We’re finally at the end of our METAL GEAR MARATHON with METAL GEAR SOLID 4: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS.
And while it isn’t the last game of the series, it serves as the conclusion to Solid Snake’s storyline.
It’s been nearly eight years since I’ve last played it and like the previous games, it’s both a painful reminder of how fast time flies by, as well as a chance to play it again with a new set of eyes. I remembered it being an epic conclusion with game mechanics that took a quantum leap over its predecessors. At the same time, I also remembered it being very indulgent and over-the-top in both gameplay and story. So going back was the chance to see if it held up better than I expected (such as METAL GEAR SOLID 2) or if time had aged it terribly.
The first and most obvious thing right off the bat (or in this case, box art) is that Solid Snake has gone through some accelerated aging. Or as the game now calls him, Old Snake.
I remembered Snake’s aging was initially the butt of the joke before the game came out. But looking back at it now, Old Snake was a brilliant move.
At the end of most fiction, especially action, the conclusion usually has the hero either leaving behind a young corpse or riding off into the sunset for an eternity. But Hideo Kojima, king of video game subversion, turns the trope on top of its head.
Not only is Snake a forty-something man in an eighty-something’s body, we quickly find out he has less than a year to live. There is no riding off into the sunset or dying young in this tale.
And this is reflected in both the story and gameplay.
Although there’s still the trademark bizarre humor, a great deal of METAL GEAR SOLID 4 (at least the first two-thirds) is presented in a somber tone. There’s a kind of intimate introspection with Old Snake as he has to come to terms with the end of his life, as well as seeing the legacy of the past slowly giving way to what will either be the terrifying war economy of The Patriots or the dawn of a new era, either of which has no place for relics such as himself.
MGS4‘s melancholic mood is beautifully accentuated by composers Nobuko Toda, Shuichi Kobori, Kazuma Jinnouchi, and Harry Gregson-Williams. Each game had its own unique soundtrack. METAL GEAR SOLID had the ambience of the ruthless Alaskan cold and influenced by its memorable Gaelic tune THE BEST IS YET TO COME. METAL GEAR SOLID 2‘s synthesizers reflects the meta AI tale. METAL GEAR SOLID 3‘s soundtrack is clearly Bond-esque with its big brass orchestra and surf guitar. And METAL GEAR SOLID 4 uses minor notes, acoustic guitars, haunting vocals, and styles from the previous games to make the most out of the passing of an era.
Even the gameplay is influenced by Snake’s aging. Just as METAL GEAR SOLID 3 uses the survival and food/stamina mechanic to reflect the jungle gameplay, METAL GEAR SOLID 4 has a stress mechanic. The more combat you do, the higher your stress goes, which affects everything from accuracy to health regeneration. While it’s not such a radical change that it’s necessary, the stress mechanic makes you think twice about how to go about your encounters.
That’s not the only change in the gameplay. They’ve also improved the camoflauge system, this time allowing Snake to blend in with the numerous environments you’ll come across simply by laying on the floor or leaning against the walls.
But the best feature is the ability to buy weapons from arms dealer Drebin. Each gun has their unique features and there’s plenty of weapons and items to warrant multiple playthroughs in order to try some new strategies.
In fact, the gameplay in general is amazing. I would say it has the best game mechanics out of the entire METAL GEAR series, but METAL GEAR SOLID V has since supplanted it. However, while there are some occasional frustrations (mainly the aiming movement being too fast or too slow), sneaking about plays smoothly, shooting feels natural, and the level design is phenomenal.
Of course, the real controversy is not with the gameplay but rather, the over-the-top cutscenes in between. Yes, it’s true that METAL GEAR SOLID 4 is a far more eccentric tale than its predecessors. It’s so over-the-top that it’s almost impossible to believe that the METAL GEAR series started out as a semi-realistic military techno-thriller. And yes, it’s also true that there are a lot of cutscenes. Let me put it this way, there are save point prompts after some cut scenes.
Not that the cut scenes here are bad. The difference between Kojima and other game developers is that Kojima actual knows how to shoot an effective scene. I said it before and I’ll say it again, Kojima could easily transition into filmmaking if he wanted to. While other game cinematics can have great voice actors, incredible shots, and gorgeous graphics, most fail to utilize the camera as a storytelling tool. Kojima does it so well that I wouldn’t even mind it if MGS4 was just a long 3D movie instead.
Of course, being a master behind the camera is only useful if you’ve got a great story to go along with it. And that’s where the problem lies.
Not that it’s a complete disaster. There’s a lot of elements I like, mostly Old Snake, the return of some past game characters, and providing a true conclusion to the storyline.
I didn’t even mind its zaniness and actually enjoyed some of it. Cyborg bishonen having a sword/knife fight with an immortal, bisexual vampire? Why not? Wanna see a silver speedo wearing, cigarette smoking monkey who loves soda? You’re damn right you do.
