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Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Point, Counter Point:

armando: Let me just preface this review by saying this, I’m new to the world of Metal Gear Solid. Yes, I’ve never played any of the previous Metal Gear Solid (MGS) games so I’m coming into this with a somewhat fresh perspective, albeit I’m way behind when it comes to who’s who and what’s what. Luckily Hideo Kojima & Co. have been gracious enough to offer a MGS Database as a free download so you can familiarize yourself with who’s who and the story so far. What’s even better is that the database updates itself as you progress in the game, that way there are no spoilers. Ok, enough of that now, let’s look at how a newbie to the world of Snake enjoyed his final mission.

Metal Gear Solid 4 starts out as a sneaking mission. Snake has grown old because of some disease he’s contracted that’s accelerated his aging process. It’s 2014 and all alone on a battlefield in the middle-east, you find Solid Snake is scrapping through his final mission. He’s trying to hold his deteriorating body together but it’s not easy. He’s now dealing in a world where global warfare has been privatized, Private Military Contractors (PMCs) rule the battlefield and are used for any occasion. The PMC’s are all injected with SOP, a system designed to control every soldier and weapon on the battlefield through the use of nanomachines. Unfortunately Liquid Ocelot, his twin clone, controls a large number of the worlds military companies and the SOP. He’s bent on world domination and ridding of Snake.

Sound confusing? It sure is. Often times I found myself just wondering who the hell everybody was. It’s safe to say that this is not a game for Metal Gear outsiders so be forewarned. There are numerous cut scenes throughout the game that deal with the different characters in the Metal Gear universe. Take heed though because the cut scenes can get long, really long. Two come close to the 90 minute mark, while many are at least 30 minutes. Being a newb to MGS you’ll find yourself thoroughly bored. Often times I was building an enthusiasm for the game only to be shot down with a long cut scene. Luckily they can be paused and skipped, but in doing so you’ll just find yourself more lost with the story. At least by watching them you’ll become somewhat familiar with what’s going on. If you’re a fan of the series you’ll probably find yourself in complete bliss. This is Snakes swansong, and Kojima is going all out.

In terms of video game storytelling from a purely visual standpoint, MGS4 is in a class of its own. Cut scenes are breathtaking, visual aesthetics are best of all the engine used in the cut scenes is the same one found in the game play. This means that the actual game play is just as visually appealing as the cut scenes are. Kojima & Co. have broken boundaries with this game, and the fruits of their labor shine through in every frame. Although there are some rare texture blockiness and flickering that occurs at times, it’s easily forgivable.

Unfortunately, the narrative structure and game play don’t quite live up to what you’d expect from a game like this. The first act of the game is a complete throwaway on both counts. The game starts off extremely boring for the first couple of hours, coupled with a poorly designed first act it takes a massive amount of patience to get through it to the levels where the action starts to shine. Fortunately, by act two the game starts to coalesce into a much more rewarding experience. While it might feel a little too linear at times, it becomes much more satisfying than the dreadful first act.

One noticeable flaw of the game is the pacing of the game, which can be terrible. Hearkening back to the complaint about the long cut scenes, it would have been wise to have edited down the dialogue in many cases, breaking them up into smaller chunks so that it didn’t stall the gameplay for hours at a time. The slow pacing at times, coupled with the absolutely irrelevant conversations that occur threaten to bog down the player. There might have been a point to Sunny and Naomi rambling on about eggs and the periodic table, but I was so bored I didn’t care.

Being unfamiliar with the control scheme from previous games I found it to be a bit clumsy. My biggest complaint is the cover system, which I found to be severely lacking with no over the shoulder shooting available. With so much emphasis being put into other parts of the game you’d think they’d get one of the most important features right. I also found the controls to be a bit poor responsively. There’s one scene where you’re on the back of a motorcycle in Eastern Europe and you’re tasked with taking down the PMC’s and other creatures. The controls responsiveness is so poor that it gets frustrating. Luckily the games AI is even worse and you come out of the experience barely wounded.

I must admit that I did like the games items and weapons categorizing feature. I found it to be easy to swap out weapons and items, upgrade weapons and purchase more ammunition. For the most part switching to the items during a firefight or boss battle was relatively easy, although there were a few times it switched to fast and was enabling the wrong weapon.

I managed to play a few games of multi-player just to get a feel and see what was different than the beta that was offered last month. Unfortunately the multi-player doesn’t do a lot to add legs to the game. It feels as if it was an afterthought and the option was featured just to give players something else to do. The Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Base Capture didn’t grab me at all and are done far better in other games. Map design for the multi-player component can be complimented though.

