Metal Gear Solid 4 Review

By Mike on 3:15 pm

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I'm late reviewing this year's biggest PS3 blockbuster. Quite late in fact and with good reason even though I've had the game for a while. MGS4 follows the Solid Snake on his final mission; it is the final game in the Metal Gear franchise. I admit that I have not played any of the other games in the series so Metal Gear Solid 4 represents my initiation into Snake's world. The games story follows Solid Snake trying to stop his deranged brother Liquid (Ocelot) Snake from taking over the world. Sometime in the near future, the world's economy is governed by war. Private Military Corporations (PMCs, basically mercenaries) have been hired to maintain a perpetual war to keep up the economy. PMC soldiers are controlled, at least partially, by implants that regulate mood, pain, and send out the soldier's stats. Liquid has found a way to hack into the system so he is able to control the PMCs. As a former soldier, Snake also has these implants. Rather than just spewing story summaries, lets get into the meat of the game.

Lets talk gameplay. Control layout is pretty standard. Left stick moves you, right stick pans the camera. R1 fires your weapon, R2 selects weapons. X allows you to crouch or crawl flat, and adjust your camo gear. Triangle is the action button, circle reloads, and square switches between auto and manual aim. L2 selects items and L1 is your weapon aim. Pretty basic stuff.
Gameplay focuses heavily on stealth. On your HUD, you have a stealth meter which tells you how hidden or how exposed you are. 100% stealth means you cannot be seen at all. To help you, you have camouflage gear that helps you hide. The Octocamo suit can change its colour and pattern to blend in with your surroundings. It's best to set it to automatic. When laying, it will change to march the ground. Leaning against a wall will cause the suit to match the wall or any other object near by. Changing the flak jacket colour can also affect how well you can hide. Of course the real key is good old fashion hide and seek. Staying in the bushes or shadows, hiding under objects, etc. To help you in your mission, you get two items from the beginning to help you see enemies when they can't see you. The Solid Eye is an eyepatch that has radar, night vision, and binocular functions. The Metal Gear Mk II is a small remote control robot with its own built in camo. It can be used to scout areas or shock enemies. The MG Mk II has a limited range. The MG MkII also acts as a communicator for friendly characters in game.
If an enemy PMC does see you, they will attack and go into alert mode. You're goal is to either fight or flee until the PMC troops stand down. The problem with this system is it can be a very unbalanced at times. When the PMCs are alerted, an unlimited number of PMC troops will hunt you down. In other words, if you kill one, they just keep coming unless you get into hiding. Therefore, it's best to avoid combat at all costs. However, this rule only applies to what the game labels patrol zones. In active war zones, PMCs will be fighting rebel groups. If they see you, they will attack but will not pursue you.
On to combat. You can either shoot enemies with weapons or attack them with Close Quarters Combat (CQC). The game does have a no-kill bonus for not killing enemy PMCs. Combat is like most other third-person shooters. The goal of the game is not to get into a fight, but if you do, you'd better be armed and move fast. There is a large variety of guns available. To add another twist to the game, guns you pick up off killed or unconscious enemies are "ID Locked". In game, weapons are tied to the specific PMC soldiers in order to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. Therefore, you'll need to launder your weapon to remove its ID chip. That's where Drebin comes in. Drebin is an eccentric gun launderer who keeps a shaved pet monkey and has a love for cola. When you collect a weapon, its added to your inventory. If you collect the same weapon again, you keep the ammo and sell the gun to Drebin. Doing this earns Drebin Points, which you can trade to Drebin to remove the ID locks from weapons in your inventory, buy new weapons and items, or buy ammo.
A final note on gameplay is life and psyche. Snake has a health bar that goes down when he takes hits. It recovers automatically when he is crouching or lying down. Recovery rate is effected by stress and psyche level. In intense situations, Snake's stress goes up. If it gets too high, his psyche drops. Low psyche effects Snake's battle performance negatively. He won't shoot strait for example. It will recover gradually if Snake's stress drops to zero.
Metal Gear Solid 4 offers an interesting gameplay experience but I think if it has one fatal flaw, it's that it tries to be too realistic. The gameplay is very demanding of the gamer. While it doesn't throw you into the battle without any help, the game certainly does not mess around. Even on lower difficulties, the game is pretty hard from start to finish. If you're unfamiliar with the series, it's all the more difficult. All the hiding and crawling also works to slow the pace of the game. You can literally eat up hours in the patrol zones just trying to get from point A to point B. Assassin's Creed had the same issues but at least it game you something to look at. The active war zones open up the game for a lot more fast paced action and are thus more fun in my opinion. Unfortunately, they tend to be few and far between. Lastly, if you die the game has a nasty habit of rubbing that fact in your face by having one of Snake's comrades start screaming "No, you can't die!" With common sense, you won't get killed but the game can be quite frustrating at times. Save frequently at every checkpoint is the best advice I can give.

