Reviewed: July 15, 2008
Released: June 15, 2008
There are a select few characters that have been pivotal in the evolution of video gaming, not the least of which is the Metal Gear series’ central character, Solid Snake. Combining equal parts John Rambo, John Wayne, and James Bond – Snake has long been the toughest character in gaming. From the early eight bit shooter days on the NES, to the landmark release in Metal Gear Solid (PSone), to the astonishing (albeit baffling) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS2) – Snake has always led the pack with innovative gameplay, and superb cinematic presentation.
And even though Metal Gear Director Hideo Kojima tends to wander into uncharted territory with the often-inexplicable storyline elements (err..MGS2: Sons of Liberty) – I would venture to say that many gamers’ first story-related tears have been shed during a Metal Gear game (Sniper Wolf), as well as their first mind-blowing hair-pulling puzzle sequence (Psycho Mantis).
But something happened during Snake’s tenure at the top of the video game heap – a copycat newcomer came along and pulled the rug out from under him; and no, I don’t mean the prissy Raiden character of Sons of Liberty. No, this particular fella came from all the way from a group of folks in Montreal, Canada – his name was Sam Fisher, and he put old Snake to shame.
Few can deny that Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell release, with its Sam Fisher character – although based on a Tom Clancy series of novels – was not cast in the image of Konami and Kojima’s Metal Gear game series. The resemblances in gameplay design were just too similar to be ignored.
The problem for Kojima and crew was that the fledgling Splinter Cell title’s fluid sneaking and innovative gameplay exposed an array of Metal Gear shortcomings that few gamers had realize dup to that point. Gamers found themselves in love with the smoothly flowing animation transitions, free controlling camera, and excellent light-based sneaking – and suddenly our pal Snake began to show his age.
So when Konami announced that Kojima and crew were working on a new Metal Gear title for the PS2 – called, of all things, Snake Eater – gamers expected the gauntlet to be laid in front of Ubisoft and Mr. Fisher. It didn’t. Despite Konami’s pomp and circumstance regarding MGS3’s dynamic camouflage system, and Snake’s odd survivalist creature eating habits, the game was far from the genre shaking title that was promised. Not that Snake Eater was terrible – in fact, it was very well received by critics – but for many, it felt like it was just more of the same old Snake.
This should have come as a surprise; game designers in general, and Japanese game designers in particular, seem content to stick with what works rather than rocking the boat with innovation. They would rather spend years tweaking the finer points of visual details or obsessing over strategic minutiae, rather than fix the parts that are in need of repair. This is why we have a dozen or more Dynasty Warriors and Gundam titles mucking up the shelves, and why we wait for five years for a rehash of the same old Gran Turismo title that still doesn’t have real time damage or online play.
So here we are, nearly a decade after Snake first came on the PlayStation scene with the first Metal Gear Solid title (the prior shooters omitted the “Solid”) – and I am happy to say that Kojima and crew have broken out of the staid old design shell for this, the “last” title in the Metal Gear saga – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. While Snake still seems a bit stiff compared to our new pal, Sam – MGS4 is every bit the epic it has been purported to be. And if Guns of the Patriots is in fact the final installment of the Metal Gear series (this is not the first MGS title to be called the final installment), then this is the perfect farewell for a landmark series.
I have to be careful how I describe the story elements of Metal Gear Solid 4 – not because Konami has placed any limits on our review (I believe the now infamous MGS4 review limitations were for pre-release reviews only), but because I don’t want spoil the story for the readers.
I will say that Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots takes place roughly 9 years after the events of the original Metal Gear Solid and 6 years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Snake, it seems, has contracted a strange affliction that is causing him to age prematurely. Whereas the other returning characters in the game (basically every notable character from the previous MGS titles makes some appearance in MGS4) have aged naturally over the years, Snake suddenly appears grizzled and graying.
The story is told in five unique Acts, each with their own unique location, subplot and boss battles. It should come as no surprise to MGS veterans that MGS4 has some darn lengthy cutscenes – often approaching an hour or longer – especially towards the end. Thankfully, the dialog in MGS4 is a bit less confusing than in the previous games, so concentrating on the dialog is not as tedious as it once was – but, an hour can be a tad long to watch characters frying eggs over and over, so thankfully there is an option to skip the cutscenes.
The story starts off with Snake aiding a militia organization in an unnamed city in the Middle East, as they fight against Liquid Snake’s Praying Mantis group of PMC’s. Things seem to be going fairly well for the militants, until a strange silence suddenly befalls the battlefield.
