Metal Gear Solid 4 is perhaps the first PlayStation 3 exclusive title to really get people fired up. While games such as GT Prologue and Uncharted did cause a spark, they simply did not have as much of an impact. MGS4 brings a much loved PlayStation franchise to the more powerful PS3 hardware. The Metal Gear games have a certain stigma to them though.
Full of nuance, finicky control schemes and absolutely absurd storylines. It has very much fallen into the "love it or hate it" category. Most people who have played through MGS4 will say that those who did not like the previous Metal Gear games are unlikely to enjoy MGS4. I disagree. I have played the previous Metal Gear Solid games. Not more than three hours each…but I played them.
A combination of frustrating menu navigation, too many codec conversations and a dislike of the camera system caused me to stop playing pretty quickly. If I stuck through for a couple more hours, would my opinion have changed? Probably. However MGS4 has significantly streamlined the controls and has a very user friendly camera system. Swapping between third and first person views is seamless. In addition it incorporates elements from modern third person shooters such as swapping which shoulder you are aiming from, which makes it much more likeable experience. That is the case for me at least.
I am a shooter fan at heart, and bringing element that I am familiar with to MGS made all the difference to me. I will touch more on the gameplay mechanics later, I just wished for you readers to know that I am not exactly a die hard Metal Gear fan. If you are entering into MGS4 the way that I did, or if perhaps you have never played a Metal Gear Solid game in the past, I would highly recommend you search the intertubes for some Metal Gear history. If you don’t, most of the cinematics (of which there are plenty) will go straight over your head and the already crazy tale unravelling in front of you will be even harder to get your head around.
MGS4 takes place in 2014, half a decade after the "big shell incident" (Metal Gear Solid 2). It starts off in the Middle East with relatively lengthy cinematics mixed with brief moments of gameplay. These set the scene and give you an idea of the basic controls for crawling and moving to objectives. You will spend the next 20 odd hours chasing down Liquid Snake and dispensing of several bosses along the way. As you follow the story – which will answer most of the questions raised in the previous games -Kojima will throw quite a few plot twists at you in addition to bringing back a number of key figures from the past. There are also a few that you wouldn’t expect to be seeing again. Apart from the character related plot, the story in Metal gear Solid 4 focuses on the proliferation of Private Military Companies (PMC’s) and rapid adoption (and control through) nanotechnology. Snake looks a lot older than the last time you saw him. This seems to mainly play into the storyline and has relatively little effect on gameplay. Apart from the occasional "sore back animation", Snake is as agile as he has ever been. I will leave the story element at that. If you love Metal Gear Solid, you will love the story in MGS4, and you would hate for me to ruin it for you.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is generally classified as a "stealth action" game. This would suit the previous titles better than MGS4. While you can certainly still play it like that, there is a lot more room for improvisation. Much to Wugga’s disappointment I played most of the first two acts in a rather unstealthy manner. While there was a certain amount of sneaking, using CQC moves to quietly dispense of enemies and tranquillising people, it was just too easy to pull out the M4 rifle and go to town. Much of the first half of the game could easily be played as tactical shooter (think GRAW). There are a few spots that would be very challenging to get through without alerting anyone. I will leave that to the more skilful players. And besides, I really like shooting people. The gameplay changes quite dramatically as you progress through the five different Acts. By the time I reached the third Act, I had to put aside my Rambo tactics and go more James Bond. While you follow a fairly linear path through the maps, what you do along this route is entirely up to you. You see a tank up ahead…do you crawl around letting your octacamo (more on that later) hide you? Perhaps hide in a box? Use cover and stay out of its way? Take another route? Pull out a Javelin portable Anti-Tank missile and blow that bastard to pieces? Yes…I usually took the destructive route, but that is the beauty of MGS4. You play it in whatever way you choose to.
