Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Review

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Review

(This review is spoiler-free)
Snake has come back to us. He's a bit worse for wear, but even then the stealthy curmudgeon more than holds his own in a fight. This time, the fight has become a commodity for private military corporations to boost their fiscal year earnings. Snake is back, but what exactly for? To fight a war that has changed? Or to play pawn in a war that never changes? It's a compelling yarn, one that weaves in and out of the labrynthine tale woven by Metal Gear games past and delves into themes such as the irreparable traumas of war, the ambivalent face of technology in the increasingly impersonal battlefield, loyalty, and even patricide. The story even tackles the mammoth task of straightening out the series timeline - Not an easy feat in the very least (just as any MGS fan). There's also the trademark Kojima humor interspersed throughout all the drama, which is a nice break from overall bleakness.

Before jumping into the review I must get it out: This is the game PS3 owners have been waiting for. As a game, it staggers under its number of flaws; As an experience, it's rock SOLID, unfallible - A masterpiece. Enough hyperbole. Now, to get into the nitty gritty.
Read the rest after the jump.
The Good:

-A Gradual Evolution -

The Metal Gear franchise has come a long way, though it might not feel like it because of the series gradual evolution with each successive release. In that sense MGS4 doesn't feel like it uproots any series conventions but instead alters aspects that truly require change. To that end, complaining about the length of the cutscenes almost seems trite at this point. Basically, I'm saying that one of the series' trademarks, the feature length cinematic, is still here and never more beautiful.
mgs4 snake
Snake could use a tube of BenGay
One part about past Metal Gear Solid games that had become less and less ideal as time went on are the controls. Even with the advent of new technologies capable of granting overhauls in 3D graphics and gameplay mechanics, the controls chose to stay in an 8-bit framework. Certain commands were abstract; harrying battles required deft movements, so accidentally crawling when trying to high-tail it out of a bad situation became more and more frustrating.

Fortunately, MGS4 eschews the old control system and gives us something that, while neither uncomfortable nor totally intuitive, finds a happy medium. Sure, sneaking behind unsuspecting sentries in attempt to choke-hold them still isn't as effortless as it should be (Whattya mean I can't grab enemies while crouching!?), but it has been made a bit more accessible and more logical considering the assigned button layout. For example, one would hold L1, the aiming button, to raise your weapon while holding an enemy meatshield - again, simple and logical. The new control scheme is great whether you're fighting alongside a squad (Militia or Rat Patrol) or by your lonesome.
Remember the locked top-down perspective of the old MSX2 Metal Gear titles and subsequently each sequel thereafter? Well, it's been thrown out in favor of a fully manual controlled camera similar to the one found in MGS3: Subsistence. It works perfectly, I can't complain.

Working hand-in-hand with the new camera is the Threat Ring, a floating holographic (?) hula hoop around Snake that relays the proximity of enemy units as slight wave distortions on the ring. The greater the convex of the point on the ring, the closer the enemy. It's a great system that allows for an instinctive understanding of enemy position, as well as your own, on the battlefield. This means there's no longer a need to keep your eyes glued on the Soliton radar, waiting for changes of direction in the enemy's vision cone.

- Scrounging For Drebin Points -

The toy soldier needs accessories to combat those of other toy soldiers, and thankfully MGS4 provides us with a bevy of cool toys to either divert or destroy. You'll find the usual guns and explosive ordinance, but this time you'll be able to upgrade each weapon, courtesy of your friendly gun launderer and war profiteer Drebin. In order to purchase these upgrades, you'll need Drebin Points, currency given out for the sale of each duplicate weapon you pick up. It's a cool system that is as gracious as it is convenient. You automatically sell each gun you find but keep the ammo. I found myself farming for Drebin points as often as possible, looting every enemy and navigating every nook and cranny for anything I could find.
Say hello to my little friend
- "What? A robot?" -
Ok, things that go boom and bang are nice and all, but MGS has always been known for its sneaky, nonconfrontational approach. Two tools that'll assist you in that regard could very well be the coolest gadgets in any game, period. First, we have the Metal Gear Mk. II, a dimunitive robot controlled by Otacon (technically you, the player). The little Metal Gear facsimile can't fire nukes, but can cloak itself, turning completely invisible in order to sneak up close and shock opponents through its wire/tentacle/arm/thing. It also acts as an errand boy between you and Drebin, transfering guns for Drebin Points lickety-split (I have no idea how it does that so fast).
- Blending In -
The second tool, and the most important one to boot, is really an upgrade from the camoflage mechanic from the previous game, MGS3. Named after an Octopus' ability to blend into its environment, the OctoCamo suit serves as a chameleon-like second skin allowing Snake to become one with practically any environment. Just leave Snake be for a moment, whether against the wall or laid prone on the ground, and his suit will change color and textured to match that of the surface it touches. This is so much easier than MGS3's cumbersome setup, which required the player to manually select camo combos from a menu -- a low and lugubrious process. At the outset, the suit can only reach a maximum camoflage of 85%, but later on, once certain bosses are out of the way, you'll acquire a piece that could raise that number to 99%. There are also fun masks you can earn by completing certain objectives in the game (i.e. tranquilizing bosses instead of killing them).

