Review by EBwizDX
"Solid Game, Liquid Consistency"
Video game franchises have changed.
The Mega Man series, once a brilliant series of platformers, became subject to many strange experimental games that barely resemble their name sake. Resident Evil, as of the latest entry, has sacrificed its genre-defining open world and survival dependent gameplay in favor of a linear series of rooms where you kill everything in sight. And the Sonic series just went from being great to outright terrible.
The Metal Gear series has changed as well over the years, but rather than the above examples, it has always managed to build on top of what made the former games so good in the first place as all good sequels do. The latest entry, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, is no exception. It's borrowed the more organic but somewhat sloppily executed approach to stealth gameplay from Metal Gear Solid 3 and polished it to a mirror sheen. The plentiful cutscenes aren't disrupted by horrendously awkward diatribes things like marital issues or just generally bad dialogue. It uses nostalgia and game design to enhance the narrative in brand new ways, familiar to fans of the old without relying on old tricks.
That's not to say that there isn't anything completely new in this game, not at all. The most obvious first for the series is that the open ended, almost Legend of Zelda like design has been eschewed in the place of a linear level system. It's even complete with an end of level statistics screen indicating total time, number of alerts, deaths, kills, headshots and other miscellaneous information. Surprisingly, this act of simplification doesn't hinder the game the way the aforementioned Resident Evil 4 did, (For the first half of it anyway, but I'll get to that in a bit), though this is probably because of the second big change, which is the now simplified game mechanics.
Kojima Productions has gone out of its way to streamline most of the series standard functions. As a testament to this, the eye patch like Solid Eye itself acts as six or so different tools from the series at once. You also no longer have to worry about menu fuddling when trying to camouflage yourself, as the Octocamo will take care of that for you. The often talked about Drebin's shop even serves as an in-game store, allowing you to buy a fresh supply of ammo on the fly rather than running around the area waiting for it to respawn during any one of the intense boss fights.
It's also the first time that fighting in Metal Gear doesn't feel obtrusive. While no doubt it's easier staying a live when conflict is avoided, new controls that were created with the Western gamer in mind helps you to stay alive in the oft chance you do have to fight. Aside from just feeling tighter and more responsive, you're given multiple options in the case of a fire fight, like shooting on the ground in the event you're knocked off your feet. You also have the ability to create team mates by helping rebels fight off the enemy PMCs, making it much easier to push forward toward your goal. It's just a shame that with all these options, you don't actually make much use of them.
It's no huge secret that I'm a fan of games with storylines; otherwise I wouldn't be the Metal Gear fan that I am. With that being said, I don't want this to come across like I'm complaining about the sheer amount of cutscenes and their lengths. Indeed, you'll be watching more than you're playing, more so than in MGS2. It's all interesting stuff, and the game certainly goes out of it's way to make sure that when you sit back to watch the end credits, you don't have any questions left. It's also amongst the best voice acting and narrative structure in the series since the first game, so there are much fewer awkward scenes that you wouldn't want anyone who's not a fan of the series to be watching. Simply put, it's fantastic, no questions asked. Clever uses of nostalgia pull at your heartstrings rather effectively, and Kojima uses gameplay elements to enhance the narrative when ever possible. It's epic, funny, emotional and an overall fitting end to Snake's tale. This is not the problem. The problem is by the latter half of the game, there's no real gameplay left.
Let me elaborate best I can. As I said before, the game is linear and split into levels. By the time you complete the second level, aside from a good amount of 15 to 30 minute cutscenes in-between, you're treated to a vehicle segment, a follow the guy to the base segment, another vehicle segment, a boss fight, an area where there are no human enemies, another boss fight, etc. etc. etc. There's no bases to infiltrate, no enemies to hide from, nothing that makes Metal Gear well, Metal Gear. It's at this point the immersion is broken and you begin to realize you're no longer collecting higher level keycards and getting new equipment to reach new areas and start to feel shackled to a Kojima Productions branded collar. It's just scenes strung together to let their story close the way they wanted to at the sacrifice of gameplay. Most fans of the series have been waiting for 2 years for this game, and while all theories and speculation will now be satisfied, it's hard as a gamer to not feel a little disappointed that playing the game ends up feeling like an afterthought.
I said earlier that each Metal Gear game has managed to build on top of the basis of the last game, a statement that I stick by. However, this doesn't mean the transition from sequel to sequel will always be perfect. When talking about 2 and 3, I've always surmised that 2's narrative structure and pacing were at best lacking and that 3's gameplay was, while unique in design, counterintuitive and sloppy in execution. Metal Gear Solid 4 has both improved and perfected both of these issues, but fails miserably at maintaining the balance between the two, which is something the series has never had a problem with before.
Still, the cutscenes are explosive, the boss battles are all extremely fun as always, there's collectibles, secrets and end game rewards abound for massive replay, and when you get to the chase, it's just damn fun to play. If it had all only worked together, it may have snatched the first game's coveted best in series spot, but as it is, each part separately is the best they have been since that landmark title, allowing it to confidently fit into its second place nestle.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 06/16/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)
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