Review by Lemmerman
"Is Solid Snake's swan song music to our ears?"
Solid Snake has proved time and again that he can stand up against insurmountable odds, save the day and look cool doing it. However, this time it's not Outer Heaven, Dead Cell or some crazy Russian Colonel he must overcome, it's the hype that's built up for his final outing into the world of Metal Gear Solid. Can Snake deliver what promises to be the best game of the series? The answer is well and truly yes!
Set in the not-to-distant future; the world has fallen into a state of almost permanent war. Governments, rebels and terrorist organizations are employing large PMC's (Private Military Corporations) to fight all over the world, all in order to sustain the war economy. These soldiers are equipped with nanomachines, tiny robots flowing through their blood which help to control and monitor their emotions and fighting skills. The soldiers are all linked by the SOP system, allowing for instant communication between them.
Yet, behind this terrible exterior, a worse plot is unfolding. Liquid Ocelot, the leader of 5 large PMCs and Solid Snake's clone (inhabiting Revolver Ocelot's body) is planning to overthrow the world with an insurrection. Recruited back into action by Roy Campbell, Solid Snake, experiencing rapid ageing and now going by the code name Old Snake, is sent across the world to visit both old and new locations in an effort to stop Liquid once and for all! And so, our game begins...
For those of you that don't know, Metal Gear is a sneaking game, interspersed with shooting segments. It's not really a guns blazing, Gears of War type game. Now that that confusion is out of the way, and you know what to expect, let's move on.
Fans of the series will find most of the controls easy to pick up, with a few slight alterations and improved CQC abilities, whilst newcomers are likely to feel overwhelmed to begin with. I recommend reading the instruction manual, which is surprisingly well written. By two areas into the game, you'll be sneaking like a pro.
As for the gameplay itself, we have a fantastic mix of sneaking, set pieces and boss battles, with the gaps filled by cutscenes and codec communication. Whilst the aim of most of the sneaking sections remains "Get to B from A", the route each player takes will be different. Do you go out guns blazing, which the new control scheme makes allowances for? Do you sneak past in your trusty cardboard box, or plant a dirty magazine to distract the soldiers whilst you hurry through the door? Whichever way you choose, I guarantee it will be different to any your friends choose. The menagerie of available items and routes mean you'll never be short of ideas.
Set pieces, often on rails shooting sections help up the ante a little. Equipped with an infinite ammo weapon, Snake must protect his getaway vehicle whilst another character drives towards their destination. These sections feel adrenaline inducing, not least thanks to the cinematic camera angles used during their execution, but it's almost impossible to fail them. Bullets do barely any damage, and you're more likely Snake dying than the vehicle losing all its health. Others involve the old "Protect me while I perform this task", "Escape the building before the bad guys kill us!" and a fantastically orchestrated sequence involving giant mechs.
Ah, the boss battles. My main qualm with Metal Gear Solid 3 was that the game seemed centred around them. It was boss battle, then a slog to get to the next boss battle, repeated until the end of the game. MGS4 changes that. The bosses are now integrated well into the story, not appearing at random to menace Snake.
The main foes are the Beauty and the Beast Corps, 4 war torn women transformed into fighting machines modelled after the original bosses in MGS1. We have Laughing Octopus, who uses camouflage and shocking tentacles to fight; Raging Raven, the loud one of the group with missile launching wings; Crying Wolf, a four legged beast with a massive rail gun, and Screaming Mantis, a floating puppeteer.
Once defeated, the woman within the shell appears and a battle with the Beauty begins. Will you kill or simply tranquillize these poor victims of war? They each have an extensive back-story, related to Snake by codec once defeated which really brings a tear to your eye.
In addition to the B&B Corps, three other bosses return from previous instalments, each with a trick to dealing with them that will astound and amazing, giving you that tingly feeling when you work out what it is.
Overall, the gameplay transitions between these three states seamlessly, rather than focusing on one more than the other. You'll be hard pressed to die on Normal mode, as long as you remember which button heals you, thus you'll never find yourself stuck for too long.
