Metal Gear Saga
Hideo Kojima – the man behind the Metal Gear Solid games – is someone who loves to cook up surprises. That much should be obvious if you’re a fan – with dozens of major and minor characters, each with their own plot threads and shocking developments, along with stealth gameplay that’s loaded will all sorts of weird little extras and options, this is a series that has been important in the industry for some time now. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots knows this, and from the moment you load it into your Playstation 3, there’s the impression that there’s finality to this game, a mythos that needs resolving.
While the game installs, Snake stands in front of a black background and smokes. Weird warnings tell you that smoking is hazardous or to make sure not to play the game when you’re tired. Then, live-action commercials play, futuristic advertisements for products that exist in the world of Metal Gear Solid. The 15-minute prep-time toward playing the game is actually preparing you with context, a barrage of strange little asides that builds you up for what you’re about to experience.
That turns out to be not only the best game on the Playstation 3 to date, but also a work that seemingly does the impossible task of wrapping up ten years with of characters and plot threads, all the while being the best-looking and arguably best-playing game of 2008 so far.
Metal Gear Solid 4 stars a rapidly aging Solid Snake who’s been sent to the Middle East by the US Government to hunt down his brother, Liquid, who’s been up to some shady-doings. Needless to say, the desert trailers and promo footage leading up to MGS4 represent just one of the game’s five acts, and for the first time in series history, Snake’s mission becomes a truly epic, globe-spanning journey.
To say anything else about the plot would most certainly spoil it, but I don’t think it’s ruining much to say that all of your big questions about the series will be answered. Every character gets his or her proper send-off, and all of the shady organizations introduced over the years get explained. This is achieved through just over nine hours of cinematics, an hour of which is an uninterrupted ending sequence that brings the series to a close in a fantastic fashion.
If you’re a Metal Gear fan, the story will be full of surprises and will satisfy your expectations. That’s probably not much of a shock for most to hear. The problem with the series has always been within the gameplay, which has begun to lag behind its modern competition in recent years. Soon after you pick up this fourth game, though, it’s readily apparent that this is no longer an issue. It’s actually a bit jarring at first, as many of the basic control mechanics of previous Metal Gear games are completely absent here.
No more stumbling around from crouched to prone position, and no more holding down three buttons on your controller just to aim your gun while moving around; Metal Gear Solid 4’s control setup is great, and you’ll be able to deftly move Snake around a variety of exotic world locations without any trouble. He can now move when crouched and lock onto and off of cover with the touch of a button. Furthermore, the shooting and CQC controls are now on the L1 and R1 buttons instead of on the controller’s face, which works much better.
A number of new gadgets also enhance the game. There’s OctoCamo, a black and blue suit that Snake is always wearing. If you take cover on something – a rock, a crate, a checkerboard floor – his suit will sample the texture and blend Snake into that surface. The camouflage index is back from Metal Gear Solid 3, but now you don’t need to constantly enter the menu and change your camo and face paint – now it’s all taken care of with new technology. Or how about the Metal Gear Mk. II, a portable robot you can use to scout the area or shock enemies? As is frequently said in the series, ‘this is a sneaking mission,’ and Snake’s new tools make it more fun than ever.
Metal Gear Solid 4 also implements a brand new way of engaging in combat, and for the first time in the series, shooting your way through an area is actually a completely viable option that’s on par with sneaking. Adopting an over-the-shoulder camera like in Resident Evil 4 or Gears of War, Snake can easily aim and fire weapons while moving around like a third-person shooter. You can also enter first-person mode, if you want to, but the interface for the standard shooting is so good that you won’t ever need to.
There’s also the introduction of a new character called Drebin, a gun launderer who can unlock ID-barriers on guns for Snake. You can also open his shop at any time and use sums of ‘Drebin Points’ (collected by procuring guns on the battlefield) to purchase new guns and ammo, whenever you want to. The term ‘stealth action’ that the series coined so long ago finally makes perfect sense – both are available, and both are effective. When you use which approach is up to you.
Like always, the story and gameplay come to their climaxes during the boss battles, and there are plenty in Metal Gear Solid 4. The Beauty and the Beast Unit, four women who were transformed by war into monsters, are the centrepiece of the game’s conflict, and they don’t disappoint. With names like Laughing Octopus, Raging Raven, Crying Wolf, and Screaming Mantis, series veterans will no doubt have fun exploring their pasts and figuring out how to best them in their long, protracted fights. A few other bosses crop up too, and the final encounter – a throwback to one of the most memorable moments in the series – is a fantastic time warp through all things Metal Gear. Snake will also find himself in a number of on-rails sequences where somebody is driving and Snake sits shotgun and guns down enemies. Simply put, these are some of the finest action sequences, period. A lot of what’s in Metal Gear Solid 4 trumps some of the best action films out there. Overall, the boss fights may not be as clever as Metal Gear Solid 3’s COBRA unit, but they’re certainly more frenetic and explosive.
Throughout Snake’s globetrotting mission, you’ll frequently stop for no other reason than to just drink in what’s around you. Guns of the Patriots is inarguably one of the best-looking games ever released, with a constant smattering of amazing animation, clarity, and direction poured over every scene in the game. Everything is loaded with details; Snake slowly ages and deteriorates as the game goes on, and a bunch of semi-interactive moments during the cut scenes let you see things from Snake’s perspective or flashback to something in a previous game. A very special dream sequence later on will certainly impress fans, as well. The sound is also top-notch, using Dolby 5.1 to make a three-dimensional soundscape with booming bass, sharp treble, and astonishing depth and distance as dynamic battles rage around you. If you don’t have a 5.1 setup, consider investing in Bluetooth headphones for your PS3.
Rounding out the package is Metal Gear Online, which is pretty much what it sounds like. Pick a soldier, grab some weapons, and start sneaking around and shooting your friends online. The mechanics that are so carefully set up in the single-player game aren’t really as fun against human opponents, and in the end the online portion of Metal Gear Solid 4 is the weakest. The fact that it’s still one of the best online shooters on PS3, however, certainly says something about the overall package.
Guns of the Patriots is roughly 15 hours long, and basically every moment of it is exciting, intriguing, and – above all – fun. Ironically, in the games industry, it’s tough to call most games consistently entertaining these days. People new to the series will probably be lost amongst the already richly developed plots and confusing twists, but for fans or people willing to do a little research before they play, this is one of the finest games ever crafted.