MGS4 is yet another PS3 game that requires an initial install onto your systems hard drive, taking roughly 8 minutes or so. While it’s not that bad that you have to install it, you’d think that having an install it would speed up the load times. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Often you’ll be waiting up to 20 seconds or more for a new scene to load. Furthermore, you’ll have to continue the install process after every Act as well for a total load time of roughly 20 minutes. It’s simply unacceptable to have such long load times between scenes when so much of the game is being installed on your systems hard drive.

Despite its flaws, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a solid game. You can tell how much time was put into the story, the rethinking of the games mechanics and most noticeably its look. MGS4 is one of the most beautiful looking games that has ever been released for any console. For long time fans of the series the game is an absolute must have. If you’ve never played MGS then take warning, it’s an experience unlike any other. That’s not necessarily a good thing though. While many reviews are tripping over themselves with praises for the game claiming it’s a perfect 10 I could never agree with them. Does that mean it’s a bad game? Hardly, quite the opposite. It’s just that it’s not a game that will appeal to your average gamer. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try though. Let me end it by saying this. Metal Gear Solid 4 is the best interactive movie you will ever play. It’ll also be one of the top five games you’ll ever play.

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sebastien: Let my start this off by saying that this is my first formal review of any game. I’m a seasoned gaming veteran hardened on the frontlines of the NES, Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis at a time when men were men and only sissy games had game saves. The days of hard game pads, 8 bit graphics, power pads and game thumb, a serious condition derived from the aforementioned game pads. The reason why I mention this is because I was so young when the original Metal Gear came out for the NES in the late 80’s that I never played it until far later, nor did I ever sport a fierce bandana mullet like the series lead character Snake. Metal Gear Solid was the first true stealth game for any system, even featuring the games’ trademark humor, long narratives and a card board box or two. When it finally arrived for the Playstation 1, it was revolutionary, and by far the finest looking game for the system this side of Gran Turismo. That game was ridiculously well received and went on to sell millions of copies, more so in fact than the first Halo. The game introduced what we know now as the stealth genre as well as the modern cover system employed by countless games of it’s ilk. It even continued the 8-bit stories left behind in the NES days and expanded them into one of the best narratives ever told in a game of that time period. Even to this day it holds up, and it was re-released for the Game-Cube as well, sporting a major graphics overhaul. The only qualms were a subsequent bolting on of convoluted controls over an 8 bit framework, as well as an increasing bastardization of a well told story over the series duration. The most frustrating of these was relinquishing control of the game’s resident mullet rocking, 80’s bandana wearing bad-ass in Metal Gear Solid 2; then being forced to play as a naked, bare assed, metro-sexual long blond haired man named Raiden who performed female circus worthy cartwheels while holding tightly onto his wedding tackle. (I kid you not) This underscored some brilliant boss fights, glossy production values and great voice acting.

Enter Metal Gear Solid 4. The trailer for this game appeared in 2005 at the E3 conference sporting the exact same graphics we see now, telling you how long this game has been in development. It was said that this game would need to sell 1 million copies on day one to break even. The game sold over a million copies worldwide in 24 hours, and as of June 26, 2008, MGS4 has shipped over 3 million copies worldwide. No small feet when you consider the low install base of the Playstation 3.

Now onto my review, this game oozes with high production values and humanity not seen in too many other titles. There have been many attempts to humanize game characters, yet many have failed. Of the top tier successes, this surpasses even the death of a teammate in Final Fantasy 7 for reasons which I’ll elaborate on. First, Snake has aged considerably due to genetic cloning. This key factor alone serves the long standing series well. You’ll have a stress meter which impacts Snake’s abilities on the battlefield from aiming to speed. You’ll even see Snake pat his back from kneeling for too long. The affect this has on the player is tremendous as it makes you realize this is essentially it for one of game’s true icons. Second, you can feel the age in the grumble of Snake’s voice, as well as his retrospective dialog. Third, there are a few references of Snake attempting suicide for his sins, a touchy concept not often mentioned in gaming. And lastly, due to how long this character has been around, as well as the length of the previous games, people have essentially become attached to the character whose greatest asset is being able to be played gung-ho, or stealthily depending on your gaming style. The same can be said for the games controls which rather than aging as badly as Snake has physically, have improved like fine wine. Adapting the free form camera from Metal Gear Solid 3 Subsistence, and none of that game’s 8 bit worthy control scheme. Metal Gear Solid has moved into the 21st century. Even the clunky camouflage system from his previous outing has been reworked into a convincing chameleon battle suit reminiscent of his outfit in Metal Gear Solid 2.

