Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Review

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The Metal Gear franchise contains some of the most unique stealth games I’ve ever played. In addition to some typical stealth mechanics, it’s got interesting gameplay, interesting characters, interesting storylines, and creative bosses. I’ve heard series creator Hideo Kojima wanted to end the series or at least his involvement in the series with Metal Gear Solid 2 and then Metal Gear Solid 3, leaving certain mysteries up to player interpretations. I have also heard that the development of Metal Gear Solid 4 began due to fan demand. Developed by Kojima Productions and published by Konami, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was released for PlayStation 3 in 2008. Shortly before the game released, Konami released the Metal Gear Solid 4 Database application for PlayStation 3 which contains all Metal Gear lore up to Metal Gear Solid 4. It features information on events, characters, relationships – it’s actually quite impressive.

From what I understand, Metal Gear Solid 4 is considered a significant title for the PlayStation 3 because it boosted sales of the console. It’s actually the first game in the series I played. I bought it years ago because the clips and screen shots I saw of it looked cool. Plus, I had a friend who was obsessed with it for a while. I played it for maybe ten minutes before stopping so I didn’t really experience anything and I think it was because I wanted to play all the prior games first. Now that I have, I’ve been really looking forward to playing this. Metal Gear Solid 4 is a huge game. When it first came out, the game would install content in between each act but a patch was eventually released that allowed a full install.

The story in Metal Gear Solid 4 is certainly something. It can be confusing, I feel things get a bit convoluted, and if you have no knowledge of the prior games, you won’t understand everything. Metal Gear Solid 4 puts the player back into the shoes of Solid Snake who has aged rapidly since we last saw him and is now known as Old Snake. Set during a time where the world’s economy relies on wars fought by PMCs, soldiers are equipped with nanomachines controlled by a network known as the Sons of the Patriots system (SOP). Snake is tasked by Roy Campbell to assassinate Liquid Ocelot who controls a good chunk of the world’s armed forces and plans to launch an insurrection against the Patriots. The plot does answer a lot of questions, includes several returning characters, and features a lot of nods to the prior games. I think the story is ridiculous but entertaining overall and it does touch on some interesting themes.

By the time I reached the end of the game, I admit I was a little overwhelmed. There is a lot of information here and numerous exposition dumps which was not unexpected. I did get a little tired of hearing about nanomachines, though. Anything weird or bizarre that happens seems to be the result of nanomachines. Nanomachines out the ass. Metal Gear Solid 4 did convey a certain sense of scale to me and I have no doubt it’s because of the cut scenes. To me, it felt like some big grand epic action adventure and I kind of grew attached to certain characters. I was certainly invested in the plot and was always eager to see what was going to happen next and to get more answers. There are some insanely long-ass cut scenes here but they are well directed and edited. From what I understand, as of this review, Metal Gear Solid 4 holds a record for the longest cut scene in a video game.

I do feel the game goes overboard with cut scenes. It really is nuts. However, I did find the story and many cut scenes to be entertaining so I didn’t mind sitting through most exposition dumps and watching some of the crazy over-the-top stuff. Although, I think my knowledge of the prior games is what really got me hooked because I can see the intrusive cut scenes turning some people off. At a certain point, I think a developer needs to question if they’re making a game or a movie. This is the first game I’ve played where the cut scenes kind of overshadow the gameplay. They’re that prevalent and go on and on. Despite that, I don’t want to call Metal Gear Solid 4 an “interactive movie” because it doesn’t really feel like that to me. It’s more like a movie with some gameplay thrown in.

There are several cut scenes here that I felt could have translated to gameplay, leaving me wondering why the player could not participate in what’s happening and I question why some of the dialogue exchanged between characters could not occur during gameplay. You can skip cut scenes and even pause them this time around which is wonderful but the plot is such a huge part of the game and it feels like the cut scenes consume most of the experience. That’s really what rubs me the wrong way. The story does play out in Acts and Act III is my least favorite because it’s more cut scenes than gameplay. I estimate a range of twenty to thirty percent of the Act is actual gameplay. Let’s look at the game another way. Depending on the time it takes you to explore and how you approach things, the game can take up to twenty hours to finish. If you strip out the cut scenes, I estimate it would take about seven to ten hours. Maybe a bit longer. It really does depend on how you go about your business. I didn’t time all the cut scenes but I did some research and it seems that the game contains about eight or nine hours of cut scenes. Now there’s nothing wrong with that per se but the idea that most of the “game” is cut scenes is insane to me. Just make a fucking movie. Honestly, I would have preferred more gameplay, especially with how good it is here.

