Review by TheAm4zingLarry
"I want to like it more but MGS4 seems to do everything it can to be irritating despite it's good points"
Wow look at this, I'm actually writing a review for a major release, although I don't really intend to make a habit of it and I do intend to remain primarily the guy who reviews the forgettable B list stuff. I only do it this time because me and Metal Gear Solid have alot of history in that I have been following this series for almost half my life now and I once thought it was totally awesome back in it's heyday. You know, this is probably the single hardest review I have ever written because I really just don't know exactly what to say about Metal Gear Solid 4 although I'll do my best. I guess the first thing that springs to mind is that it's a bit less than the sum of it's parts. The second thing would be that it's received some extremely inflated review scores, part of that is likely because as the PS3 is still fairly lacking when it comes to high quality exclusives I think that many try to help it out a bit or try to justify why they bought a PS3. Personally I don't care, I own all three consoles so I have no real drive to show anyone any brand loyalty and so if I think the PS3's latest big exclusive is less than perfect and sparkling I'm going to say so.
First of all the game does look and sound rather nice and not just in a general way but rather in the way that every game in the series has looked nice for the time in which it came out, in that almost every crazy little detail has been obsessed over. Looking good was definitely a high priority for the devs here, it really shows. Of the PS3 games I have played this is one of the few that actually manages to show that the PS3 can do a little bit more than the 360 in terms of visuals at least, although with the budget and development time that were used I highly question the cost effectiveness of it all.
There are some bits though that fall short of the usual perfectionism though. In one cutscene in particular we see the introduction of the octo camo which is the device Snake uses to blend into the surroundings, in the cutscene Snake's octo camo perfectly syncs with the background and even adjusts when a watermelon rolls up against his leg. In reality syncing the octo camo to a particular surface in game only causes it to change to a preset texture. I guess it may be hard to understand what I'm trying to say, so to simplify the cutscene more or less implied that if snake pressed up against a chain link fence the camo would change in order to show an unbroken representation of whatever section he was covering, however ingame it would just show some generic chain link fence texture in which the actual links most likely would not line up. I hope I made that clear enough. I'm no programmer so I have no idea how involved such things are, I'm just saying is all. Most of the time it's not noticeable, but sometimes when you've blending into things like wallpapers or tiled floors it ends up looking so wrong I can't imagine why the badguys are falling for it.
Occasionally you'll see an "ugly" texture, which would probably be a standard texture in most games but ironically it will kind of stand out here. Only other gripe I can think of is that like alot of recent games it has a tendency to display really small and blurry (to me anyway) text at various points like when you pick up guns, ammo or items. Now I suppose it will be large and clear enough to someone who has a bigass HDTV but I would appreciate it if devs would quit screwing those of us who do not have several thousand dollars to drop on a television (buying a PS3 was brutal enough and I'm still not sure it was justified) and are still using an older tv which is probably more of us than not. Those are small gripes though, this game's graphics are about as good as you would expect from a dev team which were essentially given infinite time and money, almost immaculate and definitely precedent setting.
Ok onto the story, first of all I think it should be said that MGS4 is the end of the Metal Gear Solid story, hell it's the end of the Metal Gear story. This is the conclusion to the entire mythos that Hideo stared over twenty years ago, by the end of this game you will know who the Patriots are, you will learn the fate of every character who has survived up till now, you will have closure regarding pretty much everything and most importantly you will see the final definitive moment's of Solid Snake's career as a badass super soldier and his ultimate fate in general. THIS IS IT, this is the end. That's was one of the things I was demanding going in, and that much at least I got. Although therein we might have a problem, see this game's story ties in very very closely to every other game in the entire series. That's just fine for guys like me who have been following it for half our lives but does it really make it appropriate for new players? Despite the absurd amount of exposition and reiteration of past events that occurs in the game I seriously doubt that someone who plays this one first will really have the slightest clue what the hell is going on half the time. Does that really make MGS4 a solid killer app and selling point for the PS3 to newbies? Honestly I have to say no. The best moments of it's story were the kinds of injokes and references only a veteran of the series would get..
That's not the only issue I have with the story though, like I pessimistically predicted long before MGS4 came out it shares a tradition with all those that came before in the series. That being the the cinimatics have become even longer, more drawn out, more over the top (rarely in a good way) and more frequent with each iteration. I think it was at the max of what was acceptable by any means in MGS3, here we've reached a point of over saturation. There are just too many cutscenes in this game, way way way too many and they're too long. When you sit down and watch all of them in a playthrough you aren't so much playing a game as you are watching a really long and fairly confusing movie that sometimes requires you to play a videogame in order to get to the next part. The truly irritating thing though is most of them are long in stupid ways, there's a hell of alot of information being conveyed but excruciatingly slowly and redundantly, most cutscenes are just two people talking and despite the fact that they're usually talking in a warzone and talking about how urgent various things are they're talking with all the speed and urgency of two guys sitting out in a fishing boat drinking beer on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Then every two or three lines someone pauses so they can pace back and forth, strike a pose, smoke a cig or hand a can of cola to a shaved monkey. You ever seen a Japanese Samurai movie? You know how you were excited going in because there would be sword fights? Then when you watched it the vast majority of it's running time consisted of people sitting around flapping their jaws for twenty minutes at a time? Yeah MGS4 is exactly like that, and while the series has always been kind of like that Hideo has seriously gone over the line here. It's called a videogame, as in a form of entertainment which is supposed to be primarily interactive and for far too much of the time MGS4 just is not interactive.
