Review by neonreaper
"MGS3 > MGS1 > MGS4 > MGS2"
Metal Gear Solid 4 is a difficult game to review, as it's very obviously made for fanservice, but it's not as though the gameplay is terrible in its execution. It doesn't have the same feel as other Metal Gear Solid games, as the design was originally meant to be a "nowhere to hide" style, with Solid Snake being put into a conflict, and having to fight his way through it. Eventually this decision was overridden, and Snake can either fight his way through everything, or try to sneak around. It feels a bit like Metal Gear Solid 3 Subsistence in this regard, but it is definitely made with combat in mind first. At some point in the game, the action breaks down and the game will have a few very long cutscenes, while interesting and good, take over the game. If you're a major fan of this series, this game will probably not disappoint you, and there's a chance you'll love it for the fanservice. If you are like myself and enjoy the series, but aren't fanatical about it, you'll probably find Metal Gear Solid 4 to be uneven and out of place, but still pretty good and definitely a must-play. MGS4 is an experience beyond just being a game, a landmark in the industry as the first major Playstation 3 exclusive.
Snake is listed as "Old Snake" for his health bar, as he is indeed and older man, his life expectancy shortened by the same nanomachines that have made him such a powerful soldier. "War has changed" is perhaps the major running plotline in this game, as a system is put in place to control soldiers and weapons, using nanomachines and other technologies to enhance soldiers and lock their guns, to effectively control war and the war economy. There is further explanation in the game, so I will leave it at that, but you can bet this leads down a couple of paths. The first being perhaps a general statement about money and war, the second being the obvious play for power among the usual schemers and groups in the Metal Gear series.
MGS4 is broken up into five acts, each act following Snake to a new location. Snake hops off a truck in the middle east, and right away the action is fairly intense. MGS4 uses a third person camera similar to MGS3 Subsistence, and a few Gears of War style aiming elements, being able to swap sides to look around cover, and some obvious level designs that follow the idea that Snake can move up from one bit of cover to another. He follows a rebel force against PMC armies, which are part of the controlled military war machine economy. Snake can choose to help the rebels and gain faction support from them, which turns them into friends that will be happy to see him, and alter the game. Assisting the rebels capturing a specific area will sometimes open up the next area for Snake to explore as it becomes rebel occupied. Failure to do so will have those areas enemy controlled, or at least the rebels will be neutral and suspicious of Snake, and he won't be truly safe from them. The game feels as though it is geared towards action first, and stealth second. I think the original idea with the game was the aforementioned "nowhere to hide" concept, vetoed later in development. As such, many areas in acts one and two are basically warzones with major shootouts, and some side areas for Snake to crawl around in. Early on, stealth just isn't much fun, whereas the shootouts are quite fun if you enjoy that type of action.
There are a ton of weapons to acquire, upgrade and/or unlock in this game. I say unlock, as you they are locked and you need to call in a launderer to unlock them. This might sound like a lot of complexity in the weapon system, but it's very straightforward and easy. PMCs and rebels both drop weapons when they fall in battle, in addition to dropping items when Snake picks up the bodies, and these are automatically sold if Snake already has the gun/item, which makes it pretty easy to get tons of money without doing much work. It also works against the atmosphere of the game. An explosion or execution occurs, and the sound effect for a dropping item plays, diminishing the impact of what is going on around you. Rebel allies and PMC enemies alike engage in battle, and it's far too tempting to just let them fell each other endlessly, reaping the rewards as they fall. So on one hand, it's nice and easy to farm money (called Drebin Points, as the launderer's name is Drebin) but on the other hand, it detracts from the impact the warzones obviously seek to impart upon you, the player. And it's overkill. In acts 1 and 2, you can use a bunch of weapons and ammo, because it's almost all warzone. Better weapons are locked away for later acts, when you don't need to fight nearly as much. Having a wide variety of guns, bombs, grenades, and so on, is a little fun, but you only really need a few weapons, and there's no benefit to choosing a gun that is cheaper but has worse stats. Money is no object and the trade-off has absolutely no meaning. If you're sneaking about instead of fighting, most of this has no meaning to you anyway. And later on, you can just buy ammo and weapons for cheap, but you probably don't even need them at that point. It's not a very well thought out system at all, especially for a game bent on action the way MGS4 is.
