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Metal Gear Solid 4 Impressions

I, unlike the rest of the industry apparently, do not buy into hype too well. In fact, there are few things on this Earth that I get genuinely excited about. The first would have to be blueberry muffins or pie. I really don’t have much of a distinction between the two, because they both consist of blueberries. I’m not much on filling either; it has to be fresh blueberries. Nothing is better than smelling the bittersweet aroma of muffins or pie in the oven - except bourbon after a long day.

I think the industry acts like I do with blueberries. Excessive salivation, ravenous thoughts, and anticipatory splendor are all part of the it when a major AAA title bares its head. If I remember correctly, GTA IV was supposedly God. It was this amazing, genre-busting title that would revolutionize the way developers approach games and directly impact the way we play them. Then, after 25 hours the bubble bursts and players find themselves repeating missions, cursing, and just turning their consoles off in disgust because of the redundant missions, dialogue, and poor mechanics. Metal Gear Solid 4 is supposed to be the next God, an idol of “fucking amazing” designed to usher in a new kind of developing brilliance. I took a gander at the review scores earlier, and it seems as if it is being seen that way widely.

I decided to buy MGS 4 out of pity for my PS3, as opposed to any preordained decision that this game was going to be the epitome of cool. After booting up the game I was greeted with an 8-minute download of an unknown amount of space. I had the awesome opportunity to enjoy those 8 minutes tidying up my office instead of watching Snake smoke continuously. I’m not sure where the figure for the torrential download came from, or even the exact number, but I believe I can see why it was mentioned. MGS 4 is divided into acts, each corresponding with a new location and mission. Before each new act, players are prompted to initiate a new download sequence and up to this point, each has taken approximately three minutes for my machine. While the downloads suck, I was really disappointed to learn that MGS 4 still loads like a PS1 game – just quicker. Every area is dispersed by a load time as well as major cinematic moments.

The first hour or so of the game is completely laden with the narrative of the game and its utilization of in-engine cut-scenes. There are particularly scant minutes in which the player can actually play the game to its potential, and often only seconds available to progress through the story obstacles set up to progress to the next cut-scenes. Fans of the Metal Gear series are probably sure to eat it up, but casual observers will probably only find frustration. After a few hours the game allows players to attempt the stealth-based espionage action that has defined Metal Gear Solid, with a catch of course. The controls are barely explained, and mission parameters are particularly scarce considering the length of the narrative. Tons of items and skills are immediately available and often cumbersome to navigate.

It would also be prudent to note that the camera system is a struggle as well as the nature of the controls. MGS 4 feels just as old as Snake appears. The game isn’t particularly intuitive, nor as streamlined as say a Gears of War is. I was almost affronted by the lack of stealth in the first act. While players can try to navigate around obstacles and guards, I got the feeling that this style of play wasn’t what this game was about anymore. An accidental trigger will unleash the might of an entire military unit that Snake can manage to take out if players are industrious enough. More often I felt that the best approach to the first act was to kill with silenced weapons as opposed to sneaking and hiding bodies. It was a very disconcerting and unutilized scenario.

I can happily report that the beginning of Act II opens up quite a bit, allowing players to take their time and experience what I thought this game was about – stealth. Yet, after a few screens have passed, Snake quickly becomes enraptured in a larger, more violent conflict that will have players tossing grenades and being as careless as a Call of Duty player. Luckily, the new weapon customization options allow for players to greatly expand their arsenal to combat these larger, more difficult areas. Sniper rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, and even a musket are available for consumption, given that players have the points to spend. Without giving any story elements away, points can be collected by picking up weapons on the battlefield. These weapons are useless to Snake for the most part, but they are automatically sold and then points are allotted.

The end of Act II is especially chatty, perhaps too much for its own good. That “90-minute cut-scene” figure that was thrown around could easily be applied to this portion of the game. At one point, during one of the Powerpoint-esque lectures I found myself nearly nodding off, which makes me wonder, how effective is this story telling method? I’m not the kind of guy that falls asleep at the drop of a dime, nor am I typically this unresponsive to the story of a video game. I missed the boat on a couple of Metal Gear titles, and that may lend to the issue, but all the same, the story is a twisted plot arc with seriously convoluted ideas, characters, and twists. Half the time I find myself saying to myself, “I just don’t get it.”

Considering that I may have finished the first half of the game, I feel very unfulfilled and unsatisfied with the end product to this point. I wish Metal Gear Solid was still about sneaking, evasion, and diversionary tactics. I especially wish that I was able to perform more in the game. While I applaud the effort to have a genuine narrative driven action game, I know now that this is not the way to go about it. Yet, here’s to hoping that the rest of the game performs better.
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About Brad Nicholsonone of us since 10:27 PM on 06.13.2008

I'm Brad Nicholson. I've been around, but Destructoid is where my dawgs at. You can see my work here, at MTV, at Giant Bomb or other great places around the Internet. I also run a podcast called The Electric Hydra and work out a lot in my spare time. Yeah. I keep busy.