Review by Kayia
""This...is my final (and finest) mission.""
((This review may contain very minor spoilers, but I have tried my best to keep it spoiler free))
Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots is a work of art. Do not doubt it. It has the power to make you laugh, make you cry, make you think about the very fabrics of your existence as much as any live action movie or novel. However, like most art, it can be both loved and hated for what it is.
This is the fourth main outing (although if you include the PSP Metal Gear Ac!d games and the old Metal Gear NES games there are more) for Solid Snake, or David as he is known to his friends, and is subtitled both 'Guns of the Patriots' to tie in with the story, and 'Tactical Espionage Action' to tie in with the gameplay, as with all the Metal Gear Solids. However, it is clear when you play through this game that the emphasis is far heavier on the former. I will now explore the main factors that make any game great or awful in this review.
Arguably in this day and age, where manufacturers and designers are furiously trying to pump more power into their hardware, and make the most use out of that in their software, presentation is the most valuable element of a game. In this category Metal Gear Solid 4 does not disappoint. It is without doubt a beautiful looking game, if not the most beautiful released to this date. Good graphics are more than just packing as many high resolution pixels onto the screen as possible, they are about combining them with a unique and attractive art style that is consistant with the game itself. The character models are extremely detailed, the special effects that run rampant around them convincing and amazing, and the environments are varied enough to stop you getting bored of them. Special mention here has to go to the characters' eyes, full of reflected light and depth, a subtle and small element that really lends a sense of reality to them and thus drawing the player further into the game world.
Complaints have been made about low resolution textures used in places...I call this a classic case of nit picking. They are barely noticable, usually only in areas that you take a second glance at, and even then they look better than an average game's textures. Other than this, there is really nothing bad to say about the graphics.
The music is what we have come to expect from the Metal Gear Solid series, the more memorable pieces composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, managing to explore his not-often-used emotional talents as well as his typical heavy bass military themed tracks. I would not say the soundtrack is ground breaking, but it follows the themes of the other games very well and with great reverance. There are certain parts of the game where it plays on the player's nostalgia for the former games, and the music helps to make this a truly engrossing experience. In short, the soundtrack is excellent and much like Metal Gear Solid 3's overall.
Metal Gear Solid 4's gameplay follows in the footsteps of the other games in the series, but adds its own elements also. The best comparison is to Snake Eater, as Snake can now use CQC techniques like Big Boss could. These work mostly well and feel less mechnical than the old punch punch kick system, really helping to make Snake feel powerful even when he does not hold one of the game's many weapons in his hands.
Speaking of weapons, the shooting is the game's biggest change from the others. When you hold down L1 with a weapon equipped, the camera now moves to rest over Snake's shoulder (much like Gears of War and Resident Evil 4). This is an excellent addition, enabling pin point accuracy as well as quick movement, and it invites the player to get into firefights a lot more than the punishing shooting mechanics used in the other games. There are loads of weapons to choose from, including handguns, rifles, sub machine guns, grenades, traps and various gadgetry. You will probably find most of these rather unnecessary but it is always great to have the options there.
The Drebin Point system, where duplicate weapons are automatically sold on pickup to a Gun Launderer called Drebin and cashed in for points, is not a particularly successful or necessary part of the game but it does provide other goals than just moving forward through the story.
Most of the action elements of the game involve sneaking past/taking out groups of PMC and/or Rebel soldiers in locations ranging from the Middle East to Europe. This works almost identically to Metal Gear Solid 3, your quick and precise Octocamo (that changes to match any surface Snake presses up against) replacing the clunky and slow camoflage from Snake Eater. This, as well as any number of battles between your enemies, aids you in these segments. Unfortunately, as the game progresses these become more and more sparse, replaced by "on rails" sequences and cut scenes mostly. The game could have benefitted from having more of these segments.
