METAL GEAR SOLID 4
The Metal Gear Solid franchise has enjoyed a rich history that starts way back in the 80s, with the first game being released for the MSX, Konami's brand of computers, as well as the Nintendo Entertainment System. Its popularity grew exponentially when Metal Gear Solid was released on the Playstation in 1998, with high praise for a cinematic approach towards its gameplay.
Sequels abound, with 2 & 3 enjoying rave reviews from critics and fans alike. With the fourth and final installment to feature lead protagonist, Solid Snake, it attempts to fill in the blanks from previous stories, while sprinkling in some big set pieces to close off the series with a loud bang.
With all the praise that Metal Gear Solid 4 has, you think this game is a transcendent experience waiting for those who are fortunate to own the PS3.
Not for me.
If I were to put the Metal Gear Solid series in a list from best to worst (not counting the first two Metal Gear games on the MSX or spinoffs on the handhelds), it would be 3, 1, 4, and 2.
Metal Gear Solid 3 is a lot better than the rest due to not having to deal with all the melodramatic bullocks the other games have. Also, it has a more "James Bond" feel to everything, which I like, and it introduced some interesting gameplay mechanics, even if they didn't work at times.
Metal Gear Solid 1 was pretty good in that it had the chance to introduce an intriguing premise through a mainstream console that almost everyone had. Even with mechanics to make use of the Playstation hardware, the story is less than exemplary. It had some melodramatic moments and the dialogue is never subtle with its themes.
Metal Gear Solid 2 is certainly the bottom of the barrel. For starters, they completely switched protagonists around the beginning of the game. Yes, the protagonist that was kick-ass and cool is replaced by a whiny, brooding, little emo git, who is so emo that some of his feelings had been rubbed off to his girlfriend.
I understand that you need a character needing flaws to make him more three-dimensional, but in the case of the protagonist, Raiden, he just seems to have a stick that's as big as a log shoved up his ass. His girlfriend, ironically named Rose, isn't much better, seeming to have more problems than HE does, which I didn't think was possible. She consistently complains about how Raiden hasn't "touched" her in a way that she likes so much. To be fair, I'm sure this kind of thing happens in real life, but when your concept is about giant robots, immortal human beings, and ginormous fortresses, it's hard to take seriously.
Another problem with Metal Gear Solid 2 is with the voice acting. There was this excruciating scene that involved a supporting character, Otacon, losing his sister after getting stabbed by one of the villains. Now, I like the voice actor's portrayal as Otacon, but when it comes to his crying scenes, he makes no effort. It sounds like a person pretending to cry, having absolutely no conviction to the scene.
With all that, the writing is full of exposition that takes place in either cutscenes or an in-game cinematic where you talk on your codec.
So my feelings are mixed with the series. I love the gameplay mechanics that they bring in and make the games more interesting every time they release another sequel. The story and dialogue are my main problem. They are written in a way that doesn't allow subtlety. They are always talking about the themes of the games and never allow the characters actions and personalities justify those themes.
It goes doubly so when it comes to Metal Gear Solid 4. The game has interesting mechanics, but the story and dialogue comes off as a bit pretentious.
It's interesting to note that originally, Metal Gear Solid creator, writer, and director Hideo Kojima didn't want to come back as the writer and director for the fourth installment, which I can understand. Sometimes, directors don't want to stay stuck to a series they created for so long, there's a potential risk for the material to become stale. But with the fans being what they are, going as far as sending death threats to the poor guy, Hideo Kojima came back as writer and director for the game.
The story takes place around the year 2014, nine years after the first Metal Gear Solid. "War has changed", Snake says, with the voice of an old Christian Bale Batman. I counter that statement with the quote from Fallout 3, where Ron Perlman says, "War never changes". I suppose I should add the John Huston quote, "War is hell" while we're on the subject of war.
What's different about Snake's war is that now there are more private military corporations fueling wars all over the world, because the economy relies heavily on it. There we go, something to solve our economic crisis we're having: more bloodshed. Anyway, the war also received an upgrade with its technology. The soldiers are now outfitted with nanomachines to enhance their abilities in combat, with the nanobots being controlled by a central control system called the Sons of the Patriots.
This gets Snake's arch-nemesis, Liquid Ocelot, to hack into the SOP and use it to take on a secret organization that runs the United States politics in the background, known as the Patriots. It's up to Solid Snake to stop him, even though Snake's body is rapidly aging due to that he's a clone of a person and should he fall into enemy hands, the developers of Snake designed him to have a short life span.
That's more or less the abridged version of what the story is like. The longer version is more of a clusterfuck of side characters motivations, the Patriots goals, unanswered plot threads from previous games, and so on.
First, I like to say that the game does look spectacular. I can't really find faults with the graphics nor any hitches in the framerate, although the game does slow down in some parts. The gameplay has changed significantly: the position of the camera is now over-the-shoulder instead of an isometric viewpoint, there's cover-based shooting mechanics, you get points for trading in overstocked ammo for better guns and equipment, there's what's called a threat-ring, which displays how close the enemy is to your proximity, and so on.
