Mento Gear Solid 4: Puns of the Patriots: Part One

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Hoo boy. A new Metal Gear Scanlon series means a new Mento Gear Solid to accompany it, as I attempt to sneakily get ahead of Drew and Dan so I can enjoy their video content without spoiling anything about Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots without the "purity" that comes from your own playthrough. Prior to their initial Metal Gear Solid run, I hadn't played a single one of these Kojima-penned nonsense tactical stealth action games before, partly because I've never particularly cared for the stealth genre. My present attachment to the series is entirely due to its legendarily daft plots filled with random asides, dumb jokes and the most ludicrous grasp of modern military thriller movie tropes. Now I join them on Solid Snake's fourth video game adventure - which is still technically true despite MGS2 and MGS3 having different protagonists, though you'd have to take into account the two original Metal Gear games and probably exclude a whole bunch of extra side-story stuff for portables that I don't know about.

I'm cautiously optimistic about this one. Jeff's stated in the past that MGS4 is his favorite, and largely because it's even more insane than the previous games. That remains to be seen, of course, but even if that's a high bar to reach I have no doubts that Kojima pulled it off. For the number of common sense complaints I can level against the guy - plot and game design decisions both - no-one directs a game quite like he does.

Some disclaimers before I start:

  1. I absolutely encourage everyone to watch the corresponding Metal Gear Scanlon 4 vids first. I'll have to go back and ensure that they match up once I'm reasonably certain that I've gotten ahead of the videos and can watch them, but the idea is that this loose "observation log" style is chiefly meant for those familiar with the game already. I'm skipping, or at the most briefly summarizing, the game's many huge cutscenes and story exposition dumps, and the game makes little sense already without getting an incomplete Cliff's Notes version from yours truly. For the sake of your own enjoyment of this feature, only start reading these if you're familiar with the game's events or have watched Drew and Dan play through the same part already. (I just hope Drew hasn't beaten me to many of the same jokes yet; we share a similar sense of humor, I've discovered.)
  2. If you'd like to read my prior war journals on this series, please feel free to start here with Mento Gear Solid 1, here with the two-part Mento Gear Solid 2 rundown and here with a six-part Mento Gear Solid 3 scrutiny here. Watch a series neophyte lose his damn mind in (almost) real-time. (And hey, give my other concurrent series some love too. It's about old European computer games no-one remembers!)
  3. Please, no spoilers in the comments. Not from the Scanlon videos if they've managed to get ahead and not even from Peace Walker, which I'm presently skipping for now. Story elements from MGS1-3 are fine, except when they directly relate to something coming up later in MGS4, like the re-emergence of a beloved series character (so no "hey, you should go back and read what you said about _____. I think you'll change your tune about it soon enough ;)") I have an inkling about a handful of twists and cameos, but I'd prefer to remain surprised. It'll make the reactions funnier, if nothing else.

I was reliably informed to watch the Act 1 Mission Briefing before starting the game proper, as it was deemed "too much cutscene" for the game's opening and was relegated to a main menu extra. That's setting an ominous precedent. Well, let's just tear this band-aid off already:

(Final disclaimer: I'm playing up until the point where I meet a certain coke-swilling monkey. If that checkpoint makes sense to you, the MGS4 fan and/or Metal Gear Scanlon 4 viewer, read on.)

