Review: Metal Gear Solid 4 – Guns of the Patriots

Here’s my review for MGS4 after playing it twice. My only regret is that I didn’t mess with the online play … it didn’t really interest me, and frankly, the single-player was more than enough.

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It’s strange when action heroes get old.

We’ve seen an abnormally huge Rambo depopulate another Third World country. The Terminator is our governor. Then there’s ancient Indiana Jones flailing away at Russians and surviving nuclear explosions in a refrigerator (really?).

And for the gamers, there’s Snake, the super-soldier hero of “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.”

Like the others, he’s been around since the late 1980s. But while other heroes seem diminished in their latest runs at glory, Snake’s final mission actually elevates his status as one of the coolest characters in the gaming space.

The rest of the game serves as a culmination of all that made the “MGS” series memorable – layered, intricate storytelling, compelling characters and touches of goofball humor.

Throw in some very good gameplay, and you have a legitimate candidate for game of the year.

Its only flaw? Not everyone will be able to appreciate it.

If you know nothing about the series, just know that Snake comes off as mix of Chuck Norris, Snake Plissken (“Escape from New York/L.A.”), a little bit of James Bond (gadgets and babes), federal ninja Jack Bauer and Rambo.

Dating back 20 years to the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, Snake’s always been everyone’s last (and only) hope for the world, saving it from imminent nuclear destruction or some other horrible threat.

But what sets him apart from other action heroes is that instead of destroying everyone and everything in front of him, he has to essentially stay invisible until it was time to act. This helped bring forth the genre we now call “stealth action.”

Snake’s popularity among gamers skyrocketed almost a decade ago, when “Metal Gear Solid” for the original Sony PlayStation was released.

In addition to giving Snake a personality, the game also encapsulated director Hideo Kojima’s true vision for the spy-fantasy world he created in the previous titles.

Stealth action was blended with long scenes and winding dialogue, which made gamers feel like they were playing a movie. That style also helped launch Kojima into “rock-star game designer” status.

“MGS” was followed by “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty” and then a prequel, “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater,” both for the PlayStation 2. The stories of all three games tie together, leading to this latest title for the PlayStation 3.

So that I don’t spoil anything in the story, let’s just say you take control of Snake once again, except that he’s much older now, and he essentially faces the same threat he faced in the first “MGS” title.

The story is the strongest part of the game, and it’s also the most complex. You learn about everything from Snake’s role in the so-called big picture, why he’s so old, the plans-within-plans of the villains – it would almost be maddening if it wasn’t so intriguing.

However, the problem with such a multifaceted story is that it assumes you’ve played the previous games and have a working knowledge of how everything links together.

In other words, unless you’ve played (and beaten) the last three games, you’ll have no clue what anyone is talking about. This makes it much less welcoming than other mega-sequels that can stand on their own, like “Grand Theft Auto IV” or even “God of War II.”

There’s a learning curve when it comes to gameplay, since this is the franchise’s first foray into full 3D. Not much has changed from the previous control scheme, but Snake now has a gadget called “octocamo.”

If he places himself against a wall or on the ground, the special suit that he wears will change to the color and pattern of whatever he’s up against. It’s a very cool feature, and one that I was able to use to great effect in the game’s five acts.

Other gadgets include the “Solid Eye,” which functions as a radar system, as well as a small, invisible robot on wheels that you can use to scout out areas (and eventually buy weapons). You also gain access to some awesome firepower, like a rail gun. You’ll want the rail gun.

The game does an excellent job of changing up the action. Most of it is still sneaking and shooting, but there will be times where sneaking doesn’t do any good, leaving you to simply blast your way out of trouble.

One highlight is a riveting bike chase sequence in Europe, with Snake acting as the gunner, shielding the driver from trouble (sometimes in Matrix-like slow motion).

There’s a wrenching “crawl” scene, where the player has to keep pushing the button to keep Snake moving agonizingly forward to his goal. A final scene I have to mention is an old-fashioned fight, where Snake has to simply out-pound his opponent.

My favorite part of the game remains the characters. I’ve always enjoyed how Kojima uses the gang-of- freaks approach for his villains, and this group might be the most warped of all. I want to tell you how screwed up they are, but I also want to avoid spoilers. Just know that you have to shoot them when they want a hug.

Then, of course, there’s the game’s unusual humor. Much like Japanese animation, the game has a way of injecting bits of goofiness in dire situations. For instance, gamers have the option to stare at the shapely backside of a boss character as she dies. That’ll rub some people the wrong way, but it’s been a signature of Kojima’s humor for years.

Another thing Kojima has managed to do with the “Metal Gear Solid” series is break that fourth wall and actually acknowledge that you’re playing a game, which leads to some bits of real-world humor. The controller’s lack of rumble and the PS3′s advanced tech are just a few of the things the game mocks.

With all that good stuff said, the game isn’t without its issues.

The controls, while improved, still aren’t as fluid as you’d like. There were a couple of times during boss battles where the flow was hindered because of the awkward way the game handles weapon switching. Hand-to- hand combat, while more diverse in this edition, is also still a little clunky.

Another small nitpick deals more with taste. If you’re the kind of gamer who doesn’t like long scenes and lengthy bits of dialogue, you might steer clear of this title – it’s not for the impatient.

However, if you do choose to spend a lot of time on this game, it’s well worth it. For fans, it’s the worthy, full-circle chapter they’ve been waiting for – and it’s exactly how an old legend should go out.

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Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
PlayStation 3
Rated M for Mature
Score: 9.5/10