Review by bluej33
"A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again"
Games are no doubt a tricky medium to work with at least in regards to storytelling. You tread a fine line between being absolutely boring and uninteresting and being so overbearing and pompous that it's hard for the player to watch a scene without bursting out in laughter. Metal Gear Solid 4 sports a plot so confusing that I probably lost a few brain cells trying to figure it all out, and when I finally did it was all for naught. Arrogant storytelling stripped aside, what you're left with in MGS4 is a good-but-not-great third-person-shooter whose biggest problem is not being able to get over itself.
I'll confess: I'm new to the Metal Gear Solid franchise. I don't know if that gives me the credibility of an outsider who can overlook fanboy biases or if (according to the fanboys) I lack the experience to appreciate all the game has to offer. Somehow, I suspect that first option hits closer to home. Regardless, once I got excited over playing a supposedly-perfect game, I got a good, hard, unfiltered look at Kojima's latest (and last?) steal-action game. And boy, was I disappointed.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is by no means a bad game. Compared to every other game on the market, it's actually quite good. But it gets so wrapped up in the legend of the series that a clear focus was placed on the storytelling and the gameplay was left to fall by the wayside. I guess Kojima is too god-like to pay attention to trite clichés, because if he had he would've known not to put all his eggs in one basket.
MGS4 puts you in the role of Old Snake, everyone's favorite bad-ass assassin. Only this time, he's old (hence the codename). And Liquid Ocelot, a weird combination of two of Snake's former enemies who became joined thanks to a cut-off arm (Metal Gear Solid lore at work, my friends), is trying to take over the world and create war and hurt nice people and kill puppy dogs and make little children cry. Big freaking deal. The storytelling is so heavy-handed and the plot is so confusing that it takes more effort to follow the plot-arc than actually play through the title. If you haven't played the first three Metal Gear Solid titles, you'll have little idea what's actually going on.
And that's one of the biggest issues with the game's story: it's exclusive. It's like one of those cliques of all the cool kids back in elementary school, and if you wanted to next to them you had to give them your lunch money. Metal Gear Solid 4 is a party, but your ticket is successful completion of the first three games. It's a real drag and the development team made no discernible effort to bring newcomers into the circle.
Sadly, that was one of two massive problems having to do with the final chapter of the escapades of Snake. The second is the story itself. It takes itself way too seriously and for an overdone, confusing plot about viruses, nukes, and hulking monstrosities called Metal Gears it treis to be more than it actually is. The dialogue is downright terrible and during many of the game's countless cut scenes I've had to pause because I've been laughing so hard. You can't take this game seriously because it's just so pretentious; it presents this overblown, ridiculous story and expects you to follow and enjoy it, all the while throwing around boatloads of some of the worst dialogue in a video game. Please, call me Johnny, will forever go down (for me, anyway) as one of the most awkwardly, stupidly hilarious lines in video game history.
Saddening as it is, you're better off forgetting the story and instead focusing on the game itself. Unfortunately, it's difficult to do that because every half-hour the game forces upon you a lengthy, generally-boring cutscene. Rather than spending sixty bucks on this game, you could just play an old plotless NES game and pause every ten minutes to watch a movie for half an hour. Sure, you can skip the cut scenes, but it just doesn't feel kosher. Plus, if you do that, you're probably halving the length of the game.
Once you finally get to play the freaking game, Metal Gear Solid 4 isn't all that impressive. It's still good, but it just cannot stand up to the hype that's been forced upon it. The controls feel alright for a third-person shooter, although there are a few occasional camera issues and having to hold two triggers to shoot feels really unintuitive.
Sure, it's a self-proclaimed steal-action game but it feels more like a run-of-the-mill straight-up action title than one with any stealth mixed in. It's weird, because the control set-up definitely lends itself to sneaking around, but you're given so much enemy-killing equipment that you'd have to be an idiot to insist on beating the game without using any of it. Add to that the fact that you have a gun with unlimited ammo and can at any time purchase new weapons (along with a ridiculous amount of accessories, other weapons, and porn magazines), and you've got yourself a game that is clearly geared more toward the action spectrum than the stealth.
