Review by CChan

"A fitting close to Solid Snake's legendary tale."

After more than 20 years since the inception of the Metal Gear series, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots draws the curtains on the story arc revolving Solid Snake, the much beloved legendary hero that has risen since the character was first introduced in the original Metal Gear game in 1987. As such, it's understandable that hopes run high over how this game would perform and stand to the test of the millions of players' expectations across the glove—can MGS4 deliver?

GRAPHICS

There is no doubt that MGS4 takes advantage of PlayStation 3's processing power to display utterly sharp, crisp, and lifelike visuals—indeed one of the most top-notch graphics one has ever seen to date with the PS3. Character models are full of realistic facial expressions—with my only complaint is the less-than-convincing kissing scenes where the lips barely touch—with strands of hair and every possible wrinkle recreated to reflect the characteristics of real people. Perhaps it's not a far stretch to say that the animations and various special effects employed are almost perfect.

Even the environments—the battlefields and various locations you are placed in—are nothing short of phenomenal, from the dusty, war-torn buildings of the Middle East and the jungles and small villages of South America to quaint, quiet locales of Eastern Europe, where occasionally when I was too engrossed with the game that I'd feel as if I was in those vastly dissimilar places. Even the cut-scenes are improved further on the previous MGS games, where most of the time there is an almost seamless transition from cut-scene back to the game itself, where it throws you straight in the heat of a battle. As with MGS3, cut-scenes are decidedly interactive where you could press L1 when prompted to see the scene from Old Snake's or someone else's point of view, and new to MGS4, pressing the Circle button repeatedly when subtly prompted at the top-right corner of the screen would display flashbacks from the past few MGS games. These incredibly long cut-scenes would make you feel as if you're spectating the latest Hollywood fanfare, with splattered blood or raindrops occasionally fogging up the imaginary “camera” from which you're viewing from. Kojima also finally answered some of our prayers by introducing a Pause feature during the cut-scenes, a much-needed feature which should've been implemented ages ago.

Now imagine watching all of these from your full HD-ready TV or monitor in 1080p. In fact, the game runs smoothly at around 30fps most of the time, with hardly any noticeable slowdowns even when too many things happen in the screen at once.

AUDIO

The graphics will be nothing but simply a pretty sight without the effective soundtrack led by Harry Gregson-Williams and Nobuko Toda. A few scenes in the game are made even more high-strung and emotional with the game's music score, and then there are the various sound effects peppered throughout MGS4 through Dolby Digital 5.1 that made the entire gaming experience simply phenomenal: explosions, gunshots, the rustling of the wind, a helicopter's rotating blades, footsteps, and the list goes on. Plus how can we forget the entire cast of high caliber voice actors, where most of the recurring characters from previous MGS games are voiced by the same voice actors? David Hayter reprises his role once more as our rapidly aging but still heroic character, Old Snake (and this is visibly noticeable in Hayter's deepened and more mature voice), Christopher Randolph as Otacon, and without giving away too much, that's as far as I'd say about our usual suspects.

GAMEPLAY

The entire game is divided neatly into 5 Acts, with each Act taking place in a different place (or continent, for most of the Acts) with an almost different take in the gameplay style or strategy that you have to utilise. During the first Act, it's often reminiscent of a Call of Duty game as you have to wade through the rebels and PMCs (Private Military Companies) battling it out with each other. The game also gives you a choice: either help the rebels out by destroying PMC soldiers and let them return the favour to you, or take the term “stealth” to its fullest by avoiding both parties while attempting to reach your destination. In essence, the journey may be different, but your destination remains the same.

Taking a leaf from some complaints made about previous MGS games, Kojima takes heed and utilises the new 3D camera system introduced in the enhanced MGS3: Subsistence. Rather than having the game dictate and fix your camera and thus your point of view, the new camera from behind Snake allows you to see a wider range of things in a sweeping 360 degree angle, which you could easily control with the right analog stick (R3). Each area is even larger than the previous games, and there are several routes and options which you can use at your disposal to arrive at your goal. Improving upon the camouflage system utilised in MGS3, instead of having to switch your face paint and camouflage to match your environment each time you encounter a different area, Snake now wears a handy body suit called the OctoCamo, where you need only lay flat against the ground or a wall in order to mimic the texture and qualities of your environment to completely fool your enemies. As with MGS3, a camo index lies attached to the top-right corner of your screen to indicate how stealthy and hidden you are in a percentage count out of 100, where 100 indicates total invisibility.

