Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - Review
By Rory - July 4, 2008
A solid conclusion to one of the greatest stories ever told.
Back in 1987, video game creator Hideo Kojima introduced the world to the 'Metal Gear' series. The story revolved around Solid Snake, a rookie member of the FOXHOUND Special Forces group who is sent in on his first mission to rescue a captured member, Gray Fox. He is then instructed to stop Metal Gear, a nuclear-armed walking tank which the enemy plans on using to dominate the world. Throughout his mission, Snake must use stealth tactics to sneak by the enemies and avoid detection. During a time when action games consisted of little more than hopping around on platforms or grabbing a machine gun and plowing down hordes of enemies, a game with a deep story and in-depth gameplay was pretty hard to come by. Even since the beginning, Kojima has been pushing the boundaries and showing gamers something totally new with every release. Although he was technically not the first to introduce stealth gameplay, he's widely considered to be the pioneer of the genre. With the release of Metal Gear Solid in 1998, he proved that to be true.
Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation was Kojima's breakthrough release. While Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 had prominent stealth elements to them, Metal Gear Solid is considered to be the first true stealth action title. It continued the story of Solid Snake and his mission to infiltrate the enemy base known as Shadow Moses and take down Metal Gear REX. The one behind it all is Liquid Snake, another clone of Big Boss and the genetic counterpart to Solid Snake. He is also the leader of the now terrorist organization, FOXHOUND who's members include Revolver Ocelot and Psycho Mantis. Along the way he meets several characters who aid him in his mission, such as Meryl Silverburgh and his new lifetime partner and friend, Otacon. The game was praised by critics worldwide for its incredible story and unique gameplay. From then on, the Metal Gear Solid series would be constantly setting the bar for all other stealth action titles to come.
Back in the day.
In 2001 the story continued with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. This time you'd be playing as a new character, Raiden, for the majority of the game. Many fans were obviously a bit disappointed that Kojima decided to abandon Solid Snake throughout the duration of the game; however, the enormous amount of gameplay improvements ultimately won them over. The story took place two years later on an off-shore oil refinery which had been seized by the terrorist organization known as the Sons of Liberty, who have also taken the president of the United States hostage. Raiden, another rookie, is instructed to go in and save the day. Along the way he is aided (and opposed) by several new faces and many familiar ones, including Solid Snake himself.
Four years later, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released. This time, the story shifted to forty years in the past, during the Cold War. It revolved around the legendary 'Big Boss', or 'Naked Snake' at that time, and was basically a telling of what took place before the story of Solid Snake. Again, major gameplay and graphical improvements were made, however the biggest change came with the scenery. Instead of being centered around yet another industrial location, Snake Eater took place in the jungles of Russia. Other new additions to the game included a camouflage system, a hand-to-hand combat system known as CQC, an injury and treatment system, and the ability to hunt animals in the environment in order to replenish health. All three games were considered to be among the best that the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 had to offer and Metal Gear Solid 4 continues that tradition.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots brings a close to the story of Solid Snake as we join him on his final mission. Every aspect of this game has seen improvements and every piece of the story has come together beautifully to make for not only the best Metal Gear Solid experience to date, but one of the best games ever made.
Metal Gear Solid has always been pushing the technical boundaries and each game has literally set a new visual standard at its time of release. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is no different. The visuals are absolutely fantastic in every way. First off, the environments in the game are incredibly varied and each area has been built from the ground up. Unlike in previous games, you'll never feel like you're exploring the same place twice. Each environment is incredibly vast and fully realized; you never feel like you're running around in a video game world and there are so many subtle little details everywhere you look. The textures are extremely realistic and detailed and you'll never see one that's out of place. Only once or twice did I see a texture that was a little less impressive than the rest, but it happens so rarely that most people won't even notice. The atmosphere, no matter where you might be, is also amazing. The lighting is incredible and only furthers the realism of each locale. The game looks and feels much more realistic than any of the previous games have, however it still manages to retain the same great artistic look that fans have come to love.