The narrative is incredibly well told, if heavy handed, through incredible in game cinemas. To speak on the quality of these is paramount. I’m a huge nitpicker when I look at anything, which involves art. Yes art, dually so because I’m a traditional artist as well as a graphic designer. Games, even the crappy ones, involve so much art its incredible. From storyboards to character art, animation both digital and traditional. This game exceeds in all of these categories. Also of note, to those who complain about the length of the cinemas, no one forced you to buy the game, you CAN skip them as well as pause them, and lastly while frequent and lengthy, they are fan service in and of themselves. They achieve the insurmountable goal of wrapping up all of the convoluted, yet occasionally beautiful mess that the story had become.

The other benefit comes from the fact that this is the first true 50 gig PS-3 game. In lesser PS-3 games such as Heavenly Sword, the game featured hi-res graphics of lower detail than the supposed in game cinemas, which looked horribly compressed. Here, everything is seamless and sharp and if you zoom in on Snakes face in game-play, it’s the same face model used in the cinemas and equally as sharp too. Due to the fact that everything is in game rendered some may think the human aspects would be lost. Not so here, these in game cinema graphics surpass the pre rendered CGI in most modern games shy of the legendary Final Fantasy. No small feat, and where the sharpness of certain elements may lack, the animation holds it all together. An example of this is Otacon readjusting his glasses in a natural manor now and then, folds in Snakes face which moves when he talks and billowing smoke and ashes when he lights up a cigarette. To wrap this section up, the narrative not only ties the series together, it does so in a stylish manor. The humor in the game very rarely falls flat, and at times it’s sheer gold. Take for example little things like how later in the game Snake’s face briefly morphs into his Playstation 1 character model. Or take for example my personal favorite from the series resident nice guy nerd Otacon, “You suck! Single handedly taking out a tank! That’s crazy, your insane!” Snake replies, “Otacon is this your idea of a compliment?” Otacon replies nerdily, “Yes! You’re the toughest craziest, most hardcore bad ass on the planet… You’re… the shit!!!” My other favorite being when you’re told to put in disc 2, scratching your head wondering what’s going on before being reminded you’re playing a PS3 game. These rank up there with Psycho Mantis telling you he’s psychic in MGS1, then following that up by telling you what games are on your PlayStation 1 memory card. The main faults here though, are far longer cut scene length towards the end effectively taking you out of the game more frequently.

Game-play is fantastic all around. The series hallmark of being able to play in different styles is amplified here in such a way where you feel freer to explore the character however you want. Keep in mind though if you go all first person shooter crazy in this game, Snake’s stress will rise and your aim will suffer. Also, on the higher difficulties, your freedom is impacted greatly as the A.I. will hand you your ass if you’re not stealthy. The tactical robot, Metal Gear MK II is a nice addition for Sega fans as well who may remember Snatcher, Hideo Kojima’s Sega-CD anime storytelling gem.

The graphics are almost without fault, I spent some time talking about them earlier when mentioning the cinemas, well the game is of that quality as well. There are minor instances of low-res wall textures in the game, however due in large part to the scale, believability of the characters and overall lived in feel of the game… this is me nitpicking. The game can run in 720p, 1080i and 1080p. I’ve played in all of these resolutions and on varying sets and can safely say in true 1080i, which is usually known for being over sharp, yet not too smooth, the power lines look crisp and clean as opposed to jagged. In 1080p the occasional low-res textures are more visible, however the faces really shine with unparalleled detail. 720p is smooth, all around, fine for certain low-res textures and excellent for motion though if little things like jaggy power lines bother you, they show up more here. (If this bothers you, you should be ashamed of yourself…) Overall, this is a beautiful looking game. The jungle like environments of Act 2 need to be seen to be believed with shadows surpassing Splinter Cell, and trees which look real and individually rendered as opposed to “Speed Tree” rendered. A technique used in most games which renders similar looking foliage that neither looks real up close, nor moves in most cases.

Metal Gear Online is a great, dare I say it, at times fantastic, thinking mans online game. My feelings however, about the Konami ID are to say the least not good. After my initial struggles with JUST playing the beta, two online Konami ID’s, frequent lengthy updates and a PSN ID which I can’t use at all… I say curses to whoever devised this system, and if we ever meet in person, while as an artist I’m far from a violent man, you may need to place a restraining order against me.

In closing, Hideo Kojima delivered on his promises and then some. Though the non-series faithful may find faults with things that are naturally inherent in this series; (or pretty much any series someone is not accustomed too) true fans such as myself are thankful for all the fan service. What else can I say about a game that even Microsoft owned CNET site Game-Spot gave a 10 to? In a word, fantastic.

armando:

sebastien:

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