The boss battles are superb, a return to form from the awful bosses of MGS2 and the mostly dull MGS3 ones (The End not withstanding). They pay obvious homage to many battles from MGS1, whilst being different enough to feel new and exciting for fans of the series. However, I did feel the bosses were a bit too easy, in fact they were easier than a small squad of normal troopers which they command which is rather strange and disappointing. Still, they are extremely fun and intense, employing original methods to dispatch your foes.
I mentionned earlier "on rails" sequences, of which there are a few. They are very well done, yet another part of the game where the high production values are evident, a particular motorcycle chase being my favourite part of the game as it blurs the lines between watching an action movie in the cinema, real life, and a computer game so well I felt like I was actually there.
Overall, the gameplay remains unchanged enough to still be familiar to those who have played the other Metal Gear Solids, but uses a few new tricks to keep up with other shooters in the genre. Unfortunately, there is a distinct lack of it especially as the game gets nearer its climax, and as much as this reviewer loves the cut scenes and does not mind their length at all, he would have appreciated most chances to actually play as the Legendary Hero Solid Snake.
Hideo Kojima, and Metal Gear as a whole, has always had a love it/hate it relationship with both his fanbase and those who want to get into the games. I personally love the story, but I can understand why some may not as it is very convoluted by this point, bordering on the ridiculous sometimes, and can be hard to understand. However, one thing cannot be disputed. The way the storyline and narrative is presented in this game is flawless. The cutscenes, of which there are many, are directed as well as any high budget movie blockbuster, inventive camera techniques and special effects used in great ways to provide an absorbing story experience (all using the game engine I might add, which truly is beautiful).
Many characters both old and new star in Metal Gear Solid 4's storyline. It gives it all: Joy, sadness, action, laughs, horror and a touching sense of personal ideals that touched me deeply, especially by the ending. There is a lot of fan service at certain points, especially to fans of Metal Gear Solid 1, and although this is great news for those such as myself who have played all the games in the series, it does threaten to alienate players who are new to the series. (Then again, they should expect this is they are playing a game with "4" in its title, and haven't played the others). It is clear this is a game that does not particularly care about easing in new players, and this is not exactly a problem. It just shows the dedication and extreme reverance Kojima and co pay to their work and their dear characters.
Much hoohah has been raised about the length of the cutscenes in the game. I will not lie, they can go on for a very long time indeed, and as I have already said in the last third of the game there barely seems to be any gameplay compared to the amount you will be watching. This will infuriate some people whereas many others will rejoice. This is the nature of Metal Gear Solid 4, the great paradox. I choose to see it as an interactive movie, one I enjoy interacting with but I ultimately care and long to see how the story will end. It did not disappoint.
The game also comes with an online multiplayer mode called Metal Gear Online. You can create one character for free, customise him and take him into battle. I enjoy this multiplayer but it is not without its flaws (what isn't?). It provides an experience quite different to most other online action games, as stealth and slow moving often will pay of more than just running around like a maniac with a machine gun. Either way, it is a great extra to the already spellbinding single player game, and either portion could stand together as their own game. An excellent addition!
I was longing to give this game my first ever 10/10 for a game, and with the amount it managed to touch me and how I will remember it for many years to come...I just cannot. The lack of gameplay, especially in the thoroughly disappointing Act 5, ensures that MGS4 is a firm 9, bordering on perfect. It is truly a masterpiece, but no masterpiece is without its few little flaws. Every time you start to curse the game for its long cut scenes, it throws an exciting, edge of your seat action sequence at you to keep you engrossed. As I mentionned, Act 5 (the final act) may be disappointing in gameplay terms, but the final boss battle is so epic and masterfully done that all will be forgiven in a heartbeat.
This is the essence of Metal Gear Solid 4. Some will hate it, many more will love it for what it is. The final hurrah for many beloved characters, a story that provides everything a legendary story should, punctuated by exciting and polished gameplay here and there. You owe it to yourself to try it, if you have a Playstation 3, as it will be a long time until another game, or anything for that matter, will strike at your heart so deeply.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/17/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (Limited Edition) (EU, 06/12/08)
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