War has taken its toll.
The character models in the game are unbelievably good; by far the best I've ever seen. Every detail of every character stands out- from the tiniest wrinkle in their skin to the slightest change in their expression. These are, without a doubt, some of the most realistic looking characters you're going to find in any video game currently out. Not only do the characters themselves look good, the clothing looks fantastic as well. The OctoCamo (when ignoring what's underneath it) is truly a thing of beauty.
The visual performance is good, for the most part. The animations are once again quite smooth throughout most of the game and only seem to get choppy when a lot is going on. The same can be said about the framerate. When sneaking around indoor environments or exploring areas without much activity surrounding them, you won't notice any unusual slowdown. When the action picks up, however, you will notice some definite framerate hitches. That's not to say that the problem is serious though as it's always completely warranted and never affects gameplay. With such amazing visuals and so much happening on-screen during some of the large scale battles, a little slowdown here and there is totally forgivable.
What's really amazing about Metal Gear Solid 4's visuals is the careful attention to detail. I can pick out several games that look comparable overall, but never have I seen a game where I can actually go looking for something to complain about and fail miserably. The guns, the explosions, the characters, the environments... everything about this game looks great. Konami has outdone themselves again; Metal Gear Solid 4 is indeed a visual masterpiece that will once again be raising the visual standards for video games to come.
The audio in Metal Gear Solid 4 is top notch and everything about it does a fantastic job of drawing you into the experience. The music is once again one of the biggest parts of Metal Gear Solid 4 and nearly every song (especially those from Harry Gregson-Williams) goes above and beyond what we've heard in the past. Whether it's a slower-paced song filled with haunting melodies or a more upbeat track more suited for high speed chases and shootouts- they all fit perfectly. Every song is unique and everything here stands out, which once again makes for one of the most memorable video game soundtracks to date. New music aside, the game still features every classic song from previous MGS games. Snake now comes equipped with an iPod and you'll be able to find all these songs scattered around throughout the game. Once you collect a song, you can get out the iPod and listen to it anytime you want. If you're traversing the jungles and feel like listening to some 'Snake Eater' or have just succeeded in an epic battle and feel like celebrating with some 'Backyard Blues', you can do that. It's a great addition which fans will really enjoy.
The sound effects are just as good as ever and everything from the gunshots to the explosions to the mooing of the Gekkos is outstanding. The sound of the guns, in particular, is the most impressive. When fired, each gun has a realistically unique sound to it, which in turns gives each one a totally different feel. Again, the greatest part about the sound effects is all in the details. The ambient sounds of each location (whether it be gunfire or grasshoppers) do an amazing job of making it feel like you're really there.
I don't think he's here to sell me car insurance.
The voice acting is nothing short of spectacular; not a single performance in this game will leave you unimpressed. Almost every character from previous games makes an appearance and their voice actors certainly let their presence be known. Every one of them does a fantastic job with their role and it's that that really brings the characters to life. Once again the star of it all is David Hayter and once again his performance does not disappoint. In perhaps his most challenging role yet, he adapts perfectly to the aged Solid Snake and is able to take each and every hardship he's faced into account. Not only that, the dialogue throughout the game has also seen a major improvement which not only improves the story, but also helps draw you into each cutscene. This truly is some of the best dialogue and vocal performances we've ever seen and no Metal Gear Solid game in the past has reached this level.
The story has been the highlight of the Metal Gear Solid series since it was first introduced. Combining incredibly deep characters with a web of intricate plot elements, the story is without a doubt one of the best you're ever going to find. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots brings a close to it all, and not only does it wrap up the story of Solid Snake (as well every other loose plot point), but it ties everything together beautifully.
