Why Metal Gear Solid 4 is nowhere near as good as you think

In the following I make certain claims about Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. In this preamble I want to briefly dismiss some common statements that will surely arise as a result of people reading this. For one, I do not think Metal Gear Solid 4 is a bad game. I merely think that it is nowhere near as good as people think it is. It is an average game. I don’t think it deserved any of the awards it received. It certainly did not deserve the scores it received upon release. I do not think Metal Gear Solid 4 is a bad game, and similarly I do not hate Metal Gear. I was once a devout fan of the franchise. I no longer am. I realized that its story is childish, its narrative is immature, and its script reads like it was written by thirteen-year-olds who think they can make a Hollywood movie with two handheld camcorders (to use an antediluvian term). Furthermore, I realized that there were many, many, many games that were far superior and that better deserved my time and money.

Nevertheless, Metal Gear Solid 2 remains one of my most beloved games, and I rank it in my top five “of all time”.

I repeatedly see Metal Gear Solid 4 brought up as one of the games to get when one first purchases a PlayStation 3. This is wrong, as I explain below. Metal Gear Solid 4 is not one of the best games on the PlayStation 3. It does not deserve to be on the same level as Uncharted 2. I find the notion that Metal Gear Solid 4 is as good as the first Uncharted, let alone Uncharted 2, to be nauseating.

But again, I do not think Metal Gear Solid 4 is a bad game. Anybody arguing that Metal Gear Solid 4 is a bad game is plainly incorrect. Simply put, it is consumed by its flaws and it is not as good as some have suggested.

I would also like to point out that I will rarely praise Metal Gear Solid 4 in the following. The game does have some fine portions, though I could certainly count them on two hands with some digits remaining. Instead, the following essentially constitutes a list of the game’s flaws. I posit that you, the reader, should consider the game’s positives in your own time. I would be very happy to see some of those positives highlighted as comments.

Note that I do not make any attempt to mask spoilers in the following. Read at your own discretion. However, it’s not like you’re missing out on anything. If there’s a part of Metal Gear Solid 4 that is indeed “bad”, it’s the story.

I am a man who readily accepts errors he makes. I have thoroughly read through the following many times over. In certain sections I quote figures – numbers and the like. If I am factually incorrect at any point, I will gladly recant my position and issue a correction without deleting the original text, as I believe is proper practice for errors found in any critical piece.

Finally, the following is purely opinion. I personally believe that it is all fact, that it is all gospel, and that I am entirely correct – this I believe in my own mind. However, I understand and appreciate the nature of opinion, that most if not all that people write about video games is opinion. That’s what this piece is. I do not want to destroy Metal Gear Solid 4 for you. The fact that I do not like it does not change the fact that you may like it, that it may be one of your favorite games. I am simply promoting one argument and opinion about the game. Most of it may happen to be factually true, but you may feel like you can forgive the flaws in the story, and the flaws in the gameplay. I am less forgiving. Because, check it out: I paid $60 for a game that by my estimation is worth about $10.

Enjoy!

Edit 9/17/2011: I just came across this review of the game by one Tom Chick, written when the game was released in 2008. As the gentlemen on the Idle Thumbs podcast said (Idle Thumbs Episode Three), this is probably the only valid review written about the game by someone in the video game writing industry.

Design

Long install times

50% done and there's still four minutes remaining.
50% done and there's still four minutes remaining.

If you only play Metal Gear Solid 4 once you’ll encounter five install screens. The first one launches before the game begins; it takes close to ten minutes to install. Subsequent installs occur during act breaks. Each install takes approximately three minutes save for the final install before Act 5 which takes closer to sixty seconds. Having to install data in the first place is irritating; having to install so much data is nothing more than poor game design. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released six months prior to Metal Gear Solid 4. It requires no install and only shows the player one load screen before the game begins. That load screen is typically a mere twenty seconds.

No full install option is available

Since the game design is so poor, why not give the player the option to install the whole game at once? Perhaps the answer is that Kojima Productions didn’t want to reveal how poor it is at utilizing the ability to stream data. Overall the game would eat up approximately 10GB of hard drive space. This might not be space that the average player has to spare; nevertheless the option should have been offered. 80GB PlayStation 3s were available in 2007, well before game’s release. Consumers with less endowed units would just have had to put up with the act-by-act system. There should have been a choice to install the whole game at once. There wasn’t, and as a result Metal Gear Solid 4 suffers tremendously.