I'm sure you're all wondering about the size of the game, especially those cutscenes. As Kojima noted, the game comes on a dual layer Bluray disc. This was cited as the primary reason why it was not released on the Xbox 360, since that system would require at least three to four discs for the entire game rather than just one. Metal Gear Solid 4 requires a mandatory 5gb install on the hard drive. Not just one install, but five, one for each chapter of the game. This might seem like a lot, but after you're finished one chapter, the game installs the next one over it so it will only ever take 5gb of space at one time, not including saves. The game cannot be run from the hard drive alone so it still requires the BD to be inserted for play. The installs give fast load times.
The infamous cutscenes are not just a rumor. They are there and they are quite long & numerous. At times, it can feel like your watching a film with a small sprinkling of gameplay mixed in. It gives MGS4 a very cinematic feel about it though I really can't decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the negative side, the long scenes don't exactly make MGS4 a pick up and play title. In one particularly bad case, the scene between acts 3 and 4 I swear is 45 minutes to an hour long. However, they can be skipped. Most cutscenes as far as I can tell are rendered in real time rather than prerendered FMV. On the plus side, they do an excellent job at furthering character development in the game and provide a break from the often frustrating action I mentioned above.
For visuals, the game is probably one of the best looking games on the PS3 so far. Environments are crisp and realistic looking. The overall colour scheme of the game is a tad on the drab side, which I'll chop up to cinematic effect. HDR looks good as is done realistically. Physics look good and objects interact with the environment realistically. I haven't noticed issues with frame rates in game, though they can slow down sometimes during the cutscenes. MGS4 is compatible with 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p video. Sony is finally starting to come out with more full HD games. Still, I don't think the game is the cutting edge graphical masterpiece that it was made out to be. I still believe that Naughty Dog's Uncharted is the best looking PS3 game so far. One thing that can be said about MGS4 though is that characters are more fluid rather than being stiff like in some other games. Textures on some of the scenery though are not at the detail level they should be. Audio quality is excellent and the music is very well done. MGS4 features a cast of gaming's best voice artists. For example, veteran voice artist Jennifer Hale has a leading role as scientist Naomi Hunter. Hale has been featured in many other Metal Gear games. She also voiced Bastilla Shan in KotOR and does a wide array of cartoon work. One problem with the game though is that sometimes audio won't play over HDMI connections. Restarting the game usually solves the issue. I'm not sure if this is a MGS4 problem or a PS3 problem, though it's only this game that does it.

This review was a very difficult one to write for a variety of reasons. First of all, the game has been so highly hyped and has received numerous perfect 10s from leading game reviewers. Such things tend to cloud the perceptions of people who start to believe the game is flawless, which it's not. I write this blog with causal to intermediate gamers in mind. I consider myself the latter. The amount of gaming I do in a day is relatively small compared to the hardcore ones out there. MGS4 is a game that really is targeted at the hardcore gaming crowd. It is deeply immersive and demands a lot of attention and concentration from the gamer. Therefore, you really do need a lot of experience and skill with a) the series, and b) with these types of games in general. I really cannot recommend this game to casual gamers at all. It just demands far too much from the gamer. In its attempt to be ultra realistic, that feature has become its Achilles Heel. It's just not fun if you don't know what you're doing. Myself, I don't play a lot of games like this so I bought into the hype and admittedly though it was something different than it was. I did have some idea about what Metal Gear was all about but the level of difficulty and demand on the gamer was unlike anything else I've played. The game also has some technical flaws. Well, not so much flaws, but areas where it didn't live up to hype. It simply is not the best looking PS3 game around, though it does come close. If you don't like the score I'm going to give this game, go whine to your COD4 buddies as this is just one man's opinion. I highly recommend MGS4 to hardcore gamers and some intermediate ones. However, casual gamers should avoid this game or else be met with an unpleasant experience.

What Works
-Good graphics with full 1080p support
-Fast load times
-Excellent audio with award winning voice cast
-Unique cutscenes further story well with good character development
-Well developed storyline
-Immersive gameplay

What Doesn't Work
-Very demanding gameplay
-Can be slow paced at times
-Cutscenes longer than necessary
-Game is unbalanced at times
-High difficulty limits game to only experienced gamers. Game is too realistic for its own good.
-Graphics and gameplay don't live up to "best on PS3" hype

Score: 8 out of 10

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