Metal Gear!?

The wait is over, then. What has been heralded as one of the truly genre-defining games of the generation is out, and now we have nothing left to look forward to or something.

I love Metal Gear Solid 4. Yes, it’s indulgent (I made it 75 minutes for the ending); yes, Kojima needs someone to rein him in occasionally. But I enjoyed the hell out of MGS3 despite the same flaws and the few annoyances I’ve had over the gameplay, which hasn’t aged particularly well in all honesty. MGS4 overhauls the controls rather than trying to retrofit yet more features onto the setup, and as a result it’s a lot more accessible than previous games, no longer requiring great feats of polydactylism to perform simple tasks.

Metal Gear Solid 4

Take the CQC system, for example. A good idea introduced in MGS3, which turned Snake – who, until then, was supposed to be a martial arts expert despite only being able to throw and do a punch-punch-kick combo – into a suitably versatile fighter. It was clunky, though, and far too easy when halfway through a non-lethal playthrough to grab an enemy and slit his throat. Here, with CQC moved from circle to R1 and fatal attacks requiring an entirely separate button press, it’s much more manageable.

The gunplay has received a similar reboot. Kojima has been taking notes when he played the recent over-the-shoulder shooters like Resident Evil 4 and Gears of War, because it’s just about possible to play the game’s battlefield scenarios entirely from this perspective. Even if you don’t want to run around like that, which you don’t, mapping this function to L1 and separating the draw and fire functions – admit it: having both holstering and firing the weapon on the same button was the worst idea ever – has turned the shooting into far less of a crapshoot.

That’s two of my biggest problems with Metal Gear down in one fell swoop.

I suppose the big deal with MGS4 has to be the graphics, though. Other games may pile on more effects, but few look as solid (no pun intended) as this. While it may, in places, lack the wow factor that we all felt when we first saw Unreal Engine 3 or even when we first saw this game way back in 2005, it doesn’t bog itself down and ruin its frame rate like so many other games feel the need to do. There’s no cheesy bloom lighting or motion blur to hide its flaws, and once you’re outside the fairly monochromatic Middle East it actually has some colour. I’m not actually convinced that some of the cut-scenes aren’t pre-rendered because of how great they looked.

But as someone who plays Metal Gear for the story as much as anything, that was arguably the most important thing for me. If that left me satisfied and tied up the loose ends I could overlook most of the other flaws, but a failure there could leave me ambivalent on the whole thing. In the end… it’s a qualified success. I won’t talk too much about it, but it did answer pretty much every remaining question and did it with suitable aplomb. I know people are wary of spoilers, so suffice to say the only disappointments were the revelations about Liquid Ocelot and about the identities of the Patriots. They just felt like retcons to me, but I’ll let the statute of limitations on spoilers expire before I talk about it. You can always email me if you want to discuss it.

As I type this, it’s been a couple of days since I finished it (took me 18 hours 42 minutes, incidentally) and I’ve had time to reflect on it. While it’s undeniably impressive and a brilliant game – I’d put it second only to MGS3 if I had to rank the series – I can see where the 8/10 reviews were coming from. Later acts aren’t as open and new-feeling as the first two, with the last one having very little to actually play and the other two being Splinter Cell and an appeal to nostalgia respectively, and I think the other games left it with too much to do. Still superb stuff and the first game this gen that I’m feeling the urge to finish more than once, but not the perfect game that some would have you believe.

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