I’ve played through Metal Gear Solid 4 six times. The first time, I watched all the cut scenes, making it feel like an averagely lengthy videogame experience. The next time, I skipped all of them, and to my surprise, I was done in about four hours. It was then that I started to realize there’s not very much game here. Hideo Kojima, being a film fan and rapidly losing time in his life to finally live his dream of crafting a movie, took the opportunity that was MGS4 to make his most self-indulgent and MADDEST game yet.
Guns of the Patriots is just preposterous. Let me explain.
After all is said and done, it’s about 50 percent story, 20 percent extras, 20 percent gameplay, and 10 percent things that were completely unnecessary. The story is a huge focus of the game, but strangely enough, not much happens. At least 75 percent of the long cut scenes are spent explaining events of the past very laboriously, and the remaining percentage constantly feesl like it’s are milking a small item of plot for all it’s worth producing hundreds of shots that are just too long or void of much substance. The “mission briefing” are basically just very long cut scenes, but we are given the ability to pilot the little mk.II to look around at the boring environment while the scene plays out. Is it just me, or does it seem like the same thing as giving a kid a toy to play with while the parents talk. It’s condescending. But Kojima had to fit his extensive dialogue in there. If giving us control of the mk.II was the absolute least way to make us feel like we are still playing a videogame rather than just watching a movie, then so be it. There are moments of thrill when a piece of plot in this present will connect prettily to an event in the past and give us an “aha” kind of feeling, but those moments are spread way too thin with nothing much in between but dull sets and unimportant characters whose dialogue goes on far longer than it should.
The character of Drebin might be the worst offense in character history. He’s looks and personality are purely to add to the diversity of the whole group, but really he shouldn’t be here. Nothing he says is interesting, and his attachment to the rest of the story is barely there. His phony “gun laundering” does hardly anything to make the combat more interesting. As if there would be enough combat in this game to even make use of all the weapons that are offered. Unless you want to take all the fun out of the game and play it the way it was not meant to be played, then you’ll be sneaking around enemies instead of using Drebin’s giant repertoire of guns to kill them all in a blaze of action. How much use the weapon options would see in this game, seems to have been seriously miscalculated.
Another thing that bothers me about this installment is how arbitrary the gameplay really is. You may not realize it because it is disguised well, but throughout the game, Snake is just moving from one place to another, just trying to stay out of everyone’s way. There’s no sense of goal. There’s no fun in it! Unless we make it fun for ourselves by trying to kill everyone in the map. In MGS3, the environments were usually so exciting because they were all about adventure and exploration. Items were useful, so finding them was a thrill. Going off the beaten path or taking an extra risk to infiltrate a building when you could’ve gone around was always rewarding in some way. In MGS4, it’s point A to point B. Nothing more than that. The only times in the game when I feel like I’m actually being given the opportunity to play a videogame is in the boss battles. There, you are given some freedom as to where to go and how to eliminate the boss. The best example of this is the battle with Crying Wolf. That scene is the closet thing MGS4 has to imitating MGS3’s greatness.
You could argue that the scenes where the two armies are fighting, in the second act, you are given a lot of options as to how to navigate. But each time I’ve played those scenes, it just feels incredibly unfulfilling to do anything special with those scenes. I find the whole way through the first two acts, I’m just looking forward to being done with them. I feel like any action scene or environment in those acts were afterthoughts, so Kojima could make a passable game while telling the rest of his story.
Although I feel that way, the thing that has kept me coming back to the game is the mechanics. The player control and options is rather addictive. I still feel like there’s no point in the game really effectively uses the great stealth mechanics (except for maybe the “following the resistance member” scene), but the possibility that I can try to MAKE good use out of them always compels me.
Now that I’ve unloaded my complaints, I have nothing else but good to say about it. I always loved the freedom that Kojima put into this series. He likes to play tricks on gamers and be frankly kind of silly sometimes. I love the part when Otacon says it’s time to switch the discs and Snake says we’re on blu-ray now! That’s so fun, and no other videogame would do that – especially not one that is so dramatic and serious in other moments. Everytime I play this game through I’m delighted by all the tidbits of playful direction like that. And like these: the female bosses will pose for you if you try to photograph them; Snake will occasionally flashback to scene from Metal Gear or Metal Gear 2 that was 8-bit; one of Snake’s dream sequences features a playable scene from the original Metal Gear Solid; when you start a new game there are two mock advertisements that appear before the firs cut scene (why? who knows); and the credits appear prematurely at the end, then cut back to another cinematic after revealing the voice actor of a character who hasn’t yet been in the game. Fun stuff like that is most of the reason why I like this game. I enjoy the story too – not necessarily the story of Guns of the Patriots, but the story of the franchise as a whole, which is incomplete without this game.
There are some playable scenes I like from the game, like the Laughing Octopus boss battle and the return to Shadow Moses. That boss battle is full of creative tension, and Shadow Moses actually has a palpable atmosphere in it’s quiet, deserted, snowiness.
MGS4 is what it is. There’s no going back and changing what an eclectic mess it is. I think it should have surely featured more of a task for the gamers rather than just sneaking from one cut scene to the next without any objective, but what it is is still enjoyable in some regards.
My rating for 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for PS3 is…
I can’t hate on it. But it looks like MGSV shows promise to be a real game and not just an interactive novel.