Long load times

The average load time throughout the game is between thirty-three and forty seconds. Repetition for effect: it takes thirty-three seconds (on average) to load between areas. Consider areas that the player jets through in less than a few moments, particularly the gameplay sequence on the back of Drebin’s truck. The gameplay is fragmented hopelessly and beyond recovery, and it completely destroys whatever semblance of immersion there is. What went wrong? For one, it’s what I’ve termed in the past as an arrogant approach to gameplay design. Kojima Productions insisted on having much of the cutscene audio uncompressed. Had that audio been compressed a ton of space could have been saved, and load times would be less stringent. Blu-Rays can retain a great deal of information but their read speed is slow. Compressing and reusing data, reburning the same data several times across the disc as Naughty Dog did with Uncharted and Uncharted 2, can reduce load times to mere seconds during gameplay. The load times are even more embarrassing when you consider Uncharted, which streams all its data right off the disc while the player is playing the game. This approach has been around since the PlayStation 2 era that I know of (for optical media). There’s no excuse here, especially considering the fact that Metal Gear Solid 4 was in development for close to five years. That should have provided more than enough time for Kojima Productions to acclimatize to the PlayStation 3. Naughty Dog had much less time and achieved much more than Kojima Productions could have even hoped to reach. The load times are embarrassing, pathetic, and disgusting, and the game should not have been released in such a state.

Press START to continue

If you consider that the player has to press START to clear the overwhelming majority of load screens, then Kojima Productions has very nearly gotten away with murder. At the end of the majority of the thirty-three second (on average) load screens, players are required to press the START button to proceed through and continue with the game. This quickly gets tiring. You’re forcing me to sit through a ridiculous amount of load screens; somehow you found the balls to make me press START too. And not even the X or Circle button either – no, it must be START. Thankfully the PlayStation button is very nearby the START button, so it doesn’t require too much extra energy to quit and find something else to play.

Choosing acts

It’s not possible to choose individual acts to play through after completing the game. The cynical part of me screams that this design choice was made because the only part of the game worth playing through more than once is Act 2. Maybe Kojima Productions did not want to reveal this glaring deficiency. Realistically, the answer is simple: you would have to install each time you wanted to play a different act. This is unacceptable. (Again, perhaps they should have designed the game so you wouldn’t have to install.)

No demo theater

Previous games in the franchise included a theater of cutscenes (a “demo” theater) that let players watch through all the cutscenes in the game. To be fair, Guns of the Patriots’ story is largely vacuous, poorly written, and boring, so maybe it’s for the better that no such feature was included. The simple reason why no such feature exists is that the player would have to reinstall each act every time to access each act’s cutscenes. Since the game doesn’t let you install all the data at once, this was probably deemed inappropriate.

There are no extra modes

It’s hard to fathom why Kojima Productions didn’t include extra modes as has long been tradition for the Metal Gear franchise. There are no VR missions or Boss Survival modes to be found. What’s provided is a shooting gallery mode that serves as a test ground for weapons. This had the potential to be interesting, but players are provided with stationary targets in an infinitely flat arena with no topographical variations or buildings or structures. Therefore the mode is redundant. It probably takes up around 50MB on the disc; it’s not even worth the space on which it’s printed. Metal Gear Online is touched on below; in short, it’s not worth the time or the effort or the 4GB install you’re forced to sit through if you select it from the menu.

Lasting appeal

Metal Gear Solid 4 has no lasting appeal. There are no extra modes worth playing and there’s certainly no reason to replay the game more than once, if you can bear completing it once.

The soundtrack is not the best

The part of the budget reserved for researching and developing seventy firearms should have been used to commission Norihiko Hibino.
The part of the budget reserved for researching and developing seventy firearms should have been used to commission Norihiko Hibino.

Metal Gear Solid 4’s soundtrack is alright, but it’s not the best, and I certainly wouldn’t call it amazing. The only person who ever made any good songs for the ‘Solid’ franchise, Norihiko Hibino, was jettisoned in favor of Nobuko Toda and Harry Gregson-Williams, and the result is a soundtrack that is lacking tremendously in punch or style. But what style would you give Metal Gear Solid 4? Metal Gear Solid 4 is a generic war game. It’s not like Metal Gear Solid 2, where there was a more science-fiction-y feel, where that nice jazz style really suited the game. Guns of the Patriots is just another war game, with just another generic Hans Zimmer-esque Modern Warfare 2 soundtrack.

Graphics and Animation

Bad textures

Metal Gear Solid 4’s main graphical faults involve textures, which generally look blurred and artifact-ed, and are poorly realized. Included in the screenshots below are some press screens among which a is texture that’s supposed to represent a range of rocks on a flat plain is attached. I have also attached some screenshots I myself captured using the in-game camera. Notice how terrible the tree looks! That tree is actually about six feet away from the player. There’s also something strange going on with the texture for the handgun. See also two side-by-side screens where there’s something weird that’s happened with a rock. Finally, I’ve included some Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune screens for comparison. You’ll recall that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released six months before Metal Gear Solid 4, and probably finished proper development nine months before Metal Gear Solid 4 was released. Uncharted is plainly much better looking. Wasn’t Metal Gear Solid 4 meant to be the greatest game for the PlayStation 3, the best looking game, the game from one of the best developers currently operating, a developer whom we thank the heavens for? That’s me being sarcastic, which I realize is unpleasant, informal, and not proper conduct. Here’s the blunt reality: Metal Gear Solid 4’s textures look like garbage. They’re representative of a game released in 2006, not a game released in 2008, and they’re an utter embarrassment.

