I finally know who the Patriots are!
It has been a long time coming. Fans of Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series have been waiting what seems like an eternity for the conclusion of this beloved franchise. Ever since it was announced nearly two years ago, we have been waiting with utmost patience. Clinging onto every trailer that came out, trying to decipher how Snake’s final mission would play out. Now after spending two full days entrenched in the game and finally reaching the conclusion it was not entirely what I was expecting. In fact it was much better than I could have ever hoped for. While the MGS series has always been an acquired taste, there is no denying the amount of love, fan service and polish these games bring to the table. If you are a fan of the series this could easily be the best experience you encounter this year.
First things first; if you have never been a fan of the series then this chapter is not going to change your opinion. Metal Gear Solid 4 is not going to set the world on fire for anyone who is not a fan. While it does address many of the concerns found within the past few games, it doesn’t revolutionize the genre in the interest of mechanics. The series has always been known for its in-depth storyline and overly detailed explanations and Guns of the Patriots is certainly no exception. For those of you that have been waiting as long as I have to see how this final chapter unfolds, I can promise you, you will not be disappointed.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is set six years into the future as Solid Snake embarks on his final mission. From the outset you are given a task by old friend Roy Campbell to head into the Middle East disguised as a UN PMC inspector to assess the battlefield. This of course is a cover as his real mission is to finally assassinate his brother (well sort of his brother’s arm on another body) and arch enemy Liquid Ocelot. Of course nothing is that simple in the world of Metal Gear Solid. Along the way you will run into a bevy of characters from Snake’s past including a few familiar faces, some unexpected surprises and a finale that will leave you breathless if you are a huge fan of the lore.
Much like previous games Snake doesn’t ride alone. Ever since the first MGS Snake has relied on the tech-savvy Otacon as his backup. This time around Otacon has a few new tricks up his sleeve for Snake including the Mk.II, a robot that can cloak, scour the battlefield and even stun enemies. This new mechanic is great for those of you who love to play the game in all stealth mode as it lets you survey the battlefield from a safe distance. This isn’t the only toy Otacon gives you early on in the game. Replacing three pieces of equipment with one is the new Solid Eye, which acts as binoculars, night vision and even marks items and enemies on your map and radar. The Solid Eye is by far my favorite addition, and it makes things much easier to follow the further you get into the game.
New seems to be the theme for MGS 4 as a lot has changed since the last iteration. We have all heard how the team was working to “Western-ize” the game to appeal to more of the action fans here in the US, but until we got our hands on it, no one was sure just how it would work. Well I am here to let you know that the game now plays as good as it looks. Taking a cue from some of the more popular games here in the states MGS 4 now gives the player a free form camera system that can make sneaking around much easier. You can also tap the left trigger to go into aiming mode that places a reticule in front of the player much like Splinter Cell or the more recent Gears of War. In this mode you can then tap triangle to go into first person view, and if you so choose play the entire game this way, though I wouldn’t recommend it.
Snake’s movement has also been improved. Instead of holding down fourteen different buttons to run and shoot, the control scheme in MGS 4 allows for more actions to be performed while not having to wrestle with the controller. This makes escaping enemies after being spotted much easier, not to mention finally being able to react in tight situations without looking like a complete spaz. The game seems more focused on action this time around and I feel that the team has laid out the game to entice the player to play more action oriented. You can still complete the entire game without killing a soul, but that will take some serious dedication.
Also new to the series is Drebin 893. Drebin is your arms dealer and easily one of the best new characters introduced. With his diaper wearing, cigarette smoking monkey he will unlock weapons for you, sell you new ones or simply provide ammo anytime your heart desires. While some players will likely complain this makes the game too easy – I mean you can literally pause the game and purchase ammo at your discretion – there is still plenty of strategy on the battlefield. Bullets are not always the best solution to the problem in front of you, and that is one of Metal Gear Solid’s most endearing charms.
Another interesting set of concepts added for this chapter are the stress and psyche gauges. Located below your health meter are two brand new items that you will have to watch during your playtime. While one is nearly crucial to surviving the game, the other can be ignored for the majority of the game. The stress meter begins to plummet when you enter extreme weather conditions such as cold or you become laden. When this meter is depleted Snake moves slower and more importantly his health restoration is handicapped. The psyche gauge is less of an issue for the most part as it rarely goes down and you have much easier ways to restore it. Later in the game you can even call a certain ’someone’ on your Codec to ease your psyche, which pretty much eliminates the need to baby-sit it.
