Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is the fourth
film game designed, produced, written and directed by Hideo Kojima in the Metal Gear Solid line of releases. It was the first game I’d ever bothered to pre-order, I’d never been so hyped to play a game in my life and haven’t since. I set the bar unbelievably high and Hideo Kojima delivered. However, when it launched in 2008, I was 13, so lets see how MGS4 handles now that I’ve had time to grow old and cynical.
You’re Old Snake, the Solid Snake from previous titles that has undergone accelerated ageing. You’re tasked with infiltrating various war-zones and secret facilities of the not-too-distant future, battling a unit of super-soldiers named after emotions (we’ve been here before) and stopping your evil twin brother from seizing control of the world. It’s fantastic, it’s cheesy, it’s everything Metal Gear Solid should be, and it’s a deserving send off for everyone’s favourite Snake.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. MGS4 continues in typical MGS fashion with stealth being the name of the game. It still works as well as it always did, the basic controls are simple enough and the hand to hand combat is quite deep and rewarding once you figure it all out. The camouflage system has been streamlined so you aren’t wasting time in menus trying to look as much like the local soil as humanly possible. The level design was (and still is) impeccable, it’s far from an ‘open-world’ and yet it never feels restrictive. One thing it does have over its predecessor MGS3 is the variety of locations on offer, the selection of environments here keeps things from getting stale, there’s only so much sneaking in long grass I can cope with.
You have to worry about 2 things. Health and Psyche, the health bar is the same as it always is, nothing new here, but the Psyche bar represents your mental state, if you run around firing huge automatic guns into a firefight, your Psyche takes a hit, your aim gets sloppy and you don’t heal as fast as you usually would, thus promoting the stealth way of doing things.
You’re given the barebones equipment at the beginning of the game, with options to purchase or ‘unlock’ guns and items as you progress further. As in MGS3, the HUD is immaculate and selecting the items or weapons you need in a pinch is extremely easy. I was worried about breaking immersion when you’re carrying 20 different machine guns at any one time, but that worry takes a backseat when you’re face to face with one of the many bosses MGS4 has to offer. You’re often forced to throw everything you have at them to dent their sometimes obnoxiously large health bars. Speaking of which…
Laughing Octopus – It’s a girl in an Octopus mech suit that can turn invisible/blend into the environment. It’s a close quarters game of cat and mouse and it scared me as a 13 year old and it still does now. You have to constantly scan the environment for out of place objects to give you an idea of where she’s hiding, don’t trust the paintings on the walls.
Raging Raven – It’s a girl in a bird mech suit with friends, she’ll fire missiles at you, avoid the missiles. Shoot the flying lady in the mech suit.
Crying Wolf – It’s a girl in a wolf mech suit with friends, she’ll stalk you and attempt to snipe you. It reminds me of the boss fight against ‘The End’ in MGS3, or it would do, if you couldn’t switch on your magic eyepatch that lets you see in thermal. Even with the hand holding from the eyepatch it’s still quite entertaining and tense at times.
Vamp – If you’ve resisted the urge to skip most of the cutscenes, you’ll know that Vamp regenerates health with zero consequence. You’ll also know you have a syringe that can stop this health regeneration. If you did skip the crucial cutscenes, you’ll have no idea why he isn’t dying and you’ll keep putting bullets in his head until you get bored and turn the console off.
Metal Gear Ray – OH MY GOD THIS IS SO COOL. You’re in a giant mech, you shoot rockets at the other giant mech until you kill it. I cannot stress how cool this is. Bonus points for the controls here handling better than dedicated mecha games I’ve played.
Screaming Mantis – If you’ve ever played MGS1 then you’ll instantly see the *cough* inspiration for this boss. She can control the living and the dead and also occasionally turn your screen off. Once you beat her you come face to face with her PS1 counterpart who attempts to read your memory card and vibrate your controller only to realise the fancy PlayStation 3 has no such functions. What a day.
I should also note here that after every battle with the Beauty and the Beast unit, you come face to face with the women under the mech suits. They’re dressed in skintight suits and seemed to just be an excuse to throw the player some HD curves. It could be a metaphor about war and it’s unfathomable effects on it’s victims, but I’ve been wrong before.
Liquid Ocelot – On the surface this entire battle is essentially just two old men having a really sad fist fight, but it is SO much more. These two characters have been through so much throughout the series and it’s illustrated beautifully here. The fight starts after a lengthy cutscene, no surprise there. The HUD and soundtrack changes to that of the classic MGS1, as you whittle away at Liquid’s health the soundtrack and HUD transitions to that of MGS2 for a while, and then to MGS3 as ‘Snake Eater‘ starts playing. Finally as you enter the final section of the fight the HUD returns to normal and ‘Old Snake’ plays and you look upon two old men fighting each other. Then you realise how pointless this fight is in the grand scheme of the story Kojima has crafted thus far in the series. But my god, you need Solid Snake to win this one.
Also you can make them kiss. I’m not joking.
It’s good! I imagine Kojima intended this to be the final entry in the Metal Gear Solid series and it does it’s best to wrap up hundreds of plot points in a nice little bow, a confusing and convoluted nice little bow.
The game opens with a monologue about how war has changed, delivered by the titular Solid Snake, now ‘Old Snake’. He speaks of how war has become a well oiled machine, how the war economy has become part of everyday global functioning. ‘It’s an endless series of proxy battles, fought by mercenaries and machines’. Soldiers are filled with nano-machines that control and regulate their emotions, make them more compliant to orders. As Old Snake puts it: ‘He who controls the battlefield, controls history’.
There’s a lot of interesting concepts brought forward by Kojima and throughout the game they’re explored to a terrifying degree, especially the nano-machine emotion regulation (and the fallout when they’re removed).
The key players in this story never fail to be interesting and keep your attention throughout, I even enjoyed the mostly hated cyborg ninja Raiden. However there’s a lot of minor characters I simply did not care for, or seemed completely useless to the plot altogether. If you aren’t glued to every single portion of dialogue, I guarantee you’ll lose your grasp on some elements of the story very quickly.
There’s a lot of plot points to wrap up here, not surprising when you look at the amount of cutscenes, with the final cutscene coming in at just over an hour in length. Back in 2008, I remember loving the inclusion of Big Boss just before the final credits, however watching it back now, its a very very long final hour of chatter to sit through. It hurts more because the gameplay is so good, I despise being ripped out of it for 20 minutes to learn about how terrible of a life the person I just murdered had. Kojima, I know you read these, just make a film, or a series. We all know you want to.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots attempts to do the impossible, wrap up an endless mess of characters and plot points delivered by previous entries of the series. It succeeds, but barely. For hardcore fans of the series, the chronological conclusion to the story will be well received. For casual fans, it’s hours of great gameplay surrounded by confusing but sometimes really cool cutscenes.
Pros: Fantastic gameplay, mostly great boss fights.
Cons: Convoluted story at times, way too many cutscenes.
Back in the Day:
IGN scored Metal Gear Solid 4 a 10/10, a score similar to other major reviewers at the time.