"Not to make excuses, but I somehow doubt that any of the issues I've mentioned—the sometimes less than brilliant story, the shift away from gameplay toward the end, the lack of challange—will be a surprise or an issue to any long-time fan. And those long-time fans were clearly Kojima Productions' target audience for this one."
Here's my review: it's a Metal Gear Solid game.
Fine, I guess I'll elaborate a bit. Even if it's more work. Every other review of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots you'll ever read will say the same thing, and as much of a copout as it is, I can't buck the trend because it's the truth. Hours upon hours of cutscenes, check. Demanding suspension of disbelief more often than your average Tom Clancy game, check. Simple but oddly amusing stealth gameplay, check. Come on. You should know the formula after a decade, and you should already know how much you'll like it after that first sentence.
That's not to imply that this is just Metal Gear Solid 3.1. There are plenty of warmly welcome refinements, even for fans who'll play this as stealthily as ever. Snake Eater's camouflage system returns in much improved form, with your unfashionably tight sneaking suit now able to automatically mimic the ground and walls as if you were a chameleon. Similar to before, but trudging through menu screens every few seconds just to tinker with your outfit in the third game was awful. Lying prone while a guard walks by without even noticing you is that much more of a joy now, though the next step of slitting his throat and calling him an idiot while your roommate gives you a funny look for talking to a videogame has wisely been left the same.
That said, the more substantial changes made to Guns of the Patriots are for those of you (...us) who made Big Boss go shirtless in the last one so that he'd look more like Rambo while slaughtering his way through the jungle. Aiming now uses an RE4-style over-the-shoulder view and it makes shooting a breeze. Another RE4 influence is your new acquaintance Drebin, a gun launderer. Sell him whatever extra weapons you can find and and shop for whichever new ones you'd like—and they're all upgradable, too. Scoped automatic rifles with optional shotgun and grenade launcher attachments are more than rad enough for you to forgive Kojima still having the balls to label this series “tactical espionage action”.
These new features don't work perfectly: the already low challange takes an enormous hit if you buy suppressors for your guns, since the guards' AI is still programmed to react to your gunshots more than to the subsequent river of red. You'll have a much more enjoyable time with the game if you force yourself not to use them.
Limit yourself, though, and everything's just peachy. Earlier acts take place in warzones where one side doesn't have anything against you, and these blend action and stealth to brilliant effect. There's little as satisfying as moving through alleyways to sneak behind a sniper and carving his neck open while a mob in the street cheers you on. Wipe out your common enemy and they'll think of you as one of their own, hooking you up with supplies and giving you cover during firefights. While the second act offers forking paths through a South American forest, they all wind up at a villa compound that it just isn't possible to infiltrate. Not until rebels who've mastered the art of subtlety smash a bulldozer through the front gate, anyway.
MGS4 doesn't always work that well, though, particularly since the pacing can feel off and occasionally just flat-out wrong. The third and fourth acts, while great, are gimmicky and fairly shallow. The third act has you tailing somebody before a motorcycle chase, while the fourth is largely deserted. They work, and quite well—but they're gimmicky and fairly shallow all the same. The fifth and final act should be incredible to offset that and make the game feel complete, right? Well, they got it half right. It's incredible. It's also incredibly short—like thirty minutes short. Toss in the fact that the cutscenes just get longer and longer, and it can make the impression that the last ten hours are a gradual slide down from the first ten.
Not that Guns of the Patriots is ever bad. It's unforgettable right to the end, in no small part to the clever boss battles—which are still a massive improvement on that Dead Cell lot from the second game. Standing in for a fat guy on rollerskates is Crying Wolf, a lady in a blazing fast robotic shell who takes a cue from Quake III and tries to nail you with a railgun. You'll fight her during a blizzard, in a snowfield that's also crawling with soldiers who'll distract you until you suddenly get a big radioactive slug to the noggin. Call your pal Otacon to try and figure out what's happening (or read some hack's review) and you'll realize that she's been tracking your scent and that the attacks are always coming from downwind. Knowing where she'll be doesn't make it any easier; the whole “blizzard” thing can make it a little bit hard to see, and you'll have to be quite a shot with your sniper rifle of choice to hit her before she hits you.
Or you could be a bastard and just crawl around laying mines everywhere until the slag blows herself up enough times. To each his own.
You only spend half of any Metal Gear Solid game actually playing it, of course, so I suppose I'll have to say a few words about the story. We're given beatings if our reviews aren't up to par, you see. It's the same trashy b-movie stuff that the series (putting aside Sons of Liberty's brilliant ending) has made a name for itself with, and for what it is, it works. Obscene production values, drawn out conversations with enough plot twists to baffle a topologist, and loads of melodrama—if you've liked the formula before then you'll like it again here, and if Otacon whining about his research being used for evil in the original made you roll your eyes so much you strained them, then you'll be blind by the time you're done with this one.
Kojima plays the nostalgia angle to wonderful effect. Since Guns of the Patriots is the last game in the series, just like Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater were the last games in the series, there's plenty there to really tie things together and make you weepy-eyed for naked Raiden and love on the battlefield. Old visuals, old music, old locations—the part of me that's a competent writer (note: hate mail over this review not dishing out a perfect score should ideally start by calling that part of me very small, and then move onto calling other parts of me even smaller) hates to be so vague, but the highlights work best as surprises and I'm not enough of a bastard to spoil that for anyone. Even if I kill bosses with landmines.
The story isn't perfect, of course, even for what it is. There are stupid bits here and there, like two characters chatting about getting married during a gunfight and an otherwise likable character being cheapened and ruined by yet another of those dumb cyborg ninja suits. Returning villain Vamp's tale could have been fleshed out a lot further than it was, while Liquid Ocelot and his arm of wonder aren't given nearly enough screentime either. The final plot twist about him totally changes his character if you think it through, and in a fairly interesting way, but it's mentioned in passing under another person's breath during the epilogue.
Still, if you're expecting one of these games to be flawless then you obviously haven't played any of them, and I'm not sure how much business you have giving this one a spin. Not to make excuses, but I somehow doubt that any of the issues I've mentioned—the sometimes less than brilliant story, the shift away from gameplay toward the end, the lack of challange—will be a surprise or an issue to any long-time fan. And those long-time fans were clearly Kojima Productions' target audience for this one. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is refined, sure, and it's certainly its own game. Plus, while I'm not normally one to ramble on about eye candy, the slick graphics do a great job with
Naomi's legs the war-torn battlefields of the Middle East.
But you already know how much you'll like it. There's my review: it's a Metal Gear Solid game.
Freelance review by John L (June 23, 2008)
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