Up until this game, I would have told you Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence features the best gameplay in the series. In my opinion, it has been surpassed. Metal Gear Solid 4 blows it away in the gameplay department. So many things are refined and improved, the controls are finally more comfortable than cumbersome, and the gunplay is incredible. In fact, I thought the gunplay was so good, I actually preferred shooting my way through situations in many scenarios. To be clear, you often have the option to sneak around and avoid conflict but the combat in general has been significantly improved. Guns have great feedback, they sound great, and when enemies are hit, the shots often look and feel impactful. I honestly feel the gunplay is some of the best of its generation. With a few more changes and additions, I feel it would make for a solid third-person shooter through and through just based on the gunplay alone.

I really enjoyed the “war zone” aspect of the first two acts. Snake will move through battlefields with PMCs and Milita engaged in combat and you can avoid it all. The conflicts don’t actually concern Snake. You’ll frequently move through war zones and hear a lot of shooting and screaming and Snake will often be surrounded by explosions. How these sections are presented is very well done and the game does give you multiple options in terms of how you get through these areas. Sneaking, shooting, maybe a mix of both. If you engage the PMCs you will befriend the Militia as a result and they won’t attack you and you can use that to your advantage. The core mechanics of the series return, have been refined, and the sneaking and alert systems basically work like they did before. Snake is now equipped with OctoCamo that can imitate the color and texture of the wall or ground surface which is pretty cool. That means no more entering menus to change camouflage. It’s wonderful. At a certain point in the game, Snake will be able to equip FaceCamo which improves his camouflage and defeating bosses non-lethally will reward you with bonus FaceCamo.

I feel like Metal Gear Solid 4 is either neutral in its push to be stealthy or aggressive or it really is encouraging combat. Either approach can make for satisfying and rewarding gameplay. Snake can actually build up an arsenal of weapons. Enemies will now drop weapons when killed or knocked out or even held up and Snake can collect them. Some weapons are ID Locked and cannot be used until they’re unlocked. Early in the story, Snake meets a gun launderer named Drebin who can unlock weapons for a price. After he meets Drebin, any duplicate weapons Snake acquires are automatically sold for Drebin points. And you can spend the points in Drebin’s Shop, which can be accessed from the pause menu, to buy weapons, ammo and customizations. Yes, certain weapons can be customized with different attachments. Points can be earned in other ways besides just selling weapons and shop prices will be reduced on certain days of the week. I really enjoyed the game’s focus on the arsenal and there’s quite a few weapons to play around with.

Stamina does not return but in it’s place is Psyche which is affected by stress. Similar to Stamina, Psyche determines how fast Snake’s health regenerates and the Psyche Gauge will deplete when Snake is under stress and there’s a lot of things that can cause stress. But there’s also quite a few ways to reduce stress and increase Psyche. Many items you acquire will do the trick. I did sometimes find it annoying when I had no idea why Snake was under stress and his Psyche was depleting but it never really became a huge problem. I think the only time I got frustrated with it was in Act II set in South America. Apparently, heat causes Stress and I get that, it’s one of those little touches, little immersive details that the series is known for but almost every area in this act is sunny so it can be annoying. To keep Snake’s stress low, I would frequently look for shade or enter the Cardboard Box or Drum Can.

As expected, Metal Gear Solid 4 does come with a good variety of items to help Snake on his quest. Some items from the previous games return and others are new, and of course many are interesting. Snake can actually equip an iPod and listen to music and some songs have an affect on gameplay. You can find iPod music in the environments because that’s how that works. You find iPod music just lying around. Two of the most significant items are the Solid Eye and Metal Gear Mk.II. The Solid Eye allows Snake to see tactical data on the battlefield and it also comes with night vision. The Metal Gear Mk.II is a remote mobile terminal that Snake can deploy to scout areas. Both of these items do consume battery power which will recharge when the items are not in use and you can acquire additional batteries during Mission Briefings.

