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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

By on 8:52 AM

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is an action-adventure, stealth game developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami. It is the fourth game under the Solid name, but sixth game in the Metal Gear franchise overall and was released as a PlayStation 3 exclusive on June 12, 2008 worldwide. As to be expected with pretty much anything Metal Gear related, it became both a commercial and critical success winning many Game of the Year awards for 2008 and today we take a closer look at the game that marked the end of an era. The end of Solid Snake.

  Just when you thought it was safe to go to the supermarket.

If you're used to the older games in the franchise the setup in MGS4 can offer a bit of a learning curve. Instead of having an over-the-head view camera, the camera is centered behind Snake. Instead of having a radar where enemies are represented by red dots with a light as their field of vision telling you where they're looking, the radar just has a bunch of blips that can be an enemy or a friend with a designation target to follow that's all but useless because the radar doesn't encompass the area. Instead of simply being able to tap the X button and using the D-Pad to crawl, tapping the X button lets you move around in a crouch and then holding down the X button lets you crawl and then you can have fun messing with it and crawling when you don't want to while being shot at.

This time around you can only carry a certain amount of items and weapons at a time (OMG realism!) and to equip them you need to pull up the start menu and browse through your inventory for what you want and then select it to have it ready on hand. When you reached your limit and have more items you want to use you'll have to swap between what you need at the time. You can also access your Codec through the start menu as well. The Codec screen is a little different this time around, Snake's screen isn't seen at all and we just see the person we're talking to and we can move their screen around with the analog stick. Sadly, there isn't that many people to call on the Codec.

We have Otacon and Rose, that's it. Some other people like Roy Campbell will talk to you every now and again, but we don't have the option to call him. We're not even calling a person to save our mission data, we're saving normally like any other game. This bothers me because every game that came prior had an impressive support cast that could be utilize through the Codec calls (radio in Metal Gear Solid 3's case). Not just in providing the player with information, but also for developing characters, relationships and those occasional silly moments we know so well. Whatever the reason was for only having two main this time around, it takes a lot away from the Codec menu.

  “Those poor fools won't know what'll hit them.” – Roy Campbell

Despite all the changes, it's still a sneaking mission. Your main priority is to go about your business without being seen by the enemy. The big change in this is the OctoCamo, designed after the camouflage ability of the octopus. The suit adapts to basically any surrounding Snake is in contact with to make him blend into the environment, just like the more standard cameo you dressed Snake in during MGS3. Only this time it's all automatic. The Camo numbers at the top right corner of your screen letting you know how well you're hidden.

Once I get past my “OMG WHY IS IT DIFFERENT?” phase, I have to admit that the changes to the stealth gameplay does make the game more challenging. You really have to pay attention to your surroundings more and what you're doing than just relying on the radar to guide you the whole way. My gripe with the improvement is that if you're caught by an enemy, there isn't that same “Oh shi-!” moment that there was with the original game. When you were caught on Metal Gear Solid enemies would gain up on you and kick your ass. You had to get away from them and hide or they'd just keep decreasing your life gauge until you were dead. Here, whenever I'm caught, I can just run around in the opening shooting people with my M4 and make it to the next area without much damage inflicted on me. It negates the point of having to be stealthy if there isn't much consequence to actually being caught by your enemies.

You may have noticed the meter underneath the life gauge. That represents your psyche. When certain things happen to Snake in battle, or during a cut-scene for that matter, the psyche meter will go down. This will make it harder to aim at moving targets and even cause you to pass out after receiving damage. This also adds to Snake's stress. You can either replenish it with an item or call Rose, your psychologist for the mission more or less. There's also a ring around Snake that deforms depending on the threat level of the enemy close to you. The more deform it gets, the stronger the presence, and the more your controller vibrates. If an enemy bypasses the ring that means they saw you.

There are two new primary items you'll get near the start of the game: the Solid Eye and the Mark II. The Solid Eye is a device placed over Snake's left eye which showcases the radar and is equipped with Night Vision and built in binoculars. The Mark II is a small support robot that makes up Snake's Codec and in-game menu. It can also be controlled by the player to interact with the area and stun nearby enemies.

  “Neither enemy nor friend.” – Drebin

Remember that part in Metal Gear Solid 2 when you're told you can't pick up enemy weapons because they're ID locked? What started as a convenient way to explain away why you don't just take the guards guns became a critical part of MGS4 if you want to get more weapons on your side. After meeting up with Drebin in the game, who introduces himself as a gun launderer, you can earn Drebin Points (shortened to DP) whenever you pick up a new weapon on site, these points are used as currency that you can then purchase weapons from Drebin with the ID lock no longer functional.