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  1. The first image shows something strange going on with a rock. Also note how bad the tree looks even at this stage in the normal view. Wait until we look through Snake's eyes.
  2. This may very well be the worst-looking tree of this console generation.
  3. The blurred ground texture here looks like vomit. See also the rubble in the background.
  4. This ground texture is an order of magnitude worse than the previous image's ground texture.
  5. See the wall texture on Snake's left. Also the wall textures behind the hostile, that look fairly distorted even from this range.
  6. What's going on with the rocks in the background? Apparently Kojima Productions resorted to using stretched JPEGs.
  7. This ground texture was probably included as a joke. You thought nothing could look this bad -- you were wrong.
  8. That's a nice broken wall texture you've got there.
  9. In comparison, look at the ground texture below Drake's feet. If this was Metal Gear Solid 4, that would have been rendered as three massive pixels.
  10. Check out the sheen between the bricks.
  11. Check out the fidelity between the bricks.
  12. The ground texture and the wall texture here look great, and even though they're some of the worst textures in Uncharted, they're miles ahead of anything found in Metal Gear Solid 4.
  13. The stones on the ground are exceptionally well done (but not even I know what's going on with that grass).
  14. This mud looks almost photo realistic. All it needs is that tree from Metal Gear Solid 4 and it would be 100% lifelike, except not really.
  15. Another near-photo realistic stone texture.

Hair on the character models is terrible

The character models in Metal Gear Solid 4 are relatively well detailed though they are now outdated. The models nearly look as good as the textures look bad. However, all the good work was almost undone by the some of the worst hair modeling seen in any game this generation. Hair is stiff. Major strands do not move individually. Hair animates as one large, massive chunk. Vamp’s hair curtails across his back literally at two right angles with a flat base. It shimmies from side to side like a slider moves across in an options menu. Naomi’s hair acts similarly; the strands that fall down her face are particularly offensive. Snake’s mustache looks like it came straight from a mold. It never moves once throughout the entire game.

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  1. In the first three images you'll see no change in the way Naomi's hair falls. It's always got the curl to the left, one small strand and one major strand, no matter what angle.
  2. The next three images feature Snake's mustache, which also never changes, and doesn't look all that great either, especially in the last one. I thought facial hair grows. Apparently nanomachines regulate hair strictly. If only Kojima had thought of that, he could of written it into the game.
  3. The last four images focus on Vamp's front strand which is almost identical to Naomi's. I want you to look carefully at the last one to see Vamp's perfectly square hair. Note that it's always stuck to his body like that, so it looks like it's part of his clothes. Also note that the cuts never variate.

Animations are outdated, stiff, and clunky

While the character models may look impressive, the way they animate is certainly not impressive. By in large the animations are stiff. They are slow, heavy, and unappealing. While the way characters move may be militaristically accurate, many of the actions they execute are completely unrealistic. Why maintain partial realism then, especially since those “realistic” animations are the ones that look the worst? Reload animations are also repetitive. CQC animations are more repetitive; there may only be one version for each action, but I cannot confirm this. (Also, this hasn’t been confirmed, but I’ve seen several comments online proposing that some animations are identical – that is, verbatim copies – to ones found in Snake Eater. I say this isn’t true, because Snake Eater’s animations are actually better than those found in Guns of the Patriots.)

Snake takes too long to fall through the air

The worst offender in the animation department is the action Snake makes when he falls down from a ledge or through the air. He sticks his arms and elbows out at an acute angle and bends his knees, resulting in a look like he’s treading water. Furthermore, it takes an impossibly long time for him to fall through the air. It’s like he’s wafting up there, or like you’re watching him fall in slow motion.

Gameplay

Much was made of Metal Gear Solid 4 implementing western-style gameplay mechanics into a game that is traditionally very Japanese. The development only goes halfway though, and it picks the worst parts of western archetypes to adapt.

Not actually a stealth game

Kojima Productions may like to think it has fooled you into thinking that Metal Gear Solid 4 is a stealth game, but don’t allow it the pleasure of doing so. The truth is that Guns of the Patriots is almost a bonafide action game. Sure, you could progress without setting off any alerts, but it’s much easier to simply blast your way through in the over-the-shoulder view and ignore the enemy’s advances. As a result, Metal Gear Solid 4 becomes Time Crisis, and that’s insulting Time Crisis because even Time Crisis has more depth. However, I find that Metal Gear Solid 4 is more enjoyable when you’re playing it like it’s Gears of War.

The psyche gauge is irritating

I would totally forgive all these flaws if Metal Gear Solid 4 had featured the Playboy issue with all the video game characters in it. That would have been too meta to handle.
I would totally forgive all these flaws if Metal Gear Solid 4 had featured the Playboy issue with all the video game characters in it. That would have been too meta to handle.

