MGS4 Dissection

SPOLIER WARNING! PLEASE BE SURE TO HAVE COMPLETED MGS4 BEFORE READING!

Before writing any article which might lead to controversy within the gaming community it is always prudent to explain the context in which it was written. I have no hate for Kojima or the Metal Gear series. This is as far from the truth as you can get. He is the Kubrick of our industry and a visionary yet blinded by that very vision and unable to see the flaws that come with it.

MGS 1 is my all time favourite game. The second was far too pretentious and bloated story wise while the 3rd was equal to the first or at least would have been were it not for the god awful over the head camera and an unwillingness to move with the times, a fault which was to reappear in the forth and concluding chapter in the saga.

My main problem with 4 was the story and way it was told. But that's subjective. So here are things that I believe can't be disagreed with. They may not change your mind about the game but that’s not my intention. I just want those who gave it perfect scores to stop and think a little. For even if we search out and see the flaws which cover those we love the most, that doesn’t make us love them any less. As it is with the people in our lives, so it is with the works which populate it, whether they be crafted through the medium of literature, music or games.

Broken Cover system. Can't shoot over objects, only around. Makes it far less useful than it should have been. And on the last Act just before the beauty boss fight there's an arena fight reminiscent of the one at the end of 2 in arsenal gear against the ninjas. In this room it won't even let you shoot around the pillars, proving perhaps the cover system was a late addition and as such never benefitted from the care that was lavished on other parts of the game. While you may argue that MGS4 is a stealth game and therefore criticising a part of it which does not classify as such is folly let me remind you of the original title’s tag line: Tactical Espionage ACTION. There’s no way you can sneak out of certain sections in the game as Kojima forces you to fight your way out instead and if the means to do so is flawed, it hampers the overall enjoyment of the game.

I have read reviewers stating that in the same way that Super Mario 64 revolutionized the way we play videogames, Metal Gear Solid 4 revolutionizes the way videogames are presented. The transition between cut scene and actual gameplay is seamless and constantly surprising. And indeed some of these transitions do indeed impress. My jaw dropped when I released I was in control during the motorbike chase and I was amazed by how others were handled as well. But like the controls, it only goes to highlight what’s missing. Some transitions are seamless but not all. Almost every cut scene is bookended by a load, whether that happens at the start or end (it’s rarely both which I am indeed thankful for at least) which then amounts to only about 50% of them actually being seamless yet this was never mentioned. And if I must critique the technology then no amount of love for the series will allow me to excuse the following:

Otacon makes a point of ridiculing the CD system of the first game when he asks you to change discs before remembering that the game is on Blu-Ray and there’s no need yet the irony of this very statement is lost on him. We lose one inconvenience and have it replaced with another: installs. It would actually be quicker to change discs than re-install game assets at the start of every Act and the fact that Konami made a point of asking reviewers in advance not to mention this is ridiculous. It may not affect many people’s enjoyment of the game but when Sony feel arrogant enough to proclaim the wonders of their system while dismissing the flaws in such a blasé manner, I can’t let it go.

Now I delve into a part of the game that I will agree is completely subjective but humour me for a moment. When you have invested so much in these characters over the years, you expect a lot in return and this is the area where I felt Kojima succeeded the least. There were hints early on which lead me to be hopeful. In fact, I’ll admit I’m being harsh as it was only until the last act that those hopes were crushed. The plot and characterisation kept me playing and credit is deserved for that as is so much praise. But that has all been given by thousands of players and hundreds of reviewers already. I’m here to deal with the faults which seemed to escape so many.

When Meryl launched her first verbal tirade against her uncle, I was shocked. Not just for her pain but because the Colonel I’d known for so long was no longer merely this commanding authority figure. He had flaws and vices just like the rest of us. This infidelity (whether you see it as Rose’s or Campbell’s to his own daughter) made him one of the most interesting characters I’d come across in a videogame for a long time. He was given so much character that it hurt all the more when it was then stripped away at the end. For the greatest problem with cherishing something is fear of losing that which you hold most dear. Kojima’s fairy tale ending for all made me feel as though he’d betrayed his artistic vision. It not only wiped the slate clean for the Colonel but cleansed him of all his personality and interest. While this part of the plot felt unrealistic to me, what I felt to be worse was the ethical questionability of Raiden’s epilogue; one which disallowed a crippled man to go on living with his disability. Which reconstructed his entire body and family. For someone with friends who were born without a limb or lost one during their lives, I found no solace in his happy Hollywood ending.

