Review by Tarrun

Reviewed: 02/16/10

This is good, isn't it? ...Wait, is it?

For just a minute, step back and imagine yourself as Hideo Kojima. You’re the creator of one of the most engrossing, revolutionary video game franchises of all time, a series that proudly stood on its soapbox and declared that yes, a plot can be crazy yet insightful at the same time. You’ve promised your fans that the latest installment of your series will end the saga of one of its most beloved unwilling heroes and still tie up every loose end created up until this point. Not an easy task, to say the least. Oh, and did I mention that the game will also be billed as the savior of an entire console which is desperately in need of a smash hit to compete with its rivals? Are you kidding me?

That’s exactly the mountain of a challenge Mr. Kojima faced with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and in some ways it almost seems unfair to ask so much and still expect the same level of perfection we’ve grown accustomed to. As it turns out it was. Try as it may, though there are plenty of great things to praise in MGS4, Snake’s last adventure just isn’t able to live up to the standards players and the series itself have set for it.

Interestingly enough, although the Metal Gear series is most widely known for its emphasis on the story, Guns of the Patriots’s most easily recognizable improvement came in the gameplay department. The game adopts a more conventional third-person action shooter feel to it with a 360-degree revolving camera and the aiming and shooting buttons being moved to the R and L buttons. While at first glance the game won’t necessarily feel like a Metal Gear, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the more comfortable, flexible controls.

Additionally, rather than trying to introduce entirely new gameplay innovations like in Snake Eater, Guns of the Patriots examines its predecessors, picks out the best aspects, trims them down to be more manageable, and implements them in the game. While camouflage and stamina were an interesting addition to the series, it became more of a chore having to constantly switch face paints as you snuck through areas that weren’t static backgrounds or sort through what food hadn’t spoiled and what tasted the best. Guns of the Patriots simplifies all of this. The new camouflage system is the OctoCamo, a watered down version of the stealth camo that automatically changes Snake’s outfit to blend in with the environment in the same way a chameleon does. Rather than fumbling around in menus, the OctoCamo updates whenever Snake remains motionless for a few seconds against any surface. For stamina, food is limited to pre-packaged items that don’t spoil and can be quickly used to replenish both health and stamina.

The game itself is divided into five acts, and unlike previous games each one has its own unique setting and gameplay style. The first two acts are, in my opinion, the most engrossing and entertaining, as they drop Snake in the middle of a warzone. This breathes a refreshing sense of life into the environment, as enemies are no longer simply trudging around in circles, existing for the sole purpose of looking for you. Instead, they’re taking cover behind rubble and calling for backup, completely unaware of Snake’s existence. This presents the player with the opportunity to either sneak past everyone in traditional Metal Gear fashion or to fight with the rebels against the common enemy and win their trust.

Particularly considering using this style of gameplay as the introduction to the game, it seems at first that Guns of the Patriots wants to shy away from the stealth mentality. After all, not only is Snake given machine guns and other tools of mass destruction right from the beginning, but MGS4 is also the first game in the series to allow the player to pick up any weapon dropped by an NPC and use it. Previous games explained that each soldier’s weapon was tied to their unique nanomachines, but for a small price an arms dealer named Drebin is capable of disabling that.

Though it’s tempting, Guns of the Patriots is still a stealth game at heart, and although bursting into each area and gunning down anything that moves in the first few acts is certainly much more feasible, the game still reverts back to its more traditional roots. With it come the static, predictable enemy movements that fans of the series will find familiar, of course, but this comes across more as settling itself back into what made the franchise what it is rather than devolving back into weak, simplistic gameplay. Curiously enough, one particular act later in the game heavily implements small patrol bots as if to poke fun at the robotic patrol patterns of the previous games.

Unfortunately, the gameplay is not without its flaws. Curiously, perhaps the most overtly annoying one was the decision to install each act individually each time the game is loaded. While this was obviously done to save space, this means that every single time you replay the game you’re forced to stare at a loading screen for five minutes between acts. Although I certainly appreciate Kojima Productions looking out for my PS3’s hard drive, considering just how large they are, this ends up being totally unnecessary and simply a waste of time.

In terms of actual gameplay, it’s difficult to look at all of Act 3 as anything other than a painful gimmick that wears thin beyond its first play-through. The act involves tailing someone through the streets of an Eastern European city under martial law, and as to be expected the person you’re tailing takes an extremely complicated, winding path on top of going from one corner of the map to the next. Anyone interested in replaying the game will naturally want to simply head straight for the end point, but they’ll be extremely disappointed to discover that the game won’t allow the player to advance without both parties at the end, leaving you to trudge all the way back to wherever you abandoned your tail and start over.

