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Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Liquid

I finished Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots a while ago, but forgot to post this review-thingie. I never thought I’d play it—I always hated Metal Gear Solid—and now that I have, I’m not sure how I can play any other games again; I’ve been so spoiled…

And so will you be, if you haven’t played MGS4 and still continue reading…

You see, seven years or so ago, I played through the first Metal Gear Solid on PC. I wasn’t too impressed, though I thought it was pretty cool to see a game actually try to comment on issues facing the world today; something that wasn’t seen much in games back then, kind of like today. But the horribly told story, the inane exposition, the weird characters and all the other things that make MGS what it is, just never jived with me, and I ended up hating the game for being so popular, when it could have been so much more.

And in a sense, I still feel that way after MGS4. The amount of slumber-inducing absolutely unnecessary and plainly superfluous exposition is mind boggling. When you meet up with Big Mama, she literally talks for something like an hour straight! And it’s all pretty ho-hum… Something something nano machines, something something Big Boss, something something ZZZzzzzzz. I just wanted to throw my controller so hard at the TV that it would crack Hideo Kojima’s skull. There are several of these prolonged talky cutscenes throughout the game, and to me they represent everything that’s wrong with the game. It simply doesn’t know when enough’s enough, and they end up tearing down more than they build up, which is a hell of a shame, because if there’s one thing this game does well, it’s cut scenes. Holy fuck.

But before I get to the good stuff, let me just talk Vamp. Vamp. The name itself makes me want to punch somebody in the teeth. I truly hate him. He makes me see red in a way even Jar Jar never mustered. Vamp. I just wanted to wrangle my TV to the floor and dropkick his ugly face and his latin lover moves. If I could, I would take a needle to the MGS4 disc, and scratch out the exact parts that contained just him, and consider the game twice as good right there. Killing him was the most satisfying thing I did in that game, and not in a good way, but in a ‘finally I can get on with this game’. What his role was, I’ll never know; but then that’s MGS for you.

And the entire game is filled with little ‘ugh’ moments, where it was obvious that someone (Hideo Kojima, undoubtedly) had indulged himself and his world in a way that does service only to himself and the most obsessed fans.

But that’s MGS; it fails more spectacularly than most games succeed. And when all that’s been said—and I think it has to be said—MGS4 just blew me away. Wow.

The Good

The production values. My God Man! The production values are through the roof; it makes every single other game on the market look like a 3rd grade science project! And it’s not that there aren’t plenty of places where one could point out how neat this warzone’d street is, or how unbelievable South America comes off. But then you notice how the MacBook Pro is a MacBook Pro, down to the screws, or how the Mk. II absolutely looks like a piece of hardware that could exist in the real world. The attention to detail and the love that has gone into even the smallest things is what really brings this game up to a place where despite all the bad things that could be said, it still commands respect.

And MGS was always a bit hardware horny, but the weapons, the vehicles, the gekko... Oh, the gekko. In the realm of science fiction, there is so much ho-hum’ness and slock design that most titles blend in and out of each other, leaving behind mostly no impression at all. Metal Gear on the other hand, is so well designed it makes me want to cry.

There’s such an attention to, and breadth of, materials in MGS4, that I just want to walk around and look at everything. Akiba’s balaklava, the Mk II’s frame, the muscle weave in Old Snake’s OctoCamo suit. I love the materials in MGS4, for showing us that not everything has to look like Gears of War; there is another way.

Mixed together, the design and the materials come together and create these incredibly believable piece of military hardward, a long-time MGS stable, which would make even James Cameron proud.

Making something as weird and alien as the gekko believable is hard work, yet MGS makes it look like no big deal. And man, do I ever love the gekko. Mostest awesomest everest. How they look, how they move, the way they jump, the mooing they make, how they hide in the snow on Shadow Moses… These things are the design equivalent of the X-Wing today, if you ask me.

The Game

Otacon talks about changing the disc, before going off on a tangent about blu-ray’s (there’s that indulgence I talked about). Mantis tells you to put your controller on the floor so he can move it by pure thought alone. For a game so hooked on having some of the most intricate cinematics ever in a game, Metal Gear Solid sure isn’t afraid of snapping paradigms and preset ideas about what games are in two. It’s just so damn playful and energetic that it’s hard not to love it for it.

And while it’s normal for games like Gears of War to change… gears… every once in a while, by having a rail shooter or something to break up the gameplay a bit, MGS4 does this with such gusto and such flair, that I was literally grinning from ear to ear as I was playing it.

