Name: Metal Gear Solid 4
Platform: PlayStation 3
I feel like I need to preface this review with an explanation of my utter hatred for the previous Metal Gear Solid games. Back when it was first released, I picked up Metal Gear Solid: the Twin Snakes for the Gamecube. As someone who has never played the series, I anxiously awaited a remake of the original PlayStation version so that I could finally understand why everyone loved the games so much. I am not a gamer who has some sort of fear of long cut scenes, and convoluted storylines never bothered me too much, so many of the complaints from Metal Gear Solid haters went past me.
After about an hour of playing the previous game, however, I became frustrated with the horrible controls, wonky camera angles and unrealistic and boring stealth mechanics and stopped playing. These events were repeated when I picked up Metal Gear Solid 2 and eventually Metal Gear Solid 3, each time hoping that my original problems with the series would be resolved and I would be able to enjoy the games as most others did. Early trailers for Metal Gear Solid 4 did very little to alleviate my fears for the game, but I still kept a sliver of hope that they would have fixed what ten years and three games worth of damage had done.
Right from the start, Snake says it best, “War has changed.” Well, he is right, and I couldn’t be happier. Nearly every single complaint I had about the series leading up to the game’s release is addressed and fixed. The camera is unhinged from the ceiling and given to the player to control, liberating the game from its fixed-camera prison. Shooting controls have also been revamped to allow for over-the-shoulder shooting and iron sights, turning MGS into an FPS. Stealth mechanics have been given a boost thanks to the chameleon-like abilities of Snake’s new Octocamo Suit, which allows for any surrounding to become a texture, covering his entire body. While I (literally) found the previous games' gameplay unplayable, the actual mechanics of Metal Gear Solid 4 are fantastic.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is a very cinematic experience, even compared to the other titles in the series. The cut-scenes all used the in-game engine, and transitioning from cinematic to gameplay is the most seamless I have seen in any title yet. They are, for the most part, well directed and well written, but at times they seem to drag on to endless lengths for no apparent reason. Characters will soliloquize for obnoxious lengths of time, explaining their plans in such detail that even the most cliché Bond villains would cringe. When there are segments that are long because there is story that needs telling there isn’t really a problem, and most gamers wouldn’t be troubled by sitting through 30 minutes of well written, important cinematic. When a character explains his life story, belches, gets another soda, and dances with a monkey, we officially have a problem. The game is inconsistent in that right, seeming to jump from one extreme to the other, almost out of obligation to be the most “Metal Gear Solid” it can be. Characters will occasionally approach you with information that is better seen than heard, at which point the characters pull out Powerpoint presentations they specifically prepared for the conversation, turning interesting stories into college lectures on fictional politics. At first it is interesting, but it becomes increasingly heavy-handed as the story progresses and is almost a copout for storytelling.
Part of the reason that the game is such a cinematic joy is the graphics, which are easily the best seen in a console game yet. Characters and environments are all modeled in amazing, high definition graphics, and the game sports some of the best animations ever seen. Metal Gear Solid 4 really does serve as a proving point for the PlayStation 3 by providing an experience I really don’t think could have been achieved on another console. When in first person mode, the game looks better than anything else on the system, and with the exception of the occasional dull texture and weak particle effects across the board, MGS4 looks like a PS3 title should. These accomplishments don’t come without their costs, though, as some of the issues with the PlayStation 3’s hardware are exemplified in the game. To begin, there is a required 4 gigabyte installation that takes about ten minutes, followed by three to five minute installations in-between the game’s five chapters. These installations are padded on either side by cut-scenes, which makes me wonder why they weren’t easier to hide or disguise. Not only that, but going back to a previous save requires a reinstallation of that chapter’s files, which seems a little short-sighted. There are also frequent load times later in the game, cutting up what should be a seamless, cinematic experience.
In terms of gameplay, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a raging success where the first three were not. As a story, even, I think that they have achieved something great. The world of Metal Gear Solid 4 is interesting and deep, showing a future where war is an integral part of life and the global economy. As an ending to a series, however, I consider it a failure. Fans hoping for an epic end to the series should be warned that the game seems to bathe in its own glory near the end. It feels like Kojima couldn’t figure out how he wanted to end the game, and decided instead to fulfill every possible outcome that fans could want. It seems sloppy, amateur, and almost satirical. While the series has made its mark on the gaming world by not taking itself too seriously, I would have preferred the ending to 10 years of titles to have been better, letting Snake walk out of the gaming world with dignity.
Sadly, this is not the case, and the ending cinematic mars the experience horribly. There is a good amount of replay value, with unlockable items and different ways to approach any situation. I didn’t have too much interest in Metal Gear Online, but for fans of the series it should supply at least a few hours more of enjoyment. The complete package is definitely worth a purchase for anyone with a PlayStation 3, and could be an excuse to buy the system for anyone considering it. It would be hard for you to find someone who hated the last three Metal Gear Solid titles as much as I did, so no matter what your thoughts were on previous titles I recommend giving Metal Gear Solid 4 a chance, you will not regret it. War really has changed, and I couldn’t be happier.