Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Review

After what seemed like an eternity in development, Hideo Kojima’s latest, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots finally hits the Playstation 3. While the series has had a mixed reception over the years, this time Kojima has nailed it, and sends his series out with a bang. In short, the game is a spectacle that fulfils the promises once made, provides an experience that far exceeds its predecessors and finishes off the story with aplomb.

MGS4 takes six games worth of story and wraps it up nicely, as absolutely everything is tied together well - no stone is left unturned and no questions are left unanswered. It also still manages to throw in plenty new questions and twists, right up until the end of the epilogue. Past experience is not a pre-requisite to enjoy the game (though fans are more likely to get it), as the events of past games are summarised through out. The basic premise is the last stand by a rapidly ageing Solid Snake (referred to now as Old Snake) against the elusive Liquid Ocelot. You’re going to be sitting through a fair number of exaggerated story sequences, this is a Metal Gear game after all, and Kojima bravely (stubbornly?) sticks to his chops.

Snake? You've aged.

The story sequences and cut-scenes aren’t exceedingly lengthy, though a key sequence in the middle does take a while. Save prompts act as a cut-scene indicator and the flashbacks should keep you alert. The circle button will pop-up at times and give you a glimpse at the something mentioned from a past game. Furthermore, all scenes can be paused and skipped if need be. Just as in all Metal Gear games, the game follows an anime style of story telling, so outside the serious business and perceived complexity, it’s is chock full of quirky humour.

MGS4 has possibly the best balance between story and gameplay sequences yet seen in a game. It's still complex but now there's less focus on winding codec monologues and more on the action. Initially, getting into the game can be off-putting as it requires an eight minute install, and every new act also triggers an install, uninstalling the previous one at the same time. Still, with the way that the game plays, we're willing to forgive this.

The game sticks to the tried and true MGS mechanics, though it characterises the situation that the player is put in very well: that of a desperately ageing warrior who has to fall back on his finely toned skills. Though the mind may still be willing, the body won’t necessarily be there to back up. This is reinforced by the fact that Snake is no longer able to hug walls as he once did, nor is he as quick and his physical performance declines under stress and psychological anxiety, but overall MGS4 is the most accessible game in the series. In particular, the shooting mechanics, combined with the technology of the 'Solid Eye' and 'Octocamo' make this the most fluid Metal Gear game for action.

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Every time you run up against a wall, your suit will adapt the wall's colour, pattern and texture. You’re also able to save that particular pattern and will eventually come across some special ones. Technologically, the amazing part is that it doesn’t adapt to preset textures, it literally adapts to the exact environment that you’re in, and you can reset by shaking the controller. Put all together, there is an interesting dynamic between Snake's 'age' and his abilites, both trained and assisted.

Much of the game is set during real-time battlefields, and they add a new dynamic, as you sneak around the numerous skirmishes. It gives an otherwise linear game its own sense of openness, as you can be stealthy or you can plough your way through with force. You can help the ‘rebels’ clear the path or just ignore the carnage around you. All guns that you pick up are now ‘ID-tagged’, so you can't just pick up any weapon. A character named Drebin will unlock these for you at a price, as well as sell excess weapons for Drebin points. While the game doesn't explicitly introduce all your new abilities, you can always read up on them, though you have so many things at your disposal, the fact is that you’re unlikely to use all of them makes the depth a tad artificial. It’s a shame, because you’ll only end up discovering some of the abilities through experimentation, and not always at the best of times.

There are two aspects that set MGS4 apart from everything out bar its predecessors. Everything single aspect, no matter how small or how large is there for a reason, everything has its place, even if it seems like it isn’t. The attention to the minor details is second to none in everything, from both story and gameplay aspects. Furthermore, the game is polished to the nth degree. Upon finishing the game, there was not a single issue that we would have like to have seen improved. That’s not to say the game is ‘perfect’ and will appeal to everyone, but you will not find another game out there that has been polished to such a fine level or that pays such attention to the minor details.

A new way of sneaking.

The length of the single player experience will depend on how you play. If you are stealthy and look to play as quietly and discretely as possible, your first play through will easily exceed 15 hours. Crash and bash your way through, and you’ll spend just as much time in cut-scenes as you will playing. However, even after you hit mind-blowing ending, MGS4 has a large number of unlockables to work towards, such new modes, funky weaponry, costumes and emblems.

The game also has an extensive online mode, similar to that found in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, but with the PS3’s capabilities, it’s much easier to access - once you’ve gone through the unnecessarily lengthy sign-up process. It features just about everything that you could ask from the MGS universe, with up to 16 players joining in the chaos. You’ve got a bunch of familiar modes like capture the flag, supplemented with abilities such as 'hacking' the enemies through their nanomachines, buying equipment using Drebin Points and taking photos in the battlefield that are viewable later and can be shared.

Graphically, MGS4 delivers on its promise of being a showcase for the PS3, and is one of the best looking games ever made. All the cut-scenes are real-time, the in game graphics remain sharp, and and the presentation oozes class. Slowdown is essentially non-existent and the scope of the environments can often be awe inspiring. Animations can get a little samey, but the transitions between them are much better then in past Metal Gear games which themselves already looked good. Putting up with the install and minor load times is certainly worth the picture that it helps create.

Censored? Must be the Australian version.

MGS4 also delivers on the audio experience, for those who have invested in massive surround sound systems, this game pays full dividends. Not only is the quality top notch, but everything from the sound effects, to the sound queues, to the dialogue, to the voicing and music is expertly put together, in completely uncompressed 5.1.

The only way to describe Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is that it's a unique masterpiece. Kojima sticks to his guns, (finally?) gets the formula 'right' and answers all, in one of the best experiences of the HD era yet. Never before has a game been so expensive looking but polished, had such an epic story behind it or such focused yet dynamic gameplay. For those who have been craving the defining experience on the PS3, this is it.