Review by discoinferno84

"Carry on, my wayward son..."

War has changed. That's the phrase you'll learn first. It's a good one; it's simple and to the point. You might not understand just how significant it is in the beginning, but you will. It all looks normal at first (as normal as an urban war zone littered with corpses and bullet shells can be), but it doesn't take long before the terrifying truth sets in. Wars aren't fought for territory or ideologies anymore; they're all about economics. Profit. Perhaps that's true of any combat; to the victor go the spoils, after all. Battles mean business, and the currency is lives and blood of those fighting. Nanomachines, those little invisible miracles of the Metal Gear Solid series, have been implanted into every soldier, from the highest ranking generals to the lowly kitchen aides. The fighting is just as chaotic, bloody, and meaningless as ever, but now everything - everything - is under control of a computer system. You can't even take a piss without it watching. That means that the common frontline gunner is nothing more than a pile of flesh giving off some data feedback. Death just means he or she has become defective, and will be replaced by countless others willing to die just as pointlessly.

Yes, war has changed.

Snake knows that all too well. That guy perpetually lives on a battlefield, and that makes the phrase especially important. For him, it's not just war that has changed. It's everything. The game goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate just how outdated its protagonist has become. It's most blatantly shown through the character himself; thanks to some nanomachine mumbo jumbo/convenient plot device, Snake has rapidly aged into a old man. It's bittersweet, especially in the latter half of the game; the legendary mercenary has withered away, driven only by his heroic resolve. The other characters - nearly everyone from the each of the previous games show up in some form or another - have moved on to other things. While all these old faces serve as reminders of Snake's past and underscores how pathetic his current situation truly is, the various plotlines range from cleverly written to borderline absurd. It's great how writers reused the theme of religion from Snake Eater (the characters' missions and code names referring to the story of Genesis, and the game being the start of series' story) and focusing more on misinterpretation of it. Having Raiden inexplicably becoming a cyborg ninja, on the other hand, is something else entirely. But for better or worse, the game does tie up all the loose ends provided by the previous installments.

Snake has changed, too. He's had to; as the game conveniently demonstrates early on, the usual stealth tactics that used to keep him alive just won't cut it anymore. It's not just because he's old and prone to coughing fits. It's because the enemies have simply gotten better. More patrols, deadlier weapons, and all-around better efficiency compared to those of the previous games. Series veterans that try getting around the old fashioned way are going to be in for some serious trouble. Instead, they'll need to relearn what the game considers the basics of stealth: using the environment to provide whatever cover possible. It's not just about ducking behind crates or crawling beneath cars. It's about staying in the shadows, peering around corners and, just blending in plain sight. This concept was introduced back in Snake Eater in its camouflage mechanics, and Guns of the Patriots takes it to its next logical step. Snake sports a special suit that (aside from making his body look ridiculously buff) can change its colors depending on the surfaces it touches. See that fancy red carpet? Lay down on that for a second and watch the suit turn rosy. That patch of dirt and grass in the middle of the jungle? No one will notice the stains if it looks the same. You can have a lot of fun just going around and trying different colors and seeing how they effect enemies. It's even better when you have a whole platoon out for your blood and you're too well-concealed despite being right in front of them. Then there's the whole “playing dead” trick, which is easily one of the best sneaking tactics added to the gameplay.

It's not all about stealth, though. One of the things that sets Guns of the Patriots apart from its predecessors is its emphasis on first and third-person shooting gameplay. Since its introduction in Sons of Liberty, it's been increasingly integrated with each passing title. Rather than forcing you to deal with a battlefield with purely sneaking and memorizing enemy movements, the game gives you the option to deal with your opposition directly. Oh, you could always do that in the previous games, but you'd almost always end up outnumbered and taken down quickly. And make no mistake about it; you can die very quickly here if you're not well-equipped for whatever's in your way. Especially early on or during your first playthrough, when all you've got is a knife and whatever meager firearms you might have procured during your journey through the killing fields. Your resources aren't so pathetic, though; thanks to Drebin, the in-game weapons broker, you can gain access to tons of weapons and items. Rather than searching for spare ammo or reserving your strongest firepower for when you really need it, you can call this guy and buy whatever you need. Handguns, rifles, explosives, super-powered bullets, anything as long as you've got the money (made by nabbing the weapons of the soldiers you'll come across) to use. This bartering system serves a few purposes: it provides incentive for you to take down more baddies to get more currency, offers plenty of stuff for collectors and completionists to work towards, streamlines the relatively tedious weapons procurement system of the previous games, and it makes the game more accessible to those who don't want to avoid potential fights. On the flipside, it makes the game significantly less challenging and somewhat cheap. But hey, at least you've got the options.

