Review by Lsnake
"War has changed. You will too."
There has never really been anyone in the video game industry like Hideo Kojima. Metal Gear Solid 4 is the proof that there will also never be anyone beside or above him. It is the perfect example that shows both the game and movie industry how to make a product that is overall so flawlessly executed. Metal Gear Solid 4 is not just a stealth game. It's the definition of a genre. It's the perfection of the formula he has worked on for 20 years. This review will contain some spoilers, but reveals nothing you haven't seen in the trailers. Metal Gear Online has not yet been tested.
Story and Gameplay
Essentially, Metal Gear Solid 4 is still the same game as Metal Gear Solid 1. Despite two console generations later with huge technological improvements, the core of the game remains the same. It looks like Metal Gear Solid. It sounds like Metal Gear Solid. It feels like Metal Gear Solid. It is Metal Gear Solid. Just like all other Metal Gear Solid games it is at heart still a one-man sneaking mission game where the primary goal is to avoid combat and use stealth, but the main character is equipped with both the skill and gear to take out anything that comes in his way. It is driven by a very intricate and complicated story, and this as well is no exception in MGS4. Everything that is MGS4 is a combination and a perfection of every single Metal Gear game released, now unified into one perfected final mission.
(This section contains mild spoilers, but chances are you already know all of this without having touched MGS4)
Once again the story follows the legendary hero Solid Snake. The years have not been kind on Snake who has aged rapidly. He still faces the ever looming threat of the virus FOXDIE that was injected in him many years ago, ready to send him to heaven at any time. And not Outer Heaven. Or should I say Haven? I'm getting ahead of myself. It turns out that Liquid has finally reached a point where he has become a threat to both the Patriots (the A.I from MGS2 that turned out to be a global spanning A.I network controlling just about anything) and the world itself. Snake is asked by an old friend and commander to one last time step back out of the shadows and save the world. And so he does, fighting his own aging body as much as Liquid's personal army. In the process, he meets both old and new friends and enemies before he must come to face with his biggest enemy...the time he has left.
The storytelling presented in MGS4 is on par with that in MGS1. It's easy to follow. There are only a few times when it drags down and becomes complicated, and only when it's necessary to solve already complicated matters. It never becomes too hard to understand, and unlike MGS2 one does not have to endure long, dull codec calls to be presented the story. Only a very small part of the story is handled through the codec, the rest is done with cut scenes that helps the player understand and follow the story better. Knowledge of the previous MGS games will help out quite a bit, but it's still relatively easy to piece things together. Newcomers to the series will still have issues understanding everything, and might be left with an impression of a cold shoulder instead of open arms into the Metal Gear Universe. But for those with a basic understanding of the story will see immediately how things finally fit together, and how MGS4's long cut scenes are necessary to finally conclude this 20 year old storyline. To be a bit brutal, it's not meant to be accessible to everyone. You can enjoy the game play without having played MGS before, but to fully embrace the game you do need a certain knowledge about the universe it takes place in.
There's no doubt that the earlier MGS games despite being revolutionary, have had their share of annoyances when it came down to the game play. In MGS4, with only a few small exceptions, they finally perfected the game play. The game is a charm to control now. The camera is at virtually all times very flexible, can be rotated around Snake and gives you a complete feeling of control. Snake himself is alot more fluid and moves like a dream. With a push of a button, he can quickly go from standing position, to crawling, or crouching. From crawling, he can worm around silently on the ground or shuffle a bit faster, turn around on his back for easier aiming at targets above ground level and get back up on his feet in an instant. Age hasn't slowed him down one bit. It is fun to control Snake. Combat feels fantastic now, given a Over the Shoulder view similar to that of Resident Evil 4, and it works fantastic. Equipping the Solid Eye that he obtains early on in the game, he can quickly identify friendly and hostile targets, and even spot obtainable objects like weapons and ammo on the ground.