At least Snake and Otacon remained the character’s I’d always loved, always wanted to fight for and with. But even here Kojima backed away and gave in to what everyone wanted. The microwave room was the most powerful bit of gaming I’d ever experienced. Did I dare stop pounding triangle in order to see if my efforts were actually affecting the speed with which he dragged his wretched body along the floor? Hell no. I couldn’t bring myself to do so as I’d done countless times in God of War or any other Quick Time Eventful games. I even had to look away as Liquid then proceeded to beat a broken man and was on the verge of shattering him into a thousand even smaller pieces. Then Snake got up and the fate of the world was decided by a fist fight on top of a submarine. Snake’s pain; that which had become my own was undone as he stood up, fit and healthy in order to confront liquid. All which I had felt within the confines of that hellish room was undone in an instant as Snake instantly recovered from his wounds and went out with a macho bang. This has been called the greatest final boss fight in recent games. Yet was it necessary? Liquid is no longer Snake’s nemesis. Snake’s fighting himself. Fighting against his failing body, his own ticking doomsday clock. That’s where the real battle was being lost and won. There was no need for Liquid to appear (from nowhere I might add, seriously – where did he come from?!) and destroy all the work done in the prior scenes where Snake was so savagely destroyed.

Although having said this, a word must be said about the montage in the microwave room (praise that isn’t being spread enough even in those 10/10 reviews). Kojima takes a traditional Hollywood device and subverts it. Something I wish he’d done more of. Any other game, any other film would have merely added what is a clichéd and overused emotional device as a bookend to that section. Yet by interspersing it within the actual gameplay itself, Kojima elevated that whole scene into something beyond powerful. This is the sort of genius I wish had been able to shine so brightly through other parts of the game.

One area where I felt this influenced was lacking was in the creation and execution of the Beauty and the Beast Squad: Ever since the first game, Kojima has been attempting to analyse the emotional side of war but what this has amounted to in practice is a stripping down of all other aspects to his villains. Fox Hound were awesome. Dead Cell also. The Boss' unit was where he began to limit them to one just emotion; The pain/fear/fury etc. Yet they still felt like people driven to the edge due to broken dreams and lives. By removing the outer layers of their humanity, Kojima hoped to probe the depths and see what drove them on. Yet in doing so they lost all humanity and became single, unchanging, one note characters which is typified by the fourth entry. The Beauty and the Beast squad lacked depth. Without this, there was no reason to care when Drebin gave you his bed time stories and the characters became one dimensional. Even if you give a 2d character the most emotionally engaging back-story you’ve ever heard, that doesn’t then mean that they stopped being that very same 2d character over the past 16 hours. It's not what we are inside, but our actions which define who we are. If nothing of this comes to the fore, then we are never allowed to glimpse it and the characters remain one dimensional and emotionally uninteresting - keeping you detached from them and not caring as we once did for the likes of Sniper Wolf and Pyscho Mantis.

Also, if they're going to lose their armour, why make EVERY fight the same when they're in their human form? It was just dull and uninspired. I expect more of Kojima and usually he delivers - bike chase with Big Mamma was my most exhilarating moment in gaming of the past few years and cut away cut scenes during the Vamp fight and especially in the microwave room were beyond inspired. And looking back at previous boss fights; the breaking of the fourth wall with Mantis in the first game, the fight against an undefeatable Fortune in 2, the myriad ways of taking out the End in 3, the way you could poison The Fear’s food all show a man who clearly knows how to craft his villains. While visually they awed and made the best entrance of any MGS squad (for this go and re-watch the cut scene introducing them in the first act), I just found them to be lacking as characters and as bosses.

