Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the patriots.
Build up to the release of a game can be a marketers dream. We’ve seen slow builds like Titanfall or GTA V pay off hugely as millions of customers rush out to buy a game before reviews are even released, let alone read. Gamers frothing at the mouth due to the slow drip feed of information, finally able to get hold of the answer to all of life’s questions contained within one Bluray.
There’s another type of build up. One that I imposed on myself, for reasons unknown, with MGS4. I’ve had a PS3 for years and didn’t think to play the 4th instalment of Hideo Kojima’s increasingly frantic fever dream/video game. I even bought it and left it in my draw for no reason at all. All the time building it up in my head, reading and watching reviews produced seven years ago, reminiscing about past iterations of the series and how much I enjoyed them. It was the flagship game for the PS3, pushing the machine graphically and the production levels through the roof. A game so massive and detailed it would have required seven discs to play on the competing Xbox 360.
It’s a shame then that after playing this bloated, self important waste of gaming time that this particular type of build up reminds of times in my past when I’ve reached for a plunger to help me out.
Continuing the story of Solid Snake after the events of MGS2, we’re approached by Otacon and Major Tom who have heard that Liquid/Ocelot is visible again and there is a chance to kill him. Snake is suffering the effects of being a super clone soldier and is aging prematurely. That is all of the plot that you need to know. You’ll notice that it didn’t require seven more paragraphs explaining the details further. This is my main problem with the game. The Metal Gear Solid series has always had long cut scenes, but never like this. 15, 30, 45 minute cut scenes are common, most of which are a confusing mess of over complicated dialogue that have never been read by an editor. This would sound like a minor point in any other game in which the game play/cut scene ratio would be in the favour of someone that enjoys playing video games. This isn’t the case though. I wish I had recorded how much time I actually had something to do, other than passively listen to Kojima’s translated word vomit. I’ve played the other games, I know what the back story is, but even I was confused.
It was as if Kojima wanted EVERY single Metal Gear Solid character to make an appearance and turn this into “MGS Nostalgia: The video game”. Forcing story arches and surprises into a story that could have done with some fresh faces. Now nostalgia can work, the Shadow Moses level is great but that is mostly due to the increased amount of game playing I got to do in a familiar, yet higher res location. The ending also takes over 45 minutes to watch. 45 MINUTES. Ever got to the end of an intense game and thought “I wish I could watch the director waffle on for the length of a Breaking bad episode without taking breath”? No, nor have I.
Then there is MGS4’s relationship to women. I would not describe myself as a feminist yet I do understand that equality has not been reached. I also do not agree with many criticisms levelled at video games as a genre. However one of the main story lines is that Snake has to “Save” the Beauty and the Beast unit. These are all beautiful women, scared psychologically (Not physically however) by war and driven to fight. Snake saves these women by shooting them. Once he beats them they strip their battle gear off, revealing tight battle suits. You can tell they’re tight because at certain camera angles you can probably tell what they last ate. They then stalk Snake in a seductive manor after writhing on the floor moaning snakes name.
Every other female character in the game also seemed to have a problem purchasing an outfit in which it could be buttoned up above the belly button. I know this is fantasy but every female character in the game is ultimately saved by a man or men, even when the women are superior in skill and experience. Meryl, a hardened soldier, decides that proposing to a guy that has been inept up until that point is a sensible thing to do while bullets rain down around them. Yes this is a seven year old game but if you haven’t played it yet then it could be something to watch out for. There were times when I was playing this when I felt genuinely embarrassed for how blatantly women were portrayed as inferior or subordinate.
Now at the same time MGS4 does many things right.
It does allow you to select how you’ll play the game. Likely you’ll try sneaking before getting frustrated and just shooting everyone in sight. But you can be ultra sneaky should you want to play as a purist. It does have a more action feel but still keeps close to the original formula that everyone loves.
The boss battles are again brilliant. None of them reach the heights of previous stand outs but follow the rule of being both incredibly difficult yet very easy once you think about what you’re doing giving a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.
It looks beautiful. Seven years later and it still looks impressive. Splitting up the screen to show you other events while you complete a section is a brilliant idea and adds to the feeling of urgency.
The theme that the story is written around, Private Military Corporations, is one that needs to be brought up more often and in fact is the basis of the next COD game. PMC’s represent a huge number of the armed forces in the world today and that scares the crap out of me. No longer do people even need conflict to fight a war. They just need to get paid. I actually agree with every point that Kojima makes about this situation in MGS4, I just wish he’d made about a third of it so that people could understand him.
In the end I’m glad that I played through MGS4. It has shown me a valuable lesson that while I love story driven games more than any other. I have a breaking point and that is when the game part of ‘story driven game’ is shrunk down in order to appease a creator who is desperately in need of a stern talking to. Maybe that’s why Metal Gear Solid 5 is only a couple of hours long.
Have you played through MGS4 yourself? Let me know what you thought.
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