Goodbye, old friend
The wait is finally over, and the final chapter of the Metal Gear Solid series has arrived. Since being shown at E3 2006, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots has been one of the most anticipated games this generation. After exploring Snake’s father, Big Boss, in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, Kojima has returned to the original plot-lines started in previous games in an attempt to tie everything together into one cohesive story. With all the hype surrounding the latest, and the last in the Metal Gear Solid series, MGS4 certainly has a lot to live up to; it also has a lot to prove being one of the first high profile series to debut on the PlayStation 3.
When we last saw Solid Snake, he was helping Raiden defeat Solidus and his Dead Cell organization. Guns of the Patriots picks up a few years after the events of Sons Of Liberty; Snake has become physically old, and the world around him has changed significantly. Private military companies (PMC’s) have become very important in the world, fighting wars with no motive other than profit. Soldiers have been embedded with nano-technology that monitors their activities and vital statistics in an effort to standardize the battlefield. Snake is on a mission to find Liquid Ocelot, and he’s going to need the help of some of his old friends along the way, as well as some newer ones.
The immense scope of the story is so large that it cannot be summarized in a clear and concise manner, but it certainly does cover a wide range of topics that will make everyone thing twice about some of the things that could happen, or are even happening right now in the world, such as the standardization of war itself, making it seem as if fighting is just another profession. Not everything is limited merely to the characters to themselves, and is in fact about the world that surrounds them, and how it’s changed. However, the focus is on Snake himself, and how he is coping with this new world. Also, if you’re a newcomer, don’t worry: you’ll get caught up via the cut scenes fairly easily, even if you’ve never played the series before. However, series veterans will likely get more out of the story, with everything from the past titles finally being explained.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is comprised of five distinct acts (as well as an epilogue) that break up the story. Some of the acts are more based around story-telling than others, but they are all very entertaining throughout, with no “boring parts” included. It can be said that Metal Gear Solid 2 suffered quite a bit because of such areas in the game, like the ridiculous amount of backtracking, or saving Otacon’s sister. None of this is in Guns of the Patriots. It is an incredibly balanced game that always feels just right. Each act takes place in a different environment, keeping interest levels high as well. Each portion of the game feels drastically different than the other, with each act building upon the other. The length feels perfect, longer than Sons Of Liberty and Snake Eater by a few hours.
There are all sorts of new features and mechanics added in this iteration, though some of the more important include the Octocamo, Drebin’s weapon shop, and the Mk II robot. The Octocamo gives Snake the ability to camouflage himself as anything nearby; the player simply leans against or lies down on the terrain or material, and everything automatically changes. Also new is the weapon shop. Guns in Guns of the Patriots are relegated by an ID tag, meaning Snake can’t just use any weapon he finds on the battlefield. Drebin, a weapons launderer whom you meet early in the game, is able to fix the guns in order for Snake to utilize them. As Snake collects extra copies of guns in the game, they are automatically sold to Drebin for currency, which can be used to not only give access to the guns themselves, but also allow Snake to buy customized parts and ammo for his arsenal. All business is automatically conducted through the Mk II, a robot Otacon has built to help Snake on the battlefield. The Mk II can be used to scout ahead, which is very useful for finding different routes in some of the war zones. It also has the ability to whip a cable out, which can be used to attack certain enemies.
After playing through the first three Metal Gear Solid titles, the controls in Guns of the Patriots are a lot more intuitive and easy to use. Everything is fine-tuned and precise, complete with full rumble support for DualShock 3 owners. If the controls have put you off in the past, it’s worth checking MGS4 out to see if it will change your mind. With a perfected first-person view, the gunplay is just incredible, and where it should have been in past titles. Not only is it easier to aim, but you can also finally move as you would in an FPS, making it that much better of an experience when sniping.
One big thing that has changed is how the game plays now. While originally a stealth series (and even subtitled as “Tactical Espionage Action”), MGS4 breaks away from the old formulas of hiding and narrowly making past the enemy without getting detected, and now Snake has nowhere to hide. You can still play the game stealthily, but you can also rush into gunfights with a machine gun or rocket launcher as well. There is no “right” way to play this game, making it far more accessible than any other game in the series. The amount of weapons also complements this idea, giving players the ability to use a wide variety of guns.
One thing that is absolutely worth mentioning is the sound, as it stands out as one of the best parts of MGS4. Kojima Productions did an excellent job with the audio design, and words can hardly describe how it feels playing on a heavily populated battlefield, bullets whizzing by and bombs going off in the distant. Everything just sounds so realistic, and is done in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. The music is also amazing, with some old classics resurfacing, in addition to a brand-new soundtrack that sounds as if it’s from an epic movie. All of the original cast is back to voice their respective characters as well, with the exception of a few, but this is merely due to changes in the story that affected the characters and how they should sound. Visually, Metal Gear Solid 4 is no slouch either. A smooth frame-rate also keeps the action going without a hitch. The character models are incredibly detailed, and the environments have such an incredible amount of life in them. Everything is just so varied and distinct, with nothing feeling recycled from previous areas. The presentation is obviously some of the best, with such high levels of interactivity in some aspects of the story-telling. The ability to manipulate the camera and the use of flashbacks keeps the immersion level high, especially during the mission briefing scenes in which the player can move the Mk II around freely, viewing anything and everything.
So with all these new ideas and changes going on in MGS4, will gamers that didn’t enjoy other entries in the series enjoy this one? Since Metal Gear on the whole tends to have a particular stigma in regards to gamers either loving it or hating it, it’s hard to say if these alone will convince certain people to pick it up and try it out. There seems to be a lot more of an incentive this time around to play it, as it seems even more accessible than ever. With less restrictions on how you play, it feels a lot more open to gamers who just want to kill things and blow stuff up, which was something that was once frowned upon by fans and the creators alike. Perhaps taking a cue from Resident Evil 4, Metal Gear Solid 4 seems to focus on all the good points of the previous games, and just fixing the problematic ones. There is still a lot of story, and with that a lot of cut scenes, but those are always engaging and tell one of the most intriguing stories in gaming history.
It’s rather rare that I have absolutely no complaints about a game, but this is one of these particular cases. Nothing stands out as hindering it whatsoever. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots will surely set the bar for this generations in terms of quality, and should be the benchmark for a truly great game. It’s sad to see the series finally end, but on the other hand I’ve never seen a series end so superbly. It truly is the end of an era, with a series that has spanned all three PlayStation generations.