Let me first start by saying that this is a game for the fans. It becomes evident early on that Kojima wrote the epic finale for those who have been with it since the beginning. It isn't 100% necessary for you to have played each and every game in order to get what's going on, but if you have you're going to enjoy it far more. I do think a basic understanding of the overall plot is necessary in order to get the full experience and if you haven't played through past games you'll want to read up a bit on the story. The Metal Gear Solid Database, available for free on the PlayStation Store, is a great way to familiarize yourself with the MGS universe. The only real drawback to having not played through each game is the fact that you'll be missing out on a lot of Kojima's trademark humor which is scattered around throughout the game.
Metal Gear Solid 4 takes place in 2014, five years after the “Big Shell Incident”; the world has become dependent on PMCs (private military companies), and leaders have come to rely on nanomachines (called SOP, or Sons of the Patriots) to control their soldiers. The story once again focuses on Solid Snake (now Old Snake thanks to rapid aging caused by Fox Die) who is sent in on his final mission to stop Liquid, who now controls the single mother company called Outer Haven. Five of the most powerful PMCs on the battlefield (Crying Wolf, Raging Raven, Screaming Mantis, and Laughing Octopus) known as the Beauty and the Beast Corps, are also under the control of Liquid and are sent in to stop Snake. As you may have guessed, these characters serve as 'bosses' and each one comes with their own unique combat technique and hauntingly disturbing past.
Throughout the game dozens of side-stories, most of which were introduced over the past few games, come into play. Like I said before, almost every character makes an appearance in the game and each plays their own role in aiding or opposing Snake. Unfortunately, the main story can be a bit much for some and the side-stories certainly don't help. Over the course of the game you're going to be watching about nine hours of cutscenes; several of which are over an hour alone. To someone who doesn't get exactly what's going on, it'll be rough getting through them all. Now, as a Metal Gear Solid fan who knows the ins and outs of the story, I couldn't have asked for anything less. No, the story is not something you're going to be able to pick up and understand at this point but fans that have been with it for over ten years will be glad that nothing got watered down. Kojima left no stone unturned as everything you've been wondering about the story is finally brought up and concluded.
The characterization in the game is by far the best we've seen throughout the series. Never have you cared more about Snake and everyone around him as it seems they've all finally broken out of their shell. Everyone seems far more real and many begin to show their vulnerabilities for the first time. You've never felt as attached to Snake as you do in Metal Gear Solid 4 and believe me, you'll have a hard time saying goodbye when it's all over.
The gameplay in Metal Gear Solid has always been primarily stealth with a bit of straight-up action thrown in. Metal Gear Solid 4 does a much better job of blending the two and allowing players to get through it however they see fit. The excellent combination of both gameplay elements is what really sets this title apart from previous entries in the series. You're no longer forced to sneak your way through every single section and you can now blast your way through if you so choose. It all comes down to personal preference, as you may find one easier than the other. However, pulling out a machine gun and plowing down some enemies is no longer seen as just a last resort. On the other hand, if you prefer to take is slow, that works just as well, if not better than it did before.
Throughout the game you'll encounter several battles between the PMCs and Militia where you can either blast your way through or sneak along the sidelines. Pulling out a machine gun and engaging the enemies will prompt you to do one of two things- kill everyone in sight or choose sides and help one of them out. Siding with the militia becomes quite useful as once they've earned your trust you'll no longer be considered an enemy. Not only will they help you out in combat, but they'll also drop useful items for you to pick up. Again though, it all comes down to the type of player you are. I chose a stealth approach most of the time. To be quite honest, sneaking your way through battlefields definitely feels a bit strange at first as most MGS players are probably more accustomed to quiet/calm surroundings. When you get the hang of it, however, slowly making your way around epic battles and watching the carnage unfold around you definitely has a rewarding feel to it. The only thing that I felt was strange about it was that when you stealthily engage the enemies (by firing on them from afar or with a silencer), they didn't act as though they were in the middle of a battle. Dozens of men would be firing machine guns back and fourth at each other yet when you fire at them they suddenly become suspicious of the situation, as if your bullets are somehow special. Enemies going into alert mode in the middle of a huge conflict seemed pretty strange. They're already alert and in combat mode, all that should happen now is that you become involved in the fight. Instead, they send for reinforcements and act as though you've become the only one on the battlefield. This is really only a personal nitpick on my part, however, and it really doesn't have a negative effect on most of the game. The gameplay elements for the most part handle better than they ever have before.