  • PMCs are the name of the game this time around. They've taken over most of the conventional militaries of the world. I guess this was every modern military game's plot in the 00s.
  • Oh hey, there's a kid in Otacon and Snake's base. She's called Sunny. Is this Olga's kid? The way I see it, either Otacon got lucky with a woman who didn't immediately die on him, or the duo managed to locate the hidden high-tech Patriots safehouse where they were keeping Olga's child and defied the odds to free them. The latter seems more likely. (Helps that she looks like Olga too.)
  • Otacon's also working on that little Metal Gear that was in Snatcher. That's cool, I guess. I hope it yells at me if I decide to peek on a girl taking a shower.
  • Ah, we're actually flying on some ex-military airplane called The Nomad. Sunny's yelling at Snake for smoking on what is presumably not a commercial airliner. Dude already looks like he's in his seventies; I don't think the tar is what's killing him, junior.
  • Before we continue... SMAKA (Stuff Mento Already Knew About) Alert #1 for this new playthrough: I'm aware that Snake is aging rapidly, and appears to be an old man when really he's in his 40s and it's only been about five years since the events of MGS2. I'm not quite sure why yet. I recall hearing from one of the earlier games that the Les Enfants Terrible project had some built in genetic failsafe that rapidly aged the clones in case they, I dunno, wanted to live a normal life or something. Solidus got hit with it extra hard as a means to explain why he looked older than Solid.
  • PMCs are now more populous than regular national forces, due to the lessening of the US's military after the Big Shell (of MGS2) incident. The only nations with overwhelming military might these days are the richer ones who can afford to pay for all these mercenary armies. Like the US. Wait...
  • Nice little shout-out to Raiden with the "more orphans, more child soldiers" bit of this briefing. How much did the Colonel pay for this Powerpoint presentation? It's super elaborate. After MGS3's less than kind treatment of the blond wonder, I think it's 50/50 whether he'll show up again.
  • France and UK have two of the most valuable PMCs? Sweet. Oh, they're run by Outer Heaven.
  • Outer Heaven is, of course, run by Ocelot/Liquid (Liquid Ocelot, I believe is the preferred nomenclature, because everyone is just an adjective and an animal in this series). For someone who hated his dad so much, Liquid's sure eager to complete his dream. And we gotta go kill him. What, you mean again?
  • The cutscene just turned into some 24-esque picture-in-picture thing. Did I do that? Why am I controlling the cutscene now? For a semblance of interactivity?
  • "There's a rebel army of ethnic minorities in the Middle East, waging a civil war against the regime in power." Way to get specific, Otacon.
  • So the mission is to sneak in disguised as one of the goons the locals have hired to stop the goons the regime has hired. We need to rendezvous with Rat Patrol 1, who will be henceforth referred to as Ratrol.
  • Colonel Campbell's getting awfully cagey with how well he knows Ratrol. I suspect we'll be seeing a certain someone's "fantastic ass" in due time.
  • That's the end of this briefing. I guess I learned some useful things. I've been told the extra context is useful, but I suppose I'll need to get a little further for that to sink in.
  • And now we're watching a commercial for an exercise program from some hell dimension. What is this? All it needs is Jesse Ventura as Captain Freedom to show up, point at the camera and ask if we're ready for pain.
  • It's still going. Did they hire Tim and Eric for this?
  • Okay, this intro credits sequence is a little more somber than those commercials. The crazy tonal shifts are back. This is Metal Gear Solid all right.
  • "War has changed. It's in 1080p now. Well, upscaled to 1080p, but the difference in image quality from 720p isn't so signif-"
  • Oh shit, I'm in control. I put the contoller down because I fully expected this opening to take thirty minutes. Just a few lines grousing about "proxy battles" and "emotion control" (the original name for SIXAXIS?) and I'm suddenly neck-deep in Fallujah.
  • Sneaking through a warzone is interesting. The game's too linear right now to properly exploit all the commotion to hide myself, but it's letting me get a feel for... what the hell is that mooing sound?
  • What the jumping Jehoshaphat are these things? They look like AT-STs with weirdly muscular legs. Geckos, I think Otacon called them. Why do they moo?
  • Snake's cloak falls off, also displaying a new and overtly revealing muscleman Sneaking Suit. I feel like I just fell biceps-first into Cho Aniki.
  • Oh, so this is OctoCamo. SMAKA #2. I'd heard about this chameleon sneaking suit somewhere before. It boosts its own camo index so I don't have to, but I gotta sit/lie/lean still for a few moments for it to shift colors to match the surroundings.
  • Title drop. "Opening theme: Love Theme" credit seconds after. This is such a dumb movie of a game already.
  • And we're "Three Days Earlier"ing for more cutscenes in a graveyard. I get it. Start us off with something controllable and ease us into the five hour... wait, is that a button prompt?
  • Oh, so these are like little flashbacks you can trigger, a bit like the "Snake view" in MGS3. A few flashes of story points from previous games in case you forgot. I like how they made them all blurry and indistinct, both because that's how memories tend to work and also to disguise the blocky mannequins of MGS1 (though I suppose they're more likely to snatch those screengrabs from Twin Snakes, huh).
  • They addressed the aging thing. I guess they'd have to sooner or later. It's not like you can say "oh, he's always been this old, but you just couldn't see the wrinkles until the series went HD". FOXDIE was also brought up, so maybe that's partially to blame too. They did kind of leave that whole "FOXDIE's going to kill you at some point" thread dangling at the end of the first game.
  • Odd, we got a few seconds of the eggs and Sunny cutscene from the briefing before, but it suddenly skipped back to the warzone. Glad I saw it then, even if the game didn't consider it important.
  • Wait, Sunny helped build Otacon's Snatcher Metal Gear? Is she another child prodigy? Why are there are so many of these in this series? Otacon gives us the scoop on the Gekkos (why are they named like the guy in Wall Street)? Anyway, we're to meet with this robot ahead.
  • Got instantly spotted because I was getting used to moving behind cover and using CQC, discovered the game STILL doesn't have a "reload last checkpoint" button. At least I can go back to the title screen and load without waiting for them all to kill me, though it's only marginally quicker. Why is a convenient restart function still not a thing in a game that prioritizes stealth and rewards players who don't set off alarms? The mind boggles.
