Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Review by Bymyteh
The fourth and hopefully final entry to the Metal Gear Solid saga was surrounded by an astounding level of anticipation from most fans. Guns of the Patriots Introduces new gameplay features and revamps existing features, but just as importantly, brings the conclusion to the widely praised storyline. But while the gameplay has continued to improve since the first Metal Gear Solid game, the story of Guns of the Patriots abases itself far lower than the previous three.
The gameplay is great; a refreshing approach to the stealth-action style, with an improved camouflage and aiming system and many more weapons to try and approaches to take. The 'Octocamo' suit automatically blends your suit into your surroundings to help keep you hidden; it's an interesting concept that definitely fits well in the stealth gameplay. Some aspects of the missions are simple semi-linear objectives of getting from point A to point B, but you're usually offered a few options of how to approach it; whether you want to go completely undetected, co-operate with potentially friendly military squads against the others, or even go straight in killing everyone in sight. Experimenting with these options makes for a quite entertaining experience. The 'Solid Eye' is also a good feature, allowing you to find hidden items, keep a look out for enemies and even track footprints.
Other than simple sequences on foot there are also a few scripted on-rails sections; one in which you're on top of an APC protecting it from enemy... things and mechanical units, and another in which you're in the side car of a motorcycle and have to fend off a ton of enemy soldiers, vehicles and aerial units on the way to your destination. Finally there's a really amazing section that made for a great surprise, something many people have probably been waiting for since the original Metal Gear Solid.
One of the most memorable aspects of the Metal Gear Solid games are the unique bosses, each with their own style and weaknesses. Guns of the Patriots is no exception, introducing the Beauty and the Beast unit, a group of beautiful war victim women transformed into bizarre tools of conflict. Each one has their own specific gimmick; the "octopus" with her mechanical tentacles and dynamic camouflage similar to (and more enhanced than) your own; the "raven", an aerial combatant accompanied by a flock of robotic drones; the "wolf", a quadrupedal sniper... Tank... Thingy; and the "mantis", a telepathic puppeteer with very familiar abilities. In addition to these four, there are also some entertaining battles with some familiar faces. Each boss is certainly interesting and they provide a sort of self-homage to the bosses of the previous games, but in the end they're somewhat forgettable.
Installations before each act can be very annoying, especially since you have to do so again even after already installing them just to replay, but they don't really ruin the game. Other than that, Metal Gear Solid 4 is well polished and mostly free from glitches as far as I saw; most of the gameplay is smooth and fluid, but at times is a few of the action sequences control somewhat clunkily and awkward.
This is where Guns of the Patriots is a huge let down. Metal Gear Solid 4 focuses so much on fanservice and connecting everything into the conclusion, that both the game itself and the characters in it are very out of character. It starts nicely, setting the scene well and emphasising how the world has changed for the worse and that the characters have been through a lot, but around half-way through and onwards, the story plummets down to mediocrity. I'll do my best to try not to spoil the details of the plot and its twists... In one long scene in act three, you meet up with a significant character from one of the previous games, who brings a 'revelation' about some of the major elements of the series so far. Unfortunately this really starts to bring it down by contradicting earlier allusions and going against previously established characterisation. This trend continues later when the answers to questions we had assumed fairly straightforward answers to actually turn out to be extremely contrived and unnecessary.
Each blow to the series' dignity builds up and up to a final catastrophe that is the ending, truly the stupidest twist in the whole series so far. I don't know whether this really is what Kojima decided he wanted, or simply felt forced to do it to please the fans, but either way isn't really an excuse for such sloppy storytelling. The ending that apparently was originally planned, or that that was alluded to by the trailers and the first half of the game, would surely upset a lot of people, but clearly have been a more coherent and appropriate end to the series.
Kojima's anti-war 'message' has always been a major component of the franchise, and is of course drawn into Guns of the Patriots. The message in MGS4 is easy to see, but feels rather disjointed.
