Review by Rune
"It's a game that's like a movie, and a blast for fans and newcomers alike."
Metal Gear Solid 4 is the culmination of Hideo Kojima's epic Metal Gear Solid series, and for fans as well as gamers in general, I don't think there's much more to ask of it.
Since the original Metal Gear Solid, the graphics have always been at the forefront at release, and Metal Gear Solid 4 is no difference. The lighting is beautiful, the environments are well rendered and jaw dropping, and the character models all show a great attention to detail. The facial expressions are credible and the face moves accurately when a character speaks, and the motions are very fluid. The graphic and animation quality stays top-notch throughout, excepting one notable, amusing dream-scenario.
The gameplay and controls are also top-notch. Expect the usual stealth action, but more similar to Metal Gear Solid 3's camouflage-oriented espionage than Metal Gear Solid 1 and 2's sneaking around corners. The system has been simplified, you no longer need to go into the menu to change your camo, just wait a moment and it will change automatically. The aiming and shooting is a bit different, but streamlined and intuitive, there's no problem with aiming and shooting. Crouching, leaning against walls, crawling and rolling are all intuitive, and at the same time the controls aren't cramped; you won't need to press three buttons to shoot while running, like those who have played Twin Snakes may have experienced. CQC also returns from Metal Gear Solid 3, you can grab an enemy and use them as a meat-shield, or cut their neck, or simply knock them out. This is mostly easy to do, although you may find yourself accidentally throwing them around instead of grabbing them.
The game gives you the option of playing stealthily or going all out run-and-gun. On my first playthough I indulged in both, and though there are times where you must sneak, most of the time it's not a problem just to shoot all opposition into submission.
Besides sneaking around in Middle East and South America war-torn locales (a wild card in a military conflict that has little to do with you), you also sneak around in a European city under military curfew, a seagoing vessel, and a familiar locale that may bring a wave of nostalgia. Every location is beautiful, interesting and well designed. While the game is still quite linear as far as where you can go, it doesn't feel that way when you're avoiding a crossfire of two factions while trying to reach your destination, or being chased after by enemy squads or giant mechanical beasts.
In addition to sneaking, there are some shooting segments where you're on a turret of a moving vehicle or a similar scenario, as well as one vehicle battle which is undeniable awesome.
There are few boss battles, but they are all fairly interesting. The bosses aren't as well developed, plot-wise, as in previous iterations, but they do have a story to their tragedy, and they truly help flesh out the message about the horrors of war. Unfortunately, most of the boss battles are also a pain, these bosses do what bosses do best: make themselves nuisances. Jump around, shoot at you from afar or dodge all your shots, it's quite satisfying when they're down.
A new gameplay element includes a weapon shop: You earn points primarily by picking up weapons from the battlefield, and use the points to buy ammo or new weapons, as well as unlock those you find. In fact, there are quite a lot of weapons, with unique recoils, addons, clip sizes, damage and overall look and feel. While most of the pistols are similar, and you won't be using most of the weapons, it contributes to the feel of the game that is, after all, set in more than one battlefield.
Now, as for the story As the finale to the Metal Gear Solid series, one will ideally need to have played Metal Gear Solid 1 through to 3 in order to understand exactly what's going on. I imagine a quick synopsis would suffice, but the experience wouldn't be the same. The story is a big part of the game, but as every question is explained here, you will end up with all the answers and little confusion, even if you didn't start the game with any questions.
Before the game was released, there was a trailer designed to appear like a movie trailer, complete with Don LaFontaine's recognisable movie-trailer-narrator voice declaring that Courage is Solid. The reason I bring this up is because the game actually feels quite like a movie. Yes, there are a myriad of cutscenes, some indeed rather long (though I never thought to time them), and some even cut apart by a kindly save screen. However, this is not a flaw; unlike Metal Gear Solid 2's numerous codec scenes, most cutscenes in this game are dynamic and action-packed, not boring to watch. Exceptions are the briefing scenes at the start of each act. Mostly, the characters are sitting around in a large freight-aircraft, talking. During this time, you can watch attentively, or play around with a little remote-controlled robot and look around the place, switch on the radio or get underfoot (though no one seems to notice).
In any case, the game has everything you would expect from a blockbuster movie: Romance, action and adventure (lots), incredible stunts, giant robots, and an intense climax where it looks like all is lost before all is well. Oh, and everyone gets their happy ending, which I'm sure will be heart-warming for the fans.
There are twists too. None as big as in Metal Gear Solid 2 perhaps, but all the questions are answered, and new ones are also asked and answered. For those who followed the series, every question should be satisfied in the culmination. You will also meet old friends, characters you may have expected to see, and more than one you probably didn't expect to see; new faces who are just as fleshed out as the old ones; and some old faces who are seem quite new.
The game is a roller-coaster ride from beginning to end, always interesting, when it pulls you up high before an adrenaline-filled plunge, or when it gives you time to catch your breath afterwards. The main story takes around 17hours. Afterwards, you can choose the replay the game for a better score, on a higher difficulty, or to see if you catch something you missed the first time around, as well as play around with the stuff you unlocked on the first playthrough. There are other modes you can delve into, such as the Online mode (which I'll leave for someone else to review, as it is a game on it's own), a photo viewer for any camera shots you may have taken ingame, downloadable extras (music to play on your nifty ingame Ipod, podcasts and new camos), and a shooting range mode where you can practice with weapons in a VR environment.
In conclusion, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a masterpiece and a perfect conclusion for the series. If you're a fan, the game is amazing, and there's something for those who haven't played the previous games as well, even if you may be a bit confused by the plot. There's plenty to do which in my opinion easily warrants a buy; but even if you don't, it's my opinion that you should at least rent it, because Metal Gear Solid 4 is an experience not quite like any videogame before it. I give it a 10/10.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 06/16/08, Updated 06/19/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)
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