While Kojima did try new things during these encounters, many of them didn’t permeate all the way throughout the game. The destructible environments during the standoff against The Rage only went to highlight the lack of environmental interaction in the rest of the game (a few key scenes not withstanding during Shadow Moses). This, compounded with the fact that many of the boss fights introduced entirely new control schemes for sections amounting to a small percentage of the game all just went to show how it was lacking in other areas.

Finally, a minor gripe which I know is unlikely to be shared by many but the most devout and rabid MGS fan. Virtually no codec conversations: Seriously, as a fan of the series, I loved snake's little one on ones with Otacon and the team but they're been stripped down in the fourth for the sake of 'accessibility' while the cut scenes are even longer than before. It makes no sense to cut one down and not the other. In doing so, one loses the connection which each entry helped tighten between you as the protagonist and those who helped you from behind the scenes.

Some may argue that reviews are subjective and as such not everyone will be willing to share my opinions on the game. However, I beg to differ and insist that when you award a perfect score to a game it leaves the realms of subjectivity and the game must be of such craftsmanship to be able to withstand all criticisms thrown its way. Either it is as near to a perfect refinement of already accepted gameplay conventions and mechanics as can be produced at the time or it reinvents and revolutionises its respective genre. If we review MGS4 in a bubble, away from the splinter cell’s and Gears of Wars of the world and chose to hold it only against the other games in the series than a far more forgiving light is cast upon it; it truly does refine all the ideas Kojima had previously introduced, setting it apart from the last entry. However, we do not naturally live in a vacuum. Everything we do has an influence on something whether intentional or not. The only conclusion I can draw is that either Kojima is ignorant to the progress made over the years or that he chose to encase himself in his very own artificial sphere; hidden away from all outside influence. By holding MGS4 up to the standards already set over the previous years by games of a similar ilk, the light shining upon it seems that much brighter and harsher. The shadows left by the game grow longer and cover, however partially, all the good done within it. They’re visible to all those who take the time to look instead of turning their gaze away. For those who chose the latter path I hope that what I have said becomes the flash of light that makes the shadows strike out upon the ground. MGS4 has received more than enough praise, raining down and seemingly cleansing it of its flaws. All I want this article to be is the lightning in that rain.
1 Comments
1 Comments
Posted by Vitor
SPOLIER WARNING! PLEASE BE SURE TO HAVE COMPLETED MGS4 BEFORE READING!

Before writing any article which might lead to controversy within the gaming community it is always prudent to explain the context in which it was written. I have no hate for Kojima or the Metal Gear series. This is as far from the truth as you can get. He is the Kubrick of our industry and a visionary yet blinded by that very vision and unable to see the flaws that come with it.

MGS 1 is my all time favourite game. The second was far too pretentious and bloated story wise while the 3rd was equal to the first or at least would have been were it not for the god awful over the head camera and an unwillingness to move with the times, a fault which was to reappear in the forth and concluding chapter in the saga.

My main problem with 4 was the story and way it was told. But that's subjective. So here are things that I believe can't be disagreed with. They may not change your mind about the game but that’s not my intention. I just want those who gave it perfect scores to stop and think a little. For even if we search out and see the flaws which cover those we love the most, that doesn’t make us love them any less. As it is with the people in our lives, so it is with the works which populate it, whether they be crafted through the medium of literature, music or games.

Broken Cover system. Can't shoot over objects, only around. Makes it far less useful than it should have been. And on the last Act just before the beauty boss fight there's an arena fight reminiscent of the one at the end of 2 in arsenal gear against the ninjas. In this room it won't even let you shoot around the pillars, proving perhaps the cover system was a late addition and as such never benefitted from the care that was lavished on other parts of the game. While you may argue that MGS4 is a stealth game and therefore criticising a part of it which does not classify as such is folly let me remind you of the original title’s tag line: Tactical Espionage ACTION. There’s no way you can sneak out of certain sections in the game as Kojima forces you to fight your way out instead and if the means to do so is flawed, it hampers the overall enjoyment of the game.

