid Ocelot. The act starts with a dream sequence that pops you back to the PSX Metal Gear Solid making you play the approach into the Shadow Moses Island base. after that bit of nostalgia, you bust into the base itself, hearing bits of nostalgic moments that took place int he island as you pass through familiar locations. The enemies in this section are far less interesting, as they are mostly robotic. and not as fun to sneak by. This act does also contain a very sweet section where you pilot the Metal Gear REX, the model you fought in Metal Gear Solid and a Metal Gear on Metal Gear battle as you spar with the Metal Gear RAY model from Metal Gear Solid 2.
The final act brings you face to face with the Outer Heaven, Liquid’s main battleship and the location he intends to launch his revolution from. The shortest section in the game, it does feature a great boss battle against a foe similar to Psycho Mantis as well as one of the best cinematic and nostalgic gameplay sections as the final boss battle.
No real review can get away without mentioning Metal Gear Solid Online. This game, I feel, suffers from the fact that stealth is not rewarded as it is in the main game. Why would you want to play MGO like any other third-person shooter? I mainly have my fun by refusing to kill any other players, but when I do manage to stun another player, one of my teammates inevitably comes around and shoots him in the head on the floor. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess.
Meet the best looking PS3 game currently on the market. Every ounce of processing power available to Konami and Kojima Productions was expertly utilized to create a beautiful experience that will wow most any naysayer of the PS3’s graphical capabilities. The desert makes you thirsty, jungle makes you sweaty from humidity, Europe feels cool, Shadow Moses Island is appropriately haunted-seeming, and Outer Heaven’s cinematic beauty makes for a great end to a fine game.
What can I say? The guns sound good, voice acting is as superb as ever (boo to losing the British and Chinese accents of Naomni and Mei Ling, respectively), and the score by Harry Gregson-Williams and company evokes the properly patriotic and legendary aesthetic of Metal Gear.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is an amazing game, but I found myself just a wee bit disappointed with the epic. While the game does everything really well, I just found the story and, specifically, the acting of some of the characters (Naomi and Sunny) to be rather irritating. Compared to the sublime perfection of Metal Gear Solid 3, this game just needed a little more editing and a little less of the Japanese overacted melodrama. That being said, MGS4 is still one of the best PS3 games out there, gameplay-wise and should not be missed. A definite must-play.