If there’s one thing that labors the player throughout the game, it’s the psyche gauge. In areas where too many guns are being fired or too many enemies are around Snake (so it’s bad for both action- and stealth-oriented players) the psyche gauge begins to fill up. Once the psyche gauge begins to fill up, Snake’s ability to aim and hold a firearm steady virtually disappears. He becomes clunky and he vomits a whole lot. It makes the game very difficult to play; it’s Sisyphus pushing the boulder up a hill, because the game coaxes and coaxes you to use the weapons and then takes that right away (like Mirror’s Edge); in the converse the game coaxes and coaxes you to stay stealthy and then it takes that right away as well. The lesson learned is that you should never enter a battlefield lest you lose your mind in sixty seconds flat – unless of course you can take a break to look at some non-nude Playboy models in some Playboy magazines you happen to have handy. This seems to sort everything out pretty quickly.

No cover system

For an action game, it’s amazing that there’s no native cover system. To be sure, there’s plenty of cover available – sandbags, low walls, indeed, a lot of proper walls, but the only way of hiding behind low cover is to crouch, and then hit triangle to shimmy awkwardly. You then have to hold down a number of buttons to attack. The system is identical for walls. What’s even more astonishing is that it was easier to take cover and use a weapon in Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3, but Metal Gear Solid 4, with its more western-oriented approach design, has taken an inexplicable step backward.

Enemies are bullet sponges

On all difficulty levels, enemies absorb too many bullets. Previous installments in the series saw two shots – one for each leg – disable an enemy. This is ineffective in Metal Gear Solid 4. Enemies can take a multitude of rounds to the chest, certainly far too many to be realistic, even on the Easy difficulty; god forbid you play the game on Extreme.

Enemy AI is average at best

This has long been a problem throughout the Metal Gear series, but it’s at its worst in Metal Gear Solid 4. The game doesn’t compare well with its contemporaries, specifically games like F.E.A.R which released years earlier. The enemies fall into predictable patterns that involve standing up and letting you shoot them while occasionally firing back. To be fair, it’s no worse than many other games, but it certainly is not good, and one would expect better from a ‘monumental’ studio and a ‘terrific’ developer that is Kojima Productions, and the ‘brilliant’ mind of Hideo Kojima. Additionally, the threat of being caught or being chased is negligible compared to past games in the series because of Metal Gear Solid 4’s action-oriented play.

The camouflage system makes eluding enemies too easy

The octocamo: making every difficulty level akin to very easy.
The octocamo: making every difficulty level akin to very easy.

While the concept of the Octocamo may be impressive, in reality it almost breaks the game, especially once the player finds the head camouflage halfway through Act 2. It’s amazingly easy to achieve an 85% to 90% camouflage rating. At that point Snake becomes virtually invisible, even though there’s a blatant man-shaped lump spread-eagled across the ground. You might as well give the player the proper stealth camouflage at that point, as both achieve the same purpose, except that one is “legitimate” (according to the game) and one is not.

The Drebin Points and Drebin Shop systems break the game

Previous installments of the series had players attempting to conserve ammunition and limit their use of weapons. Not so in Metal Gear Solid 4, because as aforementioned, Metal Gear Solid 4 is actually an action game! Being an action game is fine, but don’t lie about it, and don’t take away any difficulty by making resources instantly accessible. Now, by navigating through the pause menu, players can buy near every gun in the game and stockpile up on ammunition at almost any point in the game, even during boss battles. How useful! Now any challenge the game might have had has been thrown by the wayside. Sure, Drebin points – the shop’s currency – have to be accumulated, but they are very easy to come by, for all it takes is eliminating one soldier to racket up points, certainly more than enough points to purchase a ton of ammunition for the one-size-fits-all M4 (see ‘the game can be completed with just one gun’ below). The very premise of the shop is absurd. The idea is that Drebin drives his truck around following the player and can therefore provide the player with firearms. How is Drebin supposed to roll his truck up into the basement level of Shadow Moses where the boss fight with the Cyborg Ninja took place in Metal Gear Solid?

Not enough chaff grenades

It’s amazing that the only item that’s not available in the overly prolific Drebin store is the chaff grenade. By the time Act 4 rolls around players will realize that chaff grenades are among the most useful weapons against machines in the game. So why not make them available to the player in the Drebin store? Just about every other weapon in the game can be abused through the store; it makes no sense not to include chaff grenades as well.

The game can be completed with just one gun

The M4 is the only firearm you'll ever need because it can turn into a sniper rifle, a shotgun, and a grenade launcher. And you can stick a flashlight on it, too!
The M4 is the only firearm you'll ever need because it can turn into a sniper rifle, a shotgun, and a grenade launcher. And you can stick a flashlight on it, too!

In all honesty, lack of chaff grenades probably isn’t that much of an issue since you can complete the entire game using only the M4, the very first weapon the player gets in the game. The weapon can be modified by equipping a silencer, a dot sight, a scope (to mimic a sniper rifle, a weapon which the M4 turns out to be surprisingly good at emulating), a shotgun attachment, as well as a grenade launcher attachment. Players will never run short of ammunition since the enemies seem to bleed 5.56x45mm rounds. All other weapons are weaker or less accurate or take longer to reload.