Although Metal Gear Solid has never handled badly per se, previous games did take a bit of getting used to as the controls could feel overly complicated at times. Thankfully, Konami has addressed this and newcomers as well as vets will appreciate the more intuitive control scheme. First off, the shooting mechanics have been completely overhauled and changed for the better. Anyone who has played a third-person shooter will now have no problem picking this game up and playing it. You're now given an aiming reticule while in third person mode and can fire while viewing Snake over-the-shoulder. You can also pop into first person mode for more precise aim. What's great about both of these is that you can now move while aiming and shooting. Shooting consists of holding down L1 to bring up the aiming reticule and tapping R1 to fire- it's now as simple as that.
The weapons in the game are incredibly varied- you're going to find more guns here than just about any other shooter. There are pistols, SMGs, assault weapons, projectiles, explosives, traps, etc. and each of those categories has an impressive number of weapons to choose from. What's great is that each one consists of more than just a unique look. They all handle differently and certain situations call for a different type of gun.
The way you collect guns is a bit different than before. You're still going to be able to pick up guns scattered around the battlefield, however the PMCs have ID-locked the vast majority of them. It's not until you meet up with Drebin, the game's weapon dealer, that you'll be able to sell or unlock these guns. Drebin acts as the merchant throughout the game; you'll be able to sell him guns that you pick up to earn Drebin points and you can purchase guns and ammo from him with the points. Unlike most games, you're not required to physically be in his presence to buy things. As soon as you've met up with him for the first time, the 'Drebin Shop' will appear on your menu and you can go in and get what you need no matter where you are. You can also customize each gun, adding scopes, lasers and suppressors where you see fit. Some will say the Drebin system makes the game too easy and some will say it just makes things more convenient. Personally, I'm glad that it works this way as A. I don't like going through the tedious paces of dealing with traditional videogame merchants, and B. you're not forced to use it! If you think it makes the game too easy, you can just ignore the whole system and pick up all your guns/ammo yourself. It's all about playing through the game the way you want to play through it.
Weapons aside, Snake now comes with a full arsenal of improved gadgets and abilities suited mostly for stealth players. A few major additions are the OctoCamo, the threat ring, the Solid Eye and the Mk. II. Metal Gear Solid 3 introduced the camouflage system which gamers ultimately had mixed feelings about. Camouflage in a stealth game would seem like a godsend, and although it certainly helped throughout the duration of the game, some overly complicated design choices held the whole thing back a bit. In order to use different camos, you had to stop what you were doing, go into the menu and manually change it every single time. It was a nice idea to feature the ability to blend into whatever environment you happened to be in, but having to pause the game each and every time you wanted to switch out your camo really took you out of the experience. I'm not saying I wanted to see Snake strip down and change in front of me or anything, but the ability to change camouflage on the fly was definitely something that should have been there. Fortunately, Metal Gear Solid 4 addresses that concern with the OctoCamo. It's no longer 1964 so the camouflage system is obviously a bit more modernized this time around. The OctoCamo is now all you'll need to blend in to your surroundings, no matter where you might be. To change the look of the OctoCamo, all you need to do is press yourself up against a surface and it'll automatically change itself to resemble that texture. It's a great system that still allows you to take a hands on approach to using camouflage to blend in, but does so far more seamlessly in order to keep you in the action.
The threat ring is another new ability that stealth players in particular will really appreciate. What it is is a ring that surrounds Snake and spikes in the direction of NPCs. The bigger the spike, the closer they are. If they are in alert mode, the spike will turn red. Although simple, it's a great addition that really helps out when trying to sneak your way through the game and avoid confrontation.
