MGS4 is the type of game worth owning a PS3 for
There are certain franchises that every gamer knows of. Final Fantasy is one of them, as is Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima's intricate brainchild. However, as well-known as the name Solid Snake is, the series has always divided the audience: a story that can be hard to keep track of with its numerous twists and turns, as well as gameplay that hardly evolved in a meaningful way between the first Metal Gear Solid on PSX and Metal Gear Solid 3 on the PS2 have kept many a player at bay. With Metal Gear Solid 4, Kojima Productions wants to appeal to both long-time fans by resolving the crazy story that has been brewing inside our Sony consoles for such a long time now, as well as pull new players in with gameplay that is fun, feels modern and controls rather well. Add downright incredible visuals and superb production values across the board, and you've got one of the best Playstation 3 games around.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is the final chapter in Solid Snake's trials. It takes place a couple of years after the craziness that was Metal Gear Solid 2, with Solid Snake and Otacon still chasing after the evil forces that are causing global conflicts behind the scenes. It's hard to talk about any of this without spoiling, so I shall not do much of it. What needs to be said is that if you're a fan of the Metal Gear Solid series and the tale it tells, you owe it to yourself to play Metal Gear Solid 4. There are plotholes, of course, but MGS4 manages to wrap up most of the story threads to a satisfying conclusion. This, in and of itself, is a pretty big achievement. The usual humour is in place, and the game quickly sets the tone as it opens with a series of mind-bending TV shows that you can follow for about 10 minutes before the actual game starts. Even this short and completely random little intro that otherwise has no bearing on the game, features great--or intentionally bad--acting performances, which had me laughing throughout. The cutscenes are some of the best-looking I've ever seen, as one has come to expect from the Metal Gear Solid name, and feel like a reward for sneaking or shooting your way through the game's various areas.
But that shouldn't come as a surprise to you, considering the brand name that's on the box. What is notable, however, is how much of a gameplay upgrade the developer has put in place. Allow me to blow your mind: you can move while crouched. You can move while aiming your gun. You could even play the game like a first-person shooter by pressing the triangle button while aiming and thus foregoing every form of stealth. The amount of options available to you has always been a major part of what made the gameplay in Metal Gear games appealing, and to see that not only expanded, but also improved upon was something I really appreciated.The game is split up into five chapters, and every act takes place in a completely different environment. You'll travel through the Middle East, through the jungle, through a major European capital and a couple of completely outlandish locations that I won't spoil for you. The first two acts focus mainly on introducing (or, really, reintroducing) the bunch of characters that will accompany you on your quest, as well as letting you toy around with enemies in full-on, stealth-driven gameplay. The bunkers, buildings and streets are immaculately crafted. I had a great deal of fun trying out all of Snake's abilities and gadgets, such as the invisible mini-Metal Gear Mk. II, that you can use to scout with and zap unsuspecting foes. The Solid Eye acts as both an eye-patch and a heads-up display that'll give you information about your enemies and also gives you night-vision. Furthermore, you'll be able to buy weapons and upgrade them with mountable grenade launchers, flashlights, suppressors and so much more through a new character called Drebin, who dabbles in gun-laundering. It all adds up to what can only be considered the best Metal Gear Solid gameplay yet, and while it isn't all things to everyone, the shooting has been executed very well, as has the stealth when one considers the game's wish to be a jack-of-all-trades.O
The other three acts, however, focus on the plot more than anything else, cutting back on the real gameplay to make room for various homages. While I didn't necessarily like this change at first, the fan-service is excellent. If you've been a long-time fan of the series, what little gameplay there is in the final three acts will not be wasted on you, but I could imagine those who are new to the series being frustrated by it. Although there are some incredible set-pieces in there that would be worth it to anyone, these chapters spend the bulk of their time on tonnes of cutscenes and codec conversations that either offer an enormous amount of information concerning the current events or are hilariously self-referential. A prime example of this is when your operator, Otacon calls you up and tells you to put in Disc 2, only to come to the realisation that this is no longer required thanks to the PS3 and its 50GB Blu-Ray discs. It's a scene that would make any gamer who's seen the endless console discussions on forums grin, and there are many more where that came from.
Each of these acts do require an individual install on top of an 8-minute install when you first put the game into Sony's machine. They feature a highly detailed animation of Snake smoking, and will constantly spout advice, health warnings and some funny stat-tracking your way (including telling you to go to bed if you're playing after midnight!) However, these little quips started looping around the 4-minute mark, and quickly felt like a small annoyance. It is something that you'll have to live with. Thankfully, every act opens with a bang or high-quality cutscene, which makes up for a lot of the waiting that you will be doing, eager to get back to experiencing this fantastic game.
There's also an online multiplayer mode in here, and there is some value in here if you want to test some classic Metal Gear Solid trappings against your friends (such as getting into a barrel and setting yourself down next to some empty ones to try and get the drop on your opponents) but really, it doesn't work out so well considering everybody you face already knows all the ways in which you can attempt this. The shooting is good, but not good enough to rival that of any dedicated shooters, so it's not as though the gunplay makes this online multiplayer mode worthwhile. I personally really enjoyed the original Metal Gear Online that came with Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence for the Playstation 2, but I had a hard time playing this new iteration (that reuses many maps from the original game) simply because other multiplayer experiences have set a certain bar, and it's a bar Metal Gear Solid 4 does not manage to reach with its online component. Even with the modernised gameplay, Solid Snake and the multiplayer avatars will always move with a designed stiffness that makes trying to shoot other players capable of thinking like you do less than fun.
If you've ever enjoyed any Metal Gear product, I implore you to at least try Metal Gear Solid 4. The game is oozing with quality, and an amount of polish rarely seen in a video game. Even if the plot is too weird for you, the game will supply you with a lot of fun, stealth action that can easily rival Splinter Cell's and a collection of great moments. Whether it manages to get to you depends on your love for the source material, but Kojima's franchise is something everyone should try at some point, and since Metal Gear Solid 4 represents the very highest it has managed to climb, it should be attempted by all. If you have a PS3, you owe it to yourself to play this game.