EDIT: Above I state that the M4 is the first weapon the player gets in the game. This is incorrect. Although the M4 is made available very quickly, the first weapon the player gets is the AK 102, not the M4.

There are too many weapons and not enough variation

In spite of this glaring deficiency, a total of seventy weapons are available to the player. Approximately fifteen of those are unique, and the remaining cache consists of variations with minor tweaks to the statistics (+1 recoil, -1 accuracy et cetera). What possessed Kojima Productions to include so many weapons? Grand Theft Auto IV had eleven firearms, and all of them had more weight, were more unique, and felt better than any of the weapons available in Metal Gear Solid 4. I don’t know how long it took to implement weapons, but even if it took Kojima Productions a short time – let’s say only three days for the sake of argument – to code, it was three days too many. Why didn’t they spend that development time to decrease load times or to make the textures look like they belonged in a game released in 2008 as opposed to a game released in 2006?

Beauty and the Beast boss battles

As with anything formulaic, it just gets stale after a while and that's a major disappointment.
As with anything formulaic, it just gets stale after a while and that's a major disappointment.

I can say that I enjoyed the first few Beauty and the Beast boss battles, but towards the end you begin to realize that the battles essentially follow a template. There’s a cutscene of a hostile (attractive) woman beforehand, then the battle begins, then the player defeats the boss, the boss transforms into a more feminine form, the player defeats the feminine form, and the feminine form writhes on the ground and expires for good. This occurs a total of four times. It was well done and very impressive the first time around, especially the final death sequence. The same compliment cannot be issued for the second, third, and fourth time around.

There’s no native first-person view

Many games feature a native first-person view – that is being able to look through the player character’s eyes at the press of a button. Splinter Cell: Double Agent does, as does Assassin’s Creed. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune incorporates a useful zoom function. Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Metal Gear Solid 3 included a native first-person view also. Amazingly, Metal Gear Solid 4 does not. For a game that reportedly revolves around analyzing enemy behavior, this is a tremendous oversight. The only way to access the first-person view is to equip a weapon and aim it. One can also equip the binoculars or the camera, both of which are sluggish and difficult to use. How can you miss such a crucial feature? I certainly cannot surmise why this was left out.

MGS as FPS

Hideo Kojima very nearly lied (who would have thought?). He promised that players would be able to play through Metal Gear Solid 4 in its entirety as a first-person shooter. This is actually possible to do, believe it or not: I almost achieved this feat but I could not bear to play past the midpoint of Act 2. It’s extremely difficult to play through Metal Gear Solid 4 as a first-person shooter. The main issue is the fact that Snake moves about as fast as a turtle when he has a firearm drawn (again, the only way you can access the first-person view is to have a firearm drawn). Snake’s movement rate is painfully slow, and it actually makes it hard to focus attention on the game. I think it takes, like, ten seconds to travel across a room that’s about twenty feet in length.

The stupidity of the escort mission

There are a number of logical leaps that once has to make if one is willing to accept Act 3 as a legitimate piece of gameplay and not something that an infant thinks is good video game design. Why, for instance, doesn’t the resistance member wear his PMC design from the very beginning of the sequence? Why does the resistance member loiter around when you haven’t caught up with him? Why does the resistance member whistle aloud while he’s walking down thesilent streets, even though he knows he cannot allow himself to be caught? And how did the resistance members visit Big Mama’s house the hundreds of times they had to before Snake arrived on the scene to help them get through the dangerous back streets of “Eastern Europe”? Furthermore, why is it that as long as you don’t look like Snake PMC soldiers won’t be bothered, even if you’re wearing one of the ridiculous alternate face camouflages? (Credit goes to Ravi Singh of The Snake Soup for pointing these things out.)

The escort mission cannot be completed by jumping to the finish

Even if you know where you’ll have to end up, you still have to guide the resistance member through the twenty- or thirty-minute sequence through “Eastern Europe”. Why not just let the emeritus player carve his way straight through? Okay, fine, because it’s part of the game. That doesn’t make it good, however, and it doesn’t mean that logical disconnect should have occurred. Act 3 is like Swiss cheese. Or rather, it’s like air with some incidental cheese taking up some space.

Act 3 is entirely ripped from other Kojima games

Haven't I played this before? The answer is yes.
Haven't I played this before? The answer is yes.

Following one individual around a nonsensical maze first debuted in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Riding around on a motorbike first debuted in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Much of the framing in the cutscenes is a call-back to Snatcher and Metal Gear Solid 3. Has Kojima Productions just run out of ideas, or is it so intent on providing a ham-fisted nostalgia trip that its willing to plagiarize itself?

Act 4 is light on gameplay

Act 4 is tremendously light on gameplay. The game forces the player to clear hackneyed sections and boring passages filled with robots that will either infuriate or will pose no problem. Whatever gameplay there is gets fragmented repeatedly by long, laborious cutscenes and radio conversations that essentially boil down to “we’ve been here before”. What jokes there are aren’t really funny. Being asked to insert the second disc is a nice callback, but it’s entirely a throwaway line, just as most of the act (and game?) as a whole.