  • I almost stopped playing MGS3 because of this shit. I want to play these games stealthy. If I get caught, I'd ideally like to quickly reset the present area, and I really don't mind if I end up a few rooms back. I just don't want them to waste my time more than it already does with its Mickey Mousecapades hijinks about staring at boobs from inside a cardboard box. Every game past the first one (which can be forgiven, to an extent, due to it pioneering the whole genre) continues to surprise me with how lacking it is in some core game design necessities, and that's especially egregious given how much additional game design frivolities there are to an obsessive level.
  • Anyway, just because Snake looks like an old man, doesn't mean I have to grumble like one. I'll keep the kvetching down a tad as I keep playing. Well, at least the kvetching regarding series-wide problems. I'll keep the whining specific to MGS4, is all I can promise.
  • And I'll make sure to keep manual saves because I'm going right back to the beginning cutscenes for Big Boss's sake why is it doing this why did anyone think this was acceptable in 2009
  • Okay, grabbing the statue's junk is funny. You've won me back over, MGS4. Well, no you haven't, but I'll accept this as a peace offering. (It even comes off? I think if Michelangelo's David lost his D, I'd be more avid about it.)
  • I'm getting the hang of the controls again. They fixed CQC I noticed, making the "hold R1 while you're grabbing a guy" now the "knock him out" move rather than the "slit his damn throat" move. I wasn't informed ahead of time that no-kills was the preferential way to play this game, unlike in MGS3, but it's how I play every stealth game so let's stick with it. Of course, I'd need to get an actual tranq weapon first. The game's being a lot more cagey about giving me one off the bat this time.
  • I grabbed a PMC weapon after choking out a dude but I can't use it because of the ID tag. Clever stuff. Means I'm not finding high tech gear early and often, though presumably the ammo still works. Still, the way Otacon left off with "I wonder if there's a way we can remove the tags..." very pointedly suggests these locked weapons might be worth hanging onto.
  • Finally met with the Mk.2. It really is the Metal Gear companion from Snatcher. How long has Kojima wanted to reuse this little guy?
  • Neat, this little guy is just packed with gadgets. Now I have my tranq pistol and some "detective vision" eyepatch thing. Otacon calls it "Solid Eye" instead of "Snake Eyes" for some reason.
  • Man, this place is getting blown to shit. I think I got spotted trying to find the one staircase I was allowed to go down, but it didn't seem to have much impact. I'm sure I've lost some kind of amazing post-game item because of it, but...
  • Well, for the sake of transparency, I did check the trophies real quick (no spoilers!) and, unlike MGS3, they are completely asinine. In fairness, that was the case with most trophy/achievement sets around the time the feature was introduced to the 360/PS3 in the late 00s; it's clear no-one really knew what to make of them. At least that frees me up to be a little less stringent than usual. Probably for the best after the Kero-tan madness of that MGS3 Platinum run...
  • So all right, I'm in a safehouse now and the walls have finally stopped exploding all around me. It's dark and there's still hostiles around, but I'm a little more at home sneaking around in the shadows. The Solid Eye is super handy for being a combination enemy-spotter, radar, binocs and night-vision, though I'm guessing from the battery meter that I can't keep it on forever. Again, this feels like a convenience thing, though one that the game was thoughtful enough to include than to ignore, unlike the save states.
  • I'm grabbing all sorts of sweet gear I can't use from this bunker. It feels like I'm playing Borderlands in a late-game area with weapon drops and allies that are ten levels higher than me.
  • I didn't mention it earlier, but items in this game no longer spin around in circles in mid-air. Maybe the developers didn't think it was particularly verisimilitudinous or something. They got around the "well now the items just look like every other background prop" issue by having the Solid Eye point them out to you, including the item's name and other useful details like whether it's a weapon or a curative. Sneaky, but it means constantly having use this eye in the active item inventory (the L1/L2 side) instead of keeping rations available in case of healing. Would make more sense to just have this "normal mode" be the default vision format and add in other features (like the radar, binocs, night vision, etc.) as the power-draining bonuses you can switch on and off.
  • I also found a disguise. It'll make getting past the militia easier, but way harder to get past the enemy PMCs since they'll still shoot me on-sight, but I won't be able to use the OctoCamo to get away from... is that a monkey drinking Coke?
  • It's a cool black guy weapons smuggler. Drebin, that's a name that inspires smoothness and competency. Maybe we'll bring him along if we need to foil an assassination at a ballgame in the most slapstick way possible.
  • Actually, I wonder if this guy inspired the equally cool black guy gunsmith from Deadly Premonition? He had a stupid name too. "Wesley." Felt like I was Mr. Belvedere every time I bought something.
  • We've determined that Drebin's a useful asshole, so now we're trading weapons and counterfeit ID chips with him.
  • He just injected me in the neck with some suppressor thing to eliminate the old nanomachines (presumably the FOXDIE ones. Maybe should've removed those a long time ago?) I was wearing my militia disguise, though, so he actually injected all those priceless nanos into my headscarf.
  • You know, for a whole cutscene talking about how he's going to set us up with any guns we could want for the right price, he did just drive away before a vendor prompt came up to do any business. Maybe I'm supposed to do it remotely?
  • There's also "the war price" which fluctuates depending on the intensity of the fighting. I imagine that's an excuse to boost and drop the prices at random points in the game, story permitting.
  • I was right about the remote thing. That's a relief. Otacon said that I'll automatically sell duplicate guns I find, which is an awesome system that should be in more games. To my knowledge, the only other game that made it that convenient to sell vendor trash is the 2004 The Bard's Tale reboot, where treasures (and weaker/identical equipment) are automatically exchanged into their value in gold.

