Snake's swan song is a beautiful and intense tour de force, marred only by preachy dialogue and decent shooting.
by Chris Buffa on Thursday, June 12, 2008
Tactical Espionage Action arrives on PlayStation 3, courtesy of Konami's long-awaited Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which brings an end to one of video game's most memorable characters, mercenary Solid Snake, who is a gray haired old man. An army of gorgeous cut scenes and a beautiful score highlight this memorable third person adventure, which ties up loose ends while weaving new characters and plot twists into the Metal Gear mythos. It's a long-winded tour of duty that, despite its somewhat bland gameplay, offers an unrivaled cinematic experience.
Just because Snake looks like a grandpa doesn't mean he can't k!ll you.Click to see more images from the game...
Snake's adventure begins in the war-torn Middle East, where he slithers through battles in search of his evil twin, the nefarious Liquid, who inhabits the body of MGS villain Revolver Ocelot. In order to k!ll him, Snake must sneak past or engage hundreds of foot soldiers, as well as vanquish expertly designed boss characters, including Vamp (from Metal Gear Solid 2) and the twisted Beauty and the Beast Corps, four terrifying ladies with signature abilities. He gets help from his friend and techo genius, Otacon, who provides Snake with advice and equipment, most notably the delightful OctoCamo, which changes color in real time and blends into the environment. Along the way, he runs into old friends, makes new ones and uncovers more plot twists than a daytime soap.
Despite having one foot in an old age home, Snake doesn't move any slower, nor is he inept at using a weapon. He creeps on his belly, leaps over things and flies through the air, so it's good that Konami elected to make his appearance central to the plot and not the action. Even better, MGS4 has the most stacked armory in franchise history. You'll acquire numerous weapons early and often, including the MP7 Submachine Gun, Tanegashima a.ssault Rifle, an RPG-7 Missile Launcher, the M870 Custom Shotgun, grenades of all types, claymore mines and C4, most of which are upgradeable via Drebin, an arms dealer that exchanges weapons for points you acquire during play. Picking up guns you already own automatically earns points, and you can access Drebin's shop via the Start button and sell unwanted equipment. This will allow you to purchase more exotic guns as well as scopes, fore grips, bullets, laser and dot sights. Drebin also comes in handy when you need to unlock weapons; outdated nano machines in Snake's body prevent him from using certain guns.
Although over the shoulder and first person perspective action is fun, the combat doesn't produce the same visceral experience that other shooters possess. Scoring headshots earn you instant k!lls, but repeatedly shooting someone in their legs or chest yields no physical effect, as bad guys stand there absorbing punishment. This is ridiculous compared to the upcoming Resident Evil 5, where enemies fall when shot in the leg or rocked backwards after taking a round to the shoulder. Furthermore, we came upon a gun turret, only to discover that we had no evildoers to shoot. There's no point putting a turret into a game if you won't let us use it.
With that said, the Metal Gear series isn't known for mindless shooting and MGS4 is no exception. You'll get the most enjoyment from finding ways to avoid detection by creating diversions and utilizing OctoCamo as well as the Solid Eye, a device that enables Snake to see in the dark via infrared, as well as zoom in on faraway targets. On the downside, enemies act ridiculous when they bump into camouflaged Snake. A guy will run into him, scope out the scene and then leave. OctoCamo doesn't obscure Snake's head, so it makes no sense why enemies would run into a mostly invisible object and find nothing strange about it.
If you must f!ght the enemy, you can always incapacitate them with tranquilizer darts or sneaking up from behind and knocking them out. Most enemies hold valuable items, so it pays to check them before moving on. In fact, Metal Gear Solid 4 has numerous goodies to collect, including ramen noodles, rations, bullets and even Playboy magazines, which Snake can admire. In series tradition, he can slip underneath a cardboard box to avoid detection, but now he can also hop into a rusty barrel and roll around (doing this for too long makes him barf). And despite his age, he's hip with an iPod (characters have Apple computers in cut scenes), which you can equip and then listen to soundtracks from previous Metal Gear video games during play. There are also references to producer Hideo Kojima (a box says "No Room for Hideo") and his video games (Otacon has Zone of the Enders wallpaper on his computer screen).
Hope you love watching games instead of playing them. MGS4 has long yet enjoyable cut scenes.Click to see more images from the game...
All of this combines to form a powerful game that's just as thrilling as the summer's best movies, but like all Metal Gears, there's a bitter sweet ingredient that at times makes the game hard to digest. Confusing commercials that play between acts raise question marks, and some of the cut scenes are unbearably long, thanks to characters rambling about nothing in particular. This winds up damaging the game, since Konami uses awkward pacing to tell the story. At times, you'll watch a long cut scene, play for a few minutes and then watch another. You can skip them, but then you'd deprive yourself of the storytelling, admittedly the game's best feature.
With four difficulty levels, enjoyable stealth based play and plenty of over the top action, Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the best PlayStation 3 games. That said, its features, acceptable 10 years ago, seem foolish given the better playing games on the market. Snake's epic, final act just isn't the triple A extravaganza we expected, and it's clear that if Konami intends to continue this franchise or spin off into something new, it needs to study its competition and evolve, delivering shorter cut scenes and superior shooting. But for now, this is one of the most important games in history and you'll dig its cool boss battles, at times witty dialogue and unrivaled sneaking mechanics. Just be sure to keep a magazine handy when those cut scenes get ridiculous.
[Editor's Note: We were unable to access MGS4's online mode, Metal Gear Online, due to Konami's nonsensical sign up process, which forces gamers to create a Konami ID independent of their PlayStation IDs. Its system was unable to register us after repeated attempts, and we will revisit this exciting mode as soon as it works.]