The Solid Eye, as you may have guessed, is a device that goes over Snake's eye and feeds him important information on items and NPCs. Equipping the Solid Eye brings up information on whatever (or whoever) you happen to be looking at. If you've got it on it will alert you to items lying on the ground by highlighting them, and will also let you know what that item is. It definitely helps the collectors to not miss any valuable equipment lying around on the battlefield. It will also provide you with information on the NPCs. Specifically, it will let you know whether they are PMC or Militia, which definitely comes in handy when you've chosen a side to fight on. It also comes equipped with a night vision mode which can be quite useful during certain segments of the game.
Never leave home without it.
The Mk. II (pronounced Mark 2) is a miniaturized Metal Gear, designed by Otacon in order to remotely oversee Snake's mission. What's cool about it is that you'll have the ability to use it any time you want. It comes equipped with a stealth mode which allows it to hide from all enemies, making it perfect for certain scenarios. If there is a situation in which Snake just can't get through without being seen, you can pull out the Mk. II and stun a few enemies before moving on. It really comes in handy for scouting out areas and picking up items that Snake wouldn't be able to pick up without being detected. It's definitely another welcome addition.
The game is broken up into five different acts, each one completely different than the last. I won't say much more than this, but if you think the game only takes place in the Middle East, you're in for a big surprise. There is a huge variety of different locations and each act lands you in a completely different part of the world. The level design for each location is fantastic. The game is mostly linear and while each section has it's own set path, there's far more exploring you can do in the environments. The locations are much more vast and open than they've been in previous games. Like I said before, the gameplay is more varied than it's ever been and the level design allows for many different ways to go about getting from point A to point B.
Making your way through the different areas, you'll be faced with different challenges. Sometimes you'll have to make your way through heated battles, sometimes you'll have to take down a bunch of Gekkos, sometimes you'll need to man a mounted machine gun and get through an on-rails sequence and sometimes you'll even need to use your head and do some investigating. The pacing for all this is great and because there are so many unique gameplay elements, you're always doing something new and exciting. In past games you'd sometimes say to yourself “Ugh, I have to sneak through another industrial area? It's fun but I've already done this before”. That's never something you'll experience while playing this game.
Between all the sneaking around and gunning down enemies, you'll be faced with several boss battles. Once again Kojima has gone with themed bosses and once again, it works out perfectly. Each boss belongs to the 'Beauty and the Beast' unit and share several binding traits with one another. They all act different but they still share the bond that previous boss units have; with each victory it feels like you're slowly chipping away at them. Now, I won't go into detail about what the boss battles entail, but I will say that none of them can be taken down with strictly traditional combat. Each one will force you to use your head and formulate a different plan of attack to defeat them. Just like with previous MGS games, the amount of fun you'll have with each boss definitely outweighs the amount of challenge you'll be faced with. None are particularly hard, but all of them offer more fun than most boss battles you'll experience.
One thing about the single player portion of the game that I must point out is that just like all previous Metal Gear Solid games, your first playthrough will mainly serve as a learning experience for the many playthroughs to follow. The first time through, you're not going to know the ins and outs of the battlefield and as such, a stealth approach can sometimes be a bit difficult. You won't know what each area holds and will therefore have a much tougher time formulating a strategy. When you've made it through for the first time is when you'll really be able to start playing. Eventually you'll know the environments, enemy routes and strategies by heart and you'll be able to use that knowledge to pull off perfect runs. I'm not saying you won't have fun your first time through, but believe me when I say that once you know the game like the back of your hand, you'll enjoy it far more than you did before. And yes, you will most certainly play through the game more than once. It's that damn good.
Visiting an old friend.