For the most part, I have no problems with the gameplay. I kind of wish entering and exiting cover or hugging walls was improved a bit more but it never really caused a problem. Overall, I feel Metal Gear Solid 4 is a big improvement over its predecessors in the gameplay department. Massive, even. It’s fun to sneak, it’s fun to shoot, everything is much easier to control, and there are some additional mechanics that are certainly welcome. My favorite being crouch walking. Snake can finally crouch walk. Final-fucking-ly. It’s fantastic. A sprint mechanic would be nice but he’s old so I can let it go. Snake can also pat down any enemy he holds up, forcing them to drop stuff.

The game does take you to several locations including the Middle East, South America, Europe, and Shadow Moses Island. Each location does look and feel different and exploration will lead you to items and weapons. Most of the environments are linear but it’s not so aggressive that there’s only one clear way forward. You typically have options when it comes to how you want to approach things. Enemies include PMCs and the Frog Soldiers which are female soldiers in power suits that like to jump around. You’ll also have to face Scarabs which are small annoying foes and Gekko’s which are large unmanned autonomous fighting vehicles that make weird noises. In addition to the typical gameplay, the game does feature several fun set pieces including awesome action-packed rail shooter sequences

Metal Gear Solid 4 is a phenomenal looking game for the hardware it’s designed for. The entire audiovisual presentation is incredible. Some things look dated and there are some eyesores here and there but for the most part, the visual presentation holds up extremely well. Everything from character models to the environments are exceptionally well detailed. And I mean everything, like a laptop or a gun or what a character is wearing. There is a lot of little details and things to see. If there’s anything I don’t like about the presentation, it’s the desaturated, washed out look and bloom lighting. Unfortunately, many games around the time Metal Gear Solid 4 released showcased these things – a lot of grays and browns, muted colors, and horrible bloom lighting that has simply not aged well. Although, I can’t say Metal Gear Solid 4 is the worst offender. The audio work is also incredible. Weapons fire and explosions sound great and the soundtrack is some Hollywood-level shit. Seriously, it’s amazing. It not only perfectly fits the cinematic style of the game but it could rival some film scores. The series has always been known for good music and Metal Gear Solid 4’s soundtrack is top-tier in my opinion. On the technical side, the frame is unstable during both gameplay and cut scenes. It always seems to dip when there’s a lot of action going on or when the screen just gets busy. Other than that, I encountered no major bugs or issues.

I really enjoyed Metal Gear Solid 4 and I find it to be a very interesting game. The amount and length of cut scenes is ludicrous but the gameplay is amazing making it my favorite game in the series up to this point. The refinements and improvements here are so big and so good, almost all my issues with the previous games have been alleviated. I didn’t want to stop playing. It’s just a shame the cut scenes are as long and as prevalent as they are because they not only take you away from the great gameplay but feel like they consume a majority of the experience. Regardless, many of them are entertaining and I did enjoy the plot even though it’s a bit convoluted and ridiculous. In the end, I felt like I got good enough closure on things. I also feel almost everything about this game was treated with care and it shows. The presentation is amazing, the stealth and action are fun and exciting, and there’s so much detail in the game that it’s easy to miss things on your first run. Whether it’s an easter egg, secret, or just a cool visual detail, it’s the kind game you can replay and notice or find something new on each subsequent playthrough. Just like the previous games, there’s plenty of reasons to return, plenty of things to unlock, plenty of secrets, and I’m thankful we can skip cut scenes.

I would absolutely recommend Metal Gear Solid 4. You might want to get some popcorn because this is basically a long-ass movie but when the gameplay kicks in, it’s a ton of fun. At the very least, you can skip the cinematics and jump right into the action. In my opinion, Metal Gear Solid 4 is “tactical espionage action” at its finest. The stealth is great, the action is great, and it’s got everything that makes a Metal Gear game a Metal Gear game. Definitely check it out.

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1 Comment

  1. justice
    June 10, 2024    

    Syphon Filter review when?

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