I’m weary, I want to just lie down and rest. It’s not just from school work or my job, but from the sheer emotional upheaval that made up Guns of the Patriots‘ final hours. My mind was flooded with information, having spent four hours experiencing what might have been the most philosophy-loaded, action-packed conclusion to a story I have ever seen since Metal Gear Solid 3 and finally reaching the credits…only to discover there was still answers to long-standing questions to be found and one last journey to make.
Suffice to say, a casual player would likely be crushed by the volume of this load, this adventure that slowly became more and more depressing and hopeless as it went along before the player was finally able to succeed in ways you would never have imagined. However, if one is more appreciative of the series’ cinematic goals and can work up the courage to tackle the experience, they will be rewarded with the most refined, functional, and overall satisfying entry in the twenty-four year old franchise.
As a numbered entry in a series known for innovating between main entries, Metal Gear Solid 4 has the distinction of being the most user-friendly of Metal Gear games yet. The game still fits into the stealth action sub-genre, but the addition of certain new features will ensure that straight-up action fans are satisfied.
You, controlling the ever-popular but drastically aged Solid Snake, will progress through five chapters, each set in very different locations across the world, including a location key to the series’ history. In many of the locations, there are ongoing conflicts between PMCs (private military corporations) and the local militia, so there is incentive to use stealthy tactics, such as the classic cardboard box, a new barrel, or the OctoCamo system implemented in Snake’s uniform which blends with whatever surface you happen to be pressed against.
CQC (close quarters combat) also returns to the series, after its absence from Metal Gear Solid onward and resurgence in Snake Eater. Snake has various moves, both lethal and non-lethal, at his disposal, so if he manages to grab a soldier, he has a fair amount of options.
As I said, the game also appeals to fans of traditional action games, with its new take on the classic on-site procurement orders. For those who’ve been fans for years, then you’ll know that Snake has usually, on his assignments, been sent without equipment or weapons and has had to gather said items during the mission. Nowadays, that method is rendered useless by the SOP nanomachine system which locks the use of weapons to their ID-coded owners.
This is where the new system comes into play. In order to use the many weapons he gathers, Snake will have to put his trust into Drebin, a smooth-talking gun launderer with a unique perspective on the current state of the world. Drebin has access to the required equipment to shut off the ID locks, in exchange for Drebin points, a special form of currency which is gained by gathering extra guns, viewing certain button-activated flashbacks during cutscenes, encountering certain action scenes during the campaign or defeating bosses.
In addition to gaining use of weapons, you can also purchase new weapons and gear, as well as add extra parts to weapons, such as silencers, foregrips or grenade launchers. This brings a new level of strategy and customization to a series that has never been known for toying with that field, and it’s refreshing to see its inclusion.
Drebin’s system also plays into the story’s idea of warfare as a dynamic economy, as prices on goods will change depending on the “war price”, the costs of waging a war in a particular area. In fact, every new mechanic has a reason to exist within the series’ mythology, and those that already exist have been revamped or streamlined, such as the Codec, which is used mainly for gaining objectives or minor updates now.
In terms of new tools, there are several apart from the OctoCamo. First, Snake now possesses the Solid Eye, a eye attachment shaped like an eyepatch that functions as a HUD system, binoculars and night vision. It gives you access to an overhead map and allows you to ID individual soldiers. Next, courtesy of Snake’s long-time partner Octacon, you have the Metal Gear Mk. II, a miniature version of the bipedal weapon, which can be remote controlled and sent into heavily guarded areas to shock guard into unconsciousness or to collect dropped weapons.
Returning to series conventions, the boss battles here are as well-crafted as ever. You’ll see some truly amazing fights take place, and you’ll have a variety of different ways to deal with most enemies. From the Beauty and the Beast Corps, a quartet of female soldiers afflicted with varying levels of PTSD who each cling to an emotion and iconic animal, to the final climactic battle, everything is filled with depth and every action sequence has substance to back it up.
Finally, Kojima Productions has heard the praise of Subsistence‘s multiplayer (that’s the special edition of Metal Gear Solid 3, for newcomers) and have included Metal Gear Online, a competitive multiplayer mode that builds on its predecessor’s success. It takes the mechanics of single-player and simplifies it to the essentials, with the addition of different maps with variations on familiar modes wrapping up that portion of the package. Please note that at the time of this review, Konami has announced its intentions to shut down the MGO servers by June 2012, so if you get the chance to try it, take it ASAP.