This is all understandable, I suppose, when you come to grips with something that everybody knows but few people want to admit: Metal Gear Solid 4 is little more than an elaborate fan service. If you're a huge supporter of the Metal Gear Solid trilogy, you've already bought the game, hate me for thinking it's less-than-perfect, and are now intent on finding my address so you can come to my home and burn me alive before feeding me to your dog. Tons of characters make appearances, and I suppose that the plot nicely wraps up the series. But unless you fall in the category of diehard Metal Gear Solid Fan, there's just not a lot here for you.
The level design, for example, is for the most part terrible. In incredibly linear fashion, you'll make your way from Point A to Point B. At Point B there will be a lengthy cutscene, and on your way there you'll surely run into several enemies. Unfortunately, they'll always be the same. Always. The number of different enemies in the game can be counted on two hands and the PMC troops are the one's you'll be fighting 90% of the time. The game also throws at you a couple of boss fights which, while epic, cease to be fun once you realize that it takes a damn hour to beat some of the bosses.
Admittedly, there are some genuinely fun aspects to Metal Gear Solid 4. The bit where you need to trail an underground resistance member to their hideout is a surprising amount of fun, even if it'll likely take you twenty times to beat because the stupid little bugger runs home if he so much as hears you inhale. But most of the game consists of simply walking around and shooting everything that gets in the way. Some people will whine and argue that the fun of the game is that you can beat levels however you want. But if one way works and another doesn't and neither are particularly fun, what's the point?
Metal Gear Solid 4 does little to hide its status as a game that's clearly for fans of the series and nobody else. The story is likely to lock you out of its plush houses and make rude finger gestures at you with its face pressed up against the window. The stealth aspect of this game is severely lacking and degrades MGS4 to a basic kill-the-bad-guys-before-they-call-in-more-bad-guys setup. And even the technical marvel of this game is overcome by the pretentiousness of the game. You can't take it seriously and it's hard to have fun with. If you loved the first three there are some brilliant gestures that you'll appreciate in the forth entry, but the fact of the matter is that from an objective standpoint, MGS4 is nowhere near as good as people want it to be and pretend that it is.
Hold your horses. Before you go about finding out my address and plotting unspeakable punishments to inflict upon me, keep reading. He we are, back again to this gem Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. What you read from here on out is an addition to what you've read above, written when I initially played the game. A year later, I've played through the entire series, including Metal Gear Solid 4, and have as such played this game as it was meant to be played. I could scrap my original review in favor of what is pretty unarguably a more tempered vantage point on this game, but I won't. I think that my initial review, while at this point fundamentally flawed, still holds some serious water for the fact that it addresses the game from a Metal Gear Solid-outsider's perspective, if you will.
Have I grown to love this series? Not by any stretch of the imagination. I still hate Kojima, and the series has been all over the map, from archaic old what-the-hell-is-this-I'm-playing-anyway (Metal Gear Solid 1) to shut-up-game,-I-just-want-to-play (Metal Gear Solid 2), to oh-my-mother-freaking-god-this-is-so-much-better-than-every-other-game-in-this-god-forsaken-series (Metal Gear Solid 3). The fourth game falls somewhere in the middle of the pack; not the worst but certainly not the best.
Before I really begin, one more thing: I still hold that my experiences with the game as a standalone title, without the background of its three predecessors to prop it up, were a more objective, honest view of the game. But let's be honest here: the majority of people who're going to play Metal Gear Solid 4 (humor me for now as I pretend that there's somebody out there who hasn't played this game) have played the other games in the series, and therefore come into this game with the perspective that I now possess.
