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Metal Gear Solid 4 Review – The Best Is Yet to Come

It’s very rare that a game comes along that challenges what a game is and what it can be. Occasionally one comes along that redefines a genre or gives us a refresher in why we play games. Metal Gear Solid 4 is all of these things, but don’t be captivated by my praise so quickly. It is not without its faults, and there are some very clear ones to be seen.

For those who aren’t quite familiar with the series, this game will thrust you into some serious unfamiliar territory. While the game will still be quite enjoyable for those who might not be familiar with the series, (a quick search on youtube for Metal Gear Sagas will correct that, as well as the Metal Gear Solid 4 Database) this game is especially made for the devotees who’ve followed this franchise from humble beginnings, and Hideo Kojima has them in mind.

A lot of controversy has been thrown around the series for its tendancy to overuse plot elements and include lenghty stretches of time without gameplay. I can’t say this game doesn’t feature some extremely long cutscenes, but they are amazingly crafted and visually stunning. These cinematic segments are with the exception of a few rendered in real time and interactive throughout. A far cry better than the previous titles’ Codec messages.

The gameplay in MGS4 is better than ever. Anyone who will argue that this is a movie and not a game clearly has been forced to be the friend watching someone else play. There are some sections where the line between movie and game are blurred due to the game’s consistent cinematic presentation. The active camo provides and new interesting way to sneak about the battlefield, and under the best conditions you can be go completely undetected. That is, if you are up against human enemies of course…

Weapon upgrading, through Drebin, one of the supporting characters (no, not Frank Drebin of the Police Squad) can be done at any time and is a useful way to handle different enemies on the fly without forcing you to scour the environment for ammo. Although you definitely will want to pickup additional weapons from fallen foes to pay for the cost. Drebin ain’t running a charity.

The game’s environments vary in size. Some areas seem a little linear, although given a little effort there are a few alternate routes. I tended to take the quickest route. Not necessarily getting into unnecessary fights immediately, but I did not find myself drawn to explore areas. I was more interested in going undetected than seeing where that other alley led. One annoyance is that the game features some loading times, although short, they don’t seem to be necessary especially given the installation on the drive (more on that later). It would’ve helped if they’d simply attached all the environments and made them free roaming. But I guess a staple of MGS is being able to avoid detection by running off screen.

One aspect I imagine many are curious about is how does the game look? It looks phenominal. The character models are highly detailed and Snake’s outfit in particular has a look to it that changes depending on his lighting. environments are fairly detailed, but in many spots you will notice blurry textures. Comparable to those found in Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer maps, so its definitely not as jarring as you might be led to believe. The game has very little aliasing, and the visual clarity is definitely impressive. However, the game lends its impressive look to its art direction, not its technical. It tends to get rather sluggish at times, and extremely fast in others. A locked framerate would’ve been appreciated.

Another weakness is the game’s installation. Now I’m used to installs on the PS3 (as well as the PC of course) but not five times. In total you’ll be installing the game for around 16 minutes. Unfortunately its split up over the course of the game. I don’t understand why I could not install the game all at once in the beginning. Other games have done it without pulling you out of the action this much. And instead of adding to the strength of blu-ray as gaming format it comes off as a weakness. I could have easily gotten off my ass and swapped the disc 10 times before the next act installed.

Now, lastly, let’s examine the story without spoiling the game. I knew what was going on for the most part, and I was myself saying “WTF!” The acting for the most part is very good. Except one character in particular who doesn’t only bawl like a baby once, but twice, and for the same damn reason. That alone is enough for you to skip a cutscene. The characters often speak in metaphor, which although an admirable effort for winning a poetry contest detracts from the gravity of the action. Not to mention its sometimes down right corny and eccentric. But, that’s Metal Gear Solid.

Can we stop using that excuse? I’m not going to. I’m simply going to judge the game for what it is, like every other game I’ve ever played. It’s a great game, that I’d recommend to anyone who owns a PS3. In fact, if you have one and decide not to get this, I’d question why the hell you have it in the first place. Oh right, blu-ray won the format war. You’re safe for now. But would I suggest you shell out $499 for it? For it alone? In short no. Not unless you have followed this series from Playstation through Playstation 2.

It’s easily one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. But, like other PS3 exclusives I’ve played (Uncharted, Ratchet, Heavenly Sword), its more or less a one shot deal. At the time of this writing I’ve completed it once, and have been replaying it. I however do not plan on continuing after this point. The last page in the chapter, Metal Gear Online, still suffers from the original issues which I complained of in the Beta Impressions post a while back. Only this time, I’ve already been in the battlefield, and I have no desire to return. Like Snake, this old soldier was on his last mission. And what a mission it was.

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