I never imagined the day I'd sit down in front of my computer and begin writing a review of Metal Gear Solid 4. Over the past 11 years, the Metal Gear Solid series has become one of my favorite videogame franchises of all time. The games have, without fail, pushed the envelope of each generation of gaming they graced. Metal Gear Solid brought us epic storytelling, an epic presentation, amazing visuals, incredible gameplay, and immersion never before seen in a videogame. Metal Gear Solid 2, perhaps the most controversial of all the series, did everything its predecessor did, in addition to boasting proper next-generation visuals that pushed the PlayStation 2's limits. Metal Gear Solid 3 presented a prequel that puts you into the shoes of Big Boss, the father of Solid Snake and Liquid Snake. Now, here's Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots; because it is the last "Solid" entry, it ties up every loose strand that was left in the past games, specifically Metal Gear Solid 2.
Off the bat, because of all the complexities with the story, Metal Gear Solid 4 is extremely heavy when it comes down to the plot. Cut-scenes are, indeed, as lengthy as you may have heard. There will be times when you'll be sitting anywhere between 30 minutes to over an hour watching the story unravel. The longest cut-scenes are generally during the mission briefing, but I suppose it's worth noting that Metal Gear Solid fans shouldn't mind them. In fact, I openly embrace the frequency and length of the cut-scenes – I'd rather have the story fleshed out, as opposed to rushed and confusing. There are plot-twists around every corner in MGS4, and so you'll eventually find yourself looking forward to the cutscenes. Also, be aware that cutscenes have interactive portions that'll allow you to trigger flashbacks, or alter the camera's perspective (like MGS3) – so yes, you'll get a few cheap cleavage shots. Make sure you keep the controller nearby, as these interactive bits are very frequent.
Admittedly, the game does pick up a little slow, and not everyone will like the Middle East as the opening locale of the game. But thankfully, the Middle East is just one chapter out of five, so Snake and co. will travel around the globe, spanning a series of five acts. The amount of fan-service in Metal Gear Solid 4 is through the roof, it is without a doubt the most satisfying finale to a series I've ever played. Without spoiling anything, Metal Gear Solid fans will be treated to an extremely pleasing homage, one of the best a videogame has ever seen – you'll encounter something so breathtaking and amazing towards the end of the game that it'll leave you speechless.
This time around, MGS4 offers you a choice of weapons that is far larger than the offerings of the past games. There is a plethora of different rifles, submachine guns, handguns, explosives, various explosive launchers (rocket, grenade), and your trusty knife. Selecting weapons is done the same way as in the past, you hold R2 and scroll through your equipped inventory. Because you'll pick up so many weapons in the game, you'll have to equip them in order for them to be selectable; after all, it'd be a little silly to carry over 30 weapons in your vest. Weapons are purchasable on the fly, utilizing a very basic points system within the game that'll be explained. And don't worry, the game is pretty lenient with handing out points.
You may recall seeing an early video of Metal Gear Solid 4 where weapon selection was done with a white ring that surrounded Snake – that's been pulled, but the white ring remains. When your Solid Eye isn't equipped, the ring acts as your radar, of sorts, informing you of a potential danger. When Snake is still, the translucent ring appears around him; if there are elevated bumps or hills on a certain part of the ring, that indicates an enemy's position in that direction. If the enemy moves, so will the bump indicator. It's a fairly intuitive system, but it will require some adjustment to.
When your not relying on the ring, you'll often use your Solid Eye (the eye patch Snake wears) and use the radar map on the screen, instead. Unlike MGS1 and MGS2, the radar, this time around, doesn't display objects and the direction which the enemy is facing. Because the game doesn't use the top-down perspective of the past games anymore, you have the ability to freely look around the environment with your right analog stick and see the opponent for yourself, as well as seeing what objects stand between you two. The Solid Eye also has the ability to enter a Night Vision/Thermal mode, which will come in handy often, in addition to working like binoculars. With the Solid Eye equipped, Snake gets the advantage of having status information displayed right in front of him. For example, when you see an enemy, you'll also see a status bar with his name, affiliation, life gauge, and stress gauge shown.
Affiliations will be somewhat necessary earlier on in the game, as war zones will require you to choose a side for easier level progressions. You can choose to side with neither faction, but that'll make your journey much harder than it should be. Depending on who you side with will also determine the difficulty of your progress through a location, making things either easy or moderately tough. Siding with advanced PMC factions will make earlier progress easier, but less rewarding. To distinguish good from bad, characters you've affiliated yourself with will be listed green, meanwhile enemies will be listed red.
As expected, there are tons of gadgets for you to play around with, including the Metal Gear Mk. II, a little robot that follows Snake around everywhere. When the Mk. II isn't in use, it's cloaking, appearing invisible to you and the enemy. It's controlled by Otacon, and serves as a tool to help aid Snake in a variety of ways. You can take control of the baby mech and move it around the map to get an idea of the path and where enemies are hiding out.
The one item that you'll constantly be using is your suit, which now has the ability to camouflage and blend into the object Snake is pressed up against. Thanks to advanced technology, the camouflaging is done in a real-time manner, unlike the manual switching of suits in Metal Gear Solid 3. The same camo rules apply to MGS4 as they did in MGS3; blending in, while crouching or laying down, with your face covered, and in shrubbery or shadows, will always result in near-perfect camouflaging. You will be given a few upgrades to your camo suit, some of which are downright awesome in the 'cool' factor, and others that are genuinely useful. Additionally, while on the subject of stealth, I should mention that Snake no longer presses his back against walls or objects, but instead leans his shoulder against them – this allows Snake to peak out easier, in addition to blending in better, as his face will point towards the wall.
