Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots QJ.NET review – Beyond the Hype

THUMB - Image 1It’s been a week since Konami Digital Entertainment and Kojima Productions’ Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots launched and the hype surrounding it has simmered down a little bit. We thought that this would be the perfect time to review it to avoid getting caught in the moment and embracing it like it was nobody’s business. Is it really as good as we thought it was when we were high on it? Find out in the full article up ahead.

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Konami Digital Entertainment and Kojima Productions have finally dropped one of the biggest bombshells in the PlayStation 3 arsenal when they launched Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on the 12th of June, 2008 exactly a decade after Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation debuted in Japan. The developers have given us the final sendoff of one of the game industry’s most popular characters, and we’re here to tell you what we think about it.

We decided to label this review with the “Beyond the Hype” tag because we wanted to let most of the fireworks quiet down a bit so we can take a more objective look at this very important release. It’s easy to get lost in the euphoria when reviewing a game that’s been so much awaited right on its launch date. The feeling would be similar to getting starved and being served food. No matter how good or bad that food is, you’d gobble it up and it’d taste like heaven. We wanted to avoid that here.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s start the review in earnest. Here’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots – Beyond the Hype.

Is the word ‘epic’ enough?

Metal Gear Solid 4 - Image 1Set in the not-so-distant future where the world’s economy has become dependent on war trade, a rapidly aging Solid Snake has been tapped by his old commanding officer Roy Campbell to take out the man who has been the catalyst for most of the conflicts across the globe: Liquid Ocelot.

Together with characters new and returning, Snake suits up for one last time to take an epic trek across the planet with each locale unraveling layer upon layer of intense drama.

From the get-go, we expected MGS4‘s storytelling to be intricate and we weren’t disappointed. Hideo Kojima and his team of scriptwriters pulled out all the cards from up their sleeves and laid them on the table to answer all the questions left behind by earlier chapters in the series. Through flashbacks, Codec conversations, and cut scenes, players will be taken on a cerebral ride which will have them guessing what’s going to happen next throughout the game.

The cast of MGS4 is a mix of new and old characters who all have interesting substories of their own. Icons such as Liquid Ocelot, Vamp, Otacon, Roy Campbell, the women of Metal Gear, Raiden, The Patriots, and Johnny Sasaki are all back and each one is equally lovable or despicable depending on your inclinations. Upstarts like Sunny, Drebin, and Beauty and the Beast are equally fascinating and they provide more dimensions to an already magnetic troupe.

If you like strong story-driven action campaigns, you can’t get a whole lot better than MGS4. It carries a tale more massive than an average RPG’s, yet most of it is done so beautifully and tastefully that it hardly ever becomes a bore to watch the plot unfold. Kojima Productions has definitely outdone itself this time and the bar for their interactive movie battlecry has been raised yet again.

Eye candy? Or eye candy store?

Let’s get one thing out of the way: if you’re the kind of gamer who pauses to look for grains of flaws in every frame of a game, you’re bound to call MGS4‘s graphics imperfect. You’d be correct in that regard, because there are indeed one or two flat or blurry textures out of thousands throughout the entire game. If you’re not a graphics connoisseur who actively searches for little rough spots, however, there’s no denying that this release is an incredible piece of work.

Essentially what we have here is a shining example of what developers can do with the PlayStation 3’s heavyweight hardware chips. Kojima Productions set out on a quest to deliver one of the most technically brilliant works of this generation, and what they have to show for is a true masterwork.

As soon as we got hold of our copy, we rushed to the nearest TV we could find and plugged in the PS3. The TV happened to be a relatively good 27-inch standard definition set. We weren’t expecting much from it, but as soon as the opening cinematic rolled, our jaws dropped. Yeah, we know we’ve seen this scene in a trailer before, but seeing it away from the PC was a different experience. Even with last-gen display output, everything still looked awesome.

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When we were able to play it in full HD a few hours later, that’s when we began to truly appreciate how much artistic wizardry went into MGS4. The level of clarity, crispness, fluidity of movement, and detail was just insane. How dust, leaves, and clothes react to wind is oh-so-sweet, facial expressions have seen a major improvement from the last iterations, and in-game lighting is sharp all the time.

That said, we say that MGS4‘s visuals are excellent and should serve as the benchmark by which all other next-gen action games will be measured. It’s as close as anyone has ever gotten to visual perfection with today’s console hardware, and that’s no easy feat even for experienced developers.

The gameplay

As good as the graphics are, the true star of MGS4 is its gameplay. It’s in this one that we saw Kojima give us different looks of old and new elements in the series. The biggest change as far as we’re concerned is the fact that the developers stepped out of the confines of purely stealth-based tactical espionage action and created a system that caters to the player’s style. In essence, most of MGS4 is beatable either by sneaking in or by trading gunfire with enemies.

That freedom of choice, we felt, was very important in the sense that it opens up MGS4 to a wider audience than ever before. Let’s face it: as good as the other games in the series were, not everyone liked them because people who are more accustomed to rushing in and shooting everything in sight had the impression that being sneaky and methodical wouldn’t get their hearts pumping. Now, the game rewards players for how they want to go about their business.

Old Snake - Image 1Maps in the game are mostly large, linear areas which are big enough to provide interesting exploration, yet not too expansive that players will get lost for long bouts. Those who venture into nooks and crannies will find themselves rewarded by interesting items and Easter eggs which are sure to bring smiles.