The Metal Gear battle was underwhelming

Since the first Metal Gear the bipedal robots were something to be feared, but the Metal Gear boss battle – REX vs. RAY – turns the robots into cheap cartoon entertainment. The control of the vehicle is heavy but as a whole the robot doesn’t pack any punch. There’s no kick behind the attacks; there’s no visceral feedback to let you know that you’re in a machine that deals death. It’s like a half-erect reproductive organ: it’s uncomfortable, it’s sluggish, and it doesn’t do anything. What was once feared simply becomes a shell of its former self, an unintentional parody.

Act 5 has no gameplay at all

Act 5 is the textbook definition of linear. It begins in one, long bottleneck arena before progressing into some short hallways and then a long catwalk and then a hallway and then a hallway and then a hallway and then an arena and then a hallway. I might have mixed the order up a little bit; it tends to blend together. You understand.
Act 5 is the textbook definition of linear. It begins in one, long bottleneck arena before progressing into some short hallways and then a long catwalk and then a hallway and then a hallway and then a hallway and then an arena and then a hallway. I might have mixed the order up a little bit; it tends to blend together. You understand.

The sum of Act 5’s gameplay is approximately fifteen minutes of control, five of which is spent alone, all of which is spent holding up on the analog stick, which is a forgiving way of saying that Act 5 is stupidly linear. For less able players it might be closer to twenty or thirty. Skill level decides how much mileage you’ll get out of this portion. Once more, the act is peppered throughout by cutscenes that are boring and melodramatic and poorly scripted and not worth your time.

Metal Gear Online is not good

Instead of having players register with the PlayStation Network, Konami has you register with them twice to play Metal Gear Online. You also have to have a PlayStation Network account; apparently one account wasn’t enough. At its very core, this multiplayer game just isn’t interesting. It suffers from the same flaws as Metal Gear Solid 4 does – its heavy controls and weak, unappealing weapons. Moreover, it never mustered a big enough user base and the few users that play now have been around since the very beginning. There is no room for debutants.

The in-game iPod is underwhelming

Having an in-game iPod is fine, but not letting the player put their own music on said iPod is not fine. The likelihood players will actually want to listen to some selected tracks from old Metal Gear soundtracks is slim, because Kojima Productions didn’t even manage to choose the best songs. Why not let the player stream music from the PlayStation 3’s hard drive? Who’s to say? It probably took too much time to implement. Either that or the way Guns of the Patriots was designed didn’t allow for the PlayStation 3 to simultaneously access songs from the HDD while its simultaneously struggling to spin the Blu-Ray and ripping itself apart. It’s the old Mirror’s Edge conundrum: if you’re going to make guns useless, don’t put them in the game. If you’re going to add an iPod, don’t make me wish that I could play my own music instead of Calling to the Night or Can’t Say Goodbye to Yesterday, thank you very much.

Emblems

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune has a myriad of unlockables ranging from game-enhancing features to making-of featurettes. Naughty Dog did one very intelligent thing with Uncharted: they included achievements before Sony had implemented trophies. And the achievements? They actually did things. They unlocked weapons that you couldn't get in the game. They unlocked modifiers like god mode and infinite ammo. They unlocked new camera modes, costumes, and aforementioned special features – all of this adding an extra layer of re-playability to the game. To be fair, Guns of the Patriots has achievements as well. They’re called ‘emblems’, they number some forty, and they require the player to execute menial and ridiculous tasks for almost no reward. To get the ‘Chicken’ emblem, for example, the player must do the following: Trigger an alert over one-hundred-and-fifty times, kill over five-hundred individuals, require over fifty continues, use over fifty healing items, and rack up a total of thirty-five hours in playing time. What kind of achievement is this? This is literally as stupid as the achievements that XBOX360 games had in the console’s launch period. Madden NFL 06 gives you thirty points for scoring a touchdown. Metal Gear Solid 4’s achievements are worse. Here’s GameFAQs’ bfsrc’s guide’s advice for racking up the thirty-five hours of play time required for the Chicken emblem: “Plug your controller in the USB port to keep it charged. Hide somewhere [in the game]. Leave PlayStation 3 on overnight. Mess about in the game. Leave it on overnight again. You should pick up thirty hours that way. Watching cut scenes will help as they are included in the total time.” Note the shopping list-like grammar, denoting the banality of the task. To be fair, you at least got a Solar Gun and some face camouflage for getting the emblems. Because, you know, those are the kind of essential items that really provide the impetus for another playthough.