As I’ve stated above, the gameplay is among the best that Kojima and his studio has ever constructed, but none of that would be as deep or effective if the story behind it was lacking. This is a tale of a world in shambles, where the greatest fears of Big Boss and Solidus Snake (not Solid Snake, there’s a distinction) have been realized: a world in which war is its own self-sustaining global economy and people are controlled via a network of manipulative AIs and nanomachines to serve the former’s will.
Clearly, a society dependent on conflict and control is prime for causing mass chaos, shown when the long-standing antagonist of the series Liquid Ocelot begins plotting a massive insurrection and the destruction of the Patriots, the sentient AIs responsible for this system. To prevent his actions from destroying society as they know it, retired Colonel Roy Campbell pulls the legendary soldier Solid Snake, who is dying due to accelerated aging, out of retirement for one last mission: kill Liquid at all costs.
Events get more complicated as they go along, with sub-plots concerning romance, memories, vengeance, loyalty, and callbacks to every installment prior to Guns of the Patriots. People you liked, like Meryl from Metal Gear Solid, come back as supporting characters, and people you may have forgotten about are referenced and usually turn out to have some importance to the current state of affairs. It’s nice to see such appreciation for fan service, while still managing to tell one of gaming’s most deep, emotionally satisfying stories yet.
Not that this installment is lacking in new characters or events. Not at all. The inclusion of the B&B Corps sheds some light on the instability inherent in soldiers suffering from PTSD, so much so they become fixated on a particular goal and begin to mentally deteriorate. Drebin’s role as supporting character also places him in the position of storyteller (explaining how each of the B&B’s members came to be) and direct influencer of events (that’s for you to figure out).
This game will also satisfy fans due to the amount of closure it provides. Any questions you have had up until playing this game are likely to be answered. If you’ve ever questioned any minutae, such as FoxDie or the Patriots, this will provide you with everything you need, and the kitchen sink, in terms of information.
One final detail on the story: it’s undoubtedly the most depressing installment yet. Every dark turn that the story takes will shock you, every sudden appearance (or reappearance) of characters will be out-of-left field yet somehow will make sense in the context. By its conclusion, if you have any emotion to feel, it would be a combination of melancholy and satisfaction.
If there’s any place that I think will not be debated, it’s certainly going to be the presentation. Graphically, this game almost entirely puts Crysis and its cousins to shame. The details in the environments, in the lighting, in the character models and in any facet of this game’s locales are top-of-the-class.
Each location manages to feel distinct and gives off its own energy. The Middle East setting is hot and cramped, with gunfights taking place out in the streets. South America is tropical, with large open conflicts that take place across hilly terrain. Even locations set in more stark, classic Metal Gear locations have a sense of atmosphere to them, based on the action taking place and the sheer details.
The sound design is also top-notch. Explosion are loud and make you ears appropriately ring, the sounds of gunshots are impressive and the background noise of the environments is fitting and well-implemented. As well, all of the voice actors gave exceptional performances, from David Hayter’s aged impression of the veteran Snake to the conviction in Liquid Ocelot’s voice. I cannot think of a single complaint here, though that could be said about the entire experience.
Similarly, the soundtrack is up to and even above the series’ standards in some respects, ranging from somber to energetic to bittersweet by the end. Its use of old and new tracks, with Metal Gear Solid’s ‘Encounter’ and MGS3’s ‘Snake Eater’ interacting with such additions as ‘Old Snake’ and ‘Father and Son’, is particularly admirable.
Based on this game’s conclusion, Solid Snake’s saga has ended. This fact will strike many fans and followers hard, myself included, and it will be difficult to visualize a Metal Gear game without him. Many journalists will debate over whether this game is truly worth praising so much. They may say its improvements are “too little, too late” or that this game deviates far too much from the series’ norms. I disagree: I will praise this game as a masterpiece.
I see video games as the result of a commitment between developers and fans. When they start promoting their products and working every second to create them, the developers make a covenant to deliver on a particular promise to their audience. Here, the promise Kojima made was: I will create the most stream-lined, fan-pleasing, entertaining and satisfying game in Metal Gear history. In this writer’s opinion, he has surpassed that promise and fulfilled our greatest hopes and dreams with Metal Gear Solid 4.
So here’s to you, Snake, and those who follow after you. You are leaving behind more than a great game; you are leaving behind a legacy.