Let me preface this review by first admitting, I did not enjoy playing through Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I struggled to see it through to the end, and frankly, if it weren't for this review, I doubt I'd have lasted more than about an hour in. To quickly flameproof that statement, the reasons behind this are not necessarily because it's a weak game, it just has many elements that, while polished, did not appeal to my tastes. At the same time, others will no doubt be playing this game over and over for months to come.
With that out of the way, I'll try to approach this polarised title as objectively as possible and delve into the specifics to try and give you an idea of which side of the fence you'll be on. Of course this review is an opinion, but I'll attempt to make it obvious whether a criticism is a reflection of my own tastes or a design flaw of the game.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is the latest title from Kojima Productions, the Konami subsidiary helmed by Hideo Kojima, a Japanese game developer renowned almost entirely for his work on this popular series.
The story goes... well there really is too much back story to attempt to summarise here; apparently too much for the game as well, as much of the narrative will leave most newcomers scratching their heads. If it's the story line you're interested in and you haven't played any previous Metal Gear titles, it might be an idea to brush up on your MGS history
first. Veterans of the series shouldn't have any issues here though.
You're once again thrown into the shoes of Solid Snake; he's looking a bit long in the tooth these days but can still kick just as much ass. Stealth action is the aim of the game but on the regular difficulty setting you shouldn't have too much trouble run and gunning most missions, if that's more your style. While it’s nice to have the option, I'm a bit mixed over it. Several times I'd endure a lengthy session of skulking around and eventually die only to realise I could just dash past a lot of the action to get back to where I left off, in a fraction of the time. There are of course rewards for completing missions with minimal detections and fatalities but they're all inconsequential to the storyline. I'll leave that up to you as to whether that's a good or bad thing.
Gameplay consists primarily of the stealth-action staple third-person view with a couple of brief departures for some forgettable on-rails vehicle sections and one other controllable vehicular battle (that I won't spoil) which while great, is over far too quickly. The AI is nothing special, which is par for the course in stealth-action games really. If you trigger an alarm prepare for spawn waves until you can hide long enough for a timer to countdown.
After playing other third person games like Gears of War and Assassin's Creed (both with very fluid movement animations), Snake's instant snap turns feel a little jarring. That would be my only complaint about the game's control method though as everything else is quite intuitive and accessible. There's no real tutorial though, so prepare for some light reading to suss things out. The game pauses when you're browsing your inventory, however, making for a pretty forgiving learning process.
Snake now comes with some sweet new gear and you'll gather more as you progress. Pistols, shotguns, machine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and RPGs – The ability to carry the entire arsenal at all times and purchase extra munitions directly from the menu means you won't ever not have the right weapon for the job. Again, good or bad? Does handing out everything on one plate like this remove some strategy from the game or help stop it from becoming boring?
You've also got configurable camouflage, definitely one of the game's coolest new additions. When you lay down prone or take cover, Snake's Octo-camo suit will take on the texture properties of the environment, allowing you to hide in plain sight as enemies walk by – a really slick visual effect and a massively useful addition to the game's stealth system. A down-side of this is it negates the usefulness of Metal Gear's famed cardboard box disguise and the new rolling drum leaving them solely for novelty and nostalgia purposes. Then there's a MKII, a cute remote-control robot you can use to stealthily scout the dangers ahead.
Another interesting addition is the ipod. With this portable audio device in Snake's inventory you can manage the in-game music and even listen to developer pod-casts while you play. The control mechanism for this feature is pretty cool, simulating the ipod's clickwheel function in an intuitive manner. On that note, there is a bit of product-placement advertising in the game but it's not too overbearing. The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way was when the game jokingly instructs to change disc only to say, oh never mind, we're on the PS3 using blu-ray so you don't need to! This might have been amusing if it wasn't for the mandatory harddrive installs that required three minute waiting periods on the first load up and again before each act.
Graphically, Metal Gear Solid 4 is up there with the hottest console titles. Indoor areas and character models are exceptionally detailed, outdoor areas lack a little but are still no slouch and the cinematic scenes (all rendered in real-time) are in a league of their own.
The game's full motion video cut-scenes visually exceed anything we've seen in a videogame before, it's often easy to forget that they are indeed being rendered in real-time. But why does a cut-scene even need to be real-time rendered if a blu-ray disc can store so much? Well Konami's answer would be “because they are interactive”. While the scene is playing out you can pan and zoom within a limited focus point. Other scenes like the main briefings even let you choose between several different camera angles of the scene or even potter around the room from the MKII robot's viewpoint.
There is an absolutely exhausting amount of scripted animation and dialogue here, so much so that in the first two hours of play, depending on your pace, you'll only be in control of snake for about 20 minutes of that. Cut-scene length has been a talking point for all recent Metal Gear titles but Guns of the Patriots surpasses all before. I'm not going to try and quantify it, suffice to say that upon completing the game I felt that I had spent more time watching than playing.
There are some great themes covered by the rich and incredibly detailed storyline, influences drawn from other games, movies, political and social commentary but much of this is drowned amongst its overwhelming length, drawn out small-talk and painful posturing. They are all skipable of course, but the problem is, that there really are some unforgettably brilliant action scenes hidden amongst it that mean suffering the slow parts if you don't want to miss anything.
It's definitely a matter of taste, with Kojima blurring the lines between what is a videogame and what is a movie, but for me it seemed that in trying to be too much of both, the result was not quite enough of either. The voice acting, character movement and facial animations are all phenomenal leaving the pacing as the only real point of contention. Personally, I wouldn't hold interest in a film or television show with the pacing of MGS4's cinematics but then I'm sure others will be thoroughly engaged. Hell, people are still watching Big Brother after eight seasons.
Moving on to multiplayer, I almost don't want to mention it at all because it's not technically part of MGS4. A 'starter pack' for Metal Gear Online is included on the disc but it's best not to associate this with the parent game as its so far removed from the feel of the single-player that it might have been better to release it separately. It's not terrible, just generic. The interesting aspects it does present are overshadowed by flawed matchmaking that lumps Australians with Europeans and frequently leaves you waiting excessively just to join a simple deathmatch. Some might be able to find entertainment here, but I'm going to omit it from the overall score, lest it reflect poorly on the feature presentation.
For those holding out for that one must-have PlayStation 3 exclusive title to justify the shiny machine's unfaltering price, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots may or may not be the answer. While it may be an exceptional work of art and a material example of the PS3's technical capabilities, you'll either enjoy it, or you won’t.
Like Snake's old cardboard box, much of the game is only here for fan-service - novelty and nostalgia purposes; it really goes above and beyond in that respect. However, if the game's humour and drama is not your style and you don't have the history for the nostalgia, then some pretty polygons, a long-winded story and a bit of generic stealth-action might be all MGS4 has left for you.
If I could put two ratings in the box below, one would be 10 out of 10 for Metal Gear fans, 7.8 for the average gamer. But each game only gets one score so let's split the difference.