Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Reader Review
MGS4 review including some (mostly gameplay related) spoilers
Gameplay a snake theory
MGS1 & 2 were vintage 'Line-of-Sight' stealth games. A very binary affair : either you're in sight or you're occluded from enemy sights by a wall for example. A twitch reaction control scheme provided Snake with the ability to dash out of line of sight, supported by an overhead camera system to keep sight of where you'd be running in case of sudden detection. MGS3 broke with that tradition by means of a camouflage system ; a controlable variable between seen and unseen, even when the player is within the imaginary line of sight. MGS4 takes this blueprint and runs with it, providing a streamlined camouflage system - the automatic Octocamo suit camouflage system - this time, with a control / camera scheme & moves set which is tailored to sneak in & out of proximity with slow paced precision.
Previews talked about Gears of War and GRAW influences, but imo that's BS. At the core of Snake's new control scheme I see hints of Splinter Cell Chaos Theory - but now it's Snake's theory ; Big Boss had the 'stalk' walking, but MGS4 isn't ashamed to implement a full crouch walk similair to SC, including stepless to running speed, plus a Solid Eye system for Night Vision mode. In a way it's a more primitive version of Sam Fisher's core moves, minus the "Closer-than-ever" animation system (emphasized moves when closing into enemy proximity), and minus the motion blended animations as seen in contemporary 3rd person games such as Uncharted & Assassin's Creed. Yet, coupled with the free cam, the new system is Chaos Theory at base level - and that's not a bad thing at all : plenty of sneaking up on guards from behind then putting them into a choke hold down on the floor with that dense tension of getting caught by their little friends - and if you do get spotted, you can still turn the tide with CQC moves.
Non human enemies : Gekko's & Dwarf Gekko's. The big Gekko's are fun to fool around with, but unfortunately they don't pose such an enormous lethal threat not as you'd hope for. The small Dwarf Gekko's are a true nuisance though, if you don't have any chaff to scramble their sensors.
Furthermore, MGS4 adds diversity & utilitarianist multifuncionality, to that control scheme. Like SC Chaos Theory, there's the left side - right side shoulder gun switching and an array of wall & floor hugging moves ; to facilitate the Octocamo system. Two more moves deserve highlights ; the switch from prone on belly to prone on back and the inchworm move. At the tap of the triangle button Snake can switch from lying flat on his belly to flat on his back facing the sky ; very handy in case of a sudden enemy in proximity who hasn't yet detected you, instead of running away, which would mean instant alert status in that case. The inchworm move let's Snake progress very slowly while maintaining his Octomcamo efficiency.
So, the core moves are like Splinter Cell minus the ultra smooth motion captured animations or blending - but at least they flow well enough into each other and they still provide you with the functionality of twitch precision during boss fights. The only jarring omition is jumping : Snake still cannot jump up and grab a ledge in case enemies are closing in on him.This results in an artificial limitation where he still needs to find waiste high spots to climb up to higher plains out of enemy proximity.
The flow of evasion gameplay would feel alot more natural if Snake could jump up and grab a ledge and pull himself up instead of having to look around for waiste high spots. In a way, Snake's inability to jump is MGS4's set of 'invisible walls'.
On top of that base layer control scheme / moves set, there's the new Drebin weapons shop system for weapons customizability. This helps Snake on the battefield to meet his arms requirements in realtime, based upon the situation - No "what you find is what you'll use" Procure on Site procedure anymore, but instead you get to exchange all found weapons for the exact stuff you want.
The Psyche meter is similair to MGS3's Stamina meter : the more stress Snake suffers, the less accurate he'll be. To replenish the Psyche meter is not as straightforward as replenishing MGS3's Stamina meter. Keeping Snake away from extended heated battles, bright spot exposure and age insults, will prevent the psyche meter to deplete too much.
The course of the Snake
The game is devided up into 5 acts. All acts take place in different places with varying circumstances. Act 1 & 2 offer lots of enemy grabbing sneaking fun, mixed with potential battle participation. Act 2 includes the first boss fight which actually scared me a bit initially. Finally, act 2 ends with a high speed on rails shooting section, and then it finally ends after a quick rumble through a Gekko infused marketplace, dissolving into an ultra slick cutscene.