The militia soldiers are confused by the sudden silence, and look at each other with puzzled glances – that is, until a strange far-off cow-like mooing in the distance breaks the eerie silence. The mooing quickly grows louder and louder as if approaching by air – culminating in the appearance of a herd of bipedal attack robots, called Gekkos. These Gekkos immediately dispatch a wrath of fury, savagely killing all of the militia soldiers, leaving a lone Solid Snake – actually henceforth called Old Snake.
This entire first scene acts as a bit of a training exercise for gamers to introduce the first of the new gameplay elements, the new and improved over the shoulder control scheme. The new controls are very similar to those of comparable military stealth titles such as SOCOM, Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon. With the new found, intuitive, analog-based over the shoulder movement, the stiff and choppy “up means go” movement of the old games can finally be put to rest.
Old Snake immediately meets up via Codec with his old pal Hal “Otacon” Emmerich, who introduces the second of the new gameplay additions – the Mk.II – a small robotic drone equipped with stealth armor, that quietly tags along with Snake, and can be used for unmanned recon missions. The Mk.II does not add much in the first few acts, but as the game progresses and gamers discover more ways to implement him in the battle – then the Mk.II becomes indispensible.
The third new edition shows up in the form of the Drebin character. Drebin is a neutral arms dealer who shows no allegiance to either side of the combat theatre. But this Drebin holds a special power in that he can unlock the ID-locked guns that Snake picks up on the streets – if Snake pays him in Drebin Points.
Snake earns these Drebin Points by selling the surplus weapons found on the streets. Basically, the first time Snake picks up a particular flavor of gun, then it is his to keep. Anytime he comes across that very same gun later in the level – the gun immediately sells to Drebin, and Snake gets to keep the Drebin Points as well as any ammunition that might have been inside. It’s a win-win situation for both characters, and gamers will find themselves racing out into vulnerable situations just for the chance to collect a few more Drebin Points.
Drebin eventually tells Snake the story of the Beauty and the Beast Corps – a group of women who were so inflicted with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) that they have transformed into animal-themed masters of war; Screaming Mantis, Laughing Octopus, Raging Raven, and Crying Wolf.
These evil bosses are touted to be incredibly beautiful inside (Beauty) and incredibly deadly on the outside (Beast) – and can only live for seconds outside their protective suits before they succumb to the agony in the outside world. It sets a nice story dichotomy for these characters to be incredibly fierce and deadly, but secretly longing for that single sign of love that will ultimately be their demise.
Again, I not going to go too deep into the story since there are a lot of surprises I would hate to spoil – but what I told you should have painted a pretty good picture.
As I said, the new controls are phenomenal – and that includes the new aiming and shooting mechanic that is volumes better than the previous version. The new design allows for quick toggling between third and fist person sighting, rapid scope utilization, and a great lock-on feature.
Oh my gosh, I forgot to talk about the Octocamo! If you want to go it stealthy, you will definitely need to utilize Snake’s Octocamp suit, which allows him to assume the color and texture of the environment around him.
For instance, let’s say Snake wants to blend in with a marble wall to avoid oncoming guards – all he has to do is lean against the marble wall and a few seconds later the suit assumes the colors and patterns of the wall behind him. Any surface that snake can lock onto can be replicated by the suit – resulting in an increase in the stealth meter. This is very similar to the camouflaging system of MGS3, except that it is fully automatic to the surroundings, and doesn’t require menu navigation or character outfitting.
And finally there is Snake’s “Solid Eye” eye patch that acts as all-in-one binoculars, scanning device, night vision goggles, thermal vision goggles, and more. It is very cool to have all of these things in one device rather than having to select them out of the still slightly awkward on-screen items menu.
Really though, the best part of the MGS4 gameplay is that the game can be played however the gamer sees fit – there is seldom a single solution to getting from point to point. Some gamers might want to go in with guns ablaze, while other might take the stealth route. You can decide to fight alongside the rebels (by simply supporting them in battle) or take a “shoot ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” approach. It is all up to you – and that makes the game priceless. If you thought Deus Ex was cool in its day, you’ll definitely dig MGS4.
To date, MGS4 is one of the best-looking games on any gaming console – and for those gamers lucky enough to have a high definition gaming setup, things only get better. The level details is impeccable – everything from the particle effects to the surface textures looks amazingly realistic, which makes it particularly cool when Snake’s high-tech octocamo chameleons itself to the surroundings.