When Ray jumped out of the water, onto the pier I was literally laughing out loud with joy, and the ensuing gear on gear action was one of the best parts of the game for me, not only because the concept itself was pretty awesome, but because the execution was near flawless. Somebody spent a loooong time making these mechs move, making all new animation sets and making the buildings destructable and what not. This took a lot of time to do, and it’s used once in the game. Just once.

And another thing is, it’s perfect not only because it’s fun to play, but because you’ve been chasing Liquid across the entire game, and when you finally fight him, it needed to be grand and epic and something entirely new, for the gameplay to carry the importance of this moment.

Later there’s the microwave hallway, which is the simplest, stupidest setup around. But they manage to make everything be about you pressing that goddamn triangle as fast as you can, because the fate of the world is in your hands, and you can see it right there, in the split-screen above you, if you can take your eyes off of Old Snake, who is being cooked alive. And you’re just pressing that triangle like it was the end of the world, as he inches his way forward.

That isn’t gameplay. Gameplay is ‘a series of interesting choices’... But it works. Man, does it ever work. I was absolutely engulfed by this point; buying 100% into the fantasy. I made it this far, I’ll be damned if some lousy microwave oven is going to be the end of Old Snake! CRAWL OLD MAN, CRAWL!

And the coup de grâce; the crown on the scalp of this confusing, half-game, half-movie ‘experience’, was when the camera craned down, and it was Snake vs Snake. It’s like post-modern game design right there; first the injections, then health meters, you going ‘hey, what the…’, the camera cranes down and… It’s a fighting game! Literally, side-view, health bar and everything. Holy crap! Madre de Deus!

This breaking of the fourth wall, in the service of making a greater game, is some of the best gaming I’ve done in years. Not because the gameplay was particularly great (or I just suck at it), but because the designers were willing to concede that their core gameplay mechanics weren’t what was needed to portray the climax they had in mind, so they changed the game to make it work.

In most games of MGS’ ilk, the climactic boss-fight would simply be a really big robot or some such, who you would then have to shoot in new imaginative ways. And it kinda sorta works; but by making the game a fighter instead, they made it into something much more personal. Something more intimate somehow.

The Cinematics

And the genious of it, was that in that climax, I kept playing even when I wasn’t sure if I was still in control. I was playing my ass off, and I’m not even sure Old Snake was heeding my command any longer.

I chalk that up partly to how well MGS4 shifts between cinematics and gameplay, often sneaking up on you by suddenly fading in your HUD and leaving the mess for you to deal with. And partly to how well they manage to make the elements of story, character, mise en scéne and game come together.

But the cinematics are truly something to behold. They’ve always been in MGS of course, but this time… In Prague, when the military surrounded Liquid how did they do that? It must have taken years to get all of those elements to play together that well.

I honestly don’t know how they put together the Raiden vs. Gekko fight. It’s so intricate, so amazingly well done. It just boggles the mind and the body.

Of course, the cinematics are also where MGS veers way off into Blahblahland, and it just brings the entire momentum to a complete and utter standstill more than once (sometimes even bringing the momentum into the negative!). There might be some cultural differences and all that, but even Kurosawa’s Ran wasn’t as longwinded as Big Boss taaaalking and taaaaalking, when all that was needed was for Snake to die and the credits to roll.

And yes, Old Snake totally should have died onboard Outer Haven. Absolutely.

Liquid Story

In fact, for a game about war, the Metal Gear series simply had too Return-of-the-Jedi an ending. You know, the one in which everyone smiles and laughs and Anakin is there with Yoda and Obi, and they’re all snug as bugs, having forgotten aaaaall about that one time, at band camp, when Anakin slaughtered a bunch of kids and betrayed all the people in the known universe.

But despite being, as mentioned so many times before, weighed down by some of the most indulgent story telling ever, set against one of the most confounding plotlines (also ever), I would actually go so far as to say that it managed to almost touch me once or twice near the end.

And while I never played through MGS2, so I didn’t really get to know him, I thought the monsterization of Raiden was a stroke of genious. Nevermind the design, which is just the coolest thing ever; they actually managed to make him into something entirely different from a human, which really tickled me, and almost made me… dare I say it… want to play as Raiden!

And Old Snake? Well he just rocks. Hayter’s growling is a tad much sometimes, but then so is everything in MGS, so…

Solidus Conclusius

I’m sold. There are so many things wrong with this game, and so many reason I should hate it, but how can I, when it does so many things so very very right. I still can’t stand Hideo Kojima and Vamp makes me want to claw my eyes out, but I’ll be on the next Metal Gear Solid like a gekko on a building.