Review by chelseaboy12

"Not flawless, but undoubtedly a masterpiece."

So, the long-awaited final game in Hideo Kojima's incredible Metal Gear Solid series, and the final venture of the legendary Solid Snake, is at last upon us. Its release is one of those things that doesn't come along too often, like the last Harry Potter book, or the concluding episode of Star Wars. It's a time when fans realise that their emotional investment over the years has reached its climax, and it's the last chance to sample the brilliance of something very dear. There was naturally an enormous amount of hype, but does Guns of the Patriots live up to it?

The first impression to be made about the game is invariably directed at the captivating display of stunning visuals. The graphics are jaw-dropping, and I'd even go as far as to say that they are revolutionary, and the best to ever feature in a game. Incredible realism is injected into the immense settings and more impressively, the characters. The pursuit of such magnificence has sometimes seen games make the personnel look too perfect. Final Fantasy X, for example, where the graphics saw each person's features appear so smoothly it was still very apparent that you were playing a mere video game, something MGS4 occasionally escapes from. My mother walked in on me playing (actually, who am I kidding? I was watching a cut-scene), and genuinely asked me which DVD I had put on. I chuckled at the time but seriously, I'm not convinced there's that big a difference between MGS4's people portrayal and the actual real deal. Now don't think that I'm criticizing FFX at all, rather I'm just acknowledging the way Kojima's team have been able to step this aspect of gaming up a notch. The detail attributed to the face, in both features and expressions, of each and every character, is nothing short of awesome. That word gets used too much in this day and age, but it is a worthy description here. I mean, I was in awe as the visuals consistently maintained their brilliance from the game's opening sequence to the very last scene, whether it's Otacon's fearful visage, Raiden's ridiculous hair, or every last one of Old Snake's wrinkles.

Yes, Old Snake has been mentioned, and I suppose this reluctantly draws me away from creaming over the graphics, and brings me onto MGS4's plot. Part of what makes this game, and indeed series, so unique is that it is so driven by its story, to the point where there is probably more time spent watching cut-scenes than there is playing the game! This, of course, isn't for everyone. You can skip the movie-like sequences if you want but beware, don't expect to understand the story in any way if you do. The irony of that statement is that it also applies to those who intent to watch every cut-scene religiously. Indeed, the story is insane, incredibly bizarre, and an absolute nightmare to try and follow. I specifically played through the last three MGS games in the buildup to this title in order to watch every cut-scene and attempt to understand the plot better, but it didn't really do the job. The good thing is that all you need to know is a vague summary of what has happened, who the bad guy is, and what Snake needs to do next. The helpful mission briefings that take place at the start of each of the five ‘acts' that the game is divided into serve to inform you of these matters, and paying attention to these sees to it that you're probably not too far behind (provided you've followed the plot prior to them to a semi-decent level).

So, you play as some new-sounding person called Old Snake. Wait, no - Old Snake is Solid Snake! It's only five years or so (in-game time) since the conclusion of MGS2 and the Big Shell incident. There, Snake was looking handsome as ever, complete with a fancy mullet and everything. Now, he…well….looks like effing Yoda, due to something to do with cloning and gene mutation and some rubbish. Anyway, I've got to be completely honest, I couldn't stand it. I love Solid Snake to the point where I might even brand myself a fanboy, and I was a bit irritated that you're forced to play as someone who looks older than my Grandad. Yeah, it's probably symbolism to do with war pushing his life to the limit, and his psychological burden and whatever else you want to make up - I'm all for that, but come on Hideo, there was no need to go that far was there? Annoyance aside, Old Snake (grr, it'll never catch on) is on one final mission – stop Liquid Snake from ruling the world courtesy of some nanomachine system that every dim-witted soldier in the world has decided to subject himself to. But hang on, isn't Liquid Snake dead? Oh, sorry, that's right – at the end of MGS2, he possessed another character through the arm of his corpse. I can barely keep a straight face typing it, but it's this sort of insanity that makes Metal Gear Solid what it is. They say there's often a fine line between idiocy and genius, and this exceptionally thin line is very blurry in terms of several key plot points. That said, you just can't help but to occasionally lose yourself in the story – it still manages to be intriguing and the question mark over the fate of Snake, though seemingly obvious, keeps you interested. In fact, it's not just Snake you'll find yourself growing more attached to. Otacon retains his role as Snake's anxious sidekick and an abundance of familiar faces resurface, whether they were alive, dead, or in-between. Some of it, of course, crosses the “absolute bloody nonsense” line (particularly, without spoiling it, a chunk of the ending) but as I said before: This is MGS and if you weren't expecting such, then you must have been anticipating a different game.