Furthermore, there are a few other nifty and useful gadgets which you can use from early on in the game, such as the Metal Gear Mk. II, a pint-sized robot capable of scouting an area while in stealth mode, acquire items for Snake on the go, and even use its elongated wires to shock and stun an enemy. You no longer need to acquire night vision goggles or thermal goggles as in the previous games, as both of these items are now condensed into a multi-functional eye piece, the Solid Eye, which is also capable of displaying ally and enemy data, a radar, show items that can be acquired nearby, and it can even double up as a binoculars.

But ah, weapons. There is an immense variety of submachine guns, rifles, and shotguns, among others, which you can unlock and use as you progress through the game (or through multiple games), even more than MGS3 itself. However, weapons acquired from PMCs are ID-locked to that specific soldier no thanks to the advancement of nanomachines and the development of this system (as the story would explain), but Drebin, a side character which you'd encounter early in the game, could easily circumnavigate this annoying detail for you at a price, in the form of Drebin Points. Any excess weapons you obtain would automatically be sold to Drebin in exchange for Drebin Points, but collecting weapons and items to be sold isn't the only way to obtain more Points—watching flashbacks, not using special items, not going into an Alert phase, not killing any enemies, etc, all allow you to garner more Drebin Points at the end of an Act. Perhaps one of the best attributes of this game, gameplay-wise, is the customisations that you can perform on your weapons, allowing you to attach laser sights, suppressors, and other item parts to most weapons, effectively enabling you to create a weapon in a manner that best suit you.

And of course, there's CQC (Close Quarters Combat), first introduced in MGS3 and continued in MGS: Portable Ops, a technique which Old Snake has somehow acquired to grab enemies and silence them in a variety of ways, from slitting their throats to knocking them out. This time around, weapons that you can use in conjunction with CQC are now clearly labelled as such. Also introduced in MGS4 is the Threat Ring, where lying flat on the ground would produce a grey/whitish ring surrounding Snake—any enemies detected to be near Snake would produce a bump, and the greater this threat is (for instance, in an Alert phase), the taller and wider the mountain of the Threat Ring is.

The controls have been changed around too in MGS4, with the CQC and Weapon button designated as R1 instead of its use of the previous Circle button. Even flattening yourself against the wall or the ground works slightly different in MGS4, which I personally think is an improvement compared to its predecessors. Holding the Triangle button while lying on the ground allows Snake to play dead, but unfortunately this doesn't fool the PMCs at all. Hitting the Triangle button quickly while lying flat would see Snake to flip himself over to face upwards, something that could not be in done previously, though its usage is fairly negligent.

The Stamina gauge in MGS3? That's been done away and replaced with the Psyche gauge which functions similarly. From time to time Snake would stress out (and this would be displayed in a percentage), and the higher Snake's stress level, the poorer he would perform: his aiming accuracy would deteriorate, his Psyche gauge would be reduced quicker, etc. Fortunately you no longer need to do the tedious task of hunting animals for food to regain your Psyche gauge—you need only lie down in a non-Alert and non-Caution phase and watch as your Psyche gauge gradually refills itself.

Fighting bosses in the MGS series is mostly a fun experience as it's not altogether a linear shoot-and-kill action, and MGS4 is no different. Often, you have to figure out the most effective way to defeat a boss through a Codec call or from what someone else has mentioned earlier in the game, and this entire non-linearity is what makes boss fighting utterly unique and stand out compared to other action/adventure games. Revealing further details would be spoilers however, so these information should suffice.

This may be a source of begrudge for some players, as unfortunately, you're forced to wait and install some data into the PS3's hard drive before the commencement of any Act. While this is usually a good excuse to rest my eyes as I often play through the game in several hours in a single sitting, other players may not like the fact that you are made to wait simply to begin the next Act. Nonetheless, it's still a minor inconvenience to me.