I have read reviewers stating that in the same way that Super Mario 64 revolutionized the way we play videogames, Metal Gear Solid 4 revolutionizes the way videogames are presented. The transition between cut scene and actual gameplay is seamless and constantly surprising. And indeed some of these transitions do indeed impress. My jaw dropped when I released I was in control during the motorbike chase and I was amazed by how others were handled as well. But like the controls, it only goes to highlight what’s missing. Some transitions are seamless but not all. Almost every cut scene is bookended by a load, whether that happens at the start or end (it’s rarely both which I am indeed thankful for at least) which then amounts to only about 50% of them actually being seamless yet this was never mentioned. And if I must critique the technology then no amount of love for the series will allow me to excuse the following:

Otacon makes a point of ridiculing the CD system of the first game when he asks you to change discs before remembering that the game is on Blu-Ray and there’s no need yet the irony of this very statement is lost on him. We lose one inconvenience and have it replaced with another: installs. It would actually be quicker to change discs than re-install game assets at the start of every Act and the fact that Konami made a point of asking reviewers in advance not to mention this is ridiculous. It may not affect many people’s enjoyment of the game but when Sony feel arrogant enough to proclaim the wonders of their system while dismissing the flaws in such a blasé manner, I can’t let it go.

Now I delve into a part of the game that I will agree is completely subjective but humour me for a moment. When you have invested so much in these characters over the years, you expect a lot in return and this is the area where I felt Kojima succeeded the least. There were hints early on which lead me to be hopeful. In fact, I’ll admit I’m being harsh as it was only until the last act that those hopes were crushed. The plot and characterisation kept me playing and credit is deserved for that as is so much praise. But that has all been given by thousands of players and hundreds of reviewers already. I’m here to deal with the faults which seemed to escape so many.

When Meryl launched her first verbal tirade against her uncle, I was shocked. Not just for her pain but because the Colonel I’d known for so long was no longer merely this commanding authority figure. He had flaws and vices just like the rest of us. This infidelity (whether you see it as Rose’s or Campbell’s to his own daughter) made him one of the most interesting characters I’d come across in a videogame for a long time. He was given so much character that it hurt all the more when it was then stripped away at the end. For the greatest problem with cherishing something is fear of losing that which you hold most dear. Kojima’s fairy tale ending for all made me feel as though he’d betrayed his artistic vision. It not only wiped the slate clean for the Colonel but cleansed him of all his personality and interest. While this part of the plot felt unrealistic to me, what I felt to be worse was the ethical questionability of Raiden’s epilogue; one which disallowed a crippled man to go on living with his disability. Which reconstructed his entire body and family. For someone with friends who were born without a limb or lost one during their lives, I found no solace in his happy Hollywood ending.

At least Snake and Otacon remained the character’s I’d always loved, always wanted to fight for and with. But even here Kojima backed away and gave in to what everyone wanted. The microwave room was the most powerful bit of gaming I’d ever experienced. Did I dare stop pounding triangle in order to see if my efforts were actually affecting the speed with which he dragged his wretched body along the floor? Hell no. I couldn’t bring myself to do so as I’d done countless times in God of War or any other Quick Time Eventful games. I even had to look away as Liquid then proceeded to beat a broken man and was on the verge of shattering him into a thousand even smaller pieces. Then Snake got up and the fate of the world was decided by a fist fight on top of a submarine. Snake’s pain; that which had become my own was undone as he stood up, fit and healthy in order to confront liquid. All which I had felt within the confines of that hellish room was undone in an instant as Snake instantly recovered from his wounds and went out with a macho bang. This has been called the greatest final boss fight in recent games. Yet was it necessary? Liquid is no longer Snake’s nemesis. Snake’s fighting himself. Fighting against his failing body, his own ticking doomsday clock. That’s where the real battle was being lost and won. There was no need for Liquid to appear (from nowhere I might add, seriously – where did he come from?!) and destroy all the work done in the prior scenes where Snake was so savagely destroyed.

Although having said this, a word must be said about the montage in the microwave room (praise that isn’t being spread enough even in those 10/10 reviews). Kojima takes a traditional Hollywood device and subverts it. Something I wish he’d done more of. Any other game, any other film would have merely added what is a clichéd and overused emotional device as a bookend to that section. Yet by interspersing it within the actual gameplay itself, Kojima elevated that whole scene into something beyond powerful. This is the sort of genius I wish had been able to shine so brightly through other parts of the game.

