Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots PS3 Review

I have got to admit that over the course of the Metal Gear Solid series I have grown fond of the recurring cast. The story has always been compelling enough to endure the long and fantastic cut-scenes, which have always been lengthy enough to bring about mixed feelings amongst gamers. Many of us will want to play the fourth and final chapter in the series, simply to find out the outcomes and revelations of each characters story.

Firstly I’m going to make a promise that I’m going to keep throughout this entire review. Take my word for it, I’m not going to spoil anything major within this very review, I won’t say too much about the narrative, nor will I spoil the game itself. I avoided reading pre release reviews myself, as they always seem to spoil something that I would rather see or hear for myself with unknowing eyes and ears.

What I can tell you of the story is that Solid Snake has a lot on his plate, he has a bad cough, is aging abnormally fast, and has an addiction to tobacco. On the subject of tobacco, having to install the game at the start of each new act is a minor annoyance (the worst being the initial eight minute install), although being warned that smoking is bad for your health, whilst the game installs, is rather amusing, as on this very screen, you’ll witness Snake enjoying cigarette after cigarette. Getting back on track, aging, smoking and a nasty cough are only a few of this legendary soldiers problems, and you would have to be heavy hearted to not feel any pity for this old and grey hero. I can also tell you that some old faces (ok most aren’t quite as old as Solid Snake now appears to be, but you know what I mean) return, and the exciting, emotional, downbeat and ocassionally amusing plot does its best to try and make ends meet, although it doesn’t conclude without causing some question marks. The lengthy ending, for whatever reason, has certainly got people talking, and that is what I suspect Kojima Productions would have wanted. It certainly got the cogs (I had to oil them first) in my brain working in full and continuous motion.

There’s only one word for these cut-scenes, and that word is stupendous. As many of us expect by now, story sequences have become a major part of the series, and much of the time you’ll be watching rather than playing (particularly the final act, where gameplay is at a real minimum), some may skip (they can also be paused now, which is very welcome) them, but the real fans will be easily engrossed by all that is going on and will be able to stomach the occasional boring bits. It’s a good job that MGS4’s cut-scenes look so lovely then, and favourite characters have been given life like never before through these lovingly and masterfully directed in-game sequences. Thank god (or should that be Hideo Kojima?) that codec conversations have been vastly reduced, with the bulk of the dialogue now happening through the attractive cut-scenes.

Indeed it is almost difficult to believe that the cut-scenes are rendered by the engine of the game, but when you actually get to play, and experience the best camera in the series yet, you’ll start believing. Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the most visually spectacular games that I have ever laid my appreciative eyes on, and is certainly a good example of the godlike power of the mighty PS3. What else is there left to say? It’s awkward to find the right words to really do the visuals justice, and no I’m not just being lazy (well perhaps a little, my brain has been overworked with the plot of the game, you see). Aurally, as usual, the game is also skilfully done, with mostly tremendous voice acting and a beautifully done soundtrack (I have the audio CD in my sights!) that matches the mood on every single occasion.

There’s a lot of cut-scenes, but there’s also a game here too. We all know what Metal Gear entails by now, discreetly working your way through environments that are patrolled by the enemy, and being careful to not be spotted by their searching eyes. Still, MGS4 isn’t a basic sequel by any means and presents some notable new additions.

Those who spent any time with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, will be familiar with the camouflage system. As Snake Eater was set in the 1960’s though, MGS4’s take on the camouflage is actually more hi-tech and thankfully doesn’t have to involve you heading in and out of the menu screens to better hide yourself from the enemy. A momentary pause allows Snake’s suit to take into account the colour of the ground or wall that he is next to, and the suit will then change colour accordingly, from then on staying still whilst in the presence of enemies will hopefully assure that chameleon Snake is virtually invisible (it’s illogical really, as his body shape would surely give him away on flat ground or when up against a wall, but whenever has the MGS series been about logic?). It’s all about keeping your eye on the number that informs you how well you are hidden, and upon coming across it, facial camouflage also increases this number, although I really want to play as Solid Snake, not some faceless hero.

