Absolution and Impotence (Or the end of the conspiracy era)
Metal Gear Solid 4 : Guns of the Patriots: The supposedly FINAL rendition of one of the most popular and bat**** insane franchises in the history of the industry.
Story : Here’s something to think about. Guns of the Patriots is the first Metal Gear game in about ten years where you actually play as Solid Snake. Yes, after ten years of having Solid Snake dangled in front of us, only to be baited and switched into playing the rest of the game as a more androgynous blonde cretin, or tricked into playing as someone who only bears a resemblance to Snake, we finally have a game where we play as the hero who’s supposedly too legendary to appear in the same video games he appears on the box art for. And this time around, Snake faces two dire enemies: premature aging and every single unanswered plot thread remaining in the series.
There is certainly an unfair standard here that I’m not going to pretend doesn’t exist. If “Metal Gear Solid” wasn’t in the game’s title, myself and every other person who had played the game would be trashing the story for so many right reasons. The cutscenes are agonizingly long, the writing would be considered annoying, and a lesser human being would lose their mind with the conspiracy buffet they’re being asked to binge on. It often feels like there’s a series of conspiracy theories laid out on top of each other, like every “truth” has five other “truths” behind it. Hell, just the explanation behind how a man’s hand can possess Ocelot has a massive conspiracy beefy enough to upset one’s stomach. And lest we forget, the complete break in consistency of a game that puts so much emphasis on modern warfare and government policies to throw at you an enemy that defeats adversaries with voodoo dolls.
But this is a Metal Gear game. By now, fans have not only come to accept the series shortcomings, but they might be disappointed to not see them. Old age hasn’t helped Solid Snake’s hearing, as he’ll continue to ask for clarification on every noun thrown at him. You know what I’m talking about. “The Patriots? PMCs? War economy? My brother Liquid? Guns? Urinary Tract Infection?” The writing in general tends to reiterate points repeatedly and there’s no sense of subtlety; main characters will gladly spell out the game’s themes in case you didn’t get them the first ten times. But we’ve come to expect this after the last three games. We’ve already dealt with cyborg ninjas, a soldier that shoots bees and a psychic that reads Playstation memory cards so perhaps we’re desensitized by absurdity.
After all, it’s hard to criticize the length of the cutscenes when they look this good.
Just like with past games, the cinematography here is leaps and bounds above anything else in any game ever released, which is even more astonishing when you consider it’s all done with the in-game engine and not pre-rendered video. If you have experience with this franchise, then you’ll know to expect half-hour-plus long sequences of watching the game before you actually get to pick up the controller and play. Though cutscenes occasionally prompt you to press a button; the X button is literally the FLASHBACK button while the L1 button is the “first-person view of a woman’s cleavage” button. Any other game, I’d be frustrated and wondering why I’m not shooting something right friggin now, but with Metal Gear Solid, I can’t help but sit back and grab another soda.
It also helps that the characters are…mostly appealing. There’s little in the way of generic archetypes here, though does become redundant to hear what is essentially the exact same backstory over and over again for each member of the “Beauty and the Beast Corp”, this game’s set of unsavory supervillains/boss fights. It’s also worth mentioning that this game has some of the lamest comedic relief characters you’ll ever bear witness to. Nothing kills the mood like seeing Otacon’s weird RC mech thingy or a monkey in spandex drinking soda. The game does have some good jokes though, most of which make fun of past games, but I couldn’t in good conscience spoil this game, or at least spoil it moreso than the countless reviews or eager brothers were to tell me about what moment freaked them out (and you know who you are. Thanks, you ass!) Oh, and pretty much every character still alive (and plenty that are dead) will make some kind of appearance here. Fortunately, Fatman stays dead and forgotten. Unfortunately, The End also stays dead and forgotten. It seems that Hideo Kojima is hellbent on making sure he isn’t forced into making a Metal Gear Solid 5, so he wraps up every single loose end and gives each character the kind of resolution that ensures they’ll never see action again for one reason or another.
It helps that the game proficient at bringing players up to speed as to what happened in the past. If anything, you can get by playing this game with almost no prior experience with the franchise, which is something very few sequels of this ambitious nature can pull off. Then again, no game of this nature has a fraction of the dialogue of a Metal Gear Solid introductory cutscene. Obviously, to get the most out of your Metal Gear experience, you should have played through the first three games, but I’d say “don’t touch Guns of the Patriots until you’ve at least sat through the very first game, otherwise many sequences within this game will mean nothing to you!”
Speaking of game, there actually is a game somewhere within this game. Shocking? Not a whole lot of game, mind you. I was told by the game that I had invested about 17 hours of time into the single player campaign, but I think I only spent about 4 of those hours in control of something. It’s absolutely absurd, but again, this is Metal Gear, so after ten years, fans should be used to this kind of gameless gameplay. And to a degree, I kind of respect what would otherwise be considered a short game because there’s absolutely no filler whatsoever.
