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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Konami
Developed By: Kojima Productions
Genre: Third-Person Action
Players: 1
Rated: M (Mature)
Release Date: June 12, 2008
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By:: Daniel Sims

With extremely well-researched settings and unusually clever game design constantly countered by relentless uninteractive cinematics and convoluted controls, Metal Gear has been one of those franchises that gamers love but simultaneously can’t stand. Some of its trappings Metal Gear Solid 4 is able to escape, in one way becoming the full maturation of Metal Gear, but others ultimately hold it back.

As charming and innovative as the previous MGS games were seen to be by fans, they were largely three-dimensional games saddled with the interface of the 1990 2D game Metal Gear 2, which made for a series of games that, while satisfying, were in many ways also frustrating with cumbersome controls and a hindering camera.

Although Metal Gear Solid 3 and its expansion pack Subsistence went a long way in reinventing the series wholly in the third dimension with more open gameplay and a more agreeable camera, MGS4 is the game that finally fixes everything about the way Metal Gear is played. Both sneaking and especially gunplay have been effectively streamlined and near perfectly balanced in MGS4 with new mechanics and tools for Snake as well as a control scheme that’s been re-built from the ground up for a much smoother experience. Essentially what Kojima has done is incorporate control staples from western third person shooters like Ghost Recon or Gears of War into Metal Gear’s gameplay while tweaking the franchise’s own mechanics which has resulted in a far less frustrating game. Switching aiming to an over-the-shoulder view instead of auto-aim (or holding down three buttons to aim in first person) has especially helped make gunplay in Metal Gear workable and fun for once.

One of the gunfights in the fifth act of MGS4 (the game is split up into separate missions) brings up a stark contrast with a similar battle towards the end of Metal Gear Solid 2. At one point in MGS2, players are trapped in a large circular room with no choice but to take out enemies by force. For me this basically meant running around with the fire button held down like I was playing a top-down Contra level. In MGS4 there is a similar battle in a similarly-shaped room, but here there’s plenty of cover and the new controls let me fight much more deliberately for more tactical and ultimately more satisfying combat.

The main new mechanic that also helps make sure players have what they need to play the game the way they want is the weapon shop. When players first pick up a weapon in MGS4, it’s locked with an ID tag to whoever previously owned it and must be unlocked at the shop for a fee. Every subsequent time that weapon is found it’s instantly sold for currency used to buy ammo, items, and customizable parts for an impressive selection of weapons at the shop, far too many for them all to be used during the first playthrough. Players will no longer have to scavenge for these things but still have a reason for picking up things they find.

The customizable parts in MGS4 really open up the possibilities for the kinds of strategies players can employ with more versatile weapons. One of my favorite combinations in the game has been an M4 assault rifle equipped with a silencer and scope for silent but lethal long-range shots as well as a shotgun attachment equipped with plastic rings for a powerful but non-lethal punch for knocking out enemies without having to switch weapons.

New tools also make sneaking feel just as refined and streamlined. MGS3’s camouflage system has been re-introduced as a suit called the “octocamo” suit which automatically changes color to match player’s surroundings instead of making them go back and forth between menus to switch colors. Players also have a new device called the Metal Gear mkII – an inches-tall bipedal robot which can be used as a scout to more safely observe one’s environment. The radar from previous games has also been simplified down into a small circle surrounding players, indicating how close enemies are and their direction in respect to them.

These reformatted controls and other refinements are definitely the core of what makes MGS4 just about the ultimate evolution of Metal Gear, but they’re able to shine only because of how soundly MGS4 balances stealth and action. Metal Gear is at its core a stealth game, but MGS4’s scenarios make both stealth and action equally viable and enjoyable options for playing.

The first two acts of MGS4 have players sneaking through open battlefields where two opposite sides unrelated to the players themselves fight it out which makes for some impressive and intense set pieces. If players choose, they can help turn the tide of battles by openly fighting mercenaries which will cause rebels to see them as an ally and can also change the course of a mission by opening different paths to the player’s objective. At one point during the second act I came up on a large, open field and a base guarded by mercenaries. While quietly sneaking through the place I saw a group of rebels arriving from over a hill and before I knew it all hell broke loose around me.

The only downside to sneaking through open battles is that having enemies distracted fighting each other do make it noticeably easier to sneak by them. The difficulty in MGS4 really doesn’t ramp up until the first boss towards the end of the second act.

