Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
PlayStation 3 (Konami 2008)
The big G-S-G-S-G
General opinion: Words don't suffice
How do you begin to write a review for one of the most awaited games in years, and a sequel in one of your most beloved game series? Naturally I was a little apprehensive when I finally got my hands on it. But I shouldn't have worried. Hideo Kojima has done it again. Metal Gear Solid 4 is everything I could have hoped for it, and more.
The story is set in the near future, a few years after Metal Gear Solid 2. Snake is dying from a rapid ageing process, the reason for which is unknown. The countless small conflicts raging around the world have only escalated. Warfare now rules the world's economy and private military companies have grown incredibly powerful. A sophisticated ID system using nanomachines controls access to weapons, but because the economy has become so dependent on the war machine, it only works to fuel the conflicts.
It is discovered that five of the largest PMCs are apparently run by Liquid Snake, who is planning an insurrection of some kind. Snake is sent on a final mission: to kill Liquid. The story grows into an epic tale, even by MGS standards, revolving around the Patriots, a mysterious conspiracy supposedly controlling the entire world behind the scenes. It brings together all the previous games in one magnificent conclusion.
Like before, the story is a crucial part of the game. The cutscenes are long and plentiful. Let's get this straight, if you're not happy to often sit and just watch the story for an hour, or more, this is not a game you want to play. There are constant references to the previous titles, so knowledge of them will certainly be beneficial.
The cutscenes themselves are simply stunning. Both voice and motion acting are excellent, by video game standards. Frequently the cutscenes feel like they could be straight from a movie. The graphics throughout the game are beautiful. I admit I don't have much experience of modern high resolution games, but they certainly seemed impressive enough for me. With the amount of acting and quality of graphics, this must have been one of the most massive productions ever in the gaming industry, approaching the level of a major motion picture.
Music too is good, as always, and similar in style to the predecessors, combining rhythmic electronic percussion and orchestral influences. It could have been featured a tad more, though. Like in MGS3, normal gameplay emphasises ambient noises more than music, and in the cutscenes it serves mostly as a background to the long sequences of dialogue.
Gameplay is quite familiar to anyone who's played the previous titles, but there are a few small changes to the controls. Most importantly the camera is now free moving and can be adjusted with the right stick. (I believe MGS3's Subsistence version had some kind of free camera, but I've yet to try it.) L1 is used for aiming and R1 is now the attack button, leaving the right thumb free to adjust direction, while using the left thumb to move. There are two aiming modes, the more traditional first person mode and a third person, over-the-shoulder mode, which is handy for shooting while on the move (not entirely unlike Dirge of Cerberus). There are plenty of configuration options to tweak the controls to your liking, too.
The new controls took a little getting used to, but a little way into the game I hardly noticed them and the feel was very familiar. All the classic elements are there. There's just the right balance of realism and cinematic, sci-fi action. Like always, sneaking past enemies is usually the best, if not only way to succeed. You need to figure out the safest routs, create diversions etc. I used the second easiest difficulty first time, and the challenge seemed just right. It took plenty of tries to get through certain areas, but they were never impossible, and there were always plenty of curative items.
Instead of a single, fairly limited play area, the game moves through several locations around the world. On one hand this makes the game feel a little more linear and stages, well, more stage-like than before, but on the other hand it brings lots of variety to play. And this variety of different environments and styles of play is one of the games best features. Environments range from urban settings, to wilderness scenes reminiscent of MGS3, to the traditional indoor sneaking of the first two games. An entirely new element is the idea of a battlefield. In several stages there are two factions on the field at once, fighting each other, and Snake must slip through in the confusion. The game's fairly lengthy, as well. It took me about 25 hours first time round. So even with the plentiful cutscenes, there's a fair amount of gameplay as well.
If I have one complaint about the game, it's perhaps that the boss team this time lacks personality. They're pretty cool and freaky, like always, but there's not enough variety (in the characters I mean, not the fights), and they don't really tie into the story. They're tragic characters, but you don't feel for them the same way you felt for Sniper Wolf or Fortune.
In my opinion, MGS4 is the best new game in years, and, really, one of the best games I've played, ever. I don't remember when I've last been so into a game I've stayed up 'till 4 am playing it. And that's got to be a good sign. It's the perfect conclusion to one of the best series in gaming history. And it really is a game, first and foremost, for Metal Gear Solid fans. The story would probably be rather confusing to a newcomer to the series. I almost hope they don't make another game, because it would be really hard to top this.
Ben B. Bainton, 17 December 2008