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Solid Snake's adventures finally draw to a conclusion with the hugely anticipated release of MGS4...
- Exceptionally crafted storyline.
- Sublime style and direction.
- Certain sections are perfectly realised.
- Core gameplay feels as old as Snake.
- Less actual "game" then any other MGS.
- Switch to action orientated gameplay.
Although Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid astounded Playstation owners and quickly became a basis for the format's success ever since, few could have imagined the majesty that would await ten years later with the concluding chapter of Solid Snake's adventures in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.
Taking place in 2014, five years after the Big Shell incident of MGS2: Sons of Liberty, Snake's final act has emerged beneath intense demands and scrutiny. Reports over the secrecy surrounding the game's plot aside, MGS4's storyline is a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns from the very first cut-scene to the last, tying up loose ends and connecting plotlines with a mastery that puts most of Hollywood to shame when it comes to returning to the classics.
You Can't Teach An Old Snake New Tricks
Although Guns of the Patriots introduces a wide spectrum of new features and alterations, the basic formula remains deliberately unchanged from what's come before, questionably dating as far back as the 1990 MSX outing with Metal Gear 2. The series' trademark stealth gameplay remains largely intact, whilst the breakdown of Acts to correspond with each of the members of the Beauty and the Beast unit continues to provide a compelling structure in terms of both narrative and immersion. Revealing that Old Snake is running out of tricks along with time however, many of the game's new introductions fail to offer anything significantly worthwhile, with the most noticeable perpetrators being Otacon's charismatic but largely ineffective Metal Gear Mk II and the concept of climate conditions.
Offering reconnaissance features that fail to present anything beyond Snake's repertoire, the Mk II mini Metal Gear that accompanies Snake seems to serve little more purpose than a plot device to keep Otacon in the loop leading up to his inevitable moment of sorrow.
Perhaps a muted response to Kojima-san's wildly ambiguous comments preceding the development of MGS4 (anybody remember burning trees and new seeds), the game presents an exhaustive breakdown of the current climate, including wind speed, temperature, humidity and current weather conditions. Although each of the three continents that Snake travels to provide a sense of diversity typically unfound in MGS titles, nothing really develops this concept beyond the visuals. One particular section hints at an increased significance, requiring the information to track down a character but quickly degenerates into little more than following paths through crumpled grass and footprints with the infra-red feature on Snake's otherwise particularly neat Solid Eye gadget.
Cut-scenes aside, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is likely to confuse anybody who hasn't been waiting to see Snake's pinnacle for the last decade. The gameplay remains largely unchanged and as a result, many of the series' legacies are still surprisingly evident along with the encroachingly dated feel of the actual gameplay. MGS otakus will look past the niggles that really shouldn't be appearing in a AAA PS3 exclusive, but others may be quick to point out oddities such as the jarring animation pops whenever Snake changes his weapon, his peculiarly limited options to traverse across decidedly restrictive environments, and the tired feel of the CQC system.
Regardless of such little niggles in this generation of consoles, what neither side should tolerate is the old and broken AI that defines much of the experience. Unfortunately, it's immediately evident that the AI of the various scouting troops hasn't moved beyond what we had on the PS2. MGS fanatics could argue that it's the way an MGS title is meant to feel, but surely such champions of the CELL processor should be able to eliminate failings such as enemy troops not responding to Snake despite standing out in the open only a few paces away! The lack of any development to the patrolling and chase AI leaves MGS4 feeling distinctly like the last-gen during the scant moments of gameplay squeezed between the epic scripted sections and awe-inspiring cut-scenes.
One feature that avoids this camp conversely comes from the Octocamo suit Snake now wears courtesy of Otacon. Taking the concept of camouflage from Snake Eater and removing the clunky menu interface associated with its 1960's functionality, Snake's new suit seamlessly blends in with the environment around him after remaining motionless for a couple of seconds. It's extremely effective and glamorous, developing the concept into a feature that works well within the context of the game.
