SEVERE SPOILER WARNING! PLEASE HAVE COMPLETED MGS4 BEFORE READING!
Some may argue that reviews are completely subjective. However, when you award a perfect score to a game I believe it then leaves the realms of subjectivity. Either the game is as near to a perfect refinement of already accepted gameplay conventions and mechanics as can be produced or it reinvents its respective genre. If we review MGS4 in a bubble, away from the Splinter Cellâ€™s and Gears of Wars of the world and chose to hold it only against the other games in the series than a far more forgiving light is cast upon it; it truly does refine all the ideas Kojima had previously introduced. Yet by holding MGS4 up to the standards already set over the previous years by games of a similar ilk, the light shining upon it seems that much brighter and harsher. The shadows left by the game grow longer and cover, however partially, the good done within it. They may not change your mind about the game but thatâ€™s not my intention. I just hope that what I say becomes the flash of light that makes these, as of yet unseen, shadows strike out upon the ground. MGS4 has received more than enough praise, raining down and seemingly cleansing it of its flaws. All I want this article to be is the lightning in that rain.
From both a gamplay and technical perspective, I felt that the game failed to live up to expectations. The fact that Snake can't shoot over objects, only around, made the cover mechanic far less useful than it should have been. While you may argue that MGS4 is a stealth game and therefore criticising a part of it which does not constitute as such is folly let me remind you of the original titleâ€™s tag line: Tactical Espionage ACTION. Thereâ€™s no way you can sneak out of certain sections in the game as Kojima forces you to fight your way out instead and if the means to do so is flawed, it hampers the overall enjoyment of the game. This, coupled with the fact that the game doesnâ€™t even allow you to shoot around certain walls or pillars, makes me feel as if it was something added late in the development cycle and as such didnâ€™t receive the amount of care lavished on other aspects of the game.
I have read reviewers stating that in the same way that Super Mario 64 revolutionized the way we play videogames, Metal Gear Solid 4 revolutionizes the way videogames are presented with seamless transitions between cut scenes and actual gameplay. And some of these transitions do indeed impress. But like the controls, it only goes to highlight whatâ€™s missing. Almost every cut scene is bookended by a load, whether that happens at the start or end (itâ€™s rarely both which I am indeed thankful for at least) which then amounts to only about 50% of them actually being seamless yet this was never mentioned. And if I must critique the technology then no amount of love for the series will allow me to excuse the following:
In what I can only assume to have been misjudged codec comic relief, Otacon makes a point of ridiculing the CD system of the first game when he â€˜jokinglyâ€™ asks you to change discs. However, the bitter irony of this very statement is apparently lost on him. We lose one inconvenience and have it replaced with another: installs. It would actually be quicker to change discs than re-install game assets at the start of every Act. It may not affect many peopleâ€™s overall enjoyment of the game but when Sony feel arrogant enough to proclaim the wonders of their system while dismissing its flaws in such a blasÃ© manner, I canâ€™t let it go so easily.
But it was the characterisation which truly let me down. When you have invested so much in these characters over the years, you expect a lot in return and this is the area where I felt Kojima succeeded the least. There were hints early on which lead me to be hopeful. In fact, Iâ€™ll admit Iâ€™m being harsh as it was only until the last act that those hopes were irrevocably crushed. The plot and characterisation kept me playing and praise for this is well deserved. But that has all been given by thousands of players and hundreds of reviewers already. Iâ€™m here to deal with the faults which seemed to escape so many.
When Meryl launched her first verbal tirade against her uncle, I was shocked. Not just for her pain but because the Colonel Iâ€™d known for so long was no longer merely this 2-dimensional authority figure. He had flaws and vices just like the rest of us. This infidelity (whether you see it as Roseâ€™s or Campbellâ€™s to his own daughter) made him one of the most interesting characters Iâ€™d come across in MGS for a long time. He was given so much character that it hurt all the more when it was then stripped away at the end. Kojimaâ€™s fairy tale ending for all made me feel as though heâ€™d betrayed his artistic vision. It not only wiped the slate clean for the Colonel but cleansed him of all his personality and interest.
At least Snake and Otacon remained the characterâ€™s Iâ€™d always loved, always wanted to fight for and with. But even here Kojima backed away from his convictions. The microwave room was one of the most powerful gaming moments Iâ€™d ever experienced. Did I dare stop pounding triangle in order to see if my efforts were actually affecting the speed with which he dragged his wretched body along the floor? Hell no. I couldnâ€™t bring myself to do so as Iâ€™d done countless times in any other Quick Time Eventful games. I even had to look away as Liquid then proceeded to beat a broken man and was on the verge of shattering him into a thousand even smaller pieces. Then Snake got up and the fate of the world was decided by a fist fight on top of a submarine. Snakeâ€™s pain; that which had become my own was undone as he stood up, fit and healthy in order to confront liquid. All which I had felt within the confines of that hellish room was undone in an instant as Snake instantly recovered from his wounds and went out with a macho bang. This has been called the greatest final boss fight in recent games. Yet was it necessary? Liquid is no longer Snakeâ€™s nemesis. Snakeâ€™s fighting himself. Fighting against his failing body, his own ticking doomsday clock. Thatâ€™s where the real battle was being lost and won. There was no need for Liquid to appear and destroy all the work done in the prior scenes where Snake was so savagely destroyed.
Although having said this, a word must be said about the montage in the microwave room (praise that isnâ€™t being spread enough even in those 10/10 reviews). Kojima takes a traditional Hollywood device and subverts it. Something I wish heâ€™d done more of. Any other game, any other film would have merely added what is a clichÃ©d and overused emotional device as a bookend to that section. Yet by interspersing it within the actual gameplay itself, Kojima elevated that whole scene into something beyond powerful. This is the sort of genius I wish had been able to shine so brightly through other parts of the game.
One area where I felt this influenced was sorely lacking was in the creation and execution of the Beauty and the Beast Squad: Ever since the first game, Kojima has been attempting to analyse the emotional side of war but what this has amounted to in practice is a stripping down of all other aspects to his villains. The Boss' unit was where he began to limit them to one just emotion; The pain/fear/fury etc. Yet they still felt like people driven to the edge due to broken dreams and lives. By removing the outer layers of their humanity in 4, Kojima hoped to probe the depths and see what drove them on. Yet in doing so they lost all the sympathy we had for them and became single, unchanging, one note characters. Without this humanity, there was no reason to care when Drebin gave you his bed time stories. Even if you give a 2d character the most emotionally engaging back-story youâ€™ve ever heard, that doesnâ€™t then mean that they stopped being that very same 2d character over the past 16 hours. It's not what we are inside, but our actions which define who we are. If nothing of this comes to the fore, then we are never allowed to glimpse it and the characters remain one dimensional and emotionally uninteresting - keeping you detached from them and not caring as we once did for the likes of Sniper Wolf and Psycho Mantis. The fact that each boss fight culminated in the same uninspired mechanic only went to further drive this point home â€“ after all, if youâ€™re going to make them lose their armour, why then have that section play out identically across the board?
What I have said may not change your perception of the game, but neither was it meant to. For even if we search out and see the flaws which cover those we love the most, that doesnâ€™t make us love them any less. As it is with the people in our lives, so it is with the works which populate it. This article is for those who canâ€™t seem to see past the rose tinted spectacles. Who swear that the flaws donâ€™t exist and in their minds already plaster over the cracks which may appear. Once you see past the initial bewitchment, your love may no longer seem endless but what it will seem is real. If you can play the game while recognising the flaws and still choose to cherish it an equal amount, then it truly was the game weâ€™d all been waiting for. read