When talking about controls, it has to be said that even if Metal Gear Solid 4 feels and plays alot like the older games, it still moves better and controls better in every way. In addition to the normal walking and the normal crawling, Snake now has a crouch walk that works out really good, and he can even inchworm himself silently on the ground. In addition to that, there's also the multi usage of the triangle button. If you get close to a wall, you'll get a small icon that indicates that you can push triangle to get close to it. If you get close to a small hedge or fence or something that looks like it can be climbed over, you'll get a small icon that indicates that you can push triangle to climb over it. It works pretty well and it helps improving the interactivity with the surroundings. On the whole, the controls is still the same as before, but improved and fine tuned.
Oh, weapons and ammo? Well, we gotta drop by Drebin for a little bit, as he's an essential part of the game. You'll encounter a gun launderer named Drebin., who works in a similar way to the merchant in Resident Evil 4. Only this one, is alot more fun, and alot better. Without spoiling anything, I'll say this much. The character Drebin, is fantastic. The trailers does not do him justice. You'll be likely to cheer every single time he appears. Once you encounter him, he becomes an automated part of the game where you gather "Drebin Points". This is just another word for money, and it works the same way. Enemies often drops their weapons and ammo when taken out. If you don't have the gun or the ammo that it drops, it goes directly to you. But any new copies of that weapon would automatically be converted into Drebin Points. With a quick trip to the menu, you can then access the Drebin Shop. From there you can buy new weapons, ammo, modify weapons with various effects (like adding scopes, silencers and so on) and unlock ID-tagged new weapons. You see, most new weapons you gather are ID-tagged, meaning they will only work with the person who carried them originally. But Drebin can wipe this ID-tag or a price. In addition to being a fast and accessible part of the game, he also shows up lots of times during the game, along with his trouser wearing monkey partner. It sounds crazy, but works out alot better than one could fear initially. In the end Drebin and his monkey becomes one of the best parts of an already exceptional game.
Unlike the previous Metal Gear Solid games, combat is finally a viable alternative to stealth. While I personally thought that maintaining stealth was alot more rewarding, I found combat to be so enjoyable that it warrants going through the game several times just to try out the various approaches to each scenario. This is war, and war has changed. Snake is shown as the true soldier that he is at least. But even legendary heroes like Snake can experience the horrors and pressure on the battle field, and thus the Psyche and Stress Bars was added, which does nothing when it's full, but as the battle conditions worsens, it will gradually decrease, affecting Snake's performance. This is luckily not as punishing as you might think, and it is for most cases handled automatically, recharging as you are sneaking and resting, decreasing when things get ugly. But it never makes the game unplayable, and it never reaches the annoyance factor of the food from MGS3 or the First Aid part. It almost never requires you to reach for the menu either, as a little time relaxing on the ground will help increase it.
Snake has another trick up his sleeve as well. In addition to his Solid Eye, he now has the Octocamo suit which replaces his standard Sneaking suit. This proves to be a very valuable replacement, and works like an automated camouflage system. No more having to manually change into a fitting camouflage, the Octocamo handles it automatically, and mimics the texture and color on the wall or ground Snake gets close to. This is such a well-handled part of the game that it immediately becomes fun to use, and it once again never requires you to reach for the menu. Everything is handled in game. Walk up to a wall, press the triangle button to flatten Snake to the wall, and the Octocamo will after a second automatically mimic that texture. Flawless functionality, and very effective. Once again, a testament to how Kojima has perfected concepts that were previously used in the previous games to lesser and mixed results.
In true tradition of MGS there are plenty of boss battles. And in MGS4 they are no exception, with the Beauty and the Beast being the stars of the show. Each fight is distinctive and unique, and some can in true Kojima style be a real nut to crack. Once you figure out the tactic, it becomes easier, and the fights themselves aren't that hard. Certainly not the hardest of the series, but they are definitely some of the best and most entertaining. From someone who thought neither MGS2 or MGS3's boss battles were anything special, I thought each and everyone of the bosses in MGS4 were stunning. Rest assured, there are more things and bosses to fight than the Beauty and the Beast. These remaining fights shall not be spoiled, but one of them ranks up there as probably one of the best encounters in the entire series.
