Review by Sanjuro2
"The Pinnacle of MGS Gameplay, Plagued By Inconsistent Design That Has the Bulk of the Gameplay in Act 1 and 2, and Bulk of the Cutscenes In Acts 3-5"
I should begin by saying that as Act 2 was coming to a close, I was convinced this was the greatest Metal Gear Solid game ever created. I was even touting this game as being, so far (with 6 months to go), the Game of the Year. I still think Metal Gear Solid 4 is better than Grand Theft Auto 4, overall, but the fact is, the high level of gameplay and fun introduced in those first two Acts of MGS4 were not followed by equally creative sequences.
Visually, the game is absolutely solid. People have mentioned the occasional blurry texture, sure, but who really cares? This is an extremely attractive game, with a high level of atmosphere and polish. The cutscenes are, as par for the course in this series, quite gorgeous looking (though their execution, in the eyes of a film buff like myself, is another matter entirely). The character models look wonderful, especially in the cutscenes where higher polygon versions appear to be used. I also loved the numerous environmental effects that really brought life to each area (objects blowing in the breeze, dirt hitting the screen in explosions, etc.). Best of all, despite a few framerate hitches here and there, these great graphics run smoothly.
Overall, I found the graphics in this game to be about on the level of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, which I thought was the best looking game on any console, released in 2007. I don't see how anyone could argue that MGS4 isn't one of the best looking games out there right now. As far as the consoles go, it sits right near the top. Period. Only Crysis, a PC game, can make MGS4 look bad visually, by comparison. And Crysis makes everything look last generation, so that isn't particularly fair to begin with.
With a really nice surround sound system, this game will blow anyone away. From the varied gunfire to the explosions to the sound of a gentle river through the landscape in South America; everything here is nicely realized. The music is also effective, if a bit too "Hollywood" for my tastes, and the voice acting is quite good, which is unsurprising given the pedigree of the series. Overall, a superlative example of sound done right in a videogame.
I, for one, do not play the MGS games for their plots. Perhaps I used to, when I was younger. I can recall a time when I thought the original MGS had a really cool story, I thought Ninja/Gray Fox was awesome, the ending was incredible (in the Japanese version, especially, Liquid screaming "Snaaaaake!" as he drove up in the jeep was a great moment), and so forth... But that was 1998. I was only eighteen years old. I didn't know half as much about films or videogames or even literature as I do now, even though I thought I knew it all, at the time. These days I'm not so easily impressed, and many of the videogame plots I used to claim were "deep", I now see for what they truly are... As my taste in art has developed over time, my taste for Kojima's "art" has only diminished in favor of those far superior.
People may be tempted to say I've become jaded and cynical, or perhaps I have lost the ability to just enjoy something "fun" or "entertaining". That is not the case. I enjoyed Bioshock last year, I enjoyed The Orange Box, I enjoyed Crysis, I enjoyed Call of Duty 4, etc. But those games all have one thing in common: they never let the story take over completely, to the detriment of gameplay. The gameplay still comes first, and it is for that reason I am more lenient when it comes to their plots. Neither Call of Duty 4 or Crysis are going to be winning any awards for their storylines or character development, but story wasn't 75% of the experience in those games either. When a game spends more than half of its length making me sit through non-interactive cutscenes, then it better be a darn good story with some terrific characters. Unfortunately, MGS4 does not fit that bill.
Hideo Kojima is simply not a great writer, director, or storyteller; and never has been. He has his moments, certainly, I'm not saying he is completely without talent, but he lacks consistency. For example, in MGS4 the dialogue is often quite poor (a certain Snake and Raiden conversation comes to mind), some of the humor is rather juvenile (fart jokes, come on), the boss "backstories" (BnBs) are atrociously handled, numerous scenes come across as incredibly cheesy (the "proposal scene" for example), Kojima's "direction" in the cutscenes is rather pedestrian, and so forth...
Kojima has no concept of subtlety or any clue about when to say when. He seems to take his influence from the Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich school of filmmaking, two rather incompetent big-budget, Hollywood movie directors who believe more is always more. The truth is, as the best filmmakers know, "less is more" in many cases. Some of Kojima's MTV generation style cutscenes run on and on for so long without anything to say, that I am tempted to recommend them as a cure for insomnia.
The story lacks any real dramatic punch as well. Kojima fails to give players the same sense of duty and drive that Snake apparently feels in the story. We see that Snake will stop at nothing (think of the microwave hallway scene), but we do not feel that same sense of urgency. This is primarily due to the lack of an effective main villain. Liquid Ocelot isn't particularly interesting, he simply serves as a target to chase across the Acts in the game, and the even greater threat in MGS4 lacks humanity, entirely. This is a drastic change from MGS3, where the relationship between The Boss and Naked Snake was arguably one of Kojima's finest achievements, culminating in a final battle that nearly rose to the level of visual poetry he intended.