To help give you these options is the mass amount of gear that you will acquire as you play through the game. Near the start of the game you will be introduced to the new Octacamo. A massive step up from the the previous manual camo changes in the previous games (requiring a lot of time configuring in menus), the new system automatically changes to match whatever surface you are lying on or leaning against. It removes a lot of hassle. You will also be given your sexy eye patch. The Solid Eye highlight’s weapon/ammo pick ups, as well as clearly indicating enemies and allies along with their health. You also get the Metal Gear MKII. You can use the MKII to sneak around invisibly to get an idea of what lies ahead (in addition to zapping enemies) and it also plays a narrative role. Early on you will meet a fellow named Drebin. He is a weapon launderer with a whacked out monkey. Most of the weapons dropped by PMC’s and other enemies cannot be used by you due to being ID tagged. Drebin will unlock them for you. You also instantly buy weapons and ammo from him at any time. You earn "Drebin Points" (which acts as the currency) by picking up dropped weapons from killed enemies. This is one of the most welcome additions in my mind. It removes the need for "on site procurement" of ammo and lets you just play the game. You can also customise a lot of the weapons in the game. My M4 rifle was customised with suppressors, laser sight, nice scope and a shotgun under-barrel attachment. You can have a handful of weapons and items selected at any time. You can then cycle through these by holding r2/l2 respectively. If you need to swap those out for something else it is done in the weapon or item menu. This is also where you can buy extra ammo and customise weapons. The CQC system is now a lot easier to use. I would suggest you actually open up the manual (I know…who does that!) and have a look at your options. There is plenty you can do. Things can still go horribly awry but it is a massive step up from MGS3: Snake Eater.
Graphically Metal Gear Solid 4 is absolutely beautiful. The level design is generally top notch. While fairly linear, it provides the illusion of being much more open than they actually are. Camera angles change as you play through which gives it a very cinematic look and feel. The character models are all exceptional. Obviously Snake and the bosses got the most attention, but they are all very nice. But this is a game of cut-scenes. Never before have I not played a game… while playing a game as I have in MGS4. They are self indulgent, long, and fairly cheesy. MGS fans will love them. It might not sit too well with newcomers, but for the most part they are well done and quite watchable. It changes between cut-scenes and gameplay relatively seamlessly. While some of the cut-scenes have a little bit of optional interaction in them, you can largely put your controller aside for a few (sometimes quite a few) minutes. The cut scenes become a lot more prominent in the last half as the story starts to wrap up. My list of complaints is pretty short. The cut-scenes at the end are too long. They could have been cut 20 minutes shorter without compromising the narrative. Cheesy even by soap opera standards. Fortunately you have the option to skip or pause them if you so choose. Secondly, I don’t know why there is not a proper cover system (such as in Gears, Uncharted, GRAW, Rainbow Six or even Stranglehold). It could have really benefited from leaning out from walls etc. Lastly, the game saves to disk (taking approximately 3-5 minutes) after each act. This also applies when loading a game at a different Act than you last played in. This did not bother me too much, but really got on Wugga’s nerve.
I told you my list of complaints is short. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is an absolutely fantastic game. I really did not think that I would like it. I was wrong. It has so many different forms of gameplay, all which works well with the same set of skills and controls (minus one notable part towards the end). If you own a PlayStation 3 this is a must buy. Hire it if you are broke, borrow it if you must, but you have to play it.
I asked Wugga, a long time fan of the series to take us out with his impressions: For fans of the series, MGS4 represents almost a love letter to the affection they have for the series.
While the previous MGS games were fragmented, almost stand-alone with seldom mention of a the supporting cast (granted, MGS3 took place before all the games, so I’m really just talking about MGS2 here) let alone an appearance, MGS4 sees the return of many, many characters, and includes several audio flashbacks when you come across certain areas, and during cut-scenes, pressing X when prompted will usually cause a brief flash of an image from a previous game, all of them contextual to what’s happening. Gameplay wise, MGS4 plays like a streamlined MGS3, the major and most gracious difference being that you don’t have to browse a menu to find the best camouflage. Having said that, there’s more than one occasion that the game throws you a curve ball of awesomeness that really spices things up.