Relatively early on in the game you’ll come into possession of the Metal Gear Mk.II and the Solid Eye (basically a multi vision mechanical eye patch that displays your radar as well as tactical data). The Mk.II warrants a little more coverage because quite simply this is Metal Gear like you’ve never seen it before (well, unless you’ve played Snatcher that is). Forget the hulking mechanical monsters that were Rex and Arsenal Gear or the Metal Gear precursor that was the Shagohod, this Metal Gear is a cuter, more charismatic and compact creation that accompanies you throughout the game. By default, the MK.II is controlled by the always likeable Otacon, although if you so wish you can take charge of the little robot (Snake does so by clasping his very own SIXAXIS), a tactic that becomes helpful for stealthily scoping out the area (Snake’s creaky body does deserve some rest at times), as well as immobilising enemies with an electric shock.

The above elements are nothing in comparison to the much larger, open and more varied environments, and the battles that play out within them. Those who have played previous games in the series will understand me when I say that I always found a safe haven in the peace and quiet of sneaking about. When the peace was disturbed it was mostly because I had done something careless that had attracted the attention of the enemy, resulting in loud gunfire and frantic music. With MGS4 you get this for a lot of the game, and that’s without being in alert mode, you see, a war is going on around you, gunfire escapes the barrels of weapons, mortars crash down and soldiers shout. It’s thrilling to be attempting to stay hidden amongst all the chaos and a keen watchful eye will certainly serve you well in these tense moments. It’s just a shame that when you’re spotted, it’s frequently far too easy to quickly find a hiding spot in these larger environments and then just lie in wait until the coast is clear and your pursuers return to their more boring and less eventful patrols.

As a war is going on Snake is clearly removed from his sneaky comfort zone. The rapidly aging super soldier now is prone to stress (Solid Snake under stress, who would ever have thought it?) and an on-screen number reflects this. Stress affects his psyche, making Snake less capable in his abilities (unsteady aiming and clumsy rolling etc), although like Snake Eater’s stamina system, this is something that could have been better implemented, but I’m not complaining too much as it’s a nice little novelty feature.

Another new feature is the way that you’ll come to possess the majority of the guns. Finding one of the weapons (you’ll eventually procure so many that you’ll feel like a walking tank) is the first step, but you can’t actually fire it until you pay gun launderer, Drebin, to unlock it for you. If you find a gun that you already own, Drebin will automatically buy it off you and will kindly allow you to keep any left over ammo within its chamber. You can also purchase ammo, if your weapons are running empty, and custom parts such as silencers, laser sights and torchlight’s from Drebin‘s shop. I can hardly finish without mentioning the charmingly cute and very funny little monkey that the mysterious gun launderer seems to have adopted, which like the MK.II, has a very charismatic visual presence.

Cute monkeys and robots aside, I was shocked to learn that the AI is remarkably similar to MGS2 and as a result, enemies seemingly haven’t adapted to their larger and more open environments. I expected a leap somewhat similar to what the second game achieved in comparison to the first in regards to increased enemy intelligence, but they‘ve changed very little. The AI does seem to improve on harder difficulties, but it‘s still not up to the standard that I had expected. The AI has never been truly believable, although the larger environments certainly shows off their intelligence in a manner which suggests that all these soldiers were kicked out of the door before they even commenced basic training, ok they’re not that bad, but still.

At least the bosses are more intelligent, and as usually, they’re a highlight of the game. Some have obvious weak spots, whilst others may have you heading to the codec to hear some suggestions from Otacon. There’s some bosses that aren’t actually that great and I really couldn’t care less about the rather dull back stories of the B&B Corp members, although the bosses on the whole are a pretty memorable bunch, with the last fight being fittingly epic, brutal and very cinematic.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots certainly isn’t going to attract those who have taken a dislike to long drawn out cut-scenes, but then again it seems to have been mainly made with all the loyal fans in mind, such is the amount of pleasing and nostalgic references that may be the cause of moments of private eye dabbing when nobody is looking. The plot on the other hand is really quite superb with great voice acting and some truly emotional moments, although the ending, for reasons I won’t disclose here, has already proven to be rather controversial and has earned itself mixed opinion. So, with all the good stuff said the score at the foot of this review may surprise you. Guns of the Patriots is a downbeat and engaging story, and whilst the game itself is the biggest, most action packed, sophisticated and cinematic Metal Gear Solid yet, opening up the environments has been similar to opening a can of worms and as a result the AI almost seems red faced in their lack of advancement. As an ending to the much loved saga, there’s still plenty of gameplay moments to enjoy and enthusiastically embrace, but with all the improvements, this should have been the best Metal Gear Solid game yet, and in many ways it is, although sadly, on the whole it’s not.