Actually, the game tries do a little too much. No, seriously. There are aspects of the game that you'll probably never use or notice aside from its introduction or reference from another character. Take the Solid Eye, for example. It's obvious that it's supposed to make yet another parallel between Snake and Big Boss, but it's got some function. The thing's a technological marvel that lets you track enemy positions, observe the battlefield, or plunge everything into the green haze of night vision. The thing is, you'll only ever really need to use the Night Vision; it lets you see enemy heat signatures and footprints directly, as opposed to translating their whereabouts from the onscreen radar. Otacon's Metal Gear Mk. II robot is even worse. It can be used as a scouting tool, but you'll never need to use it. The stress level and Psyche Gauge mechanics - both offshoots of the stamina system from Snake Eater - rarely play a factor into your overall performance. Even the support characters (Rose especially) won't necessarily be needed. Since you can save the game at any time and assess situations without any extra conversations, there's little reason to even bother interacting with all the people backing you up. You can literally get through the game with just a few effective weapons and nothing else.

Such variety doesn‘t end with items, either. The levels are crammed with stuff, but few things are done well. Don't get me wrong - the first two Acts in particular are amazing - but there's a lot of stuff that could have been implemented better. The third Act comes to mind; despite its mysterious and foreboding atmosphere, it's arguably the most gimmicky part of the entire game. The intricate stealth and gunplay that made the first few areas of the game so engaging are thrown aside in favor of a glorified follow-the-target game. It's understandable how this game tries to encompass every aspect of stealth, but it just doesn't work as well. Sure, you still have to hide outside the murky glow of the streetlamps and occasionally put a few slugs in the guards, but all it really boils down to is tailing a few people for one of the most tedious half-hours you'll ever endure. That's aside from all the car chases, Gekko assaults, rail shooting sections and everything else the game shoves down your throat. While it breaks up the monotony established in the previous areas, it just feels jumbled and poorly paced. The same goes for the fifth Act, in which its awesomeness (and it is indeed mind-blowingly so) is inversely proportional to its length. At least the boss fights rarely disappoint; aside from an unsatisfying sniper battle, Snake's showdowns are clever (here's looking at you, Octopus) and intense at the same time.

The pacing can prove to be a detriment, though. The game has its stride perfected early on, but it stumbles halfway through and never recovers completely. While it can be blamed on all the ever-shifting gameplay and level designs, the sheer amount of storytelling ought to pointed as well. As the final game in the series, Gun of the Patriots has a lot to cover. Hours, in fact. Though you can skip through most of it, fans looking for some closure to their beloved story are going to be spending a lot of time watching instead of playing. The majority of it is done via cutscenes and the conversations between characters. Given all the new plot developments and loose ends created in the previous games, going through all of those speeches and arguments ought to satisfy the curious. The problem is that some of the exposition (the end-game stuff comes to mind) is previously explained, thus making the scenes unnecessary. It's not like fans don't want to see their favorite characters interacting, but come on. It's especially bad when the characters are just sitting around and musing, or bearing their angst in some of the most cringe-inducing moments in the series.

The game distracts you from these issues by making everything look pretty. Gorgeous, actually. You can see that even before you start playing. You'll have to sit back and watch the game install itself on the PS3 for a few minutes, and you'll get a nice profile shot of Snake smoking a cigarette in all his manly glory. You can see the fabric of his stealth suit and the way his face has wrinkled into contours. The cutscenes may be plentiful and lengthy, but they're pure eye candy. The glare coming off Liquid's shades, the way Naomi casually brushes the hair out of her eyes, or how Vamp always has that balance of pure creepiness and masculine eroticism. Raiden's reintroduction comes to mind as well. But what makes this game so great is how it transitions between the scenes and the actual game. The switch is practically seamless, and sometimes you won't know until you've realized you can control Snake again. It's demonstrated best in the first Act, which lets you gets swallowed up in the midst of a Middle East war zone. People are dying all around you, buildings are crumbling, random explosions, the sounds of bullets ricocheting off the walls, the screams of agony…it's awful and beautiful at the same time. What really clinches it is how realistic everything is; the lighting and shadowing effects, building designs (right down to the creaking post office signs and the dust-ridden tile floors of the Advent Palace), and the overall atmosphere are done extremely well. This kind of detail will make you realize exactly what the PS3 can really do.

That's probably the point, too. Metal Gear Solid 4 is the kind of game that sells systems. It's one of the reasons you ought to consider getting a PS3, if you haven't already. I'm not going to bother recommending this to the fans; you've probably all gotten this on its launch day, coveted every single nostalgic, overblown scene (Act 4 is an especially sweet treat, indeed), and watch your favorite character finally get the sendoff he deserves. So, this is for the rest of you: this game is excellent. Not perfect, but still a technical achievement that will set the standard for games that come after it. The gameplay has evolved beyond hiding beneath cardboard boxes and tapping on walls; it's about how you can use whatever environment you're given as an advantage. The greater focus on first and third-shooting gameplay makes the game more accessible to those that felt limited or intimidated by the challenges of the previous games. The octocamo suit is tons of fun, and you'll spend plenty of time tinkering with it and everything else offered. The problem is that the majority of all these extra items and features aren't necessary to complete the game; they're just there to make sure the second playthrough isn't entirely dull. The same goes with the pacing and designs of the levels themselves; this game has you doing so many different things that it becomes jumbled and messy and never gets it quite right. Metal Gear Solid 4 may be unbelievable and frequently over-the-top, but it wouldn't be right any other way.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 05/18/09, Updated 05/19/09

Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (80GB PS3 Bundle) (US, 06/12/08)

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