There’s no fetch quests or contrived excuses to go back and forth in a single area. You need only go through each game environment once, and how you go through it is strictly up to you. There are no mandatory tutorial sequences or video packages where the game slowly details each button press, you merely tap a button to bring up a menu at your leisure detailing the default controller layout. And as opposed to say, the Prince of Persia games, there’s never a single solution to any given scenario, and the game won’t constantly badger you with how to whatever command you need to do at that specific moment. You’re merely given a handful of items and weapons, and it’s up to you to invent a means of going through any given area, and how peacefully you want to go through that area.
Because of this, there’s a large degree of trial and error involved in figuring out a successful technique. A certain degree of patience and technique is required to sneak your way around. If you’re really proficient and peaceful, you can play through the entire game without killing a single human being, demented bosses included. The “guns blazing” approach also has plenty of validity to it, though you’ll have to overcome some baffling controls to mow down your competitors. You have to press three different buttons to enter first person view to shoot your adversaries. Considering how combat seems to have a large focus this time around (what with most of the game set in a freaking WARZONE), the cover mechanics in this game are as old as the protagonist, as you’re relegated to ducking behind an object that you hope is taller than Snake’s crouching animation, and then have to peek out because you can’t view enemies from behind cover, hopefully spotting and picking them off before they do the same and send Otacon into the same crying frenzy he enters every time you die. And you’ll probably die a lot, partly because of the controls but also in the pursuit of experimentation with assorted tactics. You have two advantages in the battlefield though; one is that you can access a weapons shop at any time and use money amassed by automatically selling the extra weapons picked up from fallen enemies to buy new toys, ammo and mods. The other advantage is that enemy AI is generally rather thick.
There’s also the game’s boss battles, which take the same approach as the rest of the game in that you’ll be left to your own devices to figure out what tactics will work best. Because of this, the battles here feel more…organic, like the enemies are living, breathing foes that you need to outsmart, instead of you and an enemy hacking away at each other’s shins until the first to run out of health collapses, or a robotic like enemy with a predetermined attack pattern who becomes hopeless to your assault once you’ve got them figured out.
Illustrating examples presents a small challenge for me as I would hate myself for spoiling anything.
Again, a lot of this is eased by the uniqueness of the settings. For the first half of the game, each level is spent on a battlefield, and sneaking around while two factions duke it out makes for some unique sneaking scenarios. I hope you like gun turret sequences though, because there’s at least three of them here, but the latter two are actually quite memorable in of themselves, without me giving anything away. The one gameplay sequence that peeved me was a section where I was forced into following someone without being seen, and any attempt to help him against enemy soldiers was met with said person opening fire on me. And for better or worse, the game shamelessly evokes the nostalgia card; expect plenty of moments designed to tug on the heartstrings of people who have played the previous games.
Finally, there’s the online play…which features an update that, at this point in the review (including proofreading), is only 60% downloaded. I’m going to have to update this review at some point to include the multiplayer aspect, but this really shouldn’t take so long.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is a bit of an old fossil. Combat mechanics should be much tighter by modern standards. The standards of writing have improved (at least in specific games) enough that we shouldn’t need such lengthy story sequences. But at the same time, some of the “dated” aspects are admirable. We rarely get games anymore that don’t submit the player to a slow-paced tutorial that holds our hand while detailing every single possible action, followed by asking the player to repeat said action repeatedly like we’re learning to write the Alphabet in grade school. We rarely see games anymore that are comfortable with being short and sweet, not feeling obligated to force the player to re-do levels over again or grind enemy battles to progress. And we rarely see games anymore that give the player freedom to figure out their own solutions to a challenge.
To sum up this obscenely long review, the more you like Metal Gear, and in particular the first Metal Gear Solid, the more you’ll like Metal Gear Solid 4. I would argue that it’s not as charming a game as say, Metal Gear Solid 3, but I doubt this game aimed to charm. For what it is worth, I would suggest that Metal Gear Solid 4 is perhaps the greatest conclusion-game in the history of gaming. When you think of attempts at multi-game epics, the final game either ends with a forgettable whimper (Halo, the Sands of Time trilogy), in a hurry (Xenosaga), or not at all (Shenmue). So Metal Gear fans can be honoured to be given such a fantastic send-off. Solid Snake is leaving the stealth genre on top, and he’s leaving it his way.
Pros : For the life of me, I couldn’t recall any reference to Portable Ops, Metal Gear Acid 1 or 2, or the Metal Gear Solid Game Boy Color game, which is great for people like me that couldn’t be made to finish most of them.
Cons: Product placement for Apple products feels out of place in a game with this many conspiracies about corporations. The ending is a lot longer than it should be; imagine the ending to Return of the King, but to the power of ten.
Someone out there is attracted to the idea of their virtual in-game character listening to a virtual iPod, and listening to old themes from past Metal Gear games.