One area where I felt this influenced was lacking was in the creation and execution of the Beauty and the Beast Squad: Ever since the first game, Kojima has been attempting to analyse the emotional side of war but what this has amounted to in practice is a stripping down of all other aspects to his villains. Fox Hound were awesome. Dead Cell also. The Boss' unit was where he began to limit them to one just emotion; The pain/fear/fury etc. Yet they still felt like people driven to the edge due to broken dreams and lives. By removing the outer layers of their humanity, Kojima hoped to probe the depths and see what drove them on. Yet in doing so they lost all humanity and became single, unchanging, one note characters which is typified by the fourth entry. The Beauty and the Beast squad lacked depth. Without this, there was no reason to care when Drebin gave you his bed time stories and the characters became one dimensional. Even if you give a 2d character the most emotionally engaging back-story you’ve ever heard, that doesn’t then mean that they stopped being that very same 2d character over the past 16 hours. It's not what we are inside, but our actions which define who we are. If nothing of this comes to the fore, then we are never allowed to glimpse it and the characters remain one dimensional and emotionally uninteresting - keeping you detached from them and not caring as we once did for the likes of Sniper Wolf and Pyscho Mantis.

Also, if they're going to lose their armour, why make EVERY fight the same when they're in their human form? It was just dull and uninspired. I expect more of Kojima and usually he delivers - bike chase with Big Mamma was my most exhilarating moment in gaming of the past few years and cut away cut scenes during the Vamp fight and especially in the microwave room were beyond inspired. And looking back at previous boss fights; the breaking of the fourth wall with Mantis in the first game, the fight against an undefeatable Fortune in 2, the myriad ways of taking out the End in 3, the way you could poison The Fear’s food all show a man who clearly knows how to craft his villains. While visually they awed and made the best entrance of any MGS squad (for this go and re-watch the cut scene introducing them in the first act), I just found them to be lacking as characters and as bosses.

While Kojima did try new things during these encounters, many of them didn’t permeate all the way throughout the game. The destructible environments during the standoff against The Rage only went to highlight the lack of environmental interaction in the rest of the game (a few key scenes not withstanding during Shadow Moses). This, compounded with the fact that many of the boss fights introduced entirely new control schemes for sections amounting to a small percentage of the game all just went to show how it was lacking in other areas.

Finally, a minor gripe which I know is unlikely to be shared by many but the most devout and rabid MGS fan. Virtually no codec conversations: Seriously, as a fan of the series, I loved snake's little one on ones with Otacon and the team but they're been stripped down in the fourth for the sake of 'accessibility' while the cut scenes are even longer than before. It makes no sense to cut one down and not the other. In doing so, one loses the connection which each entry helped tighten between you as the protagonist and those who helped you from behind the scenes.

Some may argue that reviews are subjective and as such not everyone will be willing to share my opinions on the game. However, I beg to differ and insist that when you award a perfect score to a game it leaves the realms of subjectivity and the game must be of such craftsmanship to be able to withstand all criticisms thrown its way. Either it is as near to a perfect refinement of already accepted gameplay conventions and mechanics as can be produced at the time or it reinvents and revolutionises its respective genre. If we review MGS4 in a bubble, away from the splinter cell’s and Gears of Wars of the world and chose to hold it only against the other games in the series than a far more forgiving light is cast upon it; it truly does refine all the ideas Kojima had previously introduced, setting it apart from the last entry. However, we do not naturally live in a vacuum. Everything we do has an influence on something whether intentional or not. The only conclusion I can draw is that either Kojima is ignorant to the progress made over the years or that he chose to encase himself in his very own artificial sphere; hidden away from all outside influence. By holding MGS4 up to the standards already set over the previous years by games of a similar ilk, the light shining upon it seems that much brighter and harsher. The shadows left by the game grow longer and cover, however partially, all the good done within it. They’re visible to all those who take the time to look instead of turning their gaze away. For those who chose the latter path I hope that what I have said becomes the flash of light that makes the shadows strike out upon the ground. MGS4 has received more than enough praise, raining down and seemingly cleansing it of its flaws. All I want this article to be is the lightning in that rain.