Friday, January 9, 2009

Metal Gear Solid 4

I think that I was at a disadvantage playing Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots because I haven't played any of the other games in the series. Except about an hour of Metal Gear Solid 1 on PS2 about 10 years ago. I have kept up with the buzz about the various games, so I knew a little, and I read some plot summaries on wikipedia. Going in with so little, I must say that I found a lot of the plot to be very satisfying, and I don't begrudge them any of their long cinematics, because they wrapped up a lot.

My primary motivations for playing it were that (1) I had just gotten a PS3 for Christmas, and (2) all the game of the year awards that MGS4 was receiving. I played through it once on normal difficulty, and although it was great, I didn't feel compelled to explore it further.

Although I heard that the gameplay is much more run-and-gun than previous games (which were more stealth-oriented), I don't have any problems with it. I look at it as an action game with stealth elements rather than the other way around. It actually reminded me a bit of System Shock 2, when I was waiting for the guards' alert level to drop. The camera was a bit wonky, I must say, but the difficulty of the game was such that I didn't have any problems with it. I'm actually surprised that people haven't complained that the game is too easy- though I'm certainly not complaining.

Graphically, MGS4 is stellar. I don't think that anything is technically out of the abilities of the Xbox 360, but it is one of the best looking games I've ever seen. Everything is very detailled, and the cinematics show off how much effort went into every part of the game. I will complain about the framerate, though, because although it is often 60fps, it drops to 30 too often.

The weapons are all top-notch. They have an excellent system where you can pause the game at any time and purchase new weapons, ammo, and upgrades from Drebin. You get money by picking up weapons, which are automatically sold. There are several ways you can customize your weapon, depending on which slots it has. It is the system that I wish we built for Quantum of Solace (they even have the MGL-140, their version of the M32).

I think that the most important thing about MGS4 (and perhaps the MGS series in general) is the way it puts almost every other video game to shame. First, it has a great story, which is not so special as the fact that they put actual effort in making and telling a story. Their priorities were all in the right places- character development, giving characters realistic motivations, and showing psychological scars better than most movies. They also give you options as to how to play- you can try to rush in and take people down, or you could try to sneak around and flank them. They also don't try to hide the fact that it's a game- it's not an open world for you to do whatever you want; it's a set of chained scenarios where you go from one to the next. The "realism" that some games try for by hiding/eliminating hud elements or limiting your ability to hold/purchase weapons just isn't present; you have an unlimited inventory and can pause the game to purchase more ammo or change outfits. Playing through the game, there were many points where I thought to myself that this is how video games are supposed to be.

One of my favorite aspects of MGS4 is how the creators have fun breaking the fourth wall. At one point Otacon asks you asked to switch discs, but then realizes that it's on Blu-Ray, which has enough storage to put the whole game on one disc. In MGS1, there was a character that could read your memory card and predict your actions, and the solution was to plug the controller into port 2. In MGS4 they tell you about that, but if you switch your controller to port 2, you'll get a cutscene where Snake says that he can't move, and Otacon reminds you that he said that it wouldn't work. Part of the plot of the game is how the "war economy" arose because the nanomachines made war seem like a video game, making it easy to recruit soldiers. One level is even an exact emulation of the first level of MGS1 for the PS1.

The most memorable scenes for me were those regarding the B&B (Beauty & Beast) squad: 4 psychologically scarred young women in control of war machines. Each one is a boss- Laughing Octopus, Raging Raven, Crying Wolf, and Screaming Mantis. The fights are all exciting and memorable- Laughing Octopus disguising herself as various things; the fight atop the church against Raging Raven; the snowstorm battle against Crying Wolf; and using Screaming Mantis's voodoo dolls against her. Once defeated, you have the option of killing them or tranquilizing them (I tranquilized them), and Drebin tells you how they became monsters.

I really enjoy how all the mysterious aspects of the story are explained. Screaming Mantis is able to seemingly posess any soldier (including Snake), which turns out to be because she can control the nanomachines. Akiba, the inept, sick, out-of-sync soldier in Meryl's FOXHOUND unit is actually quite a good soldier, but is afraid of needles and so he never took the nanomachine shots. Liquid Ocelot wasn't possessed by the arm of Liquid Snake- he intentionally became him through self-hypnosis to further his goals. Vamp isn't immortal- he has particurally good nanomachines that repair him whenever he dies.

The game always seemed to have new things to do and new ways to play. Typically, things play out in the normal 3rd person run-or-stealth way, but they often change things up. They have some on-rail vehicle shooting sequences (which I don't usually care for, but these were short enough that I enjoyed them), a couple awesome scenes where you control the Metal Gear Rex, an emulated PS1 level, and an extremely aggrivating Mortal Kombat-style fight sequence.

The only complaints that I have about the game are minor. One, the load times are a bit rediculous. There are pauses for 3-5 minute installs at each act break, along with a 20 minute initial install. Plus, if you play again, you have to install again at each point. It's not too major, but it is a nuisance.

My major gripe with MGS4 was the multiplayer. I wasn't all that interested in it, but I figured I would give it a try. First, I had download and install the update (20+ minutes). Then, I found that I needed to create an account on Konami's web site. And not one, but two accounts. They can't have the same name, and one has to have a regular secure password, and the other needs to have a numeric password (of course, you can type in any alphanumeric password- it just will fail the submit). These accounts are separate from your Playstation Network account, which every other game uses. I understand that one is for making purchases, but I find its existance dubious, and it could have at least waited for you to want to purchase before creating/signing-in it. After all that work, I went through the laborious character creation process (of which I can only create 1 without paying extra), then tried to get into a game. I set it for team deathmatch (the most popular gametype ever, right?) and waited for it to get enough players to start a match. After 20 minutes it failed with some weird error, and I gave up. So MGS4 online might be great, for all I know, but I found it an excercise in frustration.

I don't let these negative aspects of the game cloud my judgement on it, though, because it is a superb game.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: 5/5

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