Story

The story is not good

Metal Gear Solid 4’s story is not good. It is largely vacuous and utterly third rate. In that sense it’s your quintessential video game story, so perhaps it’s not so much of a problem, then. It’s entirely nonsensical and is strung together by cheap, resigned, tired explanations for why things happen. “Nanomachines”, as we’ll see, Is not a legitimate answer for everything. Having a ten minute long wedding scene at the end of the game is completely unwarranted and silly. How many bullets do Meryl and Johnny absorb during their dumb quasi-love making marriage proposal sequence? Why would you inter cut a laughable scene with Snake being cooked to death in a hallway full of microwaves? It’s completely anti-climactic. Moreover, almost every character that is dragged from the annals of Metal Gear history only barely has a reason to exist. Why is Naomi even there? As if there aren’t any better scientists on the face of the earth. Why risk your entire operation by picking such a volatile scientist? There are so many silly holes and blatant pitfalls, I cannot hope to summarize them in the short space I’ve allotted myself here; perhaps I’ll do a separate post just analyzing the story, but it strikes me as fruitless endeavor.

Characterization

We’ll touch on this very briefly. Many of the characters in this game are uninteresting or broken or poorly developed. It’s impossible for Snake to do what he is able to achieve; he’s falling apart by the end of Act 1 and yet he’s able to survive and defeat Ocelot at the end of Act 5, and he’s still alive at the end of the game. There’s no point of showing and telling the player how Snake is close to death when he plays and acts just as his younger self. Then there’s Ocelot. Not even the writers can decide who Ocelot is. He’s Ocelot, except he’s actually Liquid, except that it’s the nanomachines playing tricks, except that he’s actually always been Ocelot and is just playing around, except that he thinks he’s Liquid, but he’s actually Ocelot. So we return back to the long running theme here: what is the point? Why not just make everything simple and spare the players the agony, and stop insulting their intelligence?

The story is largely retconned

The worst part is that the story doesn’t even need to be retconned in the manner which it is. It would surely have been easier to come up with original answers and new characters as opposed to reaching into the grave the franchise has dug for itself just to revive old characters. Kojima’s clearly a fan of conspiracy theories; a conspiracy theory involving the United States government and the Patriots (much as the player understood them as at the conclusion of Metal Gear solid 2) would have been more satisfying and more logical than “The Patriots were actually these people you knew all along except we hid it from you and the only reason we were able to hide it from you is because we actually didn’t know about it ourselves”. The problem with retconning is that you end up breaking things, and if they don’t get broken they get warped beyond recognition. That’s what Metal Gear Solid 4 did to the Metal Gear Solid “lore” (a phrase which affords the series’ narrative more credit and stature than it deserves).

Long cutscenes that don’t contribute to anything

Guns of the Patriots is full of cutscenes that are thirty or forty or fifty minutes too long. In many instance the same message could be conveyed using cutscenes of approximately five minutes in length. A fine example is the conclusion of Act 3, which runs near thirty minutes in length. Five minutes of this involves many soldiers arriving in the area; a further stretch involves the same soldiers being executed non-invasively by Ocelot. The remaining time is used up by long exposition and melodramatic dialogue, capped by EVA’s senseless death as she hurls herself into the water. The scene could easily have been truncated to what’s most important: Ocelot’s actions and the essential things he has to say for the narrative to keep ticking along. The ending sequences with Big Boss and Major Zero is much the same. Similarly many other scenes: fights with Gekkos, shots of soldiers sliding down rooftops – while impressive, these are ultimately nothing more than fluff when utilized more than once. It’s disappointing, but one can expect no less from unprofessional writers and ersatz film directors.

The script is bad

The story may have been a hair’s width more bearable if the script wasn’t so bad. Fans have long criticized Metal Gear Solid 2 for what they see as a terrible script; if this is true then Metal Gear Solid 4 truly paints Metal Gear Solid 2 in a divine light. The lines the characters vomit from their mouths hold no illusion of being good or well written. This is pure soap opera material. Not even a great writer could salvage the refuse of the train wreck that is Metal Gear Solid 4’s script. See here, one of many examples:

Raiden: It was never going to work out for me. It even rained the day I was born.
Snake: You've got it all wrong. You were the lightning in that rain. You can still shine through the darkness.
Raiden: The lightning....

Yes, Raiden. You were the lightning in that rain. The lightning. Get it? Because Raiden, also called Raijin, was the god of thunder and lightning in Japanese mythology. We’re so good! That’s gold, Kojima! Gold!

“The System” and “Nanomachines”

Characters sure like to say “The System”. In fact, the script has one-hundred-and-sixteen instances of that very phrase. There are sixty-seven instances of the word “nanomachines”, which, compared to the phrase “The System” may not seem that bad – but only when you forget the fact that nanomachines are the excuse for every single thing that has ever happened ever in the Metal Gear series. The nanomachine is Kojima’s ultimate deus ex machina, and he just cannot get past it. The way nanomachines are employed is desperately unfortunate. How can you justify explaining everything in Guns of the Patriots using just one thing? It’s so dissatisfying. It’s terrible storytelling. It’s unacceptable and utterly unconvincing, and Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery would have a lot to teach Kojima if she ever got her hands on him (those who have read Misery will recall that Annie Wilkes does not enjoy cheap answers to mysteries and tough situations). Why is Snake old? Nanomachines. Why can Snake still move like he does? Nanomachines. Why can’t Vamp die (except when he dies)? Nanomachines. Why can Vamp heal himself? Nanomachines. How does Naomi survive? Nanomachines. How does FOXDIE get transferred? Nanomachines. How does Liquid Ocelot control people? Nanomachines. Why is Liquid Ocelot so good at doing the jazz hands? Nanomachines.

