Game Description: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, is a next-gen experience complete with top-of-the-line graphics and surround sound designed for the Sony PlayStation 3. Featuring the most revealing display of Kojima Production's premier title, MSG4 details the world where Snake must under go his final mission. Joined by a familiar cast of characters, Snake must once again return to the battlefield to confront his lifelong rival, Liquid Ocelot, who is manipulating the world's wars from the one world where soldiers will always have a place. But Liquid Ocelot is not the only one who will be able to manipulate the world's wars—Snake can destabilize opposing forces by working behind the scenes, supporting the local militia as they fight PMCs, creating a smokescreen that allows Snake to move freely within the war-zone.
After about thirty years of being a mass medium, videogames have a few auteurs—people whose individual mark can be seen on a final product in spite of being created by a multi-person team. Undoubtedly, the big daddy of them all is Shigeru Miyamoto, who practically single-handedly saved the modern gaming industry from its downward swirl in the E.T.-laden toilet of the early 1980s. Some game makers insist that their moniker be in the title of the game, most recently Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa. Others, like Castlevania's Koji Igarashi, can make one or two masterpieces, but then fall from grace, struggling to recapture their one spark of genius. Metal Gear's Hideo Kojima is definitely an auteur, one whose fame and notoriety continue to rise the longer he continues to work.
Metal Gear Solid (MGS) arrived in 1998, and truly changed the landscape of gaming as we now know it. Real-time cutscenes replaced fancy CGI (popular in titles like Final Fantasy VII and Soul Blade at the time). Every line of dialog was voice acted—well. Bosses were memorable and incredible—who doesn't remember the first time Psycho Mantis freaked the hell out of them? But best of all, for better or for worse, it tried to tell a real, honest-to-God story. Was it preachy at times? Yes, but this was the beginning of a man's attempt to convey a social message through a medium known for glorifying violence, no matter how ham-fisted the attempt.
Hideo Kojima's name was finally one that people paid attention to. With the arrival of the PS2 in 2000, all eyes were on Konami Japan to showcase what the new hardware could do. Sure enough, Metal Gear Solid 2 was released in 2001, and it did not disappoint…from a technical standpoint. In spite of being the most visually-stunning title seen on any console to date, and having a gorgeous musical score from famed composer Harry Gregson-Williams, the game created vast rifts in the gaming community with Solid Snake's replacement in Raiden. Add a convoluted, existential plot that is still under debate to this day, and you can begin to see the mind of Kojima at work. I'm certain that, had MGS1 not been as successful as it was, and Kojima not been at the helm, nobody would have green-lighted MGS2's plot. Still, MGS2 is the highest-selling title in the series to date. By MGS3, Kojima had become his own entity with Kojima Productions.
Make no mistake. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (MGS4) is Hideo Kojima's game. The question is: are you okay with that?
MGS4 is undoubtedly the culmination of everything Hideo Kojima ever dreamed his series could be. It is a technical triumph, finally realizing the longtime goal of "Toy Story In Real Time." Having been at the Sony E3 press conference in 2005 when the PS3 was first unveiled, I didn't believe that any developer could achieve the level of polish shown in the technical demonstration. MGS4 has it in spades. Even the initial installation has the most stunning model of Old Snake—our protagonist—looking very gruff, smoking and standing around in extreme close up. His gloves are webbed, his sneaking suit is composed of different materials, his skin is pale and spotted. Audio-wise, the score is probably the best that the series has ever produced, and the soundscapes are engrossing. Snake's enhanced moveset and controls are tight and precise. New gameplay mechanics like improved camouflage, radar and context-sensitive areas make the experience feel both familiar and fresh. The bosses in MGS4 are a blissful experience. Each one is a force to be reckoned with, and utterly unforgettable.
These are axioms for any MGS title.
The conundrum here is the rest of the game. Or rather, what isn't the game. It's hard to discuss any post-PS1 Metal Gear title without bringing up the issue of cut-scenes. Kojima is sometimes seen as a film-maker, roped into the wrong industry. Beyond their length (the ending clocks in at around 70-75 minutes), frequency and issues of non-interactivity, their content presents a major problem to anyone not incredibly well-versed in Metal Gear lore. Though I am a recovering Castlevania and Koji Igarashi addict, I am a full-borne Metal Gear fan. I love the story. I get it—even MGS2's messiness. For me, the cut-scenes in MGS4 were so utterly engrossing and explanatory that I never cared about how long or often they were. My wife, who has barely a passing knowledge of the Metal Gear story, continuously asked questions about what the heck was going on. People, events and past stories from every single canon Metal Gear title are referenced, or even reprised. Even within the game's own space, it continuously broke the fourth wall, explicitly showing a game's box art as a reference point.
Because of this, it often reaches the point of Kojima's self-indulgence. Kojima is keenly aware of the magnitude of his creation. His insistence of pointing this out to the player time and time again can get quite grating. What could have been a great game for the masses ends up being a very large inside story or joke. As someone who is "in" on it, I found myself smiling most of the time while watching these scenes. Erin was just befuddled.
