|Snakeypoos returns! In his swan song, no less. If you missed 'em first time around, chuck "Metal Gear" into the search engine to find my thoughts on the past three games|
I do apologise for the quietness lately. I had reviews 'n' articles aplenty, all prepped and ready to go, but of course a PC foul-up promptly deleted the lot this week, including a two week old Metal Gear Solid 4 review. As a result? You now read MGS4 review Mk II.
Let's cut to it anyway. Snake's back - supposedly in his final outing - and for that fact alone, this sucker has quite the task before it. Forget the forever mounting pressure for the PS3 to deliver a killer third party exclusive not available anywhere else...merely tying up all the crazy, demented plot-strands and non-sensical character arcs that this series has become infamous for in one mere game? Rather you than me, Kojima-san.
So does he pull it off? He sure as hell does! Albeit, with minor caveats. You see, for all the enjoyment, laughs, gasps and emotional heart-string tugs this game pulls off without particularly batting an eye-lid...it's genuinely impossibly to tell if MGS4 is a terrible story that's just told really
friggin' well, or the exact opposite. It's simultaneously epic, spectacular and a truly original vision from one of gaming's great auteurs...yet at the same time feels just that little bit too long, a tad bloated, and in serious
need of an editor. There's a Return of the King calibre "P.S." in particular, which just feels completely un-needed and flat-out ludicrous. It's where I finally switched off for good, and is a crying shame really, given the sheer jaw-dropping
that preceded it.
I guess whether you abide by Kojima's vision of the future and find fascination there or flat-out boredom, is more down to the individual really. For me though, his paranoid, world-of-tomorrow, cyberpunky spin on PMCs and nanotechnology does little to be honest. In fact, I ignore all that.
No, for me, MGS4 is a far more personal tale about simply...growing old. I can take or leave the 10 minute long descriptions of Illuminati-esque organisations vying for global power via proxy wars, but when it gets personal regarding Snake himself and his internal plight? I sit right up and shit gets real.
The poor guy's been to hell and back when MGS4 begins, yet is about to face by far his toughest test yet. All with grey hair and liver spots, no less. As a clone of Big Boss - aka Naked Snake from Metal Gear Solid 3
- homey's aging at an increased rate you see, and in just the game's intro, is told he'll be dead within the year. The whole concept's handled very poignantly and touching in my opinion, with a maturity and sincerity that no number of trademark Hideo gags and breaking of the fourth wall can take away from. Growing old, running out of time, and not having the chance to do in life the things you wanted to; these are the themes of MGS4 for me. Not AI constructs and nanobots. Rarely has a game - if ever - had me thinking about such things.
There's no better example of that then the poor guy's first encounter with Meryl in the opening act. A young lass whom provided Snake with a romantic interest in the original Metal Gear Solid
, takes one look at his decrepit, aging body and instantly turns limp. Any romantic bond they previously shared is gone forever, and never spoken of again (and naturally, she jumps the bones of the first young stud she comes across bearing more than a passing resemblance to Young Snake). Women.
By the end of the game, I felt a connection - and indeed a pity - for the main character far more potent than just about any other virtual creation before him, easily up there with, say, the connection I shared with my own toon in Mass Effect
. A whole lot more, in fact.
|The new "Geckos" are arguably the highlight of the game for me. Incredible to behold, and a riot to battle, they bring this game's fire-fights to life something fierce|
I spring instantly into discussing the plot for good reason, of course. As we probably all guessed going in, MGS4 splits its time pretty god damn evenly between watching cut-scenes and, ya know, actual...gameplay
. That's both a good and a bad thing, as while said cut-scenes are some of the finest directed videogame sequences ever put to disc - both in terms of emotion, digital acting and riotously choreographed kung-fu action - you're still spending an awful lot of time with the controller placed on the couch. Kojima tries to keep you engaged by adding some interactive elements to these otherwise 100% passive sequences - quicktime "pop-ups" that you can happily ignore if you want - but at the end of the day, you're gonna be watching a good 10 hour long movie throughout MGS4's campaign. And that sure ain't for everyone.
When gameplay actually kicks off though? It's most definitely Metal Gear at its finest. The Clancy games - and indeed western shooters in general - have clearly been a humungous influence this time out, with a more standard third person shooter control scheme, and far less convolution than fans of the series will be used to. Left shoulder aims, right shoulder shoots, and you can pop in 'n' outta cover as you'd expect. The setup fits snugly into the traditional Metal Gear framework of old, essentially letting you play it old skool style if you so wish, or as a bog-standard blaster.
As far as the latter goes, it's a bloody good 'un too. There are a ton
of weapons to find and unlock, you can mod and customise them all to a damn near preposterous extent, and the battlefields are more than fun enough to stop 'n' pop your way through in a kinda Gears
fashion. Most importantly of all? Smokin' fools is flat-out fun
this time around...which you can't really say true of previous Metal Gears, let's be honest.
|Raiden. You may remember me as the sole person in the world to actually dig him in MGS2. Here he's been darkened up big time, but story wise...let's just say there are some odd choices|
Conversely the stealth stuff remains largely similar to before in terms of control, but I definitely feel like Snake's gear has received a much needed upgrade to match the increasingly futuristic time period. While still no Sam Fisher, the guy's got some neat new gadgets now, including a Splinter Cell-esque eye-patch with multiple vision modes, and a fantastic, semi-automated camouflage system that blends his combat suit into whatever colour surrounds him should you perch still for just a few seconds. It's fun to mess with, and proves wondrously useful, but is arguably most impressive just from a technological stand-point. Wow.