Maybe it's just a cultural thing, the Japanese are just really into long winded story lines packed with melodrama whereas over the years us Americans have been moving more toward brief concise cutscenes or none at all. I mean hell I think games like Half Life or Bioshock that never take control away from the player for more than a minute or so are brilliant for it, even moreso how they can tell complex and interesting stories easily just as good if not better than MGS4's in the gameplay itself. It simply feels like MGS4 has gone totally in the wrong direction in this respect. As for the content of the story itself there are things I love about it and things I find disappointing, like I said this is a game about Solid Snake's last stand against all the various devious and monolithic powers that have been his implacable enemies throughout his extremely rough life. It's really hard to to describe in short a storyline that at times had me sighing with exasperation at it's long windedness and at other times shedding tears.It does try to come across at a different pace than those before it, rather than all of it taking place in a single general area as all the others tended to do this one has five acts each taking place in different locations. I do think that if only there had been effort made to try to cut down on the redundancy, speed up and better condense delivery of information and perhaps to move all the background information to some kind of separate codex as in say Mass Effect the whole thing could have been streamlined and that new pacing could have worked better though. The other major flaw would have to be that the storyline is just so convoluted, and I don't think the entire series was planned out from the start so this is Hideo's heroic yet doomed attempt to make it all come together coherently. He manged it alot of the time but there's other stuff that just doesn't work or comes across as a hasty patch or quick fix.
One of the things that definitely did not work were the four new boss characters, hell even calling them characters probably gives them way too much credit. In prior games in the series the bosses tended to be grizzled mercenaries with a chip on their shoulder and something to say about the state of things and they felt like truely competent foes worthy of Snake. Here though the bosses are just four absurdly hot chicks with emotional issues wearing billion dollar suits of armored power armor who are hypnotized into pretty much mindlessly attack snake by an outside force. Take away their fancy armor and gadgets and none of them would be any better than any other random guard in the game. To me that's a problem, I mean did The End need anything more than a sniper rifle to be a terrifying foe in MGS3? No. Did Fatman have any super expensive power armor in MGS2? Nope, he just had a submachine gun, a blast jacket, a crapload of bombs and a pair of roller skates and that was all he needed to give Raiden one hell of a fight. Did Liquid Snake need anything more than his fists to give Solid Snake the fight of his life on top of the ruins of Rex in MGS1? No he didn't. Yet in this game I'm supposed to be impressed by these nubs because they have powerful gadgets?
The Gameplay is where in my opinion the biggest problems come in though, truthfully the gameplay has not changed much since Metal Gear Solid for the PS1. They added first person aiming in MGS2, they added camouflage and CQC martial arts in MGS3 and added a basic 3D camera in the re release of MGS3, and here they add the most basic elements of an over the shoulder third person shooter and that is literally it aside from one gleaming nugget of awesomeness I'll say a bit more about later. All that time though it's just been one more feature after another tacked onto a preexisting system, can you think of many other series that have done that and remained successful? When Mario 64 came out it completely redefined how Mario moved when the SNES and Super Mario world were less than five years in the past, MGS4 basically takes a ten year old control, scheme and holds onto it even though a few functions swap buttons. That's the problem, what was new and top of the line in 1998 is clunky and annoying in 2008. The stealth stuff is still pretty fun, but whenever you get spotted or even just in the sections you're forced to play it as a shooter it feels like the game is totally punishing you. See here's the thing, in say Splinter Cell if you get spotted by a hundred enemies you basically just get gunned down and that's it but here if you get spotted you get subjected to an obtuse pain in the ass fight which usually endures for quite awhile whether you escape and survive or not.
Even when you're still in stealth mode however the controls are just a pain in the ass, there is just so much there especially in terms of CQC and alot of it is based on tapping buttons, holding down buttons while pressing more buttons and how hard you press them and so forth, hell I mean give me a break. Sam Fisher easily had as many abilities as Solid Snake in the first Splinter Cell and it was easier to deal with then in the last gen. This is just a matter of a control scheme that has outlasted it's time regardless of being tweaked here and there and just feels kind of crappy nowadays. Ironically I heard they were trying to preserve it as such when they should have dumped the old control scheme and a few more things than they did about the old gameplay in my opinion One exception though like I mentioned was a bit at the end of act 4, the funny thing is I really can't say much about it or even where act 4 took place without causing massive spoilers. I will say though that said section was utterly awesome to the extreme. For that high though there were lows, the final boss fight regardless of how dramatic or cool played pretty badly and worst of all it played by totally different mechanics than everything else with no explanation provided. I died two times just because I was trying to adjust to a new style of gameplay as I was fighting the final boss of a game and I think that's kind of messed up to be honest. There are few more things that have been added this time around I feel like I should mention, the first being the octo camo. The octo camo is really nothing more that what changing your BDUs was in MGS3, that is how you raise your camo index and blend in with your surrounding except now you just do it by laying down or pressing against a wall for a second rather and fumbling through inventory screens which is nice. The only problem I see with it in gameplay is the same concern I had with it in MGS3, I mean when you can essentially be invisible while prone there's just no reason not to be in the prone position so I ended up crawling through most of the game the first time around. That and while it's logical in say a forest when I turn leaf colored and I'm in some plants in a shadow when I can hide from someone ten feet away on a flat metal floor by turning metal colored it's just plain silly. I mean don't these guys have depth perception? Plus if I can just be invisible by laying down or pressing against the wall what's the point of the drum can or the cardboard box? I mean any floor or wall is my cardboard box and frankly it just makes things too easy.