To use the weapons you have to aim with one button and then fire with the other. Every time you set it to aim, the camera will zoom in towards the left part of the screen and you need time to line up your shot, just like if you were holding a real gun. If you can't be bothered to do that you can switch to auto-aim to lock on to any nearby enemies that are in sight of you.

  “War is ugly. There's nothing glamorous about it.” – Meryl Silverburgh

The game takes place in 2014 (hey, that's this year!), nine years after the Shadow Moses incident and five years after the Big Shell incident during MGS2. The military has been privatized (shortened to PMC) and the world's economy relies on war to survive, therefore being called the “War Economy”. Every PMC has nanomachines which enhances their abilities in battle and give them all they need to be a soldier without the training and conditioning. The control network that comes through these nanomachines is called “Sons of the Patriots” and are controlled by artificial intelligences. Liquid Ocelot (Revolver Ocelot being controlled by Liquid Snake), plans to hijack the system for himself, and Snake is called on by Roy Campbell for one last mission that is intended to kill Liquid once and for all. Because killing him has worked so well in the past.

Metal Gear Solid 4 is the second game to take place in multiple areas (the first one being MGS2 that took place at the Tanker and the Big Shell), divided up into acts. You start off in the middle of a war zone in the Middle East, then in South America, Eastern Europe, a return to Shadow Moses, and finally the Bering Sea. There are six acts overall with the last act being one long cut-scene. This gives us the most locations we have had in any Metal Gear game, with most of them staying secluded in a single area, and it's a welcome change from games that came before it. For an example, in the Middle East you get the real sense of being in a war zone, hearing explosions and gunfire in the distance while you sneak about.

MGS4 had the unique task of explaining the plot points of MGS2, something that HideoKojima never wanted to do in the first place. In fact, it was his intention to keep MGS2 as it was, leaving it to fan interpretation and end the series with MGS3: Snake Eater, but fan demand (and death threats) finally got him to agree to make the ending that everybody so desperately wanted. So, how were some of these plot points explained? The following contains spoilers:

What creates the control network? Nanomachines. How is Big Boss brought back to life? Nanomachines. How does Vamp's regenerative abilities work? Nanomachines. Who shot JFK? Nanomachines. How did Bush get reelected? Nanomachines. Nanomachines! Nanomachines! Nanomachines!

For the love of God quit it with the Nanomachines!

You could put Hideo Kojima in the Giorgio A. Tsoukalos pose with the words “Nanomachines” in impact font and you would have the entire game's story in a nutshell. It's ridiculous how much of a crutch it became. Furthermore, how are we supposed to feel worried for Snake's life in a world where nanomachines can bring back the dead? Answer? We don't. Was there a need to bring back Big Boss? Was there a need to explain how Vamp can survive being shot in the head several times? No. What we got were a bunch of half-ass explanations to give the fans explanations to things that was never meant to be explained in the first place and characters revival for fan service, that's the only purpose they serve.

  “There are no heroes in war. The only heroes I know are either dead or in prison, one or the other. The only winners in war are the people.” – Solid Snake

At the end of the day, Metal Gear Solid 4 is more of a tribute game celebrating everything the franchise has accomplished than a serious addition to the series, and there's nothing wrong with that. Old Snake is a tribute to Big Boss with the Solid Eye being on the left eye, which was originally where Big Boss' eye-patch was before they retconned it in MGS3. Raiden's role in the game is a tribute to Gray Fox, making him the resident cyborg ninja of the cast. Bosses such as Laughing Octopus, Raging Raven, Crying Wolves, Screaming Mantis, all references to the bosses from the first and third game while sadly having little depth beyond that. It's a celebration, and if you want to look at the game in that light, it's a lot more enjoyable than trying to figure out the narrative.

The visuals are spectacular, utilizing everything the HD in the PS3 has to offer early in the console's life. The voice acting is on par with everything the series has given up since its jump to the PlayStation and the cut-scenes are no longer than you'd come to expect from the franchise. On the plus side, there's a pause button you can activate for cut-scenes which allows you to skip it if you want and the briefings are interactive thanks to the inclusion of the Mark II so you won't get bored. If you explore you'll even find items while the briefing is going on.

Conclusion: If you're a fan of the franchise and love everything it has to offer, then MGS4 is definitely worth a purchase. If you're content with leaving the mysteries of MGS2 alone, enjoy the way MGS3 ended, or looking for an old-school Metal Gear feel, then I'd recommend you give a pass on this one. If you're new to the franchise you may want to consider starting off at MGS1 as it will be even harder to follow the story without prior knowledge of the previous games. I recommend the Twin Snakes for the GameCube if you're turned off by the more dated graphics of the original PS One version. All in all, whether this game will work for you depends entirely on preference.


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