I was hoping to get to the end of Act One before stopping today, but I've clearly written more than enough for an inaugural "Mento Gear Solid" observation log. Chalk that up to a long intro and a lot of new mechanics to introduce.

My early impressions so far? Well, aside from the undercooked saving issue that I've already whined at length about, I'm starting to turn a corner on the game's other additions. The Solid Eye's a neat idea, I'm looking forward to using this robot more often to go exploring and this stuff with Drebin sounds like the sort of fun, dumb side-activity that I'm going to get weirdly obsessive about, tranq-ing folk so I can steal their guns (or have the little robot do it) and start earning Drebin bucks. That said, I have no desire to use any of the lethal weapons that need unlocking or purchasing - regardless of whether or not there's a big trophy/achievement for doing so, I always try to play stealth games with a no-kill style. (Of course, Dishonored tested that resolve by making all the assassination magic powers so darn tempting. I'm hyped for that sequel.) However, he does have one of those Mogin Nasant tranq sniper rifles at a ludicrous price, so I guess I'd better start building some credit.

When we come back for part two, I'm going to find the Rat Patrol (yeah, I didn't like "Ratrol" either) and hopefully get out of these war-torn adobes and into a cool metal base with lasers and Nikitas and shit. Old times, old crimes. See you then, everyone.

(Parts Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven.)

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