There's the Psyche meter, which was the Stamina meter in MGS 3. You need to keep your Psyche meter at maximum level; otherwise, your performance in combat is going to suffer big time. For instance, you can't steady your sight and you are all over the place like a heavy drinker. To keep up the Psyche meter, you either need to eat, or inject more nanobots into your system.
There are some pretty cool set moments that are not in cutscenes and make for some tense moments, like trailing a man without seeing you, or shooting enemies while riding a motorcycle. The voice acting is pretty good, especially with the inclusion of Lee Meriwether voicing the older EVA. I have not seen that actress since Batman: The Movie starring TV's Adam West.
Those are the good, but the bad is numerous.
I like to start by saying that the cutscenes are unbearably long! They take forever to get a lot out of the plot, especially when with some plot threads they need to tie up. You will probably have the controller on the floor for hours without having anything to do. Well, other than go outside, do chores, finish that novel you've been working on, learn Japanese, meet new people. And I just know there will be people who will say that "Well, that's Metal Gear Solid. It's supposed to have long cutscenes. That's its main feature". Truth be told, it's interesting to see the cutscenes, but you know what would be better? If you can actually participate in the action in those cutscenes.
Let's take that fight between Raiden and Vamp, for example. Raiden is now a cyborg ninja (a plot thread that for some reason is not explained) and he gets into a fight with Vamp from the second game. They have this long, choreographed fight and I'm just thinking, "Why didn't the developers make this as part of the gameplay?" I would love to beat the living crap out of Vamp for all the trouble he's put me through in the second game, but it's one of the many missed opportunities.
There's another point in a cutscene where EVA and Snake go onboard a ship that is captained by Meryl Silverburgh. She points out to Liquid Ocelot that she and the army have him completely surrounded. And then, and I'm not making this up, we watch for more than four minutes of watching every single army unit come in by water, land, and air. I was expecting some kind of "hut, hut, hut, hut, hut" noise from the Blues Brothers movie. We get it! You brought everyone! And boy, will it suck to see them all get killed by your lack of leadership!
Enough with the cutscenes. I think I made my point. It gets better, though, with some of the characters motivations in the game. How about Meryl Silverburgh?
She was from the first game and it is implied that she was actually a bastard child from the works of Colonel Roy Campbell, Snake's leading commander. She now leads a group called the Rat Pack. "First hounds, now rats", Snake says sarcastically. Yeah, there was a group called Fox Hound before the Rat Pack. Heh heh.
However, it seems Meryl has a real attitude problem, seeing that she was this product of Roy's R & R, going as far to throw a fit when he's mentioned. Also, it was also implied that Meryl knows why Snake is given the name "solid snake", but now that he's old, she's left only with memories. After a little fiasco in the Middle East that didn't end so well, she meets up with Snake and tells him of her plan to take down Liquid Ocelot: more soldiers. Brilliant.
How will this work, exactly? Remember that little fiasco I mentioned? It turns out that Ocelot has a device that when activated, the soldiers go completely bonkers and start tearing up each other. And Meryl doesn't remember any of this, on the account that she was one of those people? And now she thinks that having plenty of soldiers with her will turn the tides, pretty much the same amount of soldiers that got their brains melted in Iraq.
As you would guess, her plan doesn't end well, with Ocelot basically taking down enemies without conjuring sweat. Plus, before the epic fail, she made my Psyche meter go down. I don't take kindly to people who put my Psyche meter down.
Her character is absolutely ridiculous! Why was she put in charge of a group in the first place? Yet, there's one defining moment that is just as ridiculous as that one moment in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.
Meryl stays behind to keep the enemies at bay to let Snake move on to the objective. One of the members of her group, Johnny, comes in and helps fend of the wave of soldiers. Before any of this happens, Johnny has an affection towards Meryl, even if she consistently blows him off. Also, he was the guard that she knocked out in the first Metal Gear Solid.
Now, with enemy soldiers firing away, Johnny asks her to marry him. This is a tense moment and now you want to pop the question? It's the same thing that happened in Pirates of the Caribbean where Will asks Elizabeth to marry him, while they are sword fighting fish people.
Meryl refuses and instead, asks him to marry her. They make promises to each other, roll around for a little bit, firing different enemy soldiers. But the biggest problem with this whole scene and with those characters was that there was no development between them. Never before have they engaged in normal conversations, have some kind of haircut scene, or whatever to make their relationship stronger and make us care more about them. She treats him like dirt until he lifts his mask off to show off a pretty boy face and then, all of a sudden, "I'm in love!"
Another character I had a problem with is Raiden. He's a bloody cyborg ninja! He can breakdance with two giant bi-pedal robots tied to his legs! He can slice you up good with his sword! And he's still a whiny little bastard! It turns out that his girlfriend, Rose, is married to Roy Campbell, him in his 60s and her in her 20s. Both Meryl and Raiden have a problem with that, even though the reason for Rose to marry Roy is completely ridiculous.
