Review: Snake rises to the occasion one more time.
Editor's Note: The following contains spoilers and references that only should be read by those who have finished the game and have cultivated enough references to feel confident enough not to have the game spoiled by anything said here. Failure to heed this warning and have the game spoiled is your fault not mine.
After spending many days playing and re-playing my way through Metal Gear Solid 4
, I think I'm finally ready to do some discussing about the game. Without a doubt the series has come a long way in terms of the game's aesthetics and gameplay, but if there is one thing you can always count on from the series, it's the insane plot filled to the brim with the equally insane bad guys and that dash of hokey dialogue. Of course, you also have to remember that the entire idea of the series comes from one man's love of cult films like Escape from New York
, a movie that is a cult film classic that too is filled with hokey dialogue. ?You are the duke of New York! You are A-number one!? a terrified Donald Pleasence was forced to call Issac Hayes.
A few thousand or so people around the net have speculated that MGS 4's story raises the bar in terms how a story can be told in videogames. Sadly, I can't agree with them. The bar for storyline was raised back when Metal Gear Solid
was first released and since then few games have come close to reaching that bar, some of them even hit it with strides but failed to move past it. To me, the Metal Gear Solid games always seemed to match each other and never go beyond one another keeping a sort of balance between them. Despite the offering of real world themes such as the privatization of the military and the psychological stress of war, the game never really embellishes those things. Shawn Elliot, in a post on his blog
, asked what about these issues is the game making us think about? The answer in short is not much, instead of giving us something to think about, it offers up the conversation piece and never goes into further detail.
The PMCs and rebels are a faceless group who are engaged in a battle you know nothing about. Though, if you listen to the loudspeakers the voice informs you that the Praying Mantis PMC group has taken over the area under contract of the government. To me, I didn't really care about who was fighting or why, they weren't part of my mission instead they were more like a tool I could use. It may have been a missed opportunity for a side story, but in the end, they weren't necessary other than to get me Drebin points or sacrifice so I could slip through an area.
As for the psychological effects of warfare, the game does delve a little deeper into this but not by much. One of the new dangers Snake has to watch out for is his Psyche gauge. The stress of battle will cause him to lose control of himself; however, this only presents a problem in the higher difficulties. Lower difficulties will have you forgetting it's even there, unless of course you want a reason to talk to Rose and maybe have some fun with the SixAxis. Besides that, the Beauties, a group of elite fighters who have been mentally scarred from attacks, are the largest source of the psychology. Each one of them has suffered a traumatic experience at the hands of either the PMCs or some other group that basically have raped their minds. They're never given a voice, other than laughs and screams, and their stories are never elaborated upon until after you've finished them pretty much guaranteeing you feel nothing for them and it also becomes apparent that no one else thought anything of them either, seeing as how they were brainwashed into thinking they were Metal Gear Solid
bosses with Metal Gear Solid 3
boss emotions. In the end, while they were a nice bit of nostalgia, the game could've probably done without them at all. If you want a real experiment of psychological warfare though, in your second playthrough of the game you can purchase emotion ammo from Drebin to use on the PMCs. There are different emotions to use, but he most disturbing of all is the laughing one. It makes soldiers laugh hysterically while shooting their comrades and eventually pass out/die foaming at the mouth.
Something I found really odd about the game's themes was the fact that the whole anti-nuclear theme that has ran throughout the series, was essentially absent in this one. The word ?nuke? probably only came up twice in the entirety of the dialogue, I suppose though, one could assume that the threat of yesterday is no longer the threat of today and as you proceed through the game it becomes apparent that this is the case. The final theme the game portrays is the theme that became central in Metal Gear Solid 2
, a completely self-aware A.I. and the effects of the complete digitalization of world control.
As far-fetched as the thought is, it does make for a great story and one that Hideo Kojima cooked up and finished off really nicely; if not pompously (the man credited himself as the voice of god). Simply put, the self-aware A.I. has conveniently chosen the War Economy as its best means of influence. Controlling war would mean holding the most viable way to control the future, Snake says as much in the opening scene. Using nano-machines, a military contractor (and by proxy the A.I.) can control their outfits in every manner imaginable, from how they perform psychologically to how they perform in unison. They even can control whether or not a soldier's weapon is functional. Every aspect of the battle is controlled not by the soldier, but by the contractor, a faceless contractor at that. That said; the real plot of Metal Gear Solid 4
revolves around what would happen if this system of control fell into the wrong hands. How a system that was designed from one man's fear of the future not being able to support itself, threatened by a brilliant lunatic aspiring to create his idol's dream, would in turn use the best option available to suppress such threat, a soldier not of the digital age but a relic of warfare, Solid Snake.
Yes, the plot is indeed convoluted and preachy, but damn if doesn't make for an excellent story on a rainy day.