And just like the older games in the series, there are some nice chase sequences. One of them is set in a town on a motorcycle and ranks among some of the most exciting on rail action I've ever witnessed. Even when going outside Kojima's normal area of game play he excels on a level that should make other game makers green of envy. The dramatic camera angles, the action, the incredible rush and implementation into the game, never losing the sense that this is Metal Gear Solid 4 is another statement of his skill.
There are a few more things to say. Parts of the game you can ally yourself with the friendly and local militia to fight Liquid's army. This has the advantage of cutting the potential enemies in half. You don't even have to do it, you could fight them as well if you like, but helping them does add a sense of "doing the right thing" and it's fun to help them duke it out with Liquid's army.
All of the above parts are working perfectly. There is simply nothing to complain about. You might not like the way the game is played or the style and story, but there is no way you could point a finger and say it's bad or flawed. Personal taste should never be influencing the game, each game should always be judged on it's own, and even the biggest fan should always strive for neutrality when it comes down to reviews. But there's also a point where a game achieves everything it sets out to do. When the game and core mechanics becomes perfect within it's own boundaries. Where the content in the game is simply executed flawlessly. This is the case for most of MGS4.
MGS4 is arguably more fun to play in the two first acts. Hear me out. After the two first acts the focus of the game play shifts, and the more open-ended world and actions of the two first acts are removed. At that point the game becomes driven by it's story more and more, and you don't have much option but to follow the story. The story picks up, but it also changes the game play a little bit. And chances are that you might feel a bit disappointed during the latter parts as the ratio of cut scenes and game play changes. More watching but less playing. You always follow the story even during the first acts, but they are played differently. It's simply so damn fun to play but it doesn't let you play it enough the way you want to as the game progresses, like you can in the first half. When we're talking about cut scenes, the length have often been a hot subject. Personally I love them, but I do also agree that as you progress, you feel like you're playing less and less and watching more and more.
Still, complaining about the fantastic cut scenes feels a bit ungrateful, and the mix between gameplay and story ends up being some of the best moments you can spend infront of the TV.
Technically speaking, this is one exceptionally competent crafted, professionally designed and beautiful looking game. It's the absolute pinnacle of what the PS3 has to offer in terms of graphics. It looks positively divine when blown up on a big screen TV on HD, individual facial hair sticking out of Otacon's chin, every wrinkle and scar of Snake's face is clearly visible, finally giving us the definite look at our heroes like Kojima envisioned them.
The animations are top of the world. There's nothing else out there that comes close to the animation of the objects and characters in MGS4. Period. One scene in the game features a wicked fast and furious fight between two characters that makes Matrix look like The Muppets. You don't see anything else do the things these models do. In real time. You just don't see it. And that is why Metal Gear Solid 4 is so groundbreaking. The reliability on completely having everything done in real time makes us really feel how the models exist, how the world they live in are real to them and the laws of gravity and physics are rules they have to abide by.
Generally, the game looks fantastic. The production values on the graphical side of the game, must be sky high. Everything from the beautiful menu screen, to every single camera shot, object, character and location are carefully detailed down to the smallest thing. Eyes, lips, faces brings forth emotion without words. It still looks awkward sometimes, especially when things goes down to the personal level, including physical contact between two characters like kissing, but it's still better than before. Once again, considering that everything is done in real-time, the actual result is so damn impressive, that complaining about it is pretty silly. You're still not gonna see anything better for a long, long time. Pre-rendered CGI, of course. But this is real-time. And it even blows most other CGI renders out of the water.
One thing that still doesn't quite work is the lack of shadows. Objects exist with each other, but they rarely cast shadows or get bathed in it. Reflections and objects tend to look a little matte, which does at time give the world a strange plastic look. It has been there since MGS2 where it was notable as well, but it's even more notable now due to players being used to more advanced graphical effects. In no way does it make the game look bad, but there is still this look of matte textures and objects, and lack of shadows. Is it a design question, or a limit on the system due to it's realtime rendering of absolutely everything?
