Rides the line between genius and fanservice well
It just seems like a massive undertaking to write about this game because of all my wildly diverse opinions about it. It’s not cut and dry like most other games or even the other Metal Gears. This one is just fundamentally different in a lot of ways that made it difficult to try to pull it all together in a cohesive review that informs people of my opinion. Even now I’m afraid that this post might be a little scatterbrained, as well.
Well, first of all, there’s the thing that I just could not get over though the duration of the game which is the raw amount of care and effort that obviously went into the game. I mean, I’ve talked before about how Naughty Dog, Square, and more recently Ninja Theory and Sony for Heavenly Sword, I’ve talked about the facial animations and cutscenes and how they’re the best in the business. I’m talking from a technical point of view, since I really would have a hard time saying that the ridiculous crystals and stuff in Square games really make for some compelling entertainment. Well, I have to say that in that same vein, ignoring content, MGS4 is up there as well with some of the best animation in the business. You can tell how much motion capture they did, especially in the ridiculous amounts of action scenes.
Some of this effort actually goes to waste, though, because despite how well done the cutscenes are, they need to be less of them and they need to be shorter. I understand that Metal Gear and Japanese game fans love these kinds of cutscenes, and I’m sure they’re sick of these damn Western game fans with their integrated narrative trying to ruin their enjoyment of gaming. Hey, I like cutscenes, too and I don’t want them to go. I like Metal Gear cutscenes, too. I just don’t like the gratuity. Raiden’s fight with Vamp is cool, Meryl and Johnny’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith action was cool, and I kind of enjoy some of the psychobabble in the cutscenes, but I’m afraid Kojima Productions needs some guys from cinema to tell them how to edit it into something that’s the right length, because that shit was looooong. I complain about this in some movies as well, like the later two Matrix movies, which had fights that were too long with not enough memorable moments. And some of these goddamn cutscenes have narration over the equivalent of a PowerPoint presentation where they explain, in detail, all the different bodily functions that the Sons of the Patriots system tracks, or every detail of how the Patriots were formed, which I did want to find out in this game but not through a powerpoint! I was so incredibly disappointed when this happened, for someone so creative as Kojima to fail so hard and resort to such a boring method of storytelling. But I guess he couldn’t figure out how to explain everything in another way, or maybe it’s a culture thing where Japan loves PowerPoint or something. I don’t remember on which podcast I heard this, it might have been GFW, 1UP, or Giant Bomb, but someone said that Kojima really made this game to try to wrap everything up which is why everything is so overexplained. That really has to be why he put so much talking in the game, so much more than any other game in the series, even.
The game itself is just as you’d remember it. From prerelease information I was led to believe it would be a completely different game and in a way it is, but it’s still the same old Metal Gear, with the different areas you’ve come to remember from the original MSX versions, the exclamation points and alerts, the X button crawling, everything. But it’s amazing that they made all the right choices to make it so fun. It has the Subsistence camera, with some new over the shoulder view and a workable first person view that isn’t quite as good as Call of Duty’s iron sights but it’s close enough for a Japanese dev, and those things fix the problems with enemies in the series, so now Snake feels like the badass he always was. There’s the Splinter Cell crouch walk which comes in more handy than you’d realize, and finally Octocamo. The way this system had been explained led me to think it was some kind of radical new approach but really it’s a logical future tech version of the camo system from MGS3. Instead of finding camo, camo finds you. You can even run the camo system in the same way by registering patterns, which I never found useful at all, but I’m sure it’s there for a reason.
The first few levels are a joy to play through. The middle east environment from the trailers has some parts where there’s an open battlefield to sneak through. Contrary to what I understood from prerelease info, you can’t choose sides with the rebels and PMCs. Basically, you can ignore the fights or help the rebels and that’s it, and there’s level paths for both. Snake can run through the center of the battle and lay waste to his enemies or take the road under the car and behind the building to sneak around them. I always help the rebels out by tranquilizing the PMCs, which nets you more items to sell for the in game store.
Drebin, a newcomer to the series, sells weapons that you can access through the menu. It’s typical of the series to have gun porn, but there’s an extra layer with the customizability. It’s not as deep as I imagined it was. From what I can see, some weapons have spaces for flashlights or suppressors, grenade launchers or laser sights, those sorts of things. You can’t really go into it any further than that, which is kind of disappointing, but the shop itself is a great idea. It’s no longer about what you find on the battlefield since ammunition is a click away. It also scales well on different difficulties as there’s items you can and can’t buy, and the ammo storage is much smaller as you go up.
The one thing that anyone can probably tell about this game is that it’s fanservice. The bosses are all throwbacks to the original Playstation game, you return to Shadow Moses in Act 4, and folks from the previous games in the series return, in some cases even from beyond the grave. It wraps up all the story, every character, and there’s no bad ending in sight. And it’s a little bit of a disappointment. I never expected Kojima to lean so heavily on MGS1, especially in his fourth wall breaking gags which almost always have to do with the first game in some regard. I loved when we return to MGS1 gameplay which hammers home how the series and maybe gaming as a whole has changed in ten years. I still love the gags, which include a Psycho Mantis return complete with attempted memory card telepathy and controller telekinesis, Otacon asking Snake to change the disc in Shadow Moses, things like that. It’s sad not to see anything new there, but really, does the audience want something completely new in MGS4 or do they want to remember the beginning of Solid Snake’s story as the end approaches? I’m thinking the latter.
Also disappointing was the ending, which I alluded to before. Not the ending cutscene with Big Boss’s return, which was really long and terrible, but what happened before that. Solid Snake goes through microwaves which should have killed him, collapses on the ground, then fights Liquid who is really Ocelot, then tries to off himself again later with the gun in the mouth, as we saw in one of the trailers so long ago. So many moments to end Solid Snake and put a fine point on the end of the series, and they take none of them. Instead, the ending is too upbeat and weak with all this ridiculousness. Snake should have died after walking through the microwaves. The fight should not have happened. I’m sure they could have Liquid show up while Snake is dying and get killed by FOXDIE or something. The scene with Big Boss should not have happened. Or possibly they could have written it a different way than I’m suggesting. But Solid Snake should have died in an epic way, which is something his story deserved instead of what actually happened
I always feel like I need to hammer home various points in my reviews and/or impressions, considering this is the internet which is full of miscommunication. I want to repeat that I really liked this game. There’s a lot of good in this game, some very nice choices of design like the microwave corridor scene which was incredibly effective as interactive entertainment, with “interactive” being the operative word there. There’s also bad parts, but the bad don’t dilute the good. They’re still genius even if there’s PowerPoints in some cutscenes. It’s just disappointing that they couldn’t give Snake the ending he deserved, and it kind of bums me out a little bit.