In terms of the designs of each of their fights as well as the background behind each character, the Beauty and the Beast Corps is probably the best set of bosses I’ve faced since Unit FOXHOUND from Metal Gear Solid. Each one is at once a unique boss and a composite of bosses from previous games. Laughing Octopus constantly used trickery to hide and make surprise attacks but I always felt like I was one step ahead of her. Crying Wolf was sort of a cross between Sniper Wolf from MGS and Fortune from MGS2 with a little bit of The End from MGS3 - her battle being a pleasant mix of stealth and action that returns MGS fans to a familiar battlefield.

All in all, the stealth sections, combat sections, and boss battles in MGS4 all show a sense of maturity showing how far Metal Gear has come. With all the extraneous pieces of an ancient interface now gone, it finally feels like I can get down to the business of actually performing tactical espionage action… if I could actually reach it that is.

Not only does MGS4 set out to (quite successfully) address its interface issues, but it also attempts to once and for all wrap up one of the densest storyline in videogames, which is what ends up trapping the game under piles of uninteractive storytelling. MGS4, in proportion to actual game length, seems like it might be the most cut scene-heavy game I’ve ever played. As the game moves into its second half much of its impact is shifted from the excellently polished gameplay to cinematics.

None of the cut scenes in MGS4 approaches the 90-minute mark as some worried they would, but nearly all of them probably exceed five or 10 minutes. Furthermore, the game must install between each new act not just the first time, but every time you replay it. With most other games players would probably be too bored to continue playing, but these cut scenes are some of the best on the PS3, clearly a grade above what Kojima performed on the PS2 with animation and acting only matched by games like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Heavenly Sword. The fact that the game openly proves to players that these cinematics are running in the very same engine in which they play the game also puts an exclamation point behind how good it all looks.

The story that these cut scenes tell is at once a resolution of pretty much every question and conflict left behind by previous games, and also service to fans of MGS1. Here we get to meet many major characters from previous games, some of which haven’t been seen since MGS1 when it came out a decade ago, and see how far they’ve come since their initial appearances.

Solid Snake has returned for his final mission as the game’s main protagonist and only playable character, but accelerated aging due to the cloning process that created him makes things increasingly hard on him as his mission goes on. Other characters like Meryl and Raiden have grown into impressive fighters while other supporting characters show up in the most surprising places.

As things unfold and start to get more and more bleak, some pretty big surprises are revealed as the narrative begins to explain and add further context to many of the themes and characters from the previous games. What accomplishes this possibly the most is MGS4’s full revelation of the identities of the enigmatic Patriots, which offers some big surprises for fans and even helps bring everything from MGS3 full circle with what occurred in the other games. By the end, everything feels resolved and explained, ultimately reaching a peaceful, satisfying end to one of the densest and involving stories in gaming.

Alongside rounding out remaining loose ends from the rest of the Metal Gear saga, MGS4 also attempts to incorporate its own themes into its narrative. To follow the subject of nuclear proliferation examined in MGS, emergent digital culture in MGS2, and the fickleness of politics in MGS3, MGS4 tries to depict a near future world where private military companies are a growing force in the world’s economy. Alongside this MGS4 also brings up the psychology of warfare as a recurring theme by lightly incorporating into the gameplay as well as the story. As serious as MGS4 attempts to be in the presentation of these themes however, they don’t go quite far enough to avoid being overtaken by the narrative’s monumental task of wrapping things up from the rest of the series.

Despite how much of the game is actually comprised of cut scenes, after all this goes through your head and you start a second run through MGS4, cutting out all the narrative in order to explore the actual game more fully, it expands upon itself wonderfully. My second time through, the game seemed much deeper than before as my attention was now brought to more paths through levels and additional usefulness of the new weapons and tools, which along with the multiplayer is what ultimately makes MGS4 worth returning to.

Bottom Line

After 10 years of re-iterating and re-inventing the interface and gameplay of Metal Gear, Kojima seems to have finally reached an optimal formula for Tactical Espionage Action with Metal Gear Solid 4. Along with addressing every major frustration from the previous titles, MGS4 also pretty much clears up any questions you may have had regarding the series’ byzantine storyline. The only thing that keeps MGS4 from being undisputedly the best Metal Gear ever (the other contender being MGS3 Subsistence) is its uneven ratio between cut scenes and actual game. Despite this, I really can’t imagine a Metal Gear game ever becoming much better than this.


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