I don't really want to refer to the old/original/whatever-you-want-to-call-it review just to avoid seeming schizophrenic but for the purposes of just a few things I have to say I feel it's necessary. Essentially: the two major problems that I identified the first time through are the same two major problems I identified the second time through. I don't really feel like detailed-ly explaining this for what must be like the fourth time now so I'll refer you to my Metal Gear Solid 3 review and just say this: throughout the entire series Kojima has wrestled with the balance of sneaking and shooting. He's always managed to tip the scales toward stealth thanks to some thoroughly unintuitive and inconvenient shooting controls, and the whole formula was mastered in Subsistence. With Metal Gear Solid 4, unfortunately, shooting has become simple enough to the point that there's no longer any subconscious, in-game encouragement to use stealth, as there has been in the previous games in the series.
So that's strike one against Guns of the Patriots.
And then there's the other problem: the plot/writing. Again, we can look to Subsistence as the pinnacle of story/storytelling panache, eschewing the typical Kojima stupidly-over-the-top writing for a more even, intelligent, if slightly hipster-ish nonsensical experience. Unfortunately, Kojima's reverted to his old ways with Metal Gear Solid 4, and the result is a convoluted plot and, more importantly, horrendous dialogue. Horrendous. Like, you have no idea just how bad this is.
That said, for fans/experiencers (I refuse to self-label myself a fan) of the series, there is some enjoyable plot work toward the end of the game that ties Snake Eater/Subsistence into the series' canon in a way that MGS3 just couldn't do itself. There are some stupidly-explained but no-doubt fan-pleasing appearances in the (overdone) finale, and it's worth mentioning that the ending is a monstrous cop-out.
Yes, these are still problems. What the perspective of the first three Metal Gear Solid titles granted me was the realization that especially with regard to the gameplay, it all makes sense. That is, this feels like a very natural evolution of the series; it's been constantly approaching a more mainstream action title, and Guns of the Patriots is finally there.
With Metal Gear Solid 4, the series has lost any intrinsic value the series may have hadas something unique, because this is a thoroughly mainstream action title. It's accessible, admittedly and that's something that I generally approve of. After all, my main complaint with Metal Gear Solid 4 plot-wise was that is wasn't at all accessible. But that accessibility has brought along with it a major compromise, and the trade-off is ultimately, I think, one I disapprove of.
This also begs the question: does justifying something that's bad by saying it makes sense change the fact that it's fundamentally bad? That is, just because Metal Gear Solid 4's tendency toward shooting the crap out of anything that gets in your way is the next logical step for the series doesn't automatically redeem the fact that gameplay-wise, Guns of the Patriots lacks almost all of the finesse and sophistication that characterized the series' three previous games.
One last thing: previously, I claimed that sneaking is essentially a worthless undertaking just because shooting up all the bad guys is easier and more straightforward. I'm going to self-rebut and point to two things for support: firstly, my first time through I played on the easiest difficulty setting there was. On harder difficulties you've pretty much got to resort to stealth, which I very much approve of. Secondly (and, unfortunately for you dear reader, more abstractly) there's the fact that if you've gone through the rest of the series trying to sneak around with what are for the most part thoroughly uncooperative controls, there's something extremely gratifying and satisfying about stealthily making your way through levels with controls that just work.
But in the end, I'm left with decidedly mixed impressions of Metal Gear Solid 4. On the one hand, as somebody who's helplessly in love with Big Boss, I appreciate the way that MGS3's story has been weaved into the series. But outside of that, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a pretty significant disappointment. The last half or maybe even two thirds of the game is pure fan service, and the real meaty gameplay ends far too quickly in favor of setpiece battles and long, un-fun boss fights. The gameplay feels tainted and more like a regular old action game than the intelligent stealth-action that we got with the past three games.
So for all you out there who love this game to death: okay. Sure. I understand why. But I've played Metal Gear Solid 4 for the last time.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 08/28/08, Updated 09/14/09
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)
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