War Has Changed
Although the MGS series has always been about stealth gameplay, MGS4 tips the balance with many sections upping the action quota quite substantially in place of earlier game's emphasis on exploration. One particular example is when Snake encounters Raging Raven riding shotgun on Big Moma's Triumph motorcycle whilst speeding through the streets of an Eastern European city. A stunning example of how to script and present what amounts to little more than an on-rails shooter sequence, Guns of the Patriots is littered with such instances, it's the same with the fistfight towards the end of the game, but we won't mention that!
Enforcing the change Guns of the Patriots modifies the weapon setup quite considerably from previous titles, although the result is something that doesn't sit particularly well with MGS conventions. Tied into the plot of PMCs, (in turn linked to nanotechnology, Liquid Snake, and of course The Patriots), Snake cannot simply salvage weapons from fallen enemies due to the id-locks present on nearly all of the guns to be found. Quickly establishing a working relationship with a character named Drebin (Naked Gun references included), Snake can sell the ineffective guns for Drebin Points whilst holding onto the ammo. Drebin Points are then used to unlock ids on new weapons and purchase ammo. The problem stems from the fact that this eliminates one of the series' trademark gameplay aspects, namely the need to work on a budget when it comes to bullets and think fast to work out alternative solutions when all the ammo has gone. Too often, Solid Snake can load himself up throughout the entire mission (looking closer to Rambo), taking away from the vulnerability and resulting cunning needed in previous titles; a change we weren't particularly fond of. Fortunately Drebin has a lot to sell, arguably there's a little too many to choose from, with the option of customising certain guns with a horde of attachments.
Grab The Popcorn
Of course, as a videogame Kojima-san's opus comes perilously close to straying outside of the general definitions. Certainly more "video" than "game", anybody who considered Metal Gear Solid 2 as too much, too self-indulgent, and not game enough, will quickly find the same faults, possibly more so. We'll remain coy when it comes to plot details, not because of Konami's much reported "limitations", but because this is the sole reason behind the game. Did we really need another Metal Gear Solid in its current incarnation? Probably not. However, MGS fanatics longing for Snake's final outcome definitely needed a resolution, and in this department Guns of the Patriots well and truly delivers - especially with the surprisingly grand fate of the series' comic relief Johnny Sasaki.
Referencing the origins of the story with the 1960's Bond-esque Snake Eater, Kojima-san stylishly weaves his way through the events of Shadow Moses and the Big Shell, dropping in staggering sequences with style and direction that defies its position as a videogame. Perhaps it was playing bleary eyed at 4:00am, perhaps it was the years of anticipation, but I'll admit Guns of the Patriots had me emotionally gripped, despite the fact I spent more time tapping away on the X button to reveal a flashback between cut-scenes then playing the actual game. In terms of production values, characters, plot, and dialogue, Metal Gear Solid 4 easily establishes a new benchmark, even performing the impossible by redeeming Raiden from the hate and anger that surrounded his infamous deception in Sons of Liberty.
Mesmerising throughout, a handful of gameplay sections are nothing short of digital perfection. We won't mention which ones (you'll know when you see them), but had to mention this aspect of the game, there's one particular scene (briefly mentioned previously) that is so powerful it's worth the price alone! Of course if you don't share the anticipation and won't appreciate the clever touches such as playing the opening level of Metal Gear Solid (with blocky PSone visuals) as Snake dreams about a momentous return to Shadow Moses, then this will mean very little to you and leave Guns of the Patriots biggest quality lying with the pretty cut-scenes.
Remembered for its clever touches, Metal Gear Solid's Psycho Mantis being a prime example, Guns of the Patriots continues the series theme. An element that continuously reoccurs throughout the series, Kojima-san breaks through the fourth wall, introduces smart touches such as Sunny-Cam, and even handles risky product placement such as the iPod by giving it a viable gameplay purpose. Although the Screaming Mantis fight wonderfully evokes memories of the classic encounter with Psycho Mantis in MGS1, it makes a point of highlighting the fact that no subsequent title has managed to match the brilliance that was brazenly evident in the PSone title. Showcasing his incredible powers, Psycho Mantis' return is cut briefly short with the realisation that he has no psychokinetic control over the SixAxis and has lost his powers over the PS3's missing memory cards.
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