Other times, the game just delves into places that Kojima wants us to go, but are truly unnecessary. Like previous MGS games, every boss has their sad, pathetic backstory, and like it or not, after you've pumped them full of lead, you'll have to hear it.
This being said, the cut-scenes are often staggering in scope, detail and choreography. Without spoiling anything major, one in particular is so well-crafted that it actually makes Raiden look cool. Seeing as the character was mocked in MGS3, this is quite an achievement.
The whole game feels like this. It is an undeniable achievement: Hideo Kojima's achievement. No other producer could have made this title, for better or for worse. The only determining factor about whether or not this is a "good" game is whether or not you want to hear what Kojima has to say. Sadly, for some, there's a good twenty years of listening that simply must be done to appreciate MGS4.
I've never played a game where playing the previous ones was a pre-requisite rather than an option. It is a big risk to take, one that only a true auteur with enormous confidence in himself, his product and his legacy could create. I've fulfilled Kojima's requirements, thus this game is for me. It's simply unfortunate that the degree to which this otherwise magnificent game succeeds will be dependant upon each individual.
According to ESRB, this game contains: blood, crude humor, strong language, suggestive themes and violence
Parents should not let their children play this game. Quite frankly, they won't understand it anyway. It is filled with beautifully-choreographed ballet-like violence, but it is still violence. There is a lot of spilling of blood, and, in a first for the series, someone drops the F-bomb.
Metal Gear fans will be right at home. Metal Gear newcomers may want to think twice before diving in. Fans of other stealth titles will enjoy the
Army aficionados will enjoy the fantastical array of gadgets and references to real-world entities like DARPA.
Film lovers will definitely enjoy the game's lavish, lengthy cut-scenes as well as dissecting the series's plots.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers have little to worry about in terms of the gameplay relying on audio cues. One gun beeps when it is fully-charged, but this can also be confirmed visually. There are options for subtitles in multiple languages.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is nothing if not a difficult, frustrating, and absolutely strange experience. A vanguard in some ways but a throwback in most, this latest work fits Hideo Kojima's canon in that the final shape of the creation isn't quite what was expected, yet the shocking unevenness at its core sets it apart. Guns of the Patriots lacks the dynamic energy of the master at his craft so typical of his greatest works... Missing the mad genius, the bravado and boldness that has always defined a Kojima game, Guns of the Patriots is not the finale that Solid Snake deserves.
For an exclusive title that currently represents the primary reason to own a PlayStation 3, Metal Gear Solid 4's structural framework is surprisingly archaic underneath the absurdly refined sheen and stunning layers of graphical excellence. However, though the game looks leaps and bounds ahead of the competition (and it really does), it doesn't play that way.
In terms of game design, Guns of the Patriots is just like the last two Metal Gear games with little to differentiate them outside of small tweaks and a control scheme that finally feels comparable to the current standard. Though I didn't expect Kojima to reinvent the Metal Gear formula, what I did expect was an updating and revitalization of the "tactical espionage action" the game purports to deliver.
For example, Solid Snake is still constrained by artificial barriers that many other games of the current age have left behind. For a battle-scarred veteran with decades of experience, how is it that small boxes and low obstructions are completely insurmountable, guiding the player like a rat through a maze with a dubious level of believability? How is it that a rocket launcher still can't open a wooden door? With the amount of horsepower under the PS3's hood, why can't Solid Snake walk up mildly sloping hills and interact with his environment outside of specifically prescribed actions?
In another example of outdated design, a heated battle raged in a small compound. After being thrust into the middle of the conflict, my instinct was to take the fight to the enemy and eliminate all opposition. I started with a stealthy approach and took out the peripheral guards before moving towards full-on assault screaming from behind a chaingun. Having the freedom to guide my own actions in this environment was a spectacular experience until I realized that the enemy army was infinitely respawning because I wasn't doing what Kojima wanted me to. In that moment, my level of immersion was completely destroyed. An endless stream of enemies because I didn't trip the right trigger? The game itself makes several references to being technologically advanced and leaving the limitations of the PS2 behind, but with design decisions like this, I fail to see what Kojima's talking about.
In what is perhaps the most offensive of all the outdated choices, Kojima devotes an unbelievably massive portion of the game's play time to non-interactive cutscenes.
Although I respect his creativity and craft as a director, the simple fact is that a videogame is not a film. Though the two mediums do share some of the same elements, many recent titles have proven that game storytelling is most successful when it capitalizes on the unique ability to involve players in ways film never could. Guns of the Patriots possesses certain scenes that had the potential to be some of the greatest of my gameplay career, yet by forcing me to be nothing more than an observer, I literally felt robbed of opportunities I should have taken part in. Rather than having memories of "being there" and "doing that", all I'll remember is that I was bored to death watching too many movies that ran on for too long.
The most baffling thing is that there are countless examples of other games which don't have a fraction of the drama that Kojima is able to create, yet their methods of making players feel a part of the events are far more successful than anything Guns of the Patriots achieves. Even something as simple as a button-pushing quick-time events would have done much to reduce the feeling of the player being completely nonessential. Unbelievably, this commonplace technique was completely ignored throughout the length of the game, until two short sequences at the end. Much too little, much too late.