The core game is broken down into five acts all of which are completely unique. While I won’t spoil any surprise you may encounter let me just say that Kojima knows how to please his fans, and MGS 4 is chock full of fan-service. If you are a long-time fan you will also be aware that story and cut scenes play a major role in these games. With MGS 4 expect to spend nearly half of your play time watching expansive cut scenes that finally lay all of the questions fans have had for so long to rest. Yes, we learn who the Patriots are. We discover what La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo means and we also get to find out what happened to most of our favorite characters from the previous games including one unforgettable moment that you surely didn’t see coming.
While the scenes are definitely long, none of them feel like they are dragging on outside of one. I won’t spoil it for anyone who has yet to experience it, but needless to say by the end of it I was begging for them to just stop talking already. Most of the time you will forget you are playing a game because of the extraordinary voice work and spectacular writing. MGS 4 is much more comprehendible thanks to these aspects and makes the game much less confusing than previous efforts. If you have been waiting for a conclusion to this incredible story you simply couldn’t have asked for a better send-off than the one Kojima delivers here.
Everything else about the game just feels polished and precise, much like you would expect from such a big-budget title. The boss battles are inventive, albeit a touch easy. Early on in the game you discover the four creatures that make up the Beauty and the Beast corps, delightfully referred to as the BBs. Taking them down one by one is exhilarating to say the least and the last one will definitely take fans back and make each and every one of them smile with delight. There are also on-rail driving sequences that mimic Hollywood-caliber production values in both intensity and drama. Needless to say once all these elements come together you have an experience that is nothing like anything else you have experienced in this generation of consoles.
Of course none of this will come across quite as good if the game’s visuals don’t match the caliber of the rest of the game. MGS 4 is quite possibly the best looking game I have seen to date. I truly believed Uncharted would take a while to be de-throned, but once you see the insane amount of detail in the character’s faces, the distinct environments where every room you enter feels entirely different and the ridiculous amount of subtle details such as smoke effects, superb lighting and the way environment shifts from interaction you will be amazed at just how good the game looks. Screenshots do not do it justice nor do online videos. This is one game that needs to be realized on a true HD set.
The sound is equally impressive with a stellar soundtrack chock full of memorable tunes and a few surprises from the past that fans will absolutely love. The real stars of the audio though are the sound effects and voice work. As you know everyone loves the voice of Solid Snake and David Hayter once again reprises his role as the hesitant hero. The rest of the cast is absolutely phenomenal especially the mixture of two vocals for each of the BB corps. The sound effects are also incredible. Playing with a set of 5.1 headphones is by far the best outlet, but a solid surround system will also do the trick. The way the audio engulfs the player really makes you feel like you are right there on the battlefield and it does an amazing job of reinforcing the idea of being in the middle of a war.
If all of this isn’t enough to warrant a purchase (and trust me it truly is) there is also the online mode known as Metal Gear Online. MGS consists of some basic online modes such as capture the base and of course the traditional variants of deathmatch, but the real star is the sneaking mode. Here one player assumes the role of Snake with one support character as the Mk.II. The objective is to play a violent game of hide and sneak with the other players. Snake has a plethora of advantages here and with the aid of Mk.II you can really have some fun with the other team. The downside is that Konami’s method of acquiring an online ID is atrocious. Registering a name outside of your regular PSN account seems entirely asinine to me and makes me wonder just how integral it is for Sony to finally bring the PSN to an integrated network.
When all is said and done Metal Gear Solid 4 is exactly what the fans wanted for Snake’s final mission. While the cut scenes can be ridiculously long, that is how the fans like them. The tweaks to the game play have elevated the series to the level it needs to be and the new gadgets and ways to play really flesh out the universe. It is a sad thought that this is Snake’s final mission, especially now that his game is so polished it only makes me crave a sequel, but as it stands you simply couldn’t have asked for a better note to end on. Like I said at the beginning if you are a fan this game is a must buy and I guarantee you will spend months uncovering all of the little surprises Kojima has tucked away inside this Blu-Ray disc. I could go on for another five pages about how much I loved the game, but I will leave it at this. If you own a PS3 this game is a must own. If you are a Metal Gear fan this could easily be the best experience you will ever have. Even with the small things you can nitpick about the game; it will truly be hard to top this one for a long time to come.