For gamers who have experienced past Metal Gear titles, Guns of the Patriots sports the same level of hyper-focus clarity and design depth to its cinematic cutscenes as we have been treated to in the past. The result is a breathtaking visual package; similar to the likes of epic Final Fantasy, Ninja Gaiden, and Onimusha cutscenes.
The game kicks along at a fairly good clip, although the framerate is prone to some inconsistency as a result of the onscreen action. The game seldom slows to the point where it affects gameplay, but there is a noticeable loss of resolution and frame drops during particularly heavy scenes.
The character models are intricately detailed with the usual Japanese eroticism that, depending on your sexual orientation, rides the fine line between making gamers shout “Hello nurse!” or cry “Eeew, that’s creepy!”. Regardless of gender, characters can be fit into one of two molds of Japanese coolness – either sporting exquisitely flowing trenchcoats and high-fashion (sic) pant-suits, or wrapped up tight in form-fitting body suits that shows every line of every muscle on the body, but ride so far up the rear end you wonder how it is even comfortable for the characters. The creepiness might not be so noticeable during general gameplay, but once Snake gets down and starts humping the ground at the beginning of Act Two, it all goes a bit odd.
All weirdness aside, the MGS4 visual package is absolutely stunning, and is the perfect app to show off the power of the PS3.
For nearly a decade, the Metal Gear series has been considered the pinnacle in video game sound quality – in particular for the top-notch voice acting, as well as the unmistakable trademark Metal Gear audio cues that accompany certain onscreen actions.
David Hayter makes his return as the iconic Snake character – delivering the hero’s lengthy cutscene dialog with nary a crack or a quiver. The familiarity of Hayter’s voicework and his rock-solid delivery definitely lends an air of authenticity to this final chapter in the Metal Gear Solid story.
The first-rate voice acting does not stop with Mr. Hayter. In fact, a newcomer to the Metal Gear series by the name of Khary Payton – who voices the ubiquitous Drebin and brings with him an pedigree that includes a starring role in the Teen Titans series – nearly shows up the remaining MGS voice veterans with his first-class delivery as the streetwise arms dealer.
And what would an MGS title be without the familiar ramblings of our old friend Otacon? Christopher Randolph marks his return to the booth to deliver the still coming-of-age story of the insecure scientist prodigy trying to redeem himself after designing the world’s strongest killing machine. To be sure, there’s a lot of whining to be found – and Mr. Randolph performs without a hitch.
But the Metal Gear series’ superior sound quality goes beyond the voice acting. It seems as though every aspect of the sound package has received a next-gen boost – from the excellent samples and effects, to the full Dolby 5.1 support, MGS4 delivers one heck of an audio treat.
The sound effects range from the familiar electronic orchestra hits (in the trademark “!” moments) to the downright creepy cow-like mooing of the incoming Gekko bots. The sampling is top notch, with unique audio clips representing each of the available weapons, and audio clues to accompany the various walking surfaces.
Few could ask for a more commanding audio package, and MGS4 is once again a true testament not only to sound design but in intercultural cooperation. When a Japanese-developed title like MGS4 can have many hours’ worth of dialog go through a regionalization process without ending up sounding too corny or confusing, then you know that teamwork played a huge role in the sound development. Kudos go out to the folks at Kojima Productions for the first class sound design.
What more can be said about Metal gear Solid 4 without sounding like I am gushing. With over twenty hours of gameplay in the single player campaign, and countless hours on the surprisingly enjoyable Metal Gear Online multiplayer component – MGS4 is about the best value on the PS3 system yet.
Fans of the series will definitely appreciate the closure they will find in MGS4 – all of the questions get answered, and the series is brought to a spectacular finale. Who could ask for more?
Metal Gear Solid noobs will find few faults with the time-honored (yet thankfully updated) gameplay – and really the only downfall they will find with MGS4 is that it will whet their appetites for more Metal Gear Solid goodness. Not that wanting more MGS is necessarily a problem – but going back to the old control schemes and camera controls would prove to be a real downer after playing the masterpiece that is MGS4. Plus, most of the story twists would be spoiled.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots marks the final chapter in the Metal Gear Solid saga, and it could not be a stronger sendoff, as MGS4 is about as perfect a game as you can get. That is a big statement since I went into this review full expecting to be disappointed.
Every aspect of the game – from the comprehensible storyline to the updated controls, from the white-knuckle character battles to the lengthy cutscenes – it all exudes a certain air of quality.
Need I say more? If you own a PS3, then you really owe it to yourself to check out Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.