Lengthy codec conversations are now almost entirely gone from Metal Gear Solid 4, but with them go the memorable "codec moments". Though a lot of people disliked the volume of codec conversations and interruptions to the gameplay in Metal Gear Solid, at times they did provide some good quality dialogue and character development, as well as humor and of course a great aid to the gameplay. Unfortunately you can only call and receive calls from a couple of characters in Metal Gear Solid 4- some you can't even call back; and whether mandatory or optional, few of them provide the character development or entertainment of the old ones.
On the other hand, the story of Metal Gear Solid 4 is not entirely bad; whilst some of the supporting characters' stories are undermined with inconsistencies, one character's side story in particular is interesting and somewhat moving, ignoring a questionable change in personality and appearance (which again feels forced because of the fanbase).
With a nice level of detail on characters and some fairly well designed costumes and environments, the graphics of Guns of the Patriots are pretty great, but never really mind blowing. Characters look good, and despite some ugly textures in the environments there's some nice attention to detail. One thing I found odd was that Snake, the main character of the game, was actually one of the worst looking characters; but the detail on his suit and face, especially when they get damaged, is very good. Each act takes you to a distinctive setting, and while those environments can be quite mundane and dull, they do look realistic.
Gregson-Williams et al compose a fairly competent score for the game which does well to emphasise the tone and atmosphere of the game throughout. The main theme songs of Metal Gear Solid 4 ('Love Theme' and 'Here's to You') are fairly decent and fit well with the game, but feel neither as memorable or as good as 'The Best is Yet To Come', 'Can't Say Goodbye' and 'Snake Eater'. A great feature of the game is the iPod (let's not get into product placement); throughout Metal Gear Solid 4 you can collect several of the most memorable tunes from the Metal Gear Solid series and other Kojima productions as well as podcasts, to listen to instead of the background music. It's wonderful to hear some of the amazing music from the previous games again, but I was disappointed to find that the late Carla White's "Can't Say Goodbye to Yesterday" (my favourite of the Metal Gear Solid theme songs) was not included, although other vocal songs were. Songs from the previous games are included as part of the gameplay too- revisiting a familiar setting in one scene was accompanied by its trademark song, and that was a real highlight of the game out of pure nostalgia.
The voice acting for the game remains better than most video games, with returning and new actors doing well to capture the voice of their characters, working with a half good half average script.
Included with Metal Gear Solid 4 is Metal Gear Online; exactly as it implies, online multiplayer games with Metal Gear Solid 4 gameplay. It's an improvement over Metal Gear Solid 3's multiplayer game, but still a disappointment. Once you finally finish the lengthy sign up process and disorganised set up (which includes a log in system separate from PSN), there are a variety of options including team death matches and a game mode where teams are tasked with hunting down Solid Snake, who is tasked with staying out of sight and trying to collect enemy dog tags. These games can be fun sometimes, but it is clearly evident that the gameplay of Metal Gear Solid 4 is clearly meant for single player stealth game, not heated action online, where it feels very rigid and repetitive.
Variety is added to MGO with skill options and level ups; skills such as 'Narc', CQC or weapon specialties allow your character to be good at performing a specific or all-round role to help with teamwork and play how you want to. Unfortunately, the online gameplay is region-locked; players are only allowed to play other players in the same territory as the one their game is from. Not many people have headsets or use the radio commands appropriately, making it more difficult to work as a team, but if you're with a group you know team work can be more rewarding and make for a more interesting experience.
Another big problem with Metal Gear Online is the support; equipment and character customisation are very limited from the start, and getting more of this (as well as maps and other content) requires small transactions.
The main game is not of a great length, especially if you skip cutscenes; however there is some good replay value if it keeps you interested; there are the varying difficulty levels, from extremely easy to extremely hard; many animal-based ranks to unlock based on your performance in the game, and unlockable equipment such as the stealth camo, bandanna and a host of weapons, unlocked with methods like going through the game without a single kill, without a single alert, or with lots of kills or collecting special items. The online gameplay also provides more playtime if you get into it, and seems popular enough to last a long time.
The disappointing end to the epic series boasts some great gameplay and decent graphics and voice acting, but is severely let down by a horrible story. What could have been an amazing conclusion is ruined by fanservice and contradiction. Don't believe the hype.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 09/15/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (EU, 06/12/08)
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