I know writers who use subtext, and they're all cowards!
I've always felt that Hideo Kojima is a really talented man, but a poor writer.
I wouldn't usually start a review talking about the story, but Metal Gear is just one of those series.
MGS4 feels like a creation that wasn't given enough time, written by a man who is extremely tired of his creation. Meant to be an ending to the franchise, it tries to do everything and fails at most of the things.
The story feels like a much more integral part of this game than even of previous games. The cutscenes of this game have quite a reputation for being insanely long, which isn't an issue. There are games where you effectively watch a movie or just read a book all the way through with minimal gameplay. However, Metal Gear Solid 4 doesn't feel like it wants to tell a story, but rather to overexplain and provide barely slapped together conclusions to every little plot point that came before.
This is the first MGS game that's broken up into specific acts, where you, as Old Snake, will travel to various locations. In this way, the story also affects the gameplay quite a bit. Instead of having one big memorable location, you'll travel through multiple smaller ones that all have their share of problems. The game starts in the Middle East, and if you've seen any American movies, you'll know that this means that the big visual thing setting it apart from other locations will be a brown filter on everything.
The beginning of the game had an idea of placing you into a live combat zone where you'll need to improvise much more, and your actions will earn the reputation of one or the other side. When I talk about this game not being given enough time, I mainly mean its first half. The warzone feels unpolished and not at all exciting. In reality, it's hardly any different from previous games, as soldiers have clear routes, and killing one just means that the other one will spawn from the same place.
Compare this to the forests of MGS3, where every single thing contributed to making the place you're in more alive and important. Flora and fauna, dangers of the forest, improvised food... There's none of that care in MGS4's warzones. Perhaps because they end as quickly as they began (just after a plethora of cutscenes). There is one moment where you have to follow the tracks through a maze that feels like a microcosm of this game's issues. You're given a lot of tutorializing for how to recognize and follow tracks in a section that lasts about as long as the tutorial codec call.
The bosses feel just as uninspired. This time, your merry band of freaks is the Beauty and the Beast Squad - a fully female group of mercenaries.
The bosses are a staple of Metal Gear, and if we were to rank every group from the MGS games, Beauty and the Beast would be my least favorite by a mile. Two of them are retreads of MGS 1 bosses, with the third one being a repeat of an idea that the devteam had for the MGS1 boss. All of them look similar and barely talk. In fact, the usual death scenes are replaced by a secondary character giving you their life story through the codec. Of course, the fact that they're ladies comes into play, too. All of the squad are incredibly broken people, yet of course, they are incredibly sexualized. If they were behaving a la Bayonetta, it would be understandable, but they don't. It's just another example of media having a particular fetish for sexy women who don't enjoy being sexy.
Once you're out of warzones, the game falls apart in a completely different and unique way. It introduces you to a big European city to sneak through... But only as a target-following mission. This is also where you might realize that story wants nothing more other to remind you of previous games. MGS4 doesn't have quirky conversations of its predecessors about movies, instant noodles, anime, or even more serious stuff like nuclear deterrence and the Soviet secret cosmonauts. Instead, you will be given details for every character that has ever appeared in the MGS series. Did you want to know more about the DARPA Chief or EVA? How about Johnny, Major Zero, Naomi, Meryl, or Para-Medic? Did you miss Vamp or thought about Olga? There are almost no new characters in this game, and a lot of the old ones show up to be a reference to previous events. Not even the dead can escape MGS4. Instead of doing The Thing They're Known For, they'll just be given a new fact or two about their lives, just in case the series' story wasn't convoluted enough.
This is what I mean when I say that Kojima's tiredness with MGS can be felt through the screen. This game's story screams "I don't want to do this anymore" by shutting every possible little hole in its story. Even the Old Snake himself feels like a character that was created so that no sequels can exist.
The last substantial act of the game is yet another nostalgia fanservice. Mind you, this, and the final battle, are scenes that actually manage to be good about using nostalgic imagery. However, I can't really be THAT happy about the fact that the best 1/4th of the game is reused level design.
There are RARE moments of brilliance in MGS4. Usual funny moments and easter eggs, actually touching or interesting dialogue and one or two interesting twists. However, as a whole, this game always felt like a mess to me. The best I can say about it, unfortunately, is that its return of Raiden has given us a much better Metal Gear Rising Revengeance.