Snake’s Finest Hour: Metal Gear Solid 4 Review

Snake\'s Swan Song is one Epic tale.

Snake’s final mission is also his finest.

Here it is. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for the PS3. After years of waiting and teasing, after trailer after impressive trailer, the actual game has finally arrived. So how does Old Snake fare in his supposedly final mission? Does he go with a whimper or a bang?

The world of MGS4 is a bleak, terrifying place. It’s a world where war has become a business (well, even more so than today), a well-oiled machine. War is no longer fought for ideologies or principles, but for keeping the gears of the world economy flowing. High technology keeps the whole mess in order, with nanomachines injected into every soldier’s body keeping his or her actions regulated and controlled at all times, and ID tags guaranteeing that their weapons can never be used by unauthorized personnel. Very neat and clean. But it’s this kind of world that doesn’t sit too well with Solid Snake. Legendary soldier-turned-fallen hero, Snake hasn’t had a good time since we last saw him in MGS2. For starters, he’s turned old and gray, his body suffering the effects of rapid, premature aging due to some unknown cause. But Snake has no time to sit in a rocker and mope- he’s got a mission on his hands, and an enemy to eliminate, with the safety of the world at stake. And even though he says again and again that he’s no hero, he’s not one to turn his back on his duty. So, Werner’s Syndrome, hostile new world and all, Solid Snake AKA Old Snake prepares to embark on what may very well be his final, fatal mission…

Liquid Ocelot.

The ultimate bad guy. Or is he?

Story and Presentation. MGS4 is at once one man’s apparent last journey, a swan song and final hurrah before shuffling off to the next world. It’s him against that one bad guy out to destroy the world. You could see the story as that, but that’s really not all. There’s a whole arsenal of other stuff, characters, storylines and plotlines running alongside Old Snake’s, such as the saga of The Patriots, that mysterious force that apparently controls the US from behind the scenes; the stories of Snake’s old lover Meryl Silverburgh and her new Foxhound unit, Rat Patrol 01, which inexplicably includes Johnny Sasaki, the diarrhea-afflicted guard from the original MGS. There’s the story of Liquid Ocelot himself, the game’s master villain, and his quest to achieve the Perfect Haven envisioned by the legendary Big Boss, Patriots and the rest of the world be damned. A whole lot of characters have been thrown in, literally almost every character pertinent to the Metal Gear Solid saga appears or is mentioned in this Final Chapter. But by some miracle… it works. It actually freakin’ works. And that alone is a feat of amazing traffic-management by creator Hideo Kojima. By the end of the game, you’ll have the answers, and you’ll be satisfied at how it all ends, and how the story of MGS comes full-circle.

Yes, there are long cutscenes. We have obligatory moments when the game explains to the gamer the workings of stuff from nanomachines to PMCs to the long history of The Patriots and the ones who sprang from them. But thankfully, it’s all rendered in wonderfully-realized cinematic sequences that are entertaining and compelling to watch, which you SHOULD, at least once. Yes, you can skip and pause them, but I tell you- they’re worth watching and vital to enjoying the game as a whole. But if you love the series, you’ll have no problem in this regard.

The storytelling in MGS4 is anything but subtle- certainly Kojima has never hidden the fact that he would love to direct a real movie. To his credit, there is drama and pathos throughout the narrative, though this is best realized in sequences other than the game’s more straightforward melodrama moments. But for every daytime soap opera spiel, there’s an awesome Hollywood caliber action scene, for every moment of nervous humor, there are touches which bring earnest smiles to fans, or a nostalgic moment that sends a shiver up their spines. No, MGS4 is not as tightly-written as an actual film, but it doesn’t need to be. It succeeds in what counts- delivering raw emotion, compelling drama, touching nostalgia, jaw-dropping action and more with cutting-edge visuals and sweeping music. It succeeds in bringing us closer to the world and characters than ever before, almost right in the same room with them as they converse, ruminate and reflect on their daunting challenges. Few, if any, games ever reach this level of quality, and that alone sets MGS4 apart from all the rest.

Graphics. What can I say? MGS4 is, easily, the most graphically impressive game out there right now. It’s simply the best-looking console game, the PS3’s shining crown jewel. Large, super-detailed character models that look awesome in both cinematic cutscenes and gameplay, in settings that engulf you in detail and atmosphere. Deserts, jungles, forests, dark alleys, snowfields… the game takes you in and you’re there. The animation drops a few frame rates during more complex scenes, but aside from that and very minute little nitpicks, there’s nothing else out there with the same graphical firepower of this one.

Gekko! We got Gekko!

Don’t even try to face off with the frightening Gekko unless you’re packing heavy firepower.

