Metal Gear 4 Brings In the Big Guns

Friday, July 25, 2008

We last saw Solid Snake in action nearly six years ago in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. And that was only for the first couple of hours of the game, after which the gruff, stealthy hero was reduced to supporting a whiny upstart called Raiden, to the dismay of many fans. Then Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and its PSP sequel, Portable Ops, took a trip back in time to cover the history of Solid Snake's progenitor, Big Boss, and for good reason, as the characters and events of those games are intimately tied to this chapter.

But Solid Snake is the star in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. This is his game, and it makes an excellent closing chapter to Solid Snake's story.

Since Sons of Liberty, private military corporations have changed the face of conflict: Virtual-reality-trained soldiers infused with nanomachines and monitored by a system of artificial intelligences constitute the majority of armed forces in the world. Everyone contracts their wars out to these companies rather than maintain a large standing army. The five largest PMCs are owned by a dummy corporation controlled by Snake's nemesis and genetic twin, Liquid, whose mind lives on in the body of frequent antagonist Revolver Ocelot, thanks to an arm graft and Ocelot's own psychic heritage. (Not the weirdest thing to happen in Metal Gear.)

Now known as Liquid Ocelot, Snake's brother is planning an insurrection with his PMCs, and Snake is called in for one last mission to stop Liquid's plot. He agrees, but he barely seems up to the challenge. Snake has always looked rough, with his tendency toward stubble and chain-smoking, but in MGS4, he's downright ragged.

We won't give away more of the story, but know that Guns of the Patriots will probably confuse players unschooled in the twists and turns of the series's overarching story, while those who have followed this thick plot will find questions answered and loose ends tied up.

The gameplay is better than ever. The mechanics have been rebuilt from the ground up, incorporating every worthwhile feature from the series and ditching some of the fussier ones. It feels familiar yet fresh. Players move, aim and fire Snake's weapons from an over-the-shoulder perspective, although view can be switched to first-person for precision shots. The sneaking and shooting are tight and responsive throughout; when Snake dies, it's never the fault of the controls. And as usual, the game can be played through with non-lethal weapons if a player is up to the challenge.

The motion capture, scene construction and virtual camera work are all top-notch; in fact, the game is gorgeous in every way. And the story is interesting and generally well told, with excellent voice work adding weight and credibility to the sometimes overwritten script. The only false notes are the occasional bits of puerile humor.

-- Justin Hoeger, McClatchy Newspapers

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Mature; PlayStation 3 ($59.99) Konami

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