Coupled with his - gasp - newfound ability to actually move while crouching
, and Snake's stealth abilities most definitely feel up to the task at last (this, you may recall, being my prime whinge with previous Metal Gears). I think the main flaw Kojima and co. make however, is a serious lack of in-game tutorials in regards to homey's actual abilities. Feigning death? Sticking guys up? Even the detailed CQC tomfoolery he forever rambles on about in cut-scenes? You're not really told how to do any
of this stuff, unless you go drilling through in-game move lists like a beat 'em up. Shame, as squeezing a dude's balls 'til he passes out in pain, or playing dead before rolling over and capping a guy in the head when he walks past are some of the game's true highpoints in my opinion, and I fear many'll thus miss half the depth and brilliance of controlling this character in the process. Particularly when merely mowing down enemies with an AK is so damn enticing now.
So there's shooting, there's sneaking, and both come off quite the blast regardless, but thankfully it doesn't stop there. I really can't detail specifics on this front however, as experiencing them all for yourself is half the brilliance. I will say that this game does a truly stunning job of chucking in essentially a whole new genre
with each passing chapter though; detective work, vehicular sections and...a whole lot more await, some of which rank up there with not just high points in this particular series, but the past five years of videogaming period
. These sequences alone are pretty much the primary reason that you see the score you do further down this page. But pssst, forget I told you any of that.
talk technical bollocks though. While a long time's passed since those original brain-imploding E3 trailers hit our collective screens in 2006 - and thus the bar's been raised quite considerably in years gone by - MGS4 still manages to impress monstrously well on the graphical side o' things. It's not so much texture detail and polygon count though...it's more in the way the camera moves...the amazing animation...and that glorious art direction, tying it all together. It's a shame that the actual in-game movement doesn't quite stack up to what's on offer in the ludicrously gorgeous cinemas really - more in-tune with that in the previous titles - but tiny niggles aside? MGS4 is easily one of the prettiest games you will ever see.
|Dr. Naomi Hunter. Needs to get into CGI porn. Voiced by Jennifer Hale of Shepard/Bastila fame|
It's actually the sound that truly knocks it outta the park for me though. From the aural effects, to the voice acting, to the musical score, it just all feels so crisp, nuanced and rich. Perfect, even. Everything from the glorious "Old Snake" theme tune that's now glued to my iPod on a constant basis, to the subtle metallic "clicks" and shakes an M4 makes as Snake inspects it for flaws, show off the sheer depth and detail thrown into this freakin' thing from head to toe. Hold up. I take that "perfect" remark back...duder playing Otocon? Needs to stop crying. Seriously.
Finally, there's Metal Gear Online. It's alright, albeit a little tacked on. When you develop an online shooter in today's videogaming climate, boy are you in for a rough ride, and I feel like the underlying Metal Gear mechanics don't quite hold up to some of the big 'uns currently dominating this particular field. It's far slower and more methodical than most you see, and after bathing oneself in Call of Duty 4
and the like, feels a little like you're running in treacle.
With that in mind, I feel this mode is best played with minimal amounts of players, and thus a pace more in-line with that of the single player game. 2v2 matches are far more enjoyable than the colossal group bundles you'll find on most servers, and turn the action into more sparse, tactical games of hide 'n' sneak. Metal Gear's underlying stealth abilities meet its new-found emphasis on fire-fights at just about the perfect spot here, and I had way more fun playing these kinds of minimalist matches with friends, than the larger public games choc-full o' noise and death.
MGS4 has its issues then, from the online mode to the pacing and editing of its ever-complicated story, but to be honest? There is just so much god damn love packed into this thing, it seems laughable to compare it critically to 90% of everything else out there. Going from MGS4 to dreck like The Bourne Conspiracy, or even Ninja Gaiden 2
really drives that point home for me and puts the game into perspective.
|While not approaching some of the all-time greats, I dug 4's bosses big time. They are easy, fun and...who am I kidding? Hot as hell. Check out the arse on that wolf-bot|
Make no mistake. It is indeed a milestone for our favourite medium in a multitude of different ways, from the unparralled presentation, to the wealth of its different play-styles, to the wide range of emotions it seems effortlessly capable of conjuring up at each and every turn. It really is a wonderful achievement in its own right, and a truly one of a kind entertainment experience that's next to impossible to pigeonhole. There's just nothing else like Metal Gear, I guess. It may nip the odd feature from here or there - particularly in its new-found emphasis on the running and gunning - but at the end of the day, the MGS saga remains a truly individual and utterly bizarre phenomenon that defies both labels, genres...and even mediums at this point.
I wouldn't call it a mere videogame you see. This is the most bad arse of action flicks, married to a suave '60s spy thriller, coupled with the most bat-shit insane sci-fi fan-gasm nonsense you could ever imagine, all requiring an IQ of 150 - minimum - to follow. Even then you'll still be lost. I'll never really understand its amazing cult success with that description in mind, but I sure ain't complaining. If craziness like this can strike a chord with a mass audience and sell this darn well? Our industry is in a good place I reckon.
The most important point of all though? For all its confoozling insanity that flew waaay over my head...the few bits that stuck tasted so damn good, I wanted
to understand more. The amount of reading, research and replaying I've since done in order to finally get a grasp on just what the fuck happened
these past four games surprised the heck outta me. But I think it speaks for itself.
Either way, my original pondering remains; a bad story told well...or a good story told badly? A bit of both I guess. But who cares? There's a 9 outta 10 game buried underneath it all anyway, and undoubtedly the best I've played so far this year...