On July 7th, 1987, the way action games are made was changed forever. Metal Gear for the MSX was the first ever game to feature 'stealth action', a genre which has become massively popular all over the world, a genre which Metal Gear protagonist Solid Snake continues to dominate. While the first two games were somewhat modest hits that were never very popular in the west, the series rapidly became a fan favorite with the release of Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation in 1998. Since then, Metal Gear Solid has had several additional installments and has been one of the best selling franchises in modern gaming. Now, MGS creator and director Hideo Kojima is bringing Solid Snake to the PS3 for one final round of 'tactical espionage action' in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, heading to the PS3 sometime next year.
Guns of the Patriots is a direct sequel to 2001's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Set in the year 2009, Sons of Liberty fused revamped stealth action gameplay with a complex, convoluted conspiracy theory of a plot which left many players simultaneously confused and awed. Who, exactly, are The Patriots? Why are they called the La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo? How did Liquid Snake's mind become part of Ocelot's personality? Why was Raiden such a pansy? These are all things which director Hideo Kojima has promised to address in Guns of the Patriots. "I had actually intended to complete the series with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. I decided to make MGS4 because so many mysteries still remained, and I couldn't ignore all the people who had requested a new game. I believe this game's story will resolve all of those remaining questions…," Kojima stated in Konami's ShowMaybe magazine earlier this year.
Taking place somewhere in the middle east (Kojima has yet to reveal the specific location) during a time of proxy warfare, MGS4's main theme is derived from modern methods of warfare. "It depicts war as an event between automated weapons and private military companies, or PMCs. People no longer pursue war as it has historically existed," states Kojima. The game starts with the focus on PMCs and their role in modern warfare, and the eventual realization that all PMCs' lineage can be traced back to one parent organization known as Outer Heaven (a name instantly recognizable to fans of the series). Even more shocking is that, since all governments in the world now rely on PMCs, Outer Heaven's military force is greater than that of all major nations on earth combined. Knowing this situation must be rectified, NATO green lights Snake's final mission.
Not only is the central plot seemingly quite different, but the overall theme of MGS4 seems to have changed as well. A world dominated by the business of war certainly sounds depressing, and Snake himself is not fairing much better. Several trailers have shown a very different Solid Snake than the man we've come to know and love. Weary of conflict, almost beaten down by time and age, there is a very depressing aura surrounding Snake in MGS4. This new change is even reflected in the music, as the old theme perfected by series composer Harry Gregson-Williams has been replaced with a darker, more melancholy theme coordinated by Nobuko Toda, who worked with Hideo on the creation of the new piece. "We were all given a simple order from Mr. Kojima," said Mrs. Toda. "He wanted us to make him cry." According to Kojima Productions these changes in the game's major themes are meant to capture the desperate state of the future as seen through a weary soldier in Solid Snake.
The game's new themes are not the only changes in Guns of the Patriots, however; Metal Gear Solid's legendary hero, Solid Snake, has apparently undergone some rather drastic changes himself following the events at Big Shell. Suffering from accelerated aging due to the genetic engineering project Les Enfants Terribles, Snake now appears much older, sporting gray hair and a rather wrinkly visage. "Remove the letters "I" and "S" from the word "SOLID" and you get "OLD," Kojima told ShowMaybe. "These letters combine to form the word "IS", and their removal represents that Snake's vigor, his existence, has started to wither. So that plays into our catchphrase for MGS4. SOLID SNAKE – IS = OLD SNAKE."
With his body failing him, the now Old Snake is going to need a little more than just a cardboard box to make it out alive this time. That's where new techniques, items and weaponry come into play, the most enticing of which is what Kojima is tentatively calling "Octo-Cam". A combination of the words octopus and camera, Octo-Cam allows Snake to blend in with his surroundings almost perfectly. "An octopus can change both its skin color and its shape according to its environment. Depending on its surroundings, it can even emulate bumps and hollows… in the game, the player can press against a wall or lie on the ground, and he will completely blend in with the texture and form of the surface. It's a visual effect only possible on PS3," says Kojima. Sounds impressive, and from the trailers we've seen so far, it looks even more impressive. However, that's not the only new trick Snake has. Snake can now hide in barrels as well as blind-fire from cover. He's also got a new helper, Metal Gear Mk.II, which can be utilized in several ways, such as sneaking up on, and tazering, unsuspecting guards.
That's not the only help Snake has in his corner, though. Several beloved and infamous characters from throughout the series will make appearances in MGS4, including faithful sidekick Otacon and MGS vixen Meryl, now a FoxHOUND commando. Colonel Campbell also makes an appearance, now old and gray just like Snake. Most importantly, franchise black sheep Raiden makes a comeback in a big way. After his starring role in MGS2, which left a bitter taste in many gamers' mouths, Raiden was relegated to joke status in MGS3, as a parodied homosexual Russian colonel named Raikov. In Guns of the Patriots, however, he's far less metro and far more kickass as a quasi-cybernetic ninja reminiscent of Grey Fox. This year's E3 demo showed Raiden single-handedly taking out the new 'mini metal gears' known as Gekkou in impressive fashion. Expect Raiden to play a big role in the story this time around as well. If you're not a Raiden fan, though, fear not – Kojima has already stated he is not playable in MGS4's single player campaign. Kojima has also said that we'll finally find out the truth behind Raiden's character design, whatever that means.
In addition to answering questions about The Patriots and why Raiden is so metrosexual, though, many fans want answers to other burning questions, such as what's in store for the future of MGO. Currently, it's not known if Guns of the Patriots will have the Metal Gear Online variant that debuted on Subsistence. In an interview with 1UP.com, Kojima commmented on the different possibilities concerning MGO: "What we've put in Subsistence, which we call MGO [Metal Gear Online], is only about 20% of what we want to do. But even if it's only 20%, we want players to try it out and play it, and we really want to receive feedback, so we can implement it in future projects. So then the full 100% MGO, whether it's with MGS4 or as a standalone project still has to be decided in the near future. But first, it was important to bring out the first 20% to the users and let them try it, that was the first priority." Whether or not MGO continues as a standalone product in the Metal Gear universe or as a suppliment to Guns of the Patriots, we've yet to learn, but realizing that the already deep and involved MGO is just the tip of the iceberg is sure to whet the appetities of MGO fans all over the world.
As yet no specific release date for Metal Gear Solid 4 has been set; all we know is that Kojima Productions is shooting for a 2007 release. Many speculate that MGS4 could ship as early as July in order to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Metal Gear, though a more reasonable date somewhere in November of next year is likely. Either way, we'll keep you updated on new information on Snake's latest mission as work on the game progresses.