As if the single player weren't enough, the game also features a hefty multiplayer portion called Metal Gear Online. The first thing you'll notice when you start it up is the surprisingly deep and feature-filled interface which really makes it feel like its own game. You'll first need to create a separate Konami ID to start playing but once you've signed up you'll be able to add your friends to your buddy list, send messages, create private games, etc. The game has every multiplayer feature that you've come to expect and although we did experience a bit of lag and some headset issues, everything is mostly pulled off pretty well.
Unfortunately, I found the gameplay experience to be a bit hit or miss. As soon as you jump in and start playing, you'll pretty much just be running around like a chicken with its head cut off, getting gunned down over and over. It takes a good couple of hours to really get into it and start racking up kills. It's then when you'll decide whether you're having a ton of fun or are just sick of having to cope with all the game's downfalls. Many, I predict, won't even stick around for that long. One thing I must note, however, is that currently the game is only referred to as a 'starter' meaning it's going to be greatly expanded over time adding new game modes, fixes, and other things. If the game doesn't suit your taste now, you might want to check back a few months down the road to see if any improvements were made that may make it a bit more enjoyable.
Now, when you're first starting out you'll be able to create your character and customize his look and skill set. It starts off pretty barebones, but you'll earn different clothing and equipment as you progress. The skill system is a pretty cool feature that really allows you to hone certain abilities. This comes in handy after you've decided what type of player you're going to be. If you're a sniper, you'll want to level up the sniping skill. If you prefer to run and gun, you'll want to level up your assault skill. If you're into sneaking you'll want to level up your CQC and knife skills. You're given four skill slots and unfortunately as you level one skill up, you'll have to get rid of another. That means you're really going to have to choose how you want to play as you won't be able to excel at more than one or two things.
The gameplay itself is pretty self explanatory as it mostly handles just like the single player. There are a few different game types to choose from, such as the standard deathmatch mode and others that feature sneaking and objective-based gameplay. They're all pretty good and offer quite a bit of fun. The major problem here is all in the control scheme. It works perfectly when fighting against NPCs, but when you're thrown into battle against real people, it just doesn't hold up. Most confrontations consist of running up to the enemy and circling around one another in an awkward attempt to either throw them to the ground or land a headshot. For players of equal skill, the whole thing turns into a bit of a mess that leaves you both looking like Dumb and Dumber. For newcomers, it's nothing but constant frustration. Most MGS vets will have no problem looking past the downfalls and enjoying the hell out MGO for months to come. Unfortunately, the rather large learning curve that comes along with the awkward control setup will ultimately keep a large number of players from ever getting into it.
Get on the ground, punk!
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is definitely the type of game that will keep you busy for months, if not years to come. The single player portion of the game will last you about 30 hours (9 of which consist of cutscenes) the first time through. What's great about it is that finishing it for the first time is only the beginning. This is one game that you will be replaying over and over and over for years to come. Not only is it a ton of fun to play through it a different way each time, you'll actually be rewarded for it now. At the end of each playthrough you'll be given an emblem based on how you played the game. Sneaking through it and avoiding detection will get you one emblem while taking out as many enemies as you can will earn you another. There are also different facemasks, camos, items and weapons that you can find and collect throughout the game. Drebin points will also carry over and several guns from the Drebin Shop will only be available after you've racked up enough points throughout several playthroughs. Collecting all the emblems, weapons, and special items will only be further incentive to play through the game again and again. Metal Gear Online, for those who get into it, is also great and will likely hold your attention for weeks/months. As it's only going to expand and get better, fans will definitely keep coming back.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is definitely the grand finale we've all been waiting for. It's not just a game; it's an interactive experience that will truly leave you breathless. The visuals, audio, and gameplay are all fantastic and exceed the hype surrounding them. The story is an absolute masterpiece that brings everything in the Metal Gear Solid universe together for one of the most epic conclusions we've ever seen. After nearly twenty years, the story of Solid Snake has finally come to a close and even the legendary hero himself couldn't have asked for a better sendoff.
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