The addition of the OctoCamo is a welcome one as it gets rid of the cumbersome menu-driven camo interface in MGS3: Snake Eater. It’s now as user-friendly as can be and it’s very convenient in sticky situations. The Metal Gear Mark 2 robot developed by Otacon is also a tremendous asset which proves useful in higher difficulty settings.

The inclusion of an in-game merchant whose store can be accessed at any given time is pretty nice and it encourages players to rack up Drebin points to purchase weapons, ammo, modify guns, and what not. It helps a lot in tight encounters and it boosts the game’s replay value by giving us something to work for.

Speaking of weapon customization, MGS4‘s system isn’t too shabby at all when stacked up with most shooting games. The ability to add foregrips to steady up the aim, scopes for more headshots, suppressors for stealthy kills, grenade launchers for extra firepower, and laser sights for better accuracy are all fantastic. Weapons buffs like resident QJ hotshot Tim Y. will definitely savor this sweet new dimension to MGS combat.

The AI in MGS4 is definitely better than ever. What really impressed us now is the way they behave in squads. In alert phases, you’ll see pairs of soldiers moving with each other covering their partner’s backs to prevent you from just sneaking up and using some old-school CQC whoop-ass on them.

All of these combined with memorable boss encounters, explosive chases, and lots of quirky elements make up a definite step above the already phenomenal gameplay experience that we’ve come to expect from the celebrated franchise.

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Sweet stuff for the ears, too!

Given how good the visuals and the gameplay are in MGS4, it’s easy to overlook the incredible effort that the sound department put into this game. The soundtrack is grand and the mood is set perfectly in each location. The score is as memorable as that of any other game in the series with an effect that triggers nostalgia anytime you hear it outside the game.

Voice acting is also top notch as one would expect from a Metal Gear game. David Hayter and the rest of the original voice actors from previous titles have come back to give old players a feeling that they’ve come home to familiar ground. Players new to the series will be amazed that every single line meant to be spoken in this game has been voiced over with a high level of talent and skill to make everything feel like a Hollywood blockbuster.

The sound engineering is also a marvel in its own as you will realize if you ever play the game in full surround stereo. The movement of the audio source is in perfect sync with what’s happening onscreen. You can tell which direction voices, footsteps, and even dropping ammo shells are coming from just by listening to the effects. That, for us, pushes MGS4‘s audio way over the top.

Some minor gripes

While everyone will agree that MGS4 is a phenomenon in its own right, it isn’t without issues which will raise some debate in the community for months to come. We definitely have some gripes of our own, though we must concede that they’re pretty minor stuff.

The most immediate item would have to be the controls. Don’t get us wrong – MGS4‘s handles are intuitive, precise, and responsive all the way. They will, however, take some getting used to even for veterans of the series. The trigger and CQC buttons have been moved, and switching from third to first person perspectives with ease will take some practice. Once you get them locked down, however, you’ll appreciate the tweaks that the devs implemented.

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There are lots of lengthy cut scenes in this game and we concede that not everyone will appreciate them. For us, however, we thought that for a game with such a massive storyline driving it, this may be the only real way to go. One has to put into consideration that this is all part of the interactive movie design by Kojima and it just wouldn’t be MGS without this kind of storytelling. We’re just thankful that the cut scenes are beautiful to look at and the script is brilliant.

One negative thing that we did see about MGS4 and its cut scenes is the spacing between them. There’s just no excusing watching one of these interludes, being given back the controls, walking a very short distance, then having another cut scene kick in again. You’ll find yourself asking why you were asked to walk when it could have been part of the cinematic sequence in the first place.

Perhaps the last pot shot at these cut scenes is that they leave so much to be desired. A lot of action is shown in spectacular fashion through them and we don’t know if there’s anyone out there who wouldn’t have loved to be in control in some of them. Still, they’re fun to watch so we’ll let that one go.

And before we forget, there’s that installation issue. We felt that the space the game takes up is pretty hefty, but it shouldn’t be that big of a deal unless you’re running the game on a 20GB PS3. For most of the other PS3 owners, however, it’s not such a big red flag. Installation between acts isn’t so bad either. Each process takes about three minutes on average, just enough to grab a drink or rest your eyes.

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The final word

While MGS4 has its little hiccups here and there, we thought that it’s still very deserving of five stars as a game. It isn’t a perfect game, but then again, there’s no such thing. It isn’t for everyone, but it sure will attract most of us who range from the level-headed to the fanatical. It’s the poster child of what the PS3 is capable of, much like the first MGS was to the PS One. It isn’t a revolution in itself, but it does evolve the action genre into a new lofty level with its depth.

If you’ve been planning to get a PS3 or at least you were thinking about it, MGS4 should be that one big push that will send you over the edge and into the counter of the nearest retailer.The production value in this game is simply too great to let pass. It’s the storybook ending to one of the greatest game stories ever told, and the words “instant classic” don’t even begin to do justice to it. MGS4 fires on all cylinders and it sure as heck deserves your hard earned money.

(Editor’s note: Wait, what? Five-stars? Yeap. You’ve heard of the new 5-star review system we’ve got implemented, right? Click here to read our full FAQ ironing out all the details of how this new format works.)

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