Although Snake has clearly gotten older, it is similarly obvious that he has not gotten any wiser – half of his dialogue consists of repeating the previous character's line in question form (Metal Gear!?), but thankfully the player should often be just as perplexed as Old Snake himself on such occasions so a bit of further explanation is welcome. On the subject of dialogue, it must also be said that the voice acting is superb. Every line is spoken, bar none, and it's hard to pick out one that is delivered poorly (see, this is where Snake would say, really confused, “Delivered poorly?”). However, I don't understand why realistic laughter is such a difficult concept to grasp in games (I'll try and avoid another FFX reference here). One or two instances arise where characters have a good chuckle together and it sounds quite simply dire, like a washing machine trying to pass off as a dog or something. Strange. Anyway, hats off to David Hayter, who once again is given the lead role and brilliantly captures the ageing nature of Snake in his voice. I'm not trying to detract from other voice-acting performances though, as virtually everyone is exemplary. Also fantastic is the game's musical score, boasting a number of masterful pieces from Harry Gregson-Williams. A neat little touch has also been added to Snake's inventory, as the old soldier has managed to get his hands on an iPod! CDs are (strangely) scattered around the battlefields, and gathering them will add tracks to a list of pieces you can have a listen to in-game. Your collection will soon include a bunch of nostalgic older MGS tunes that won't fail to see the memories flooding back. Alas, the game's most unrealistic aspect is linked to this area – the iPod is indestructible. It normally takes an unexpected change of direction from the surrounding air to fatally damage one of these devices, but even gunshots and thousands of rolls fail to penetrate Snake's uber-shock-resistent version. Unfortunately, the actual use of the iPod is often very impractical as it prevents you from hearing vital surrounding noise or equipping more useful items. Still, it's a nice little feature.

Though the gameplay of MGS has traditionally been focused on stealth, the buildup to Guns of the Patriots included the odd promise that there was to be more emphasis on the action element. These suspicions are most certainly confirmed with the game granting you numerous chances to have Snake blast his way through a bunch of crazy enemies. The initial sneaking mission itself takes place in the heat of a fierce battle, and this perhaps typifies the more combat-based direction that the game has taken. The PS3 might have a virtually identical controller to the PS2 one used in MGS4's immediate predecessors, but the controls have undergone a mini-overhaul to incorporate the changes. You can now switch from the usual third-person view to a brand new aiming view from behind Snake with a simple press of L1, and this is a big improvement on the previous ‘hold L1 and square whilst not really knowing where you're aiming' approach adopted by all three previous MGS games in relation to using weapons. This isn't restricting, as you can still access the first person view by pressing L1 and triangle at the same time, but you can then take your finger off triangle without reverting back to the previous view. Add to this the fact that you must ‘ready' weapons before using R1 to fire them and you've got a rather complex but effective system that will take dedicated fans time to get used to, especially as the attack button is nowhere near its usual location of the square. I guess Kojima was literally thinking outside the box…

Now that the woeful joke is over with, I can announce that the much-needed new aiming tweak isn't quite perfect. Snake is still a little sluggish to change the direction he's pointing the weapon, and with enemies often tending to fire at you from either side, it can be a major annoyance to alter your aim with speed (but admittedly, there probably is a way to do it that involves pressing about sixteen buttons in a second). You can, however, move around (as in, walking and running) whilst looking in first-person view and this is a very welcome inclusion, potentially giving the game a whole new dimension if you seek to use it. Another huge improvement that MGS4 offers relates to the camouflage aspect, which was essential but aggravating in MGS3 – changing camouflage took ages as you had to constantly access the menu to make slight amendments to your style (but this didn't hinder me much when I decided I was going to be a man and charge through the game looking and acting like Rambo). The solution provided is that of OctoCamo, which is integrated into Snake's new sneakwear. All you have to do is press up against any part of your surroundings and within seconds the suit will have changed colour to mimic it. Thankfully, this means a lot less menu-delving and the gameplay's flow is not disrupted when new land is reached.