Additionally, the boss fights are noticeably uninspiring due to the fact that they’re little more than reused, dumbed-down gimmicks from bosses of the previous titles. The game doesn’t even bother trying to hide this, as each boss’s name is borrowed from one of the original members of FOXHOUND from Metal Gear Solid 1. However, unlike the characters from those games, the Beauty and the Beast team has unconvincing, caricatured identities that match their actual gameplay techniques in terms of shallowness.

Which brings me to the story... my poor, poor story.

Guns of the Patriots takes place six years after the Big Shell incident from Sons of Liberty. Snake is all but retired due to a side effect of being a clone that results in advanced aging and is preparing to die in the near future. War has become such a constant factor in the struggle between global powers that individual nations no longer actually fight it themselves, instead hiring private mercenary corporations, or PMC’s, to fight for them. The head of the PMC’s is none other than Liquid Ocelot, the body of Revolver Ocelot who has since been completely possessed by the remnants of Liquid Snake. Snake is convinced by Roy Campbell to return for one final mission – to assassinate Liquid Ocelot.

Of course, a few hundred words could hardly ever properly serve as a plot summary for a Metal Gear game. In a review such as this, to avoid spoiling the surprise it’s better to simply give a brief taste of what’s in store and add that it’s fantastically compelling and be done with it. That isn’t possible for MGS4.

It was mentioned in the beginning of this review, the challenge of ending the Metal Gear saga in a single game following the cliffhanger’s left from the previous three is impossible. There just isn't any sense of balance to keep the game from becoming ridiculous. From the explanation of dominant and recessive genes from MGS1 that would make a geneticist cry to the embarrassingly awkward dialogue between Rose and Raiden in Sons of Liberty, I’ve learned to enter the Metal Gear universe expecting a healthy dose of BS. It’s expected, and in some ways it almost adds to the series’ charm. Guns of the Patriots, however, takes the concept to entirely new extremes. Despite the over-the-top cinematics, the social, philosophical, and political rambling, and plot twists that rival Scooby Doo in terms of craziness, Metal Gear’s plot always had some semblance of stability and control. That feeling is nowhere to be found in Guns of the Patriots, the story is just all over the place and doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Sure, all of the answers we were promised are found in the game, but the sacrifice is all of the artistic flair that captivated us in the first place.

In his attempt to resolve absolutely every single conflict created from the beginning of the series, Hideo Kojima resorts to taking all of the character webs, tying them together in a big knot, and throwing them into a bucket of sewage. Every living character from the series makes an appearance, and in some cases even death isn’t enough to stop a character from showing up long enough to grin at the camera for a few scenes. Rather than risk explaining something and creating a new, even minor, plot hole, Kojima fleshes out every infinitesimal detail in gut-wrenching fashion, frequently sacrificing the mystery of his characters that made them intriguing in the first place as a result and killing off any shred of plausibility the player is able to muster. It’s the same trap that George Lucas befell in creating the Star Wars prequels – forcing characters into places where they don’t belong to remind the audience that each game is connected to one another. And when there aren’t any suitable characters to induce that same strained feeling, Kojima falls back on the next best solution – nanomachines. The Metal Gear series has always relied an acceptance of the supernatural in its characters, and over the course of a decade we’ve come to embrace it only for Guns of the Patriots to giggle in our faces and tell us it was nanomachines the whole time.

All of this is jumbled together in a story that doesn’t know what it wants it’s driving force to be. Powerful, emotional scenes are bookended between toilet humor, monkeys smoking cigarettes, and outrageous action sequences that make a Michael Bay movie look like it’s crawling forward at a snail’s pace. Rather than return to its roots in the subtle, serious tone of the original Metal Gear Solid, Guns of the Patriots leaps around in the wild, flamboyant nature we’ve seen from modern Japanese media. Perhaps it was wrong to expect a Metal Gear game to be more than that, but the end result leaves the player confused and uncomfortable, never really sure if a scene is designed to be serious or end in a “that’s what she said” joke.

I could easily double the length of this review discussing specific ideas and revelations that I don’t agree with, but despite the tone of this review Guns of the Patriots is by no means a bad game. However, the series has always been proud of being nothing less than exceptional, but because of its own overambitious goals, the final chapter in the saga is simply just good. Metal Gear Solid 4 is a game that is torn apart by its inconsistencies – when it’s good it’s exceptional, when it’s poor it’s exceptionally so.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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

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