By Alphazero 14 Comments
Writing expository dialogue isn't easy. When you have a list of data points you want your viewers to understand, a possible solution is to have one character in your movie tell it to another. The problem is, is most situations, people don't just relay lists of information. Now, say, you have twenty years worth of a batshit crazy bananas video game story line to wrap up and tie together. It's a story involviing clones, world domination, deus ex machina nano-machines, and three or four versions of a guy named Big Boss, who was trying to fulfill the will of Boss, but then so was another guy named Zero and... see, it gets complicated.
The game play in Metal Gear Solid 4 is really fun. I've always enjoyed sneaking around in video games. Assassin's Creed (the first one) for all of its faults, is still one of my all time favorites. MGS4 does an excellent job of giving you discoverable paths to sneak down, while still keeping the tension high with occasionally observant enemies. A few times in the game one of the mooing, AT-ST-like autonomous enemy robot walkers would stomp right past where I was crawling on the ground and I found myself, in real life, holding my breath. That's some good tension, right there. When the sneaking goes bad, the shooting is fun as well, with a ridiculous number of guns and modifications to choose from.
Part of my problem with the story has got to stem from the fact that I've never played a Metal Gear game before. Coming in with no connection to any of these characters leaves their big reveals a little flat. Hey, it's Meryl. I guess Snake used to know her. She sure is all grown up now. Who is she again? You can't fault the fourth version of a game for not lingering on character re-introductions, so I don't. Other characters like Liquid and his awesome sunglasses, Vamp and the stylish forehead bullet scar, Naomi and her improbable shirt, and Otacon and his sweater all are returning from previous games, and are explained enough to understand their function.
Otacon in particular is an interesting character type. Coming off of games like Gears of War in which the stars range from thick-necked bad-ass to thickest-necked bad-ass, it's nice to have someone a bit more human. Toward the end of the story, though, I wanted to slap him. Yes, Otacon, you will never sleep with anyone as hot as Naomi ever again. You have bigger fish to fry. Get over it. You suck, Otacon.
It's often funny -- Screaming Mantis and her ghost friend in particular had me laughing out loud. It's occasionally sad -- poor Snake. It's even straight up awesome. From reading about the back story I get the impression people don't like Raiden, but in this one he's great. Given the choice, be a cyber ninja. What's the downside? Mostly, though it's long. Long, long cutscenes in which characters tell each other things, stopping to load, and then they tell more. Movies over the years have by and large learned its better to show than tell. Consider the opening to Back to the Future, where you get a primer on the entire story just by panning over some pictures. The big surprise at the end of this one is that Big Boss is alive and well, then he's dying, then he's dead. In between, he talks and talks and talks. It's some classic soap opera melodrama.
This sounds harsh, and the storytelling is pretty terrible in parts, but I did love the game. It's crazy in all the right ways, and when you are given the opportunity to play, it's uniquely fun. I've never played anything like it, and want to play more. I recently acquired the very first Metal Gear for the NES. Maybe after meeting the 8-bit Big Boss I'll feel differently about his extended -- and pretty unmotivated -- death scene.
But I bet Otacon will still suck.