Some may raise the point that the Metal Gear series has such a convoluted history and had so many loose ends to wrap up that the game needs to go places where gameplay can't follow; certain themes are too abstract or cerebral to translate into a concrete action able to be taken by a player, and I respect that. However, Guns of the Patriots indulges this side of its identity to unbelievable excess. Quite honestly, Kojima would have been better served by simply making a film and delivering the kind of experience he so obviously wants to, and not letting the problem of integrating gameplay hold him back.
Outdated design aside, I take serious issue with the content presented by Metal Gear Solid 4. The series has always been known as eccentric, but there has ever been a method to its madness—some sense of genius and purpose underneath all the confusing elements and bizarre plot twists. Not so with Guns of the Patriots. Kojima has been quoted in the press countless times as saying that he's tired of working on Metal Gear games, and that message comes through loud and clear.
More than anything, I get the sense that there was a focused effort put towards simply ending the series and wrapping up all loose ends, regardless of the quality of the final effort. Perhaps it was Kojima's way of making sure that he won't be forced to work on another Metal Gear game, but a lot of the nonsensical bits, absurd dialogue, tedious choices and absolutely missed opportunities feel jarringly out of step with what the last three games in this saga have been driving towards.
There was one particular scene at the end of the game that I felt could be a true milestone; a new high water mark in the kind of emotional impact that a videogame could have. The gravitas; the sheer emotional weight onscreen at that moment had intensity beyond words. At that instant, I was prepared to forgive many of the game's sins outright. Sadly, that potential for ultimate greatness was pathetically pissed away, just like so many other things that fail to crystallize over the course of what will likely be Snake's last mission. I have a hard time imagining that the Hideo Kojima of old would have allowed such a catastrophic misstep to happen, yet there it was.
So, where does all this leave Guns of the Patriots? The gameplay (what precious little of it there is) is still stuck in PS2-era levels of sophistication. A huge chunk of the total running time is non-interactive cutscenes, and these long segments of cinema are of questionable quality, filled with plot holes, nonsensical choices and fan service that undercuts its legitimacy. Is this a revolutionary, cutting-edge experience, or unchecked excess and failure to meet the standard of its contemporaries? To me, the answer is obvious.
Believe it or not, I do call myself a fan of Solid Snake, of Metal Gear, and most of all, of Hideo Kojima. These games are without a doubt significant, important titles that will not be forgotten. Kojima himself is absolutely brilliant, often blazing trails that others feared to tread and leading the way for lesser developers to follow in his footsteps. However, as much as I admire the man and his work, even the greatest of us can tire and falter. Even the greatest of us can make mistakes. I would love to have a chance to sit down with one of the industry's most well-known, well-respected auteurs and find out exactly what significance Guns of the Patriots holds for him because, quite honestly, it's a shadow of what it could, and should have been.
So is it true that most gamers only want better graphics and more-of-the-same gameplay? Many industry heads think so, and evidently there's a pretty good number of gamers out there who are pretty eager to agree with them.
Who said the B&B Corps background stories were laughable trash? Who?!?
I recently reviewed Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for PS3 over at GameCritics, and while some comments were pretty encouraging, there were more than enough 'fans' of the game calling me a heretic and a hater to give me pause. Not because I felt like I went wrong with my review, but because the basic arguments seem to be "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" (even though I think a good case can be made that things are broken) and that anyone who was bored or less than entertained by the ludicrously long and hideously written cutscenes (like moi) must "not get" the story and must not be "a fan."
Does being "a fan" mean that you eat up whatever it is a developer serves up without ever looking to see what it is you're eating, and never even taking a whiff to check if it's gone sour?
Since when did questioning and critiquing start to equate hating something?
Way better than MGS4.
It's not like any of this (especially in regard to game reviews) is news to me, I'm just getting to the point at which I'm immensely tired and weary of people who wear their blinders proudly and cinch them tighter when someone threatens to give them a peek of what lies jst a few degrees outside their field of vision.
Did I give MGS4 a low score and call it out for being less than it could have been? Absolutely. Does this mean I'm not a "fan" or that I somehow don't "get" what Hideo Kojima's all about?
Way better than MGS4.
I mean, according to these folks... the fact that I've met Kojima twice, the fact that I've played through (and loved) every installment of the Metal Gear series until 4, the fact that Zone of the Enders 2 is one of my top PS2 games and that Snatcher is my favorite game of all time, and the fact that I frequently name-check Kojima as one of the boldest, most creative and brilliant auteurs in gaming history don't seem to count for anything.
... So I'm not a fan, I don't get it, and I'm a bad, bad person for daring to say anything negative about a particular piece of work that wasn't up to snuff.
Or maybe some people just can't handle the truth.
It's more of the same, it was poorly written, and it has boffo graphics. Some reviewers may be okay giving out 9's and 10's for this, but not me. I know Kojima's capable of much, more more than we saw in MGS4, and as much as I admire the man and his work, I'm not afraid to say so.
Way, way, way better than MGS4.
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