In fact, the major issues with the game is not with any kind of nitpicks or even the overall tone. Rather, the flaws in METAL GEAR SOLID 4 boils down to these five issues..
5. Liquid Ocelot
I said it then and I’ll say it again, Liquid Ocelot is a stupid idea.
Well, not completely stupid. I mean, I understand the desire to have Liquid as the antagonist once again. But I still feel that Revolver Ocelot was an interesting character with a strong enough motivation to not have to turn him into Liquid Snake.
In fact, why not throw in a new main antagonist? They could’ve resurrected Big Boss yet again for Metal Gear Solid but instead, they took a chance and created Liquid Snake, one of the best antagonists ever. And rather than rehashing the same villain (or should I say, hybrid villain?), it would be nice to see a new or unexpected face.
And yes, I know there’s an explanation for Liquid Ocelot at the end. But without spoiling it, the answer is even more illogical than the question itself.
4. Plot Twists
Speaking of revelations, pretty much every answer either has to do with nano machines or AI in MGS4. Anything that isn’t explained in such fashion is usually met with quadruple crossing and betrayals or a massive intricate plan that requires impossible events to line up.
3. Beauty and the Beast Unit
I’ve probably already said it a million times by now but most of my favorite characters from the METAL GEAR games are the ladies. Maybe it’s because they have the best moments, from Sniper Wolf’s dying speech to everything about The Boss. Maybe it’s because they have complex motivations and believable personalities. Or maybe it’s just that I fancy beautiful women who apparently don’t know how to properly zip/button their wardrobe.
So you think that I’d be ecstatic that most of the main bosses are female.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to expectations. On paper, it sounds like an awesome idea. War survivors from around the world hide their beauty under unique armor and are called to unleash their trauma on soldiers on the battlefield.
But in reality, they’re completely lackluster in both personality and fighting styles. It’s not because they’re poorly written or even offensive for that matter. Rather, there’s nothing at all to say about them at all. All they do is cackle like some demonic Wicked Witch of the West, attack Snake in their Iron Gimp Armor, and then chase Snake around in their Mummy like walk when their armor is off. Suffice to say, it’s a disappointment in both story and combat.
2. Meryl x Johnny
Hey, remember Meryl Silverburgh? You know, the most important person in Snake’s life? One of the best romances in video game history? Not to mention one of the most memorable game characters, female or male?
Would you like to see some closure between her and Snake? Maybe some really memorable moments? If not a rekindling between them, at least some nice scenes together?
Nah! Wouldn’t it be like, totally hilarious instead if her plot revolved around her leading a FOXHOUND team and building a romance with Johnny “Akiba” Sasaki? You know, the butt of the joke in the METAL GEAR SOLID series? Diarrhea boy? The guy who held her prisoner in METAL GEAR SOLID? Wouldn’t it be more interesting if she married Akiba and spent most of her dialogue with Snake chastising him?
Of course not. But that’s what you get…
1. Act 5/Epilogue
I could forgive everything else about MGS4 but I hate, hate, hate the final act and epilogue. It’s everything that’s flawed about the game in both story and gameplay.
Gameplay wise there’s nothing much to talk about because it’s just a quick run through a fairly easy section, followed by a boss fight, and then nothing more than a button mashing session through a corridor section and a “fight” with Liquid Ocelot.
As far as the story goes, the ending feels like something out of a bad parody of a Hollywood ending. SPOILER ALERT It wraps everything up with the hokiest wedding imaginable (between…Meryl and Johnny…). And every loose end is hastily tied up using AI, nanomachines, and sloppy conspiracies.
I suppose there’s the redeeming factor of having a proper conclusion for Solid Snake. And although it’s a bit of a stretch of having Big Boss show up, it does give some much needed closure to both Snake and the series, even if that scenes drags on for too long with more nanomachine and ideological babble. SPOILER ENDED
It’s a bit of a disappointment to see a game that started on such a strong note end on such a weak point.
At the end of the day, METAL GEAR SOLID 4: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS is a hot mess. There are a lot of problems with the story and even the gameplay as mentioned. But at the same time, there’s a lot of great moments, from sneaking back into Shadow Moses and commandeering Metal Gear Rex, to playing around with different weapons on multiple playthroughs.
MGS4 is probably my least favorite METAL GEAR game, though that’s not to say it’s bad. Yes, it has all of the flaws you might’ve heard about, but it’s also easy to gleam past all of its redeeming features. If you’ve played through the rest of the METAL GEAR games, you owe it to yourself to play this at least once and see how it all ends. Even if it has you shaking your head from time to time.
RELEASE DATE: June 12th, 2008
DEVELOPER: Kojima Productions
ESRB: M (Mature)