The reason that she married Roy was to protect her and her child, who is fathered by Raiden, from the Patriots. What? Why? Campbell is kind of an old man and the Patriots are essentially a group of Artificial Intelligence. You think that the Patriots would devise a way to murder Campbell and take Rose and the child. Then again, if such an intelligence exist within our government, I would like to ask how the AI would think George W. Bush would be a good president and voted him into office, twice. The reason is completely pointless to the overall story other than to add drama for the sake of drama.
Anyway, my favorite moment with Raiden is when he and Snake are running out of a collapsed facility. Raiden does all sorts of cool flips and jumps and lands just outside of the facility, but he decides to pose for a few seconds before getting crushed by the falling debris. Raiden, you're not posing for a trailer, get as far away as you possibly can before you do any posing.
At the end of the game, Raiden is given the revelation by Rose that he actually had a child, even though she lied to him years ago that the child died during birth. Raiden looks at the kid and believes that kid is Rose's and Campbell's. I'll tell you right now: that kid doesn't look ANYTHING like Roy Campbell, not with hair straight out of Dragonball and hair as white as snow. Also, "Look at the boy", Rose? How about, "Look at him"? He's your son, after all.
But what I despised the most out of this game is the Beauty and the Beast Corps. Essentially, they are a group of women with some form of robotic implants that make them look like an octopus, in a wolf robot, and so on. What makes this bad is that the women are psychologically scarred by the horrors of their mistakes as children, basically Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
To make things even more intolerable is how the women are portrayed and what they wear during those moments. When they come out of their suits, they wear these tight leather jumpsuits that make sure you see every part of them on their body. And when they come toward Snake, it's very suggestive and seductive. The cameraman also seems to have a hard on because he focuses on the tits and the ass constantly, making sure you see EVERYTHING.
I'm personally offended about this kind of thing. It's not like I'm not into titillation once in a while. I enjoy some good T & A, but I shouldn't feel disgusted at myself when the woman in question has psychological issues. These are women that have PSTD and you're making them pose for pictures?
The dialogue is also less than stellar. As I said, there's never a moment where the character's let their actions justify the themes going on in the game. They have to spell it out for the audience. If the developers were so keen on making a game "cinematic", as in a visual medium, then the player's should find those themes through the gameplay, not through cutscenes, making it a "visual, interactive medium".
For example, whenever Naomi Hunter goes into her prepared speech, one of the themes that are brought up is redemption of our sins. She brings up "sins" as often as a priest, ready to preach to those who have sinned of Our Father.
There's one particular moment where each time you take down each member of the Beauty and the Beast Corps., and your arms dealer, Drebin, calls you up and tells you each of the member's backstory. Why they are the way they are. I personally didn't care because I find the voice annoying and in the previous games, there's never a moment where someone would call you and tell you a person's backstory after you horribly murdered them.
The best part about some of the Beauty and the Beast Corps. is that after the women get out of their robotic suits that they start to hear voices in their heads and they are talking to themselves about the incidents they caused. It allows us to picture what terrible thing might have happened to that person and gives that character some enigma, but Drebin has to ruin it by telling you everything about them and it's no longer fun.
As for the gameplay itself, I wouldn't call it "Tactical Espionage Action" when most of the time, I'm shooting up bad guys with ease with my heavy machine gun like Rambo. Obviously, I'm playing on Normal Difficulty and didn't bump up difficulty after playing it, but I'm sure that if I did, it would've been harder.
What I found interesting was that in order to purchase weapons and equipment, you need Drebin Points, and to get those points, you need to overstock on ammo and it will automatically transfer to points. With that in mind, I've been shootin' dudes left and right and collecting their ammo that will turn into points and found myself richer than in Assassin's Creed II. Actually, maybe not that much.
The boss fights were interesting, having to find a way to defeat them using your knowledge of the location and the gun that would work. But the boss fight with Liquid Ocelot takes forever, lasting me more time to finish the game than I thought.
With all that said and done, if you were to skip all the cutscenes (which I did, since I watched them all on YouTube before getting the game), the game itself is considerably shorter. That's not a good mark for game design. Having to artificially pad out the game time with long cutscenes is not cool. We see all sorts of cool action and we don't get to play it and we are forced to play another over-the-top shoulder third-person shooter with cover-based shooting mechanics.
This game won tons of awards, including Game of the Year. I'm skeptical on that, seeing that it didn't so much as innovate as it did give us a game that could've been easily done as a CG movie. The characters have weak motivations, the dialogue isn't subtle, the gameplay lasts for at least ten hours, and the one thing that the game needs to have, interactivity, is gone through all the hour-long cutscenes of plot that I don't care that much about.
If anything, play Metal Gear Solid 3, at least. It still has a pretty good story, the dialogue is more subtle, and there were interesting gameplay mechanics to it. At least you don't have to worry about women being exploited in such a…oh wait.