Sound and Music. MGS4 benefits from an english cast that has become familiar and beloved to fans, but nevertheless for the most part performances range from excellent to adequate, even with the burden of some voice actors having to mouth long expository monologues. There’s also the slight problem of some lines of painful dialogue, as well as the fact that it just never sounds good to hear a grown man cry… but MGS4’s vocal performances are still right up there with the best in recent memory. As for the music, the tunes are exceptional, perfectly highlighting moments throughout the game for suitably epic effect. Harry Gregson-Williams earned his pay well.

Gameplay. Despite being a cinematic tour de force, MGS4 isn’t an all-watch affair. Gameplay is solid with players having the option of going through Snake’s mission in the style that they want- be it as the perfect infiltrator, sneaking in and out of the shadows and corners without ever being seen, or as a deadly soldier using all his firepower to blast and mow down the opposition. In keeping with Kojima’s staunch anti-war stance, the best rewards actually come to those who make it a point to go stealthy and make the ultimate effort to never take a single life, which is a true challenge in a game where you’re given so much toys and tools to deal out punishment.

With more guns than you’d see on Discovery Channel, and cool gadgets like the Solid Eye or the Metal Gear Mark II and the incredibly cool Octocamo suit, MGS4 drops players into varied locales where you can use these gizmos with abandon if you wish. Combat is awesome, although there is a learning curve, and it will take time to master. Aside from the various PMC troops, you have deadly and impressive bosses to take on- a hallmark of the series. This time around, it’s the Beauty and the Beast Corps, a quartet of female furies who will test Snake’s skills with their ferocious abilities. They’re disputably not as innovative as some of the series’ more memorable and unique challenges, but surely their striking designs let them leave their mark well in the Metal Gear mythos.

A great part of what makes MGS4 such a great gameplay experience is that it brings together the best that the series has had, and perfects it on one disc. The varied stages and gameplay styles within each of the Five Acts will take players and fans on a journey both with nostalgic familiarity as well as pleasant surprises.

Overall, Metal Gear Solid 4 impresses in all aspects, even in things so minute as loading screens, save data and in-game menus. Even with flaws such as long cutscenes (though none of the supposed feature-length cutscenes mentioned online exist) and the need to tie up the whole narrative by game’s end, MGS4’s sheer quality shines through as the PS3’s best game to date. If you’re a fan of the Metal Gear Solid series, this game is an absolute, total MUST own, MUST play. For those totally new to the franchise, this is still the most visually impressive title on PS3, and everything you need to enjoy it is on the disc, or online (just read an FAQ to get you up to speed). But if you love games, you have to try this title. THIS is what gaming is all about, perhaps the first real PS3 game that pushes the envelope of the current technology, and one kick-ass action adventure.

Perhaps the saddest things though are the facts that, one, the adventure HAS to end, and two, after MGS4 there’s really nothing out there as big (though I’m still awaiting Soulcalibur IV and Tekken 6). The nostalgia, the finality of this final chapter hits hard once you actually finish it for the very first time, but damn… it’s sad but it’s glorious. If this really IS the last time we get to play Snake, then at the very least he went out in style. In my book though, this Old Soldier may die, but he’ll never fade away.

Story: 5/5

A massive and complex story that stays entertaining, compelling and intriguing throughout from beginning to end, filled with moments that will stay with your for the rest of your gaming lifetime. Despite all the convoluted threads, it all still manages to make sense, and an amazingly epic ending to a modern gaming icon’s adventures.

Graphics: 5/5

Far and away the most gorgeous game out there right now.

Music/Sound: 5/5

Consistently good vocal cast and excellent, blockbuster movie-quality music throughout.

Gameplay: 5/5

MGS gameplay perfected, with much improved shooting and combat, much-streamlined controls for sneaking and moving around. You can play the game as a shooter, or strictly by stealth. Great gadgets and skills combine with varied, massive and detailed environments that come alive all round you make for an absorbing, amazing gaming experience.

Replay Value: 5/5

TONS of secrets, bonuses, easter eggs, and new gear encourage repeated playthroughs, along with multiple difficulty settings and rewards.

Rating: 5/5

The Cast

Let’s give them a round of applause!

Even with some much-publicized flaws (lengthy cutscenes, loading times), it just remains as fact that the sheer quality, detail and caliber of Metal Gear Solid 4 just wipes the board away with a singularly awesome gameplay experience for fans. Newbies may need to catch up on some lore and miss out on the emotional and nostalgic impact though. But for the most part, you’ll come for the cinematic, compelling story and beloved characters but stay for the awesome, addictive gameplay. Brimming with tons of hidden secrets and easter eggs, fan service and great replay value (as well as Metal Gear Online for multiplayer) make this a keeper long after your first playthrough. An absolute MUST for all PS3 owners.

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