A few more things about the graphics. There are times when the framerate dips, but this is only during cut scenes. That it dips during cut scenes goes to show that I think Kojima is already pushing the most he can out of the PS3, and that it's reaching it's limits for what it can do in real time. This is likely partly and probably the reason why self-shadowing and glares and reflection are so toned down, the system is probably not able to handle all that along with the crazy physics at work and animation in real time. I have no doubts that Kojima would have done more if he could.
This is, with only a few exceptions, one of the best looking games out there. You can compare it to Crysis and say that it doesn't look that good, but that's missing the point. For once you start looking at the animation, the emotion behind every movement, the design and flawless execution of bringing the characters to the next generation, and then reminding yourself that every single thing you see, is done in real-time, you're looking at something that breaks new standards and grounds for everything from motion capture, animation, facial capture, design, location and object visualization.
The audio quality in MGS4 is phenomenal. Full uncompressed audio brings out every sound effect and music to full effect. The quality of the sound is a prime example of just how to prioritize sound in the game. Not as a side or afterthought, but to fully focus on it and to make it a core aspect of the game. The data it required was well spent.
It sounds just fantastic. Starting off with the voice acting, it has to be said that this really is the best of them all. Some lines are still coming off as corny and emotions like laughing and crying still sounds forced and fake. But that's an extreme minority of the voice acting, and everyone of the characters does absolutely well. Have mercy on David Hayter, for no doubt he had to go through some pain to make his voice sound the way it does. He doesn't sound corny anymore, something he tended to do in MGS2 and MGS3 at times. This is in my opinion his best effort. Nobody else have to punish themselves as hard as he must to produce those vocal chords. For the rest of the crew, I really don't have anything to complain about at all. Otacon sounds great, his memorable voice and tone is both recognizable and easy to listen to. Liquid sounds great as well, but he's voiced by Patrick Zimmerman now, not Cam Clarke. The entire cast seems to be pretty well voiced, and there are nobody who sounds directly bad at any point.
There is a lot to say about the music of the game. It is easily the best in the series so far, ranging from stunning action cues to melancholy slower pieces. There are many instantly recognizable themes here. Solid Snake is given his own theme that is called Old Snake. It is a typical Harry-Gregson Williams song at his best. It's an instantly recognizable theme that finally gives Snake his well deserved leitmotif. Another notable track that stick out is "Love Theme", a sad, mourning vocal track that is the best vocal track in the series. Several action cues and chase songs are used to great effect, and many characters are given direct or indirect themes and passages as well. I want to talk more about the score, but that would simply be spoiling the game too much.
Get the soundtrack. You won't regret it. And when it comes to the sound and voice in MGS4, it's top notch. Once again Snake sounds great, even more than before. His voice is at times painful to listen to, it sounds like Snake is trying his hardest to speak up before his voice disappears. Hayter manages to make this sound very convincing to make us understand how much Snake is struggling with his words now. If this is the last time Hayter voices Solid Snake, then he did went out on top.
Much more could be said about Metal Gear Solid 4. I wanted to mention a lot more than I could, but doing so would spoil the biggest surprises. Do yourself a favor, and don't spoil this game. Experience it instead.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is Hideo Kojima's best game. Is it the best PS3 game? I'd say so. On the whole, the game is so damn fun to play. It's so well played and controlled, with fantastic graphics and sound and an incredible production value that is unequaled by the entire gaming world. It is an emotional journey with the most likable duo in the world on a mission to save the world one last time.
This is gaming brilliance. This is gaming at it's best. There aren't enough words to describe it. Even when you have spent the majority of the last part watching cutscenes, it's impossible to not fall in love. And when you turn off the console, the game will not leave you alone. War has changed. You have changed. War transforms us. MGS4 transforms us.
Thank you Kojima.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 06/18/08, Updated 06/20/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (EU, 06/12/08)
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