Act 3 changes pace dramatically, as you get to stalk someone in civilian ambiance, dressed as civilian. Yet, like many other games, there seems to be a curfue in place, resulting in rather desolated evening streets. After boss fight number 3 we get yet another on rails shooting section. Imo, that was really one on too many on rails, because by then, the game doesn't feel like a sneaking game anymore.
Enter Act 4 ; a marvelous return to the place where MGS started. Dubbed codec memories while exploring the now desolate Shadow Moses facility really bring back a heavy load of nostalgic emotions. This is where story narration and exploration gameplay mold into one immersive experience in a marvelous way. The downside of act 4 is that it doesn't contain any human enemies ; all (dwarf) Gekko's ; so, the fantastic CQC element gets thrown out of the window right there. Other than that, act 4 still provides some pretty nice sneaking thrills. Then it brings another boss fight and then the fight versus Vamp ; once you know how to take him down, you realize how ridiculously easy it is to get rid of him and it leaves you wondering how 1 syringe could have made such a huge difference in the MGS2 storyline.
After fending off a horde of kamikaze Gekko's you get to control Metal Gear Rex and fight the (anti) Metal Gear Ray. Controls were a bit clunky but i suppose that's fitting to such mech battles alike Xbox' Tekki. The whole battle is integrated perfectly though and it looks and plays great.
Act 5 is the end of the road. It's first section does bring back some really nice sneaking action versus the Haven trooper guards and a coupla Gekko's. After that, it's shooting action, running action and a boss fight....and then it repeats again, but replacing a normal boss fight with a hand to hand fight versus Liquid Ocelot with the about same clunky controls as MGS1's fight on top of MG Rex. It does feature some neat quicktime actions though which trigger some really nice moves and Snake also delivers some cool roundhouse kicks. After that, you basically run towards the ending cutscene.
It took me about 23 hours to complete on first playthrough at Solid Normal level and I was awarded the title "Inchworm".
MGS4's visuals are mostly very very pleasing except for a few let downs : in several indoor sections, Snake's character model doesn't feature self shadowing at all even when there's high contrast shadows to the floor from light through the window blinds or some strong indoor light bulb ; this makes the Snake character model stick out like a sore thumb and it reminds me of the PS2 era where many PS2 game versions didn't feature self shadowing either because of the PS2's limited power, compared to Xbox. It also makes him look more 'flat' because the effect of normal mapping also fades away in those indoor situations.
The character models, art direction and level design are all top notch stuff and especially act 2's mansion and act 4's Shadow Moses facility feature some of the slickest shaders I've ever seen.
As I stated earlier, Snake's moves and motions are solid enough, but they don't come anywhere near modern animation blending in games. Enemy rag doll effects look very nice though and interaction with small objects such as vases and bowls breath more life into the environments.
Storyline plot and message
Snake's story draws you in pretty quickly and you get that feeling of urgency and the sad feeling that he doesn't have much time left anymore. Until the end of act 5, the cutscenes never felt too long and certainly not boring. Only the very end of the game features some cheezy parts ( The Meryl - Akiba thing and their wedding ) but imo that just shows that Kojima isn't taking himself too seriously. Just as you think that MGS2 already fullfilled the moral plotline, the final end of MGS4 delivers the driving force, the moral message of the game to the player and Kojima doesn't turn Snake into a romanticised marter.
Conclusion Even though it took me 23 hours, the game felt a tad short, but i feel there's still enough replay value in it because the game is so vast and detailed. Furthermore, you can sense that contemporary Japanese game development is lagging behind the West a bit, but Kojima Productions still manages to impress, except when it comes to animation blending and (the lack of) self shadowing on character models. But overall, MGS4 is a bit better as a total package than the mere sum of it's parts ; a very worthy end to the Solid saga.
I give MGS4 a 9.0 out of 10 All in all it's a Master piece for the Sony platform just like Ico although i would consider that game truly subliminal.
9 / 10