There's a lot riding on Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. In the real world, it's the game that many PlayStation devotees have looked to as system savior, a console exclusive showcase that hopes to rekindle Metal Gear mania on par with Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for the PlayStation 3's forerunners. In-game, Solid Snake's fate and, naturally, the fate of the world are at stake as the covert operative, a literal product of the Cold War, struggles to survive in a postmodern world in which war has been commoditized and computerized.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is Kojima Productions' series swan song, an epic denouement that's dripping with metaphor and complex narrative, one that will most likely leave you ultimately satisfied rather than thoroughly confused. Getting to that point, we found, was a hell of a ride.
A Happy Marriage Of Art & Technology: Metal Gear Solid 4 is without a doubt the best looking PlayStation 3 game yet. A masterstroke of high quality art direction and technical prowess make it a feast for the eyes. Characters are modeled and animated beautifully, and the game's varied environments are expertly crafted. The attention to detail is simply stunning, with some of MGS4's clever product placement seemingly getting extra care. The frame rate may not be ideal, but given what's happening on screen, it's hard to quibble.
Being In Control: One of my biggest personal complaints about the Metal Gear Solid series was its complicated control scheme. MGS4 doesn't dumb things down, but introduces more context-sensitive actions and a tightened layout, resulting in less crab-clawing of the DualShock.
Gorgeous Direction:The bizarre and beautiful avant garde intro from Logan may leave players puzzled, but the Kojima directed in-game cinematics rarely stray into art house territory. Outside of a ludicrous breakdancing battle and some melodramatic emotional scenes, they're engaging and unparalleled in their production values.
Fan Service: MGS4 doesn't just dip into two decades of Metal Gear history, it bathes in it. Kojima fans will likely go wild with the game's extensive references to games past—and not just from twenty years of Metal Gear, but from other Kojima helmed titles, like Policenauts and Zone of the Enders. Many beloved characters make repeat appearances, even if some are just in flashback form. There are deviations from standard gameplay that might just blow your fanboy mind.
Great Gadgets: OctoCamo and Otacon's mini-Metal Gear are welcome additions to Snake's arsenal, as is the multifunction Solid Eye system. Upgrading weapons is a breeze, thanks to a generous and easy to use shopping system.
Robust Multiplayer Modes: Metal Gear Online may have initially seemed like an afterthought, but with six modes that range from straightforward Team Deathmatch to Sneaking Mission—in which one team member plays as Snake, another as Metal Gear Mk .II—it's clear Kojima Productions took multiplayer seriously. A fine replacement for the now-dead original MGO.
Comic Relief: Cola swilling monkeys aren't the only source of laughs in this generally gloomy chapter. Kojima and crew poke fun at themselves perfectly, with a welcome dose of MGS in-jokes and toilet humor that, believe it or not, actually makes sense plot-wise.
Obscene Cut Scene Length: Kojima Productions needs an editor. One portion of the game has the player mostly hands-off for close to an hour, with unnecessarily long cinematics flanking a hard drive install. We like Kojima's blend of action and narrative and often find his self-indulgence endearing, but there is simply no need to see some of this stuff. Gameplay feels like it takes a backseat to long-winded monologue at times, which is a shame, since the mechanics are so masterfully honed in this chapter.
Getting Metal Gear Online Online Is A Hassle: The Konami ID system is overly complicated and confusing, something we can't imagine doing via DualShock. MGO itself was somewhat unstable, resulting in three failed attempts at downloading a software update and occasional server disconnects.
Loading.... There is a somewhat lengthy install at the beginning of the game, plus additional smaller installs prior to each act. Potentially more aggravating are numerous loading screens that break up the action, with one particular thrilling chase sequence suffering most.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is a fascinating specimen, equal parts video game and interactive digital cinema. It is both aided and hampered by Kojima's predilection for extensive dialogue and exposition. It's so thematically layered, so steeped in Metal Gear lore that it might be intimidating to new players—having skipped out on Metal Gear Solid 3, I was concerned about being completely lost—but it shouldn't be. There are at times I wanted to throttle Kojima for his seemingly endless script, wanting to just play the damn game—something you do less and less as the game wears on—but there's still a certain charm to the game's thickly interwoven themes of the economy of war, familial strife, the role of science, and the toll that time takes on the mind and body.
Metal Gear Solid as a series, we hope, is over. It ends on such a high note—despite its numerous flaws—and so succinctly wraps up its voluminous, twenty-year long narrative that we'd hate to see an even older Snake give it another slog. Playing through Metal Gear Solid 4 again, however, is a different story. It's worth another shot.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was developed by Kojima Productions, published by Konami. Retails for $59.99. Available on PlayStation 3. Played single player campaign to completion on "Solid Normal" difficulty. Tested all Metal Gear Online modes and extras.