hen the original Metal Gear Solid debuted nearly a decade ago, most were blown away by its revolutionary play mechanics and stunning presentation. As we followed the various incarnations of series protagonist Snake across two sequels, we tended to overlook glaring inadequacies such as an uncooperative camera and writing which bordered on nonsensical — the gameplay was that good. While no one was expecting Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots to be a failure, I'm assuming that few anticipated how much Hideo Kojima and company would strive to address the shortcomings of games past. MGS4 isn't merely an outstanding conclusion to a popular franchise, it surpasses all expectations and eclipses its predecessors to become the pinnacle of the series.
Meryl: one of many familiar faces.Picking up a few years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, MGS4 has players reprising the role of Solid Snake. Snake isn't quite the same man he was during the Big Shell Clean-Up Operation — though still in possession of a lifetime's worth of battlefield knowledge, a mysterious health problem has caused him to age at an alarming rate. Now referred to as Old Snake, he must rely on an arsenal of new (and Ã¼ber-cool) gadgets and the help of some old (and not so old) friends as he sets out to eliminate arch-rival Liquid (a.k.a. Revolver Ocelot) and whatever evil plan he's concocted.
From a gameplay perspective, this is still the classic Metal Gear experience — stealth is the most powerful weapon in Snake's arsenal, and one must make use of every hiding place if they're to make it across a map undetected. By no means, however, can you leave your guns at home. Debuting in MGS4 is a new character named Drebin. This enigmatic weapons dealer will go out of his way to make sure Snake has whatever tool is needed to get a job done. Though being able to purchase missiles for that FIM-92 midlevel may make Snake seem like less the survivalist, it also opens up a whole new way in which players can experiment within the game's levels.
Sneak or shoot: it's your choiceMGS4 is undoubtedly the least linear title in the Metal Gear series. While there's no escaping the fact that you're moving towards a particular objective in the game's story, how you arrive there is entirely up to you. Blow up that tank or crawl under it; subdue an enemy combatant or ignore them; support a side in the proxy war or use the chaos to mask your movements: these are but a few of the decisions that lay before you in this monster of an action game. While one play through was all it took to get the gist of MGS2's constrictive hallways, these Middle East battlefields and jungle trails will make you want to revisit certain levels over and over again.
Going hand-in-hand with this world of possibilities is one of the most complex control schemes to ever govern an action game. While the inclusion of the controllable camera that first appeared in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence alleviates a number of frustrations, there's no denying that Kojima made MGS4 with the hardcore player in mind. The shoulder buttons often fulfill the role of a keyboard's 'shift' keys, activating alternate button functions and modes. While this complexity increases your movement and attack options tenfold, it's bound to lead a few newcomers to pull their hair out.
Visually and aurally, MGS4 is nonstop spectacle. While the title's 720p visuals quickly justify that HDTV purchase, the expertly crafted surround mix is one of the most immersive to ever grace a video game — if you ever get past the cacophony of battlefield sounds, you'll realize how important your ears can be in locating the enemy. Although MGS4's script doesn't manage to reach the same heights as the game's effects, the writing here is far more palatable than it was in past titles. A number of the story's hooks are downright jaw dropping, and while the voice actors can often border on grating, bad line delivery seldom seems to ruin a scene's impact. More than any other Metal Gear game, I'm left wondering if the problem isn't so much Hideo Kojima's writing ability as it is an unskilled English cast and localization unit. That said, turn on your suspension of disbelief — if you can get past the game's sometimes hokey (and usually implausible) storyline, you'll be treated to some of the best gameplay around.
Though not quite an afterthought, MGS4's multiplayer component is certainly a work in progress. The levels and modes which shipped with the game are labeled merely a "starter set" by Konami — in the future, a plethora of new content should be available for download via the PlayStation Network. As it stands now, MGS Online is a rather competent tactical shooter that is bound to appeal to the SOCOM set. Players will win or lose depending on their abilities as a "team player" — he who isn't chatty with their teammates will quickly find himself dead. While complex controls definitely dictate that this isn't the multiplayer shooter for everyone, those who adapt are bound to be in for some of the best objective-driven gameplay outside of the PC arena.
While not perfect, MGS4 stands as one of the best games of the year and the first definitive reason to run out and purchase a PlayStation 3. Both Sony and Metal Gear fans needed this game to be great, and neither will be disappointed. Turn down the lights, settle into a comfy chair and get ready for one of the most immense and immersive action games you've ever played.