Review by Final Eclipse

Reviewed: 06/17/08

A Memorable Sendoff for a Legendary Hero

The hype was incredible. The fourth installment in the Metal Gear Solid series was also the first next-gen entry of the brand that revolutionized stealth gaming, the final mission of legendary hero and protagonist Solid Snake, the Playstation 3’s first exclusive system seller, and the conclusion of perhaps the most epic plot sequence in all of gaming. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots had to be near perfect in every regard just to meet the hype.

But it goes far beyond just meeting the hype. The masterpiece envisioned by Hideo Kojima and brought to fruition by Kojima Productions and Konami shatters glass ceilings in cinematics, plot, gameplay, and graphics. Metal Gear Solid 4 destroys expectations and delivers what is perhaps the most exciting and rewarding gaming experience yet.

Taking place five years after the conclusion of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 4 presents a dreary setting. War has evolved. Battles are no longer limited to a few isolated locations. Instead, the entire world has become engulfed in constant battle. War itself has become the driving force behind the economy with the rise of private military corporations, or PMCs, that fight for whomever offers them the largest prize. Nanomachine-tagged soldiers fight for larger future deals in future battles, resulting in a self-sustaining war economy. In other words, the world of Metal Gear Solid 4 is just the one that Solid Snake and his allies have been fighting to avoid.

At the center of the war economy is Liquid Ocelot, who has brought many major PMCs under his control. Liquid Ocelot is the combination of two of Solid Snake’s deadliest foes: Liquid Snake and Revolver Ocelot. Solid Snake is called out of retirement by Colonel Campbell for one last mission: to destroy Liquid Ocelot. But the legendary hero must overcome more than just Liquid Ocelot to complete his final mission. He has to survive warzone after warzone in his pursuit, weigh the intentions of several recurring characters in deciding whether to trust them, and battle a deadly cast of mechanical beast/human hybrids. All before his accelerated aging causes his body to completely deteriorate.

The convoluted plot is just what fans have grown to expect and love from the Metal Gear Solid series. But as a conclusion to the Solid Snake saga, Metal Gear Solid 4’s attention to detail is stunning. Very few threads from the past games are ignored, and every character receives a proper sendoff. Even Johnny, the recurring character with bowel problems, receives closure! The plot features many intriguing characters with dueling intentions, leaving the player guessing whether some of them are friend or foe until the very end. Metal Gear Solid 2 unfolded through the sometimes restrictive codec calls, but Metal Gear Solid 4 takes a more cutscene-heavy approach. The result is a beautifully immersive mix of story and gameplay.

The gameplay is, for the most part, familiar to series fans. The focus is once again on stealth, with Snake having to run, crawl, and crouch-walk past enemies undetected. But the many innovations featured in Metal Gear Solid 4 make every aspect of the gameplay more enjoyable. Close quarters combat, or CQC, makes a return from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. But in Metal Gear Solid 4, it has been both expanded and simplified. The updated control scheme makes CQC easier to use while at the same time allowing for more options: chokes, knife kills, knockouts, throws, and more. In a similar vein, the shooting controls now provide a more user-friendly over-the-shoulder view along with a first-person perspective. Adding more depth to the shooting aspect of the game is the Drebin system. Drebin is a gun launderer who makes available many otherwise unusable guns for Snake. He also sells weapons and ammunition, which are purchased with Drebin points earned from the excess firearms Snake finds on the battlefield and sells. The numerous weapons provide many different ways to kill, and the satisfying controls make the run-and-gun strategy a tempting approach.

But for those who still prefer to sneak around enemies rather than confront them, the stealth gameplay has also seen significant improvements. The camouflage system in Metal Gear Solid 3 was both welcomed for its innovation and criticized for its menu-based tedium. In Metal Gear Solid 4, camouflage is refined with the addition of OctoCamo. Snake simply has to press against a wall or lie still for a couple seconds and his camouflage automatically optimizes. Another tool is the Solid Eye system, providing binoculars and night-vision goggles in one package. There’s also the Metal Gear Mk. II, a disguised robot that serves mainly as the means of communication between Snake and key mission adviser and friend Otacon. But it is also a nice tool for surveying areas before Snake moves in himself.

The beauty of Metal Gear Solid 4 is that it can be played in many different ways. Stealth is, as usual, the safest way to move from destination to destination. In addition to the health bar, Snake also has a psyche gauge that could become problematic in battles. As the psyche gauge depletes, Snake’s movement grows slower, his combat ability depreciates, and his health regains more slowly. But that doesn’t mean that a gunfight is always a bad thing. The psyche gauge is barely ever a problem, and there’s no better way to quickly extricate Snake from danger than to equip a rapid-fire gun and destroy everything in sight. Also, to make sneaking tougher, the enemy AI is improved from past games, though a certain stalking mission shows that it still has its flaws. Still, both methods--stealth and direct combat--are more rewarding than before due to the innovations Metal Gear Solid 4’s gameplay offers.

Another key improvement upon past entries in the series is the variety. On top of the mostly homogeneous sneaking gameplay in the series’ past entries, Metal Gear Solid 4 provides levels in which Snake must navigate a battlefield. Allying Snake with one of the sides of the battle--through taking out members of the opposing side--can provide benefits such as less enemies for Snake to avoid and more cover for him to make his way across the warzone. There’s also a tracking mission, a stalking mission, and a mission with only machine enemies, which function differently than human enemies. With its variety, Metal Gear Solid 4 ensures that the gameplay never grows stale.

Just as in past games, the boss battles are unique, focusing more on tactics than mindless shooting. The bosses make up for their lacking difficulty by their design, which forces the player to think in order to form a winning strategy. As such, winning the boss battles is a rewarding experience, none more so than the last battle in the game, which will be remembered as perhaps the best battle of the series.

The gameplay lasts 16-20 hours the first time, about half of which consists of skippable cutscenes. But with multiple difficulties, many different ranks, and all sorts of weapons and equipment to unlock, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a game that begs to be played more than once.

The detail in the story and the gameplay is matched in the game’s graphics, which are top tier when it comes to console games. From the detailed wrinkles in Old Snake’s face to the cracks and rust in the drum barrels you’ll encounter along the way, the realism is stunning. Everything, from the multidirectional shattering of glass windows, to the smoke that spatters across the camera following an explosion, to the motion of the highly detailed character models, is portrayed in such a realistic manner that the sometimes surreal story becomes easily believable.

From the familiar parts of “Metal Gear Saga” to the appropriately depressing sound of “Old Snake,” the songs on the soundtrack are perfect for their contexts. Never once does one of the stellar tracks feel out of place. Similarly, the voice acting improves upon the game’s immersion. Snake’s gruff, deteriorating voice matches perfectly with his condition while the supporting cast performs well all-around, with the exception of a certain character’s crying sounds. The sound effects--from the explosions to the gunshots to the laughs and screams--add to the realistic feel delivered by the graphics.

In conclusion, Metal Gear Solid 4 goes far beyond the hype. From its gripping interaction between story and gameplay, to its amazingly deep characters and convoluted plot, to the much improved stealth and combat mechanics, to its innovations in graphics and sound, Metal Gear Solid 4 provides an unrivaled gaming experience. Those who don’t have the patience for cutscenes may not be able to enjoy this gem. Otherwise, for Metal Gear fans and newcomers alike, Metal Gear Solid 4 is an impressive, unforgettable journey that sets the tone for the future of gaming.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)

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