After years of waiting, overcoming countless amounts of anticipation, prediction, and analyzing, it feels like the gaming world has been recently riding on the hope of a game that single-handedly brought forth the concept of tactical espionage action to an unsuspecting populace over two decades ago. Changing the way stealth action gaming could be, producer Hideo Kojima essentially created something that few would have expected; a new genre that would serve as the model for all things to come and help change the way people looked at the medium, particularly with his penchant for epic cinematics and dynamic personality that never failed to impress.
But if earlier titles were the build up, then Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot is his coup de grace, a technological marvel built on epic storytelling, craftsmanship, and of course some truly amazing gameplay. PlayStation 3 owners have been more than patient waiting for a reason to flaunt their platform, and thanks to the fine craftsmanship and dedication by the people at Kojima Productions and Konami, the gunships have certainly sounded their arrival.
As with the previous titles, you’ll be thrown into a post-modern world where the art of war is played not just on battlefields, but with conflicts within the very souls of its impressive cast of personalities and characterizations. Within an industrial and global economy fueled by war and chaos, the need for private military companies (PMCs), along with the enhancements of nanotechnology, has brought about the age of small proxy wars fought strictly for financial gain. Though disillusioned and prematurely aged due in part to cellular degeneration, the famed Solid Snake has been called out of retirement for one last mission – to find and assassinate Liquid Ocelot, the head of the top PMC behind many of the worst offenders and purveyor of these endless wars. This is the stuff of melodramatic legend, and one played out beautifully in what’s been hailed as the concluding chapter of the Metal Gear Solid saga.
The gameplay, for the most part, remains largely faithful to its predecessors, with the tried-and-true tactical movements mixed with close-quarter combat and gunfights noticeably better than ever before. Many diehard Metal Gear fans have complained that as the series progressed, the controls had become overly complex and downright confusing, all valid points which seem to have been rectified and improved here. Much more streamlined and less cumbersome, this new balance helps make weapon selection and other choices a breeze and more intuitive. If you’d rather avoid any unnecessary confrontation, the stealth option is still on the table by crawling, hiding, and hugging walls as in past games, or enhanced thanks to a truly ingenious device dubbed the ‘OctoCamo’, which gives Snake camouflage abilities and mimics his surroundings. The ever-helpful Solid Eye can be used for binoculars, night vision, and advanced radar sensors to name a few, and should give true Metal Gear fans the tingles just thinking how they’ll be using these super weapons to advance throughout the game. The core elements of tactical versus aggressive remain faithfully intact, and with so many options available, still fairly flexible.
Tactics against enemy AI hasn’t been as difficult in other games as they are in MSG4, where simply hiding in a cardboard box sometimes isn’t enough to evade discovery. You’ll on your toes where it counts in heightened moments, even taking notice of objects like pots and pop cans that happen to make presence-revealing sounds in their vicinity. Opposing soldiers now become suspicious of nearly everything, and when your cover is blown expect flank formations and incoming grenades to force you out of hiding when an area is being swept. Not only are they smarter this time around, but they execute with uncanny precision. Far more intelligent, but thankfully never cheap enough to cause fits of frustration. Throw in some of the most impressive boss battles and chase scenes in gaming history and you’ve got the stuff of tactical legends.
Stress and psyche levels are another addition that goes together with the aging soldier. In certain intense or uncomfortable situations, Snake’s stress percentage will rise and affect his psyche, affecting certain traits like moving speed, accuracy, and health replenishment. You’ll known he’s in pain and tension when he grabs his back, signaling a decline in psyche and maneuverability. Another satisfying twist in the system is the combat high he gets from expert accomplishments, enabling him to take less damage although afterward he’ll be slightly more vulnerable. It’s an interesting feature altogether, but implemented well and never feels tacked-on.
It can’t be argued that when it comes to high-quality presentations that Kojima particular taste for the epic is anything less than impressive. In fact, from a purely aesthetic level this is where MGS4 not only soars above its competition, it redefines the entire interactive experience. It’s really quite breathtaking when you first lay eyes upon with that has been accomplished here. Visually, there’s an amazing attention to detail within locales as diverse as war-torn cities of the Middle East and Europe, where you see nearly every bit of cobblestone bricks, upturned trucks, terrifying Gekko units, and other casualties of war. Detailed to a fault, the linear drab nature present a new look at disheveled beauty and much more. There’s plenty of action on these battlefields as well, whether you’re engaged in the destruction or not as helicopters mercilessly rain bullets and tanks crush what lay before them. From the characters to the miscellaneous details, everything is rendered beautifully and with a rare elegance that really makes the whole production impressive to look at. Of course, all isn’t perfect with occasional drops in frame-rate and loading screens are present, even questionable installation periods into the Playstation’s HDD that halts the flow of the game.
The cinematic qualities this game help bring forth a very engaging plot, maintaining a blockbuster feel that Kojima has been striving for and finally achieved in MGS4, providing an excellent (yet rather overbearing) soundtrack that still fits well within and superb voice acting accompanying an huge layer of messages symbiotic to many of the current complexities in our world, such as the effects of war, fear, and the depth of manipulation. It’s over-toned merits of storytelling might give people something to think about and ponder; a rare trait in gaming these days. The dialogue and cut-scenes are wonderfully done, and do much to summarize the continuous plot twists seen throughout the series, even though they’re pretty lengthy with most ranging from 10-20 minutes each, with the longest clocking in nearly an hour. Its here where the dividing lines will no doubt be drawn, as some may argue that the game contains an overabundance of cinemas at the expense of gameplay. After playing through, its not so much a fault or detriment as the Metal Gear Solid experience has always largely been defined by this style of presentation, and kudos to Kojima and Konami for not sacrificing their vision to please the casual market.
Metal Gear Online offers some good multiplayer action, with 16 player online matches and decent customizable solo and team deathmatch options. Online play performed well, with little to no lag gumming up the works and performing smoothly. Last past editions of the series, it’s a nice addition to the MGS4 package, but admittedly the online component is modest and should be looked upon as a nice bonus to the main event. Hampering the experience just a bit is the setup to even tread online, which requires not just a standard PlayStation Network ID, but a standalone Konami ID as well. This proved quite tedious, taking up precious minutes to get everything moving along with a list of info that was almost a chore within itself. I’m nitpicking of course, but a more unified experience would have been greatly appreciated.
If this is truly Hideo Kojima’s final work with the series, then Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is without a doubt a fitting conclusion to the epic espionage blockbuster. Nothing is left to chance in its effort to improve and define what’s best about Solid Snake and the threat of Metal Gear on a global scale, thanks to an attention to detail that’s staggering in its complexity, but accessible thanks to its streamlined and on-message style of gameplay that never fails to excite, or engage the senses in ways few titles can. In truth, the universe on display here isn’t for everyone and perhaps best left for those who can truly appreciate its nuances and unique 20-year mission, but it goes without saying that there’s nothing else like it on the market. This is the game that most PlayStation 3 owners – and Metal Gear fans – have been waiting for. It’s about time we salute you…Solid Snake.