Metal Gear Solid 4 (MSG 4) is the fourth, and potentially final, game in the long-running Metal Gear Solid series. Ever since the first Metal Gear Solid game on the original Playstation, the series has been famous for its convoluted storylines, long cinematic cut scenes and intense stealth action game play. While MGS 4 does not stray too far from that basic formula, it does vastly improve upon it, making MGS 4 unquestionably the best game in the series, and one of the best Playstation 3 (PS3) exclusives to date.
MGS 4’s storyline takes place approximately five years after the events of Metal Gear Solid 2 (Metal Gear Solid 3’s storyline was a prequel to the whole series). In the game, you play as the series’ original protagonist; Solid Snake, who is now known as Old Snake since he has aged extremely rapidly over the years. Snake’s main goal in MGS 4 is to hunt down his brother Liquid Snake, who has possessed the body of Revolver Ocelot, turning him into Liquid Ocelot. Along the way, Snake discovers more about the mysterious organization known as the Patriots and the war economy that they have developed.
Just like previous entries in the series, MGS 4’s storyline can be rather convoluted at times. It is still a very satisfying tale, however, thanks to how the story is told to the player. It is as if you were watching an action movie. The game also has a relatively large roster of characters, using virtually every character still alive from previous entries in the series. It all comes down to a very shocking and satisfying conclusion.
Just like previous entries in the series, MGS 4 is primarily a stealth action game. Your objective is generally is to sneak from one side of a confined area to another while trying to avoid detection by the guards. But unlike previous entries in the series, a run-and-gun style of game play is actually a viable strategy at times, and is quite satisfying; thanks to the game’s new shooting controls which will be covered later.
Fortunately, you are given plenty of tools for all of your sneaking missions. Snake can use many different types of weapons, including pistols, rifles, and rocket launchers. There are also many gadgets the player can use, such as a steel drum that Snake can hide inside, the Metal Gear Mark II which can be used as a scout, and the Solid Eye, which provides radar and other modes of vision, such as night vision.
Snake also has a variety of abilities he can use to get through his missions. Snake can use Close-Quarters-Combat (CQC) moves to knockout enemies and steal supplies from them, use the Octocamo system to blend in with the environment, and much more.
Controlling Snake is for the most part fluid, making sneaking through the levels relatively easy. Certain aspects of control however, such as crawling, rolling, and close combat feel a bit sluggish.
One of the most important changes to MGS 4’s control is how ranged combat is handled. The player can now aim using an over-the-shoulder view, which makes aiming a breeze. The result of this is that the gun play, while simplistic, is incredibly entertaining.
Of course, what would MGS 4 be without some memorable boss battles? MGS 4 does not disappoint, with several unique bosses spread throughout the single player game. All of the bosses have their own unique tricks, although some of these tricks are reused from previous entries in the series and will be easily recognized by the series veterans. Despite this fact however, the bosses in MGS 4 are among the many highlights of the game.
The other main highlights of MGS 4 are the game’s major set pieces. There is a hectic motorcycle ride, a brutal clash between two huge metal gears, which turns out to be one of the game’s most amazing boss battles, and more.
Depending on difficulty, MGS 4’s single player should last most players slightly less than 15 hours on their first play through. The time is much shorter if you skip the game’s cut scenes. Fortunately, there is still a decent amount of content here, especially since most players will probably want to play through the game again at a higher difficulty level.
Unfortunately, MGS 4 is held back from perfection by a few factors. The artificial intelligence (AI) in the game is solid and becomes stronger in higher difficulty levels. However, the AI can be buggy at times; and very occasionally be seen doing idiotic actions such as shooting into walls that are clearly in the way of their target.
MGS 4’s main issue however is its loading and installation times. The loading times in MGS 4 are very brief, but this does not help much since they are very frequent.
MGS 4 also has plenty of installation times. When you first start the game, you must wait through an eight-minute installation. That is not so bad, but it starts getting a little tiresome when you consider the additional three-minute installations required for changing acts within the game; even if your going to an earlier act. Overall, it all adds up and hampers the pace of the game.
Along with MGS 4’s single player campaign, the game also comes with a multiplayer component called Metal Gear Online (MGO). MGO is a squad based shooter that allows up to 16 players to play in a variety of modes. MGO has basic death matches, variants on capture the flag, a base capture mode, and a mode called sneaking mission, which allows one player to play as Snake and another to play as the Metal Gear Mark II.
MGO ultimately provides a solid online experience, but it has problems. MGO relies upon the controls and mechanics from MGS 4 to set-up its game play. This set-up is excellent in the single player game, but MGO’s multiplayer environment makes the sluggish aspects of MGS 4’s control scheme much more obvious.
MGO also completely lacks support for local play, even on a local area network. There is also no support for AI bots, which makes the game’s training offering horrendously pitiful at best. If you manage to get a good grasp on MGS 4’s controls in the single player however, then you should be able to do fine in MGO.
Graphically, MGS 4 is one of the best looking games on the PS3. Almost everything about the game’s graphics from the textures to the animation looks excellent. The character models are all extremely well done as well. MGS 4’s audio also sounds great, with outstanding voice acting and some great music.
Put simply, if you own a PS3, you should be playing MGS 4 right now. It is not just one of the PS3’s best exclusives; it is one of the best games available on the entire gaming market.
ESRB rating: M for Mature, Blood, Crude Humor, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence.
Retail price: $59.99
Availability: Retail stores and online vendors
My Score: 4 out of 4 stars