Plot aside, anyone that is a fan of the series will definitely be able to appreciate the heavy dosage of nostalgia the game presents while nonfans may find themselves drowning in it. We already talked about the bosses pulling from MGS and MGS 3, but there's a lot more to it. Cutscenes will often allow you to press X to experience the game's flashback sequences which are fewer sequences and more stills. The game even takes you back to Shadow Moses, the start of Liquid Snake's and Revolver Ocelot's uprising. Crawling through the snowfields to the former terrorist base, hearing the echoes of conversations had in the past is a hauntingly guilty pleasure for fans. There is even a fight that could've been pure fanfiction between Metal Gear Rex and Metal Gear Ray. Of course, all of the nostalgia the game has really speaks to what the game is, less the conversational think piece and more a love letter to the fans.
Yet, despite the insane plot and flooding of nostalgia, the game is still completely accessible to newcomers. Granted it will be harder for them to make the connections, but the game goes over everything in such fine detail it won't make players lost or scratching their heads by the end of it. Instead it will either leave them saying they liked it or didn't which is something the series struggled to do with the first two games made better in the third game and perfected here.
The biggest advancement the game presents to accessibility is the gameplay. No longer does it take a controller savant to shoot accurately or finding the right camouflage without breaking the moment. With the introduction of Octocamo, players can change their camo on the spot with only a second of delay and while it is amazing to watch during your first playthrough, it does get old pretty quickly. Shooting never gets old though and players will find themselves wanting to throw stealth to the wind to partake in fire fights. With the introduction of the game's only new character, a gun launderer named Drebin, players will be able to buy and unlock the ID coded weapons and ammunition. They can even take things a step further and customize their weapons to fit ?your everyday needs?. The first customizable weapon they are given is an M4 assault rifle. With some attachments such as scopes, grenade launchers, silencers, and laser sights, players can turn an ordinary weapon into a combat fighting powerhouse. Unfortunately, you will find getting the most out of your customized weapon limited to the first two acts of the game, which present plenty of combat but aren't the largest portions of the game. The third act is an ingenious, if not frustrating at moments, piece of a stealth gameplay that has players following a resistance member through the streets of Prague, but there is very little gunplay. The forth act is the nostalgic trip to Shadow Moses to face off against the game's unmanned machines, the Gekkos. The final act is well? I'll stop there and only say that there is enough gameplay but again little gunplay.
This is where we transition into the biggest problem with the game, its cutscenes. To the visual and audio team's credit, the cutscenes are very pretty to look at and the sound design is probably the one thing that raises the bar in videogames. No, it's not that, it's the fact that while the cutscenes do outweigh the gameplay, it does so inconsistently and on top of that, they do tend to become overwhelming a bit despite the option to save or skip during them. The first two acts of the game sport more gameplay then cutscenes, while the third act relies on long scenes to flesh out the plot of the series, with the fourth act balancing gameplay and cutscenes, and then the fifth act setting off cutscene overload to explain the game's and series' closure. There is no perfect harmony between the two devices and there hasn't been since MGS. MGS 2 had more cutscenes than gameplay while MGS 3 had more of everything but still favored the cutscenes. Kojima still hasn't given the player full control of the game and it would've been nice to see that happen in finale.
In a way, by restricting the player's gameplay almost speaks to the player taking on the role of Solid Snake. Throughout the series, Snake hasn't accomplished much of anything on his own instead being helped by faceless shadows and the biological agent FoxDie. Then again, as Ars Technica's review
puts it, ?it's like watching Hideo Kojima play with his action figures?. This especially rings true with the final boss fight between Snake and Ocelot. Setting aside the guns to duke it out in a round of fisticuffs is fine, but when it only boils down to a highly stylized production of a QuickTime event, it becomes a little disappointing.
If you were wondering about the length of the scenes, rest assured that 90 minutes is indeed an exaggeration, but not by much. The longest of the game's cutscenes, the Epilogue, runs close to an hour if not a little more than that. Though the final twenty minutes was given to the surprise ending. While some people say that the second ending wasn't necessary, I have to disagree with them. That ending was indeed necessary, but what took place wasn't.
Big Boss needed to be present at the end and Snake needed to live. The whole thing with an invalid major Zero didn't need to happen, but it did serve to explain things a bit more and it did bring the series a satisfying conclusion, though my hopes for a final fight between Snake and Big Boss didn't come true it was better than leaving the death of the world's greatest warrior at the hand of a lighter and spray can.
Yet, despite my or anyone else's qualms about the game it still is a great game that can be enjoyed by anyone willing to give it a shot. Even though it may not force us to think about real world issues or provide anything really groundbreaking outside of sound design, the fact that it manages to explain and bring a story over a decade old to a satisfying conclusion is something very few game/movie/TV series' actually do, and this game did it.