All in all, watching the OctoCamo change camo a split-hair's time before an enemy walks around the corner, an inch away from Snake, is an intense experience. Immensely fun. I also got quite a few laughs while watching the Metal Gear Mk. II stumble around the battlefield, electrocuting fools and being kicked around when caught. These gadgets definitely make this a better playing experience.

- An Ugly Beautiful Thing -

The game is simply gorgeous. Going beyond commenting on the texture work and so forth, everything flows so well that not once did I think I was looking at polygonal marionettes on a stage. It's with absolute reverence to Kojima Productions when I say that the characters are virtual actors brought to life with incredible choreography and pitch-perfect voice acting. There's a sense of urgency in Snake's eyes, an underlying longing in Otacon, a quiet remorse with each arching eyebrow on Naomi -- the same goes with every character on screen. As I've mentioned before, this could be the prettiest and most affecting game I've ever seen.

The score is almost as good. It swells when it needs to and softens during the melodramatic moments. The emotional final battle is bolstered by music from previous titles, such as "Snake Eater" from MGS3 and "The Best is Yet to Come" from the original Metal Gear Solid.

The Bad:

- So I Can Play This Movie Too? -

Yes, the cutscenes are long, obscenely long at times (I swear, one tip-toed past 80 minutes). I didn't mind sitting through them, because the story kept me riveted, but I'm mentioning this for those marginally interested in the franchise or those who aren't used to hour-long cinematics in their games. Bring the popcorn.

- The Beauty & Beast squad -

They certainly looked cool, and the battles they're featured in are definitely fun, but the dramatics were a bit much. Trade a few keywords and you've got the same villain. "Snake, show me your ____!" "____ with me, Snake!"

I also wish the exposition for each B&B was handled better. I tired of listening to Drebin go off on needlessly long diatribes about each girl's troubled past.

- Getting Metal Gear online-

It's a huge hassle to get the multiplayer component set up, requiring multiple ID's and patches that drop out during the downloads. The actual online game is fun, to be sure, but the process of getting there is a menial process.

- It's Over Already? -

The whole experience left me wanting more -- more gameplay, that is. Skipping through the cutscenes, it is possible to finish the game in less than 10 hours, 5 if you're efficient. Good thing the replay value is fairly high, with multiple difficutly settings and unlockable weapons.

- Installs and Loading -

There is a required 8 minute install before the game even starts and smaller, 2-3 minute installs bookending each act, bringing the total memory requirement to a bit above 4gb. The upside to this? Relatively short loading screens and better performance -- fair trade-off, I'd say.

old snake
Is your age of heroes finally over, Snake?

With Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Kojima Productions' magnum opus comes to a close with style and grace. It deftly wraps up every loose end left by previous games in the series and by the time the credits start rolling,  I felt an overwhelming sense of absolution -- closure to 20 years of effort from both Kojima and Konami, and closure to the enduring story of Solid Snake. This is indeed Solid Snake's final mission, no doubt about it. It's been great serving alongside you, Snake, or should I call you David?

Update: I had finished my first playthrough of the game with approximately 21 hours on the clock, including the cutscenes (effectively 2/3 of the game. I kid, I kid). I will be going back to attempt the Big Boss Extreme difficulty with no alerts or kills (the tranq is my friend) -- Wish me luck, I'll need it.
Also, if you'd like to gloat about your own completion times or would simply like to talk about the game, throw in your two cents in the comments section, or drop a line in the forums.
Last modified on Sunday, 08 November 2015 16:49