Review by Starving Poet
"MGS 4 has become the seventh 'perfect' game in my collection, with a catch, that I've played in the last 29 years."
The Metal Gear Franchise has been surrounded with a lot of press after the success of the re-invented Metal Gear Solid back on the PSX. Some of has been fair and some of it has simply been fluff. Through the years, the development team of the franchise under the direction of Hideo Kojima has, seemingly, taken the story in vary disparate and only loosely-related directions. MGS4, however, is has taken this entire fictional universe and woven into a tight, snugly fitting, sneak-suit of a story.
Metal Gear Solid 4 takes place in the near-future; the world has changed since the events in Metal Gear Solid 2. The world has changed - wars are fought simply to maintain the military-industrial complex. This 'war-economy' as its called has created a new class of workers: the 'green-collars'. This class consists of everyone who makes their living from the pursuance of war: soldiers, mercenaries, gun traffickers, and high-tech weapon developers. The twist to the story is that all of this is now monitored and controlled through the use of nano-machines. Guns, tanks, even a soldier's emotional state can now be controlled and maintained from a central computer. These computers are now under assault, and with them - the fragile balance of the world.
For those new to the MGS series, I can only give one piece of advice, and this is the catch to my perfect score, - play the others first or, at VERY least, download the MGS database from the Playstation store - it's free. MGS4 tries very hard to tell the story in a way that someone new to the series would understand - but you need to realize one thing. Metal Gear Solid 1-4 all tell a single story. While Metal Gear Solid 1,2, and 3 can each be enjoyed independent of one another, MGS 4 is the tie that holds them all together. They are each like chapter in a book that spans from the start of the cold war to present, with 4 being the final conclusion, the story of how their stories end. I do not believe that you can fully enjoy this game, and why I think that there is such a disparity in reviews, without having played the previous titles in the series.
For veterans to the series MGS plays exactly like its predecessors with a couple improvements. The camo system that was introduced in MGS3 has been greatly improved. Instead of navigating through your menus and trying to manually select the camo that best fits your current situation, futuristic technology has made it so that your suit reacts to your environment. Crouch down along a wall and your suit will change to match the colors and patters behind you.
They have also removed the bleeding and hunger aspect from MGS3. You no longer need to constantly feed yourself as the game progresses, as your missions are no longer multi-day escapades into an enemy fortress. Bleeding, similarly has been removed. It has been replaced with the stress and psyche meters. Sitting exposed in hot or warm environments, being visible by enemies, and being in prolonged gun fights all raise your stress levels. As your stress raises, things like accuracy and psyche decrease. As you psyche decreases you start to lose health and gain stress. Un-managed it's a viscous cycle that can leave you a wreck on the battlefield. Fully managed, it's another weapon in your arsenal that you can use against your enemies.
MGS get rated negatively for its long cinematics - if you're new to the MGS franchise, then it's a very acceptable moniker. MGS has, over the years, developed into its own genre - it's a cinematic tactical stealth shooter. First word being key. Every since MGS2 when the DVD allowed for substantial cinematic depth, the cut-scene has become and prominent, if somewhat intrusive aspect of the series. And MGS 2 and 3 get rated down for this - quite fairly, in fact. There is nothing that breaks the flow of a game worse than a cut-scene that interrupts you at random intervals. However, even in spite of the phenomenal length of viewable cutscenes in this game, they are predominately placed between chapter transitions. When you are playing the game, you are playing the game - for the most part, cut scenes that come mid-chapter are short and only in place because they tell a part of the story that could not be done without the (as intrusive) codec system.
Otherwise, when presented with a long cut-scene you know that you are either in brief or debrief mode. And with all that said, unlike so many other games that have much in the way of cinematics, you can skip every single one your first time through the game. The choice is left up to the gamer, and often, those choices are often forgotten by game developers.
MGS 4 gets one of my perfect ratings because it encompasses everything that a cinematic game needs to accomplish. The technical quality of the cinematics are, of course, as good as they come with our current technology. But just like the difference between Avatar and District 9 - it's how story is paired to technology that determines whether or not a cinematic is worth watching. MGS4 ties the two together nicely. It builds upon the foundations laid by all three previous Metal Gears and brings them to a climax where you find yourself in hand to hand combat with your oldest enemy. Much like a well-written play, after your final battle, the story needs to wind itself down and wrap itself up in a way that, surprisingly, moved me. A feat which has only ever happened in one other game in my collection - kudos if you can guess.
And this cinematic narrative is moved along by a solid tactical third person shooter. It has been stripped of all the trivial annoyances of the previous games in the series. The awkward control schemes have been refined and the stealth mechanics have been improved. Camouflage, cover, decoy, and evasion tactics all work as well as have ever been put forth since the revolutionary Thief I. And you a presented with an arsenal that is so vast, and so customizable that you are practically limited by your imagination. You can even, if you so desire, spend an entire play through sneaking past enemies by throwing them into uncontrollable fits of laughter.
10.0 Game #7 has been a long time coming for me. It is not often that a developer can weave together so many distinct elements into a flawless presentation. To any fan of the Metal Gear Series, this game is a no-brainer - but to those newcomers, I hope that I have inspired you to download Metal Gear Solid 1 from the PlayStation store and enjoy the story that many of us old farts have been privileged with over the last decade.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 01/19/10
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)
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