One last bit about weapons.. during cutscenes, Snake will switch out what you have him equipped with for the M4 or the Operator, which you then have to switch out if you weren't intending to use them. Very lame, not a huge deal, but then there are times you're stuck with a lethal weapon when you had intended to use a tranq gun, and then you have to remember to switch. I almost fear that this was a Kojima special poor game design decision.
Two new gameplay features are introduced, Octocamo and stress/psyche. Octocamo is awesome, as you lay or press against a surface, Snake's Octocamo suit will blend in with it. This keeps Snake's camo index pretty high, and makes for a cool little cutscene at some point. Stress/psyche on the other hand, are kinda dumb. The idea is that at Snake's old age, he can't handle action anymore, so the more he does, the more his stress/psyche are negatively impacted, and thus it's harder for him to perform. It's dumb, and all you do to get around it is use consumables, or sit in the shade while it regenerates. It's like sitting out alerts in previous games, punishment for relying on force. At least alerts made sense, and led to some tense moments. There are still alerts and cautions and all that in MGS4, but it's really not a big deal anymore - you either shoot your way through it, or run your way through it, they don't really have the same impact as before.
Act 1 unfortunately ends without a boss fight, and it isn't until act 2's finish that you actually fight a boss. At this point, the game changes, and act 3 is mostly stalking (fighting is counter productive) and then the gameplay is mostly sneaking around (or shooting your way through) shorter areas, with the end of act 3 and beyond being host to some crazy long cutscenes. There are some decently long ones early in the game, but they're straightforward and busy. Later on, you'll spend minutes with Snake just looking around corners, or forces assembling, when none of that should have much time devoted to it. The pacing is all over the place, many people feel that the last parts of the game are merely fanservice. I can see that, but even outside of pure fanservice, some parts are flat out awesome for anyone.
This game is very linear, which can be fine, though there are some frustrating points where a cutscene will erupt in the middle of a map and you'll be blocked off previous areas. This is more a complaint with acts 1 and 2, but especially in act 2 where you're sneaking around a building, trying to find a way in, a cutscene triggers, and it blocks off some areas you were just looking to explore. It's not like there's any point to it, because you can still easily farm for Drebin Points and weapons and ammo, it's just bad design.
Back to the boss fights, MGS4 is fairly weak in this department. There aren't too many challenges, and four of the bosses have a strange second phase that are pretty annoying. The attempt is to add some emotion and backstory behind the bosses, but it's just weird, bad storytelling, and you mostly care about what weapon they dropped. Metal Gear Solid is a series known for some very cool boss fights, but this game mostly falls flat.
Did I mention cutscenes earlier? This game's ending is roughly 70 minutes long, and there are 10+ minute long cutscenes everywhere, and the one after act 3 is pretty long (45 minutes? I didn't time it at all). The good news is that most of them are good. Kojima's craziness takes a bit of a backseat to the guy who wrote MGS3, and it shows. The plot is good, flows well, and keeps you invested. There are also some emotional moments, as Old Snake deals with his issues and some well known Metal Gear series faces. Some parts are intense, others interesting, and yeah, some of it is touching. There are the right amount of twists and turns without being uselessly convoluted, until the end. The ending is up for grabs, many MGS fans absolutely love it, but I found that it cheapened a lot of the game and was a bit more convoluted than necessary. It feels like Kojima stepped in for the second half of the ending and stepped on his own feet a bit, to the detriment of the characters. I know some MGS fans will put their fingers in their ears and hear no Kojima evil, but as interesting as the final bit of plot is, and as well as it ties every loose end together, it ends up being weak. And there are two sides to this - people that absolutely love it and cried, and people that were disappointed. So there's room for you to wildly love the ending, I just didn't think it was a fitting end to the series. Well, then again, much of the series is built on wrecking your emotional investments in the characters and further making you not care about twists and turns because it is so convoluted, why bother caring? But after the gem of storytelling of MGS3, my hopes were high, but I don't think Shuyo Murata was going to get final say in Metal Gear Solid.
MGS4 is a fun game, the first 2 acts are action packed, and there are some cool cutscenes and story bits and fanservice later in the game that keep it fun. It's not perfect, but I do think that the biggest Metal Gear Solid series fans will probably love the game.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 09/09/10, Updated 09/10/10
Game Release: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (US, 06/12/08)
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