Something hard to predict, but also in need of a little improvement was the role of the radar. In MGS1 and MGS2, the radar told you the layout of the area, the positions of the enemies, as well as where they were looking! Though this added considerable ease to Snake's mission, it was perhaps not called for when the concept was scrapped altogether for MGS3 (due to it being set about 40 years before), seeing it made necessary to consult FPV every few seconds to check if any foes were looking. The fact that you couldn't move whilst in FPV didn't help. Now, I think MGS4 provides a very nice balance with the radar system it's included – Snake's new ‘Solid Eye', as well as giving you a scope and night vision in one, grants you a more modest device that shows you only where enemies are and if they are moving. It's a similar concept to the motion detector you were given in MGS3, but unlike there, this is not complete crud. There is nothing relating to the area map itself and it means that the radar is helpful but not there to be depended on. The ‘Solid Eye' is a clever gadget picked up right at the start of the game and gets rid of a few problems included in the prequels.

The amount of lovely, intrinsic touches to the gameplay ensures that it's easily as strong an area as it's ever been. A new weapons-modifying scheme has been added courtesy of a comedic character by the name of Drebin, who comes with his own smoking monkey. No, really. Add to this a handful of uniquely challenging boss fights, a section where you get to control a Metal Gear (!!!), a huge dose of nostalgia on more than one occasion, and a lot of tremendous gameplay polish to give you a truly matchless experience that will prove simply unable to be found elsewhere. You'll only get about ten hours of gameplay (as well as roughly the same duration of cut-scenes) in your first playthrough, but just as before, there's a ton of hidden items, ranks and extras to be sought after. These will help quench years' worth of thirst for Metal Gear that will not quite be satisfied by a playthrough alone. One of these extras is Metal Gear Online, which I think is meant to be a game in its own right, but it's deserving of a quick mention anyway. Once you've spent roughly an eternity joining (for free), you can compete in a huge online arena against countless other Foxhound wannabes. Get past the tedious signing-up procedure and it's a quick, simple warzone to readily be a part of whenever you want. I won't say it's flawless, or that it has the depth of Call of Duty 4, but it's definitely worth trying your hand at once you've grasped the controls.

So, MGS4…does it satisfy the needs of the millions desperately craving it? In a word, yes. In a few more words, it's MGS at its finest: ridiculous and complicated plot that still somehow keeps you interested, innovative stealth mingled with much-improved action, emotion as well as nostalgia continuously invoked, and graphics that are terrifically good displaying an absolute shedload of cutscenes. All the ingredients for a Metal Gear Masterpiece. There's even a wild dream sequence featuring actual gameplay from the original Metal Gear Solid on PSX, which serves to show you just how far this bizarrely brilliant series has come over the last generation or so. Is Hideo Kojima - the man behind all this wonder - rather crazy? Probably. Do I still consider him an absolute genius? Definitely. If you're an MGS fan, you will be getting this game regardless of what score I, or anyone else, gives it and I highly doubt you'll be disappointed. If you're not any sort of fan, but own a PS3, I'd still stress that this is an extraordinary game and for all the negativity you can bring about some aspects, such as the rumoured ninety-minute cutscenes (of which there aren't actually any – the longest only clocks in at just over an hour!) it is still a complete and utter gem of a PS3-exclusive, and such praise hasn't been granted to a great deal of games since Sony put the bulky piece of hardware onto the market.

So that's it, the end of the review, and apparently the end of the line for MGS. It may be the conclusion of Solid Snake's legendary stint as Kojima's main man, but I highly doubt whether the declaration that we'll never see another game bearing the Metal Gear title is true. Maybe it's wishful thinking. I'll leave you with the confession that MGS4's release is what finally prompted me to splash the cash on a PS3 as I could simply not resist any longer. Was it worth it? Hmm, it's made me pretty broke. Actually, this doesn't affect my mindset – it was undoubtedly worth every single bloody penny.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 09/15/08

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

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