The game industry rarely sees gems that can be classified as masterpieces. “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” is, unquestionably, one of those scarcities.
Director Hideo Kojima has corrected all the mistakes from “Sons of Liberty” and “Snake Eater,” as well as added several new key features that make “Guns of the Patriots” the definitive “Metal Gear” game.
In his final adventure, Solid Snake traverses varied landscapes, including urban Middle Eastern locales, the jungle and an old favorite: icy Shadow Moses Island. From the opening sequence, Kojima frames the gameplay with a cinematic storyline similar to “Grand Theft Auto IV.”
Snake is on a mission to assassinate Liquid Ocelot, a Frankensteinian mixture of his two greatest rivals, Revolver Ocelot and Liquid Snake. Snake becomes “Old Snake” as he discovers that his cells were manipulated to accelerate his aging process. As you play the game, you’ll have to deal with Snake’s senior moments, from getting back aches while sneaking around to passing out when he gets too stressed.
By now, the series is freighted with 21 years of storyline. Kojima tries to draw in newcomers with an accessible, intuitive script that guides the viewer through the last few “Metal Gear” plots. The plot is heavily on the cheesy side, drawing in disparate elements from “James Bond,” “The Matrix,” “Star Wars,” anime and comic books. It is written for the fans first and foremost, but still entertaining – if not a bit bloated – for everyone else.
The gameplay picks up right where “Snake Eater” left off. Instead of the tedious manual camo system that required players to change outfits every few paces, Kojima has devised an ingenious mechanic called “Octo Camo,” a bodysuit that automatically absorbs the color patterns of the nearest object.
Kojima has replaced the stamina meter with the “psyche meter,” which gauges Snake’s stress levels based on environmental factors—enemies present, level of cover, life remaining and battle conditions. If your psyche meter gets low, Snake is prone to pass out, hallucinate, take more damage and miss shots. Snake can lower his stress level by lying down in cover, calling his psychologist over the codec or using one of the special items scattered around the levels.
A new exchange system similar to “Resident Evil 4” stands in for the old survival mechanics of picking up weapons from dead bodies. By visiting the new character Drebin’s shop through the pause menu, Snake can customize his guns, buy bullets, purchase new firearms or sell useless weapons.
The combat system is much improved—Snake has a huge variety of sneak attacks. The stun knife gives you the option to taze or kill your opponents, while Snake can use his regular weapons to hold up enemies. He can also take an enemy hostage for use as a human shield with his pistol equipped. If none of those suit you, you can try body slams, punch/kick combos, diving tackles or even smothering enemies with your weight.
Speed has also ramped up a few notches. Instead of the crawl-and-wait mechanic from “Snake Eater,” there are myriad ways to tackle each objective. You can sneak up on enemies, run in with all guns blazing or get creative: hide in a box, set traps or use your stealth robot to deliver a burst of electricity to a bogey around the corner.
The game has some of the most stunning visuals ever produced, despite the occasional blurry texture or blocky model. Details are fine-tuned, from the slightest muscle animations when Snake is smoking a cigarette to the biggest explosion during a car chase.
The audio is just as grand. The game runs in Dolby Digital 5.1 and uses every speaker for explosions, conversations and gunshots. Dialogue is a big step up from previous games—the actors are clearly comfortable with their roles and deliver the lines as if they were actually acting on camera with one another.
Watching cut-scenes that run in excess of 40 minutes, some perhaps even an hour or more, just gets boring after a while. The story is certainly not strong enough to sustain any player’s attention for that long, despite how well constructed it is.
Fortunately, the longer scenes are well spaced, mostly following after a mission and rarely in the middle of action. Kojima was careful not to place too much emphasis on the cinematic elements; the gameplay comes first. It is highly refined and sets the standard for the stealth genre. You can still have fun even if you skip the entire story.
“Metal Gear Solid 4” is the definitive stealth action game, refining the sneaking mechanics to perfection and adding brand new elements to make it feel fresh. The story is entertaining, and the codec communication makes the characters organic as their stories develop through conversation. Kojima draws every thread together from the last 20 years of the series to create a very near-perfect action experience. “Guns of the Patriots” is sure to be a classic.
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