PLOT

Perhaps an important question that may be on the minds of those who have yet to play any game in the Metal Gear series is, will you understand what the hell is going on? Perhaps you'd get the rough gist that Liquid Ocelot is on the loose and is heading towards an insurrection against the Patriots, but then you'd have to ask other questions: Who are the Patriots? Who is Liquid Ocelot, and why is he trying to defeat the Patriots? If you find yourself asking these questions, then to be honest, no, you will be completely clueless as to what exactly is going on, as the story and the nuances of the characters from previous games that span more than 100 hours of gameplay could not be easily condensed in a Wikipedia plot summary of the past Metal Gear games. If you seek to understand the story fully, then a play through at least MGS1 to MGS3 is in order, but otherwise if you're here just to enjoy the ride that the game has to offer, then as a “tactical espionage action”-based game, MGS4 has a ton of things up its sleeve. Fortunately, Konami has offered a free MGS4 Database available for download as every character and term that has ever turned up in the series is explained, with a relationship map even provided as well, which would prove handy to those new to the series or has forgotten certain things from past games. Even thoughtful of them is the fact that access to certain terms in MGS4 are restricted (so as to prevent accidental leaking of spoilers) until you have gotten past that particular area of the game.

MGS4 takes place six years after the Big Shell incident in MGS2, and every country has resorted to partake in the new war economy, with PMCs in the business blooming and growing like mushrooms. Despite Snake's rapidly aging body, Colonel Campbell asked Snake for a final favour to terminate Liquid Ocelot in order to prevent the villain's insurrection from taking place, who, if succeeded, would manage to seize control of every aspect governing the countries around the world. Things aren't that simple, unfortunately, as plot twist after plot twist would be thrown your way and you'd have a hard time not to trip up over them.

For fans of the Metal Gear series, as mentioned previously, MGS4 marks the conclusion of Solid Snake's story, with loose ends opened in previous games promised to be answered. And there are a lot of loose ends. Unfortunately, sometimes these loose ends get tangled up inexplicably with other characters and the explanations accorded feel a little far-fetched and stretched its believability, but ultimately, it's up to the players who have invested an immense number of gameplay hours into the series to believe what they will as this is a subject worthy of a heated debate. Additionally, Kojima brings back characters from the previous three games and this often assaulted me with a dose of healthy nostalgia, especially as their voice actors remain largely the same.

Plot holes, no matter how minor, are also resolved to my surprise; perhaps the most prominent plot hole belonging to the “minor” category would be Snake's magical acquisition of CQC, and even this didn't escape Kojima's attention as this question is answered in an easter egg Codec call. And on the subject of Codec calls, perhaps what would be a small disappointment to me would be the existence of only two people you could call on the Codec, unlike the fairly large amount of characters which you can call to consult previously.

REPLAY VALUE

Also, its inclusion of Metal Gear Online which allows you to compete against other players in several pre-determined maps while retaining use of the gameplay inherent within MGS4 (weapons and CQC, for example) might see you using your MGS4 disc for a long time to come. Although Konami's insistence of using your Konami ID instead of your PSN ID to login is rather questionable as it doesn't streamline with other online games, the entire mechanism of the online play is actually rather robust. You'd be able to level up various skills to be used, or purchase new items or weapons using the Reward Points you can get by winning matches, or use real life money to purchase various expansions or add-ons to MGO.

Despite having no trophies in MGS4 at the time of writing, if you're the type who likes to unlock things and absolutely must have every single emblem, iPod music (which you can find throughout the game), weaponry, FaceCamo or other camouflage-related items, or love to challenge yourself by re-playing the game at a tougher difficulty or with a different style of playing (battling enemies instead of avoiding the, for instance), then MGS4 would very much be worth the every cent you've paid for it.

CONCLUSION

But in the end, after all the minor flaws and problems this game has with respect to a player's subjective view, has MGS4 delivered? Most certainly. It is a masterpiece befitting the end of Solid Snake's time, and it's a journey worth experiencing.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/22/10

Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (Greatest Hits) (US, 06/16/09)


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