Explanations about the Patriots are convoluted and unfair

The explanation provided about the Patriots is convoluted. Everybody you ever trusted throughout Metal Gear Solid 3 was actually working for the Patriots it turns out, except that there was never any sign of or a hint of this in any of the other games. So thanks for turning up and paying your admission fee. It’s like every bad episode of 24 compressed and then expanded again. Any good conspiracy theory is bulletproof: that is, any evidence against the conspiracy has simply been planted there by the people behind the conspiracy to cover the conspiracy up, and any evidence for the conspiracy is conversely a slip-up by the people behind the conspiracy. There’s no possible way to disprove the conspiracy theory, then. Metal Gear is a little bit like a conspiracy theory. I can sit here and say that the Metal Gear story is silly and immature and not well written, but on the other end of that people can sit there and say, “But don’t you get it? That’s the point.” Metal Gear’s story is bulletproof. Except it’s not. It’s just not good.

Act 3’s story is just as bad, if not worse, as Act 3’s gameplay

Why present Snake with revelations about the Patriots that are completely irrelevant to what’s actually going on? Why have Snake and Big Mama chase a van in which Big Boss’ corpse isn’t actually contained in the first place? Why does EVA jump in the river when she knows that body is actually Solidus? Why doesn’t FOXDIE harm Liquid at this stage in the game? (Credit goes to Ravi Singh of The Snake Soup for pointing much of this out.)

Drebin and the Beauty and the Beast

Part of the formulaic nature of the boss battles involves Drebin, who calls Snake after each woman is killed to launch into a three minute monologue about the character’s back story. That’s great, except the characters don’t really exist in the mind of the player because they’re never looked into with enough detail outside of the actual battle itself. The only time they appear in cutscenes is when they’re killing people. What’s the point of analyzing the character when there’s no character there to begin with? Why should the player care about their back stories when the Beasts are invoked only when they are to be killed by the player? Kojima knows this, and he knows the Drebin monologues are boring and pointless: case in point when Drebin says so himself.

Name drop

One of the many retcons that doesn’t make sense involves Dr. Madnar. Madnar was a character that appeared in the two original Metal Gear games for the MSX. He was not mentioned in the first three ‘Solid’ games. Suddenly his name is just randomly dropped in this game in relation to Raiden. The worst part of all is that the name doesn’t even elect a reaction from Snake, who’s meant to know who Madnar is! So what’s the point of even putting it there in the first place? Perhaps due to some weird twisted fantasy that the story will actually be important if you summon every Metal Gear character under the sun. Well, Running Man wasn’t included. Too bad.

There’s no game

That was a crass overstatement. It’s not an overstatement to say that Metal Gear Solid boils down to six hours of gameplay and ten hours of cutscenes. This is not enough to constitute a $60 game or even a $30 game that has no replayability. The player and the consumer expects more and deserves more. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad if the story and the cutscenes weren’t so atrocious. Unfortunately they are. When you really start to consider this, I’m amazed that Metal Gear Solid 4 took five years to develop. What were they doing the whole time? Infinity Ward took a little over a year and a half to develop a first-person shooter with a marginally longer single player mode and an excellent multiplayer mode. Kojima Productions couldn’t achieve the same feat in five years.

Bad characterization of women

If only this actually made any sense and had any relevance to what's going on in the game's paper thin story. Way to dispel popular stereotypes of the Japanese, Kojima Productions.
If only this actually made any sense and had any relevance to what's going on in the game's paper thin story. Way to dispel popular stereotypes of the Japanese, Kojima Productions.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Hideo Kojima is a pervert. I’m in no position to say, so I won’t, but I do know his latest Metal Gear game included being able to see a nubile girl (who looks to be all of fourteen years of age) in her panties. In Metal Gear Solid 4, players can see Snake look down women’s tops and look up women’s skirts. Each Beauty and the Beast character can be coaxed to pose suggestively. It’s nothing but sheer perversion that provides a tremendous disconnect with what’s meant to be going on in the game (you know, friends dying and the earth essentially going to hell).

Addendum: A brief and simple thought

Most of Metal Gear Solid 4’s worst problems could have been avoided if the game had been developed for the XBOX 360 as a multiplatform title. The crucial factor is this: a Blu-Ray holds 50GB of data while a DVD holds 9GB. What Metal Gear Solid 4 needed was streamlining. It needed to have only six hours of cutscenes and twelve hours of gameplay, instead of the converse. Load times would have been razed to nothing on the XBOX 360. Audio would have been compressed; the game would be smooth and visceral. Moreover, it would have helped to get to the very core of what the experience is supposed to be. In 2005, on GameSpot’s podcast The HotSpot, then-GameSpot editor Bob Colyaco wondered how many hours of cutscenes Hideo Kojima might be able to fit onto a Blu-Ray. The answer is seven hours too many.

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