You can also hide in dumpsters but I don't suggest it because it makes Snake stink which attracts every enemy for like fifty yards. I had an experience with this I feel like I must share here as an example of how this game can be downright stupid in it's rules. In any case I was right next to a dumpster having recently come out of it and the guards were so curious what could be making such a terrible smell over by a filthy dumpster that they came back over and didn't stop poking around until they found me. As these two guards shuffled around the dumpster talking excitedly about finding whatever stunk nearby the game felt profoundly broken.
Another addition is the "solid eye" which is really not an addition at all, basically they just combined the motion tracker, thermal goggles, NVGs and binoculars into a single unit which would not be such a big deal if they didn't act like it was a big deal. You also get Rex Mk II which basically a little remote control robot that can turn completely invisible ven when moving, pick up items and knock out enemies from behind within a certain range of where Snake is. This also makes the game exceedingly easy because whenever I want to pick up items that are relatively well guarded I just stay at a safe distance and send my little robot pal to pick them all up, if you wanted to you could pretty much play the whole game with this thing using it to clear away all opposition before moving up a bit and repeating the process. Lastly there's just a crapload of guns you can unlock and aquire in this game, a completely superfluous number. I guess it doesn't hurt anything but what's the point of having like four submachine guns when the first one you pick up (the P90) is already the best? Why have the RPG when I have the stinger? Why have the AK when I have the M4?
Luckily to keep your weapons bar from being three miles long you only have five slots, yet that means you're constantly pausing and switching crap around which you're allowed to do in combat so the pacing gets screwed up even more and you never feel like you're being encouraged to build a balanced setup either. I guess the intention was to make it more accessible as a shooter, but as a shooter it's just so clunky and irritating. As an example if you're crouched and pressed up against a low wall you can't press anything to pop up real quick and shoot over it, you have to detach from the wall, stand up, shoot, crouch again and press back against the wall if you so desire and it just seems like such a gross oversight and I mean why? That's the big problem here, that for all the effort they obviously made to try and improve the gameplay and the controls in little ways they still made some huge absolutely idiotic mistakes. One way it's alot like it's predecessors is that MGS4 is a game you are never going to be good at the first time you play, but through repetition, memorization and experience you can eventually become very very good at it. However I don't usually play a single game over and over and over like I used to before I could afford so many of them as I can now.
A final thing that should be mentioned is not only does MGS4 require a ten minute install the first time you put it in but it requires a two to four minute install between each act and not just the first time in that case. Every time you switch acts from progression or just loading a save on a different act than the one you installed last it will have to install that act again. That's just wrong, why do I have to install this game over and over and over? That's so stupid, I've installed entire PC games in less time than it takes to install an act in MGS4 and I only had to install those one damned time! Seems to me like one of the biggest advantages to console gaming is not having to install games to play them, except now this installation crap seems to be happening more and more often. Oh and guess what? There are still loading screens in the levels themselves so what's the point of the installation?
Maybe much of what I'm perceiving as faults are just a cultural thing though, in the last few years I have seen a trend in which Japanese devs and Western devs have begun to go down radically different paths. Personally though I've been alot more impressed with the direction Western devs have been taking. Like I said at the start it can be hard to say anything totally definitive about whether this game is something that you yourself should bother with, I cannot give MGS4 less than a 6/10 because as a Metal Gear Solid game it's good but as a modern standalone game it's pretty iffy at best. Ultimately MGS has always been as flawed as it is brilliant, but it's the only damn thing out there that's got whatever the hell special unnameable quality this series has that has kept me playing it. If you have played this series and are into it and like it and care about it then go out and play this one because you owe it to yourself to do so and see ihe series through to it's end, if you've never played this series before I strongly suggest you go buy a couple of the earlier ones first at a used game shop for cheap and after you've played them if you want to keep going then do so and play this one, if not then don't. I think the most telling thing however is even as someone who has been a fan of the series I only bothered to complete MGS4 once, it's not that it's worse than the earlier ones it's more that it just isn't any better than them and my tastes have changed alot since 1998 when I was 14 or 15 or whatever.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 06/23/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)
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