One last thing to mention is the psyche/stress gauge, which replaces the hunger gauge of MGS3. The more chaos that Snake is involved, the more stress he endures. When Snake is stressed, his psyche gauge will deplete slowly, which will affect his performance on the field — one such cause will be unstable aim. Replenishing the psyche gauge is as simple as using a Compress, a Regain drink, or having Snake relax and perhaps avoid unnecessary combat. It's not often that your psyche will run completely low, so you don't have to pay attention to it as much as you did your hunger in MGS3, but it's still worth taking a look at often if you're the confrontational type.
The controls may not be suited for everyone, as beginners will likely fumble around for a while before getting the hang of them. Also, first-person shooter fans will be happy to see an FPS mode, of sorts, that'll allow you to play the game in the first-person perspective. If I had to state additional complaints, I'd say that the frequent installing is really unusual; you don't install MGS4 just once, you have to do two-minute installs with every chapter you complete (there are five chapters). Also, at times, things may get a little frustrating, as the A.I. is really sharp and powerful, so if you're not well pre-pared, be ready to restart often. Some of the boss fights can also seem a little confusing, with a lacking sense of direction or guide to pick-up on, unlike the past entries – they just seem a bit wild (you'll see what I mean when you encounter them).
But all of those quirks are nothing more than just a needle or two in one gigantic haystack. Everything about Metal Gear Solid 4's presentation and gameplay is practically perfect; you won't find top-notch story-telling or craftsmanship like this in any other game. The entire experience is fine-tuned to border perfection, and I'd be hard pressed to think of any other game out there that offers this much immersion; MGS4 has an affect on virtually ever sense, it's emotional, it's enjoyable, it has the most captivating story ever told, it makes you think about the world, your presence, among other countless thoughts. It's the most philosophical videogame series ever put together, and MGS4 ties it all together. It is a work of art. Oh, and then of course there's Metal Gear Online, so in case the single-player experience wasn't good enough, Team Kojima went ahead and gave us an amazing online portion, as well. Bravo.
Moving on, Metal Gear Solid 4's visuals are fantastic. Firstly, character detail is nothing short of amazing. The way that the game seamlessly transits from cut-scene to gameplay shows that everything MGS4 is animating is completely real-time, you can even zoom in on Snake's face during gameplay and spot the same kind of details you see during the cut-scenes. This trait in MGS4 is unlike other games, where once you zoom away from a character, his high-quality textures are replaced with much lower-quality ones, allowing the game to run more efficiently. It's a trick that's especially common in sports games, and to a lot of us, it's glaringly obvious and cheap.
Texture detail on nearly every character you come across is beautiful, with stunning details from hair, to skin, to the mesh on a vest. Superb animation helps round the package off to deliver some of the most cinematic and life-like movement ever captured in a videogame. Lighting is also well done, as are other environmental effects. Environmental textures look good for the most part, but there are some obvious weak spots here and there, and you'll see a few muddy textures during the cut-scenes. The framerate is almost always running at 30 frames during gameplay. You'll see a few hikes to 60 frames for a spurt or two, and occasionally a slight dip during very tense moments. The dips aren't large, or happen often, and the framerate is certainly much better than, say, Uncharted.
For you resolution freaks, MGS4 runs at a quirky resolution of 1024×768, which is a 4:3 aspect ratio. But the game does freely upscale to 720p, 1080i, or 1080p – just don't expect it to run at those resolutions natively. MGS4's lower than average resolution isn't as apparent as Grand Theft Auto 4, for example, so do not worry. Heavy use of anti-aliasing, among other affects, is one of the reasons for the resolution. On top of that, there isn't a grain of pop-up to be found anywhere in the game, and the stages can be pretty large and expansive. Overall, despite some shortcomings, there's no doubt that Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of the most beautiful games available right now. Everything from its art-direction, down to the animation is brimming with intricate detail.
From the audio, you can expect nothing but perfection. Team Kojima have utilized the Blu-ray disc considerably by using uncompressed audio that fills your speakers with, perhaps, the cleanest audio available in any game. Get your home theater setup going with this game, because Metal Gear Solid 4 deserves it. You'll love everything from Harry Gregson Williams' super-slick soundtrack, to the amazing sound effects, and especially the voice acting. All of the series' original voice actors continue to reprise their roles for the fourth game, with the introduction of new voices voicing new characters. There isn't a complaint to be had here; this is the epitome of audio design.
Metal Gear Solid 4 is the reason why you bought a PlayStation 3. If you've yet to feel that your PS3 purchase has been justified, here is your justification. There is no doubt about it, but this is easily the best experience you'll have on the PlayStation 3 to date, simply nothing comes close to MGS4's presentation, story-telling, gameplay, visuals, and sound. The amount of classic homages paid to the previous games, with one in particular, will leave you breathless and, perhaps, emotional. Kojima and co. have crafted a videogame that actually pokes at your intellectual thought process and your heart – arguably a first for the medium – and the end result is simply the greatest closing to a videogame saga ever. Simply stunning.