Wednesday, January 28, 2009

MGS4: A Stunning Story Offsets Deja Vu Gameplay

We've all been waiting for years for a true sequel to 2001's Metal Gear Solid 2; a game that will hopefully tie up some of the loose ends Sons of Liberty left us with. Who are the Patriots? How are they connected to Solid Snake? Will Raiden's girlfriend ever stop whining? Will Snake continue to sport his rockin' mullet?

Some of those questions are answered and some are left up in the air; however, none of that really matters, because I'm convinced that thanks to its storyline, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is already one of the most socially relevant games of the 21st century. Kojima's newest work paints a horrifying vision of humanity where perpetual war is the backbone of the world economy; a vision that comes uncomfortably close to current world events. Militia groups – soldiers for hire – now fight all of our wars. On the surface, it sounds great: Wars take place and citizens can rest easy, knowing only hired goons will be killed in action. However, when war is necessary for the economy to flourish, combat becomes commonplace, and it's not long before the lines between citizen and soldier are blurred. Behind all this is a familiar face or two, carrying on Big Boss's ideals and creating a world where soldiers will never be obsolete.

Outer Heaven lives once more.

Snake, now an old man thanks to his unstable clone DNA (and the FoxDie disease that was injected into him during the first game couldn't be helping much either), must infiltrate a remote Middle Eastern location to find and neutralize the cause of the resurrected Outer Heaven, but time is not on his side. His youth failing, the combat-weary “Old Snake” must fight one last time as an independent force, representing the closest thing to justice the world has seen for some time.

The graphics failed to impress me very much. Of course they're pretty good, with major attention paid to detail is in most of Kojima's works, but there's little about them that makes me want to stare in awe and drop my annoyingly-expensive yet sort-of-necessary Dualshock 3 controller. Everything looks as it should, with the Middle Eastern setting sufficiently “hot” looking and such, but I've come to expect more from both the PS3 and the hype surrounding MGS4. Then again, as any true gamer knows, graphics do not make a game entertaining; gameplay does.

And gameplay is an area where MGS4 certainly delivers. With wide open environments thrown into the mix with the standard enclosed environments MGS fans have come to expect from the series, the newest Metal Gear Solid title offers a welcome change of pace from earlier titles, playing like a mixture of Snake Eater and the aforementioned Sons of Liberty. With lead swapped between non player characters almost constantly and bombs flying feely through the air, confusion reigns supreme on the battlefield. Thanks to this mechanic, the player's tension levels reach an all-time high in the series, however, there's an in-game map to tell you what direction to go to reach your next objective. In this way things are a lot more liner than previous titles. Also, sneaking is even more imperative in these situations, forcing the player to really think about the route they're going or face the swift, deadly consequences.

The controls are much like the other Metal Gear Solid games, meaning that there're slightly confusing and unintuitive, but responsive overall and effective in the right hands.The sound is good too. Bullets whiz past the player in excellent stereo sound, going from one speaker to the other as they pass you by. The music is on target for the series, popping up at appropriate times and sufficiently suspenseful, but the omission of the main theme of the series made popular by the intro movie of the Sons of Liberty is a bit disappointing.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is not going to win over gamers who hated the other entries into the series, but it will please fans. The storyline is the main draw here, giving intellectual types hours of ammo for their late night thinking sessions. Those of us less inclined to question the world around us will still enjoy the game for the fun gunplay, the atmospheric sound and the nice graphics, but I wonder if these aren't the same people who would most benefit from Kojima's message. Metal Gear Solid 4 is a solid purchase for fans, action gamers, and those who want to wrap their heads around some veiled political commentary – and it just might mark the turnaround point for Sony's ailing PS3. Give it a whirl and salute the final appearance of one of gaming's greatest heroes.

Score: 8 out of 10


The special edition of Metal Gear Solid 4 is a Gamestop/EB games exclusive, and if you didn’t preorder it, you might be out of luck. It contains the game itself (duh), a soundtrack CD and a Blu-ray featuring two hours of additional content, including a making-of documentary. The release comes in a handsome, sturdy box, unlike the special edition of Devil May Cry 4 a few months back that crammed all the content into a cheap plastic sleeve (with a decent metal box under everything to be fair).

Without going into spoiler territory, the documentary is a nice outing for fans who want to know more about the project and the man himself, Hideo Kojima. However, chances are if you don’t know who Hideo Kojima is, you won’t get much use out of the extras that come with special edition. The included soundtrack is nice, if only for completeness’s sake, but it’s nothing one can’t live without – especially if one is a casual player who’s just looking for some quick espionage fun.

You really have to be dedicated to Metal Gear Solid as a series to appreciate the extras in the special edition box set. With no new game content, there’s little for the causal player to appreciate, and watching the documentary will become a chore for the player in this case.

The special edition of Metal Gear Solid 4 is a treasure trove of fun for fans, but an unnecessary expense for all others. Collectors, this box will look awesome on your wall, proudly displayed next to the other titles in the series; so buy with abandon! Everyone else, however, should be satisfied with the normal release.

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