Review by Gestapoid
"Uh... Is There A Game Here?"
Metal Gear Solid 4 is (supposedly) the final game in the Metal Gear saga. The MGS series has always been well known for its detailed (and sometimes convoluted story) and stealth-oriented action gameplay. MGS4 continues to develop the series in a manner consistent with the trends developed by the previous 3 games in terms of mechanics and narrative. The title commendably ties up the (many) loose ends of the series but does so at the expense of game content.
The gameplay that IS included in the game is a perfect amalgamation of the game mechanics that have developed with the series. The Octocamo is fantastic as it allows Snake to blend into the background without having to mess around in the menu each time the background scenery changes. The Mk II robot is also useful and fun while adding a strategic element to the game in terms of a remote controlled recon device. Finally, MGS4 seems to have diverted from the previous three games to some degree in that the game is somewhat more accepting of a run-n-gun style of play. Make no mistake, this is still a primarily stealth-oriented game, but with the existence of battling armed forces in the first two stages of the game, Snake can use his weapons on the battlefield without too much risk of detection.
My biggest criticism of MGS4 originates with the fact that there are only 2-3 acts, out of 5, that can be considered full-fledged levels. The 1st and 2nd levels are exceptionally well fleshed out. However, it becomes painfully obvious by the 3rd act that the developers spent the majority of their level-design efforts on the first two stages. The 4th stage is well done but it is a recycling of a stage from a previous game. As such, despite the fact that act 4 is enjoyable, it is not particularly original. The 5th act is ridiculously disappointing as it consists of a single straight path to the final boss.
The boss fights are inferior to the best battles in the previous games. The bosses all look similar and have no personality when compared with memorable bosses from the game's predecessors, i.e. The End, Psycho Mantis, etc. A few of the battles are extremely fun but these are generally the battles not involving the Beauties (the main bosses). Unfortunately, the final boss is underwhelming and, like much of the game, too staged and cinematic.
The bottom line is that there is simply not enough GAME in this game compared with cut scenes. By the end of act 2, you will have experienced the majority of the gameplay in MGS4. This is simply unacceptable in a title claiming to possess 5 acts. Additionally, there are numerous action sequences in the game which would have been incredibly fun to play but were simply created as cut scenes. One of these occurs at the end of act 2 while another in act 5. Kojima missed some great gameplay opportunities presumably because he wanted absolute control as to how these scenes played out.
The Metal Gear series produced a great many loose ends that required resolution: the Patriots, FoxDie, Raiden, etc. These questions are answered in a mostly satisfactory fashion. MGS4's narrative is more convoluted than MGS1 and MGS3 but far less frustrating than MGS2. MGS4 absolutely requires familiarity with all 3 previous titles in the series; I would not recommend this game to anyone who has not played all 3 MGS games.
MGS4 features cut scenes after nearly every loading screen between areas. Most of these are not short either. Indeed, the shortest of the cut scenes in MGS4 would compare to the longest cut scenes in the previous titles. Simply put, Kojima went absolutely nuts with the cut scenes in MGS4. Many of these scenes are completely unnecessary or have large portions where nothing happens (i.e. who gives a damn about cooking eggs?). Kojima seems to have lost all pretense for narrative discipline in MGS4; his style has become similar to Stephen King's in that he has an interesting story to tell but gets bogged down in the details. Great examples of this phenomenon are the annoying back stories for the Beauty bosses you fight. Saying more would spoil things but after the second such fight, I was already indifferent to the origins of these bosses.
MGS4 would have been much better off ditching some of the numerous cut scenes for the in-game narrative found in titles like Half-Life and BioShock. The problem with MGS4 is that the player never feels immersed as is the case with HL or BioShock because Kojima constantly rips control away from the player.
The graphics are perfect. There are times when the game is nearly indistinguishable from a film. Character designs are particularly detailed as are the new enemies, the Gekko. A great thing about MGS4 is that the entire game does NOT take place in one area; what little gameplay there is fortunately occurs in varied locales.
The only (minor) issues I noticed with the graphics were some low-res textures here and there. However, low-res by MGS4 standards is normal or high for most other games.
Sound effects are uniformly fantastic from the blast of weapons to the squeal of Gears. The soundtrack is also well-done, including the haunting title screen theme to the emotional pieces played during key moments.
The voice acting is consistently strong though not perfect. David Hayter's approach to Snake's voice this time around is a bit too throaty and oriented around grunts. Snake's frequent coughs and hacks are also a bit too frequent in occurrence. During flashback scenes, I found myself missing the Snake voice from the previous games. Otacon cries a bit too much during the course of the story and his weeping is not entirely convincing. Despite these quibbles, the voice acting is certainly stronger than most console titles.
MGS4 offers plenty of collecting as well as rewards for subsequent play-throughs. There is also the online component which adds hours of enjoyment to a series that was previously single-player only.
In terms of story, MGS4 does a fantastic job of concluding the MGS series. Unfortunately, the narrative comes at the price of gameplay and it quickly becomes apparent that Kojima was more concerned with telling a story than crafting a game that plays consistently from start to finish. In terms of total game time, the final 3rd of the game is comprised nearly entirely of cut scenes. This will undoubtedly upset many players who were under the impression that they were purchasing a game as opposed to a movie.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/30/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)
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