Metal Gear Solid 4, allegedly the final Metal Gear game to feature Solid Snake, is a staggering artistic achievement, unique in narrative ambition and cinematic excess. It follows Snake, now an old man due to premature aging brought on by a government conspiracy involving blah blah blah. Actually, while the plot of the Metal Gear Solid series is extremely convoluted, if one pays close enough attention he can fully appreciate the absolute lunacy of everything. And by lunacy I mean completely awesome.
I won’t spoil the story, but the main premise of the game is that Solid Snake is an old man that gets brought out of retirement for ONE LAST MISSION, mainly to go to the middle east and kill his twin brother/clone Liquid, who currently resides in the right arm of Revolver Ocelot, a villain from previous games. Throughout the course of the 13 or so hour adventure, Snake globe-trots to familiar and unfamiliar locations (as far as Metal Gear games go), learning more about the global conspiracy and his own place in it. What makes me happiest is the story did not disappoint, nor did it resolve in an unnecessary cliffhanger solely so Konami can milk a few more games out of Solid Snake. They provided closure, an increasingly rare thing in games these days.
While the story is easily on par with the rest of the games (I’d place it above 2 and below 3. I haven’t played part 1), the modifications to the control scheme make this the first Metal Gear that is actually fun to play from beginning to end. The controls have been refined throughout the series, but it was only until about halfway through part 3 did I feel truly comfortable navigating Snake around his environs. Here, from the first level everything flows wonderfully, and for the first time sneaking up behind enemies and engaging in firefights are handled with equal aplomb. My personal favorite is the new ‘non-lethal takedown’ method. When approaching an enemy from behind, you have three options. Either kill the enemy by slicing his throat, choke him out, or draw a gun on him, at which point Snake will shout ‘Freeze!’ and the guard will drop his weapon and put his hands up. Well-timed button presses allow you to pick up additional ammo packs, and when the button is pressed while Snake pats down the crotch area he will actually grab the guy’s groin and squeeze. Yep, this game has a nut-grabbing simulator.
All in all, this is a game that should be experienced by anyone with a passing interest in games. This series is such a juggernaut and each entry is so carefully crafted they deserve to be experienced. I’d say that playing part 3 would go the most toward filling in the back story for this one, since it’s a prequel and provides insight into many of the characters that figure prominently into part 4. Also, this is the rare video game that would fit into the auteur theory usually associated with filmmaking. This is Hideo Kojima’s game through and through, and it’s great to know a game with such a unique style is allowed to exist in the world of multi-million dollar budgets and focus groups. It’s a rare thing, unfettered artistic success, and we should embrace it when we can.