In the end, the story is average, at best, and for the most part the characters are better defined as caricatures. As a film, MGS4 would get slaughtered by cinephiles and critics, probably as badly as the latest Michael Bay film. Hideo Kojima takes some important, relevant ideas about the future of warfare (the pitfalls of nanotechnology, ID locks, and so forth) and reduces them to a level of intelligence better suited for a Saturday morning cartoon. When I was eighteen, perhaps I would have eaten this up. The only problem is, I'm not a kid anymore.
The gameplay, what there is of it, is actually well worth a 9/10. However, I removed an extra point due to the lack of gameplay after Acts 1 and 2, as it was extremely disappointing to me. Normally a good game builds up to the best stuff, but MGS4 opens with a bang, immediately tossing players into two perfectly constructed acts, by MGS standards. Act 1 was great, Act 2 was fantastic, and then... Well, everything sort of goes downhill.
I absolutely loved all of the new gameplay additions though. The OctoCamo was a great idea, as it meant no more fooling around in menus, working with percentages to get the perfect camouflage. The Mk. II is wonderful, I loved being able to send him out to scout ahead and shock the occasional enemy. The first-person gunplay is handled much better this time around since you can move while aiming. Also, I loved the inclusion of Drebin's Store, being able to buy various weapons and ammo at my leisure, or "unlock" and customize the guns I found along the way. Lastly, I enjoyed having the ability to determine how the Militia troops feel about Old Snake. Proving you mean them no harm, or even helping them, can make things a lot easier. Sometimes they will even provide you with items and what not. On the other hand, if you choose not to prove yourself to them or you give them trouble, they will consider Old Snake to be another enemy in the field, and you will have Militia and PMC troops to deal with.
The level design in the first two Acts is terrific, providing ample opportunity for pure stealth gameplay or all out action. Each section of these two Acts is a lovingly crafted arena allowing for some truly emergent gameplay, almost on the level of Crysis. Entire areas can go unexplored, hidden routes lead to unexpected places, and it's all up to the player's CHOICE. This is what great games are all about, this is what sets interactive entertainment apart from other art forms.
But then Act 3 begins, which by its very nature (a "stalking" mission) robs the player of all freedom. The level design here is every bit as atmospheric, attractive, and expansive as the first two Acts, but players aren't really allowed to stray from the beaten path so the possibilities are wasted. This Act is quite uneventful, only surging to life near the end with a rail shooter sequence and a boss battle, but by then it is a case of too little, too late.
Acts 4 and 5 fare no better, as both are extremely short on the gameplay side (Act 5 literally being a single large area and a hallway). Both Acts feel rather lengthy, but that is merely the result of numerous, mostly dull cutscenes. Many people are claiming Act 4 to be one of the best levels of all time, but that is really an insult to truly great levels in gaming. Act 4 is not an exceptional level by any means, people are simply falling for the nostalgia factor, as the whole Act 4 experience was designed as a bit of clever "fan service" for those who have been around since the beginning. It didn't work on me. I want good gameplay and a memorable level to go along with my nostalgia, thank you very much, and I didn't get it.
The boss battles, however, are pretty good throughout the game. Overall, they are not on the level of MGS3's boss battles (arguably not MGS1 either), but they are quite well done, for the most part. In fact, the boss battles are really what help to elevate Acts 3-5 to merely adequate instead of downright poor.
Ultimately, my problem with MGS4 isn't that the gameplay is poor. It's actually the best in the series. Nor is my problem entirely about the lack of gameplay, as there are about seven or eight good hours of gameplay on the first playthrough. No, the biggest problem with MGS4 is its decidedly uneven structure. The vast majority of high quality gameplay is stuffed into the first two Acts of the game, while the last three Acts feel like diminutive, brief interludes between cutscenes. Most games gradually build to a climax, while MGS4 begins with a climax, and then goes flaccid, limping its way to the finish line.
To be fair, there is a decent amount of replay value here, for those who care to get all of the Emblems, Face Camos, secret weapons and items, iPod tracks, etc. It's fun to do a No Kill/No Alert run through of the game, but skipping cutscenes the second time through only makes it more obvious that Acts 3-5 were an afterthought, gameplay-wise, compared to Acts 1 and 2. It's a shame, indeed.
Despite a cool skill system, some nicely designed maps, and several interesting modes (Sneaking Mission and Team Sneaking come to mind), the multiplayer here never manages to rise above the stuff gamers are already playing. Is it fun? Well, yes. Is it worth trying out? Certainly. Will it pull you away from competing multiplayer games? Probably not. Gamers who are already addicted to Quake Wars (PC version, not the shoddy console ports) or Call of Duty 4 aren't going to leave those games behind to play Metal Gear Online. Nor should they. MGO is good, but it is simply not that good.
In the end, MGS4 is still a recommendable game. For the record, that is what this rating means. "Good - a few problems, but worth the time to play". People must take into account the person doing the review, and my scale is apparently more harsh than the scales of most videogame websites. Think of how many great games came out in 2007? I played them all, and even my own personal favorite only got a 9.4 from me. I don't hand out 10s on a whim. MGS4 is a flawed game, but still a game I recommend based on the strength of those first two Acts. Those Acts represent, for me, what is arguably the crowning achievement of the entire MGS series.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/23/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)
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