The characters in this game are fantastically animated. Hair, wrinkles, even Otacon's stubble is well represented, making the characters more alive than ever before. The locations, ranging from a South American jungle, an Alaskan blizzard and a seaborne ship are all individual with as much attention to detail as possible. Crawling through grass causes it to bend, knocking cans over will cause a tinkling sound and dust springs up under your feet, all giving the impression of a fully interactive and lifelike environment.
Of particular note is the snowstorm, which, although you spend most of your time with nightvision goggles on, is beautiful, as are the arctic wolves which populate the area.
You cannot talk about graphics without mentioning the Octocamo, Snake's new suit. Lying prone for a few seconds allows his suit to mimic his surroundings, blending in automatically with each new surface. The transitions are flawless, a vast improvement on the manual camouflage system of MGS3.
As well as this, the cutscenes and gameplay look almost identical as the graphics change between them is minor, if at all. Fantastic visuals help aid the game in telling its awesome story, and truly makes you feel for the characters.
It's not just the graphics which are realistic. Each surface Snake touches makes a distinctive sound, as do most objects he collides with. Grass rustles, metal clanks, and guns make lifelike "shooty" noises all as you would expect in real life. The Octocamo's camouflage change sound is suitable futuristic as well, and you never get tired of it.
The voice actors all play their parts amazingly well. David Hayter's gravelly tones return to give Snake life, as well as Quinton Flynn's new take on previously girly voiced Raiden. Otacon, Colonel Campbell, Mei Ling, Naomi Hunter, all the characters from prior instalments of the series return to play significant roles, all voiced with emotion and enthusiasm, all the while tying up loose story ends.
Another new feature is Snake's fully licensed iPod, which he can equip on the battlefield to listen to. With collectible songs available as well as some available to download for free, Snake's ears will never again bleed from the cries of soldiers screaming "GET HIM!" for the 1000th time. Some songs even carry special effects, such as making enemy soldiers cry, or wet themselves!
As mentioned previously, all the characters from the prior three instalments return in a new convoluted plot which we come to expect from Hideo Kojima. Whilst I made it sound simple in my overview above, there are more twists and turns than a snake on a roller-coaster, all portrayed beautifully in cutscenes, with less emphasis given to codec conversations than before.
Of course, the cutscenes can seem overly long, but when the story is so well told, you don't feel begrudged to put down the controller and watch as it folds out like an Oscar winning movie. A game that can portray sadness, happiness, humour and blood boiling anger in the player all in one ten minute cutscene is truly genius.
However, to those that complain cutscenes are boring, they are skippable this time, as well as interactive! You are able to go into first person view at certain points, or tap the X button to experience flashbacks to previous games, meaning you might just want to pay attention!
With 5 difficulty modes ranging from very easy to supremely hard, unlockable items, emblems and rankings as well as over 50 different guns to play with and customize with the new Drebin shop, you won't want to play MGS4 just once. As I said, the cutscenes are now skippable if you don't want to watch them again ;)
I clocked in over 18 hours in my first playthrough alone, so it's not an enormous game, but it will keep you amused for a while on your first playthrough. Self imposed challenges such as No Alert No Kill and Speed runs can cause it to last longer if you prefer. Maximizing all the weapons and collecting all the songs will also take longer, as will collecting all the emblems which require multiple playthroughs.
As well as this, MGS4 comes packaged with Metal Gear Online as standard, a totally individual experience in which you team up with (or kill) players from all over the globe in a series of different modes such as Deathmatch and Stealth. MGO comes with the promise of downloadable maps and expansions to play on/with, and this will cause the replay value to soar immensely.
To conclude, MGS4 isn't perfect. Some areas can be boring, the customization isn't totally necessary as you can finish the game with 2 guns and a knife if you so wish, and the AI soldiers will sometimes catch you despite a 100% camo index. For a game that's not perfect, it comes pretty darn close.
If you're a fan of the series, you've probably already bought it, and if you're not I hope I've convinced you to be. Obviously you'll get more out of the game if you've played the previous instalments, or some of the plot and jokes will be lost on you, but I'm assuming people don't just join a series with a running story at the last instalment ;)
MGS4 is a perfect way to end a perfect series. A mix of humour, gameplay, plot and epic moments, all bundled into one little disc. Snake's swan song is all we could hope for and more. Here's to you, Snake.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/26/08, Updated 06/29/08
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (EU, 06/12/08)
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