After the big hoo-hah surrounding early MGS4 reviews, with Konami stopping reviewers chatting about the game in its full, a few slightly poorer scores have dampened the excitement levels a touch. The critics have still been full of praise, but there have been a few hints that Snake’s legs may be showing their age.
We all know what to expect with Snake’s epic tales these days. There’s always going to be tonnes of sneaking about, craftily - and most importantly, quietly - taking out enemies, and lots of time spent not actually playing the game.
Hideo Kojima hasn’t attempted to deviate from that tried and tested formula for the series conclusion. With 20 years worth of fans to take care of, Kojima Productions have given long-term fanatics a real treat here.
By the time you spy the closing credits, every plot thread that has been started in the series over the years is tied up in a quite beautiful bow. No, not every character gets a shiny happy ending - and this being Metal Gear, who would honestly expect as much - but you’ve got to commend Kojima for trying to leave us with no questions once this epic’s finally over.
The story here, without giving too much away, is standard Metal Gear Solid fare. It’s all about trying to break moulds, and be more than a mere cog in a huge war machine. It’s all complicated, full of lengthy dialogue, and as close to "the movies" as gaming ever gets.
As usual, lengthy cutscenes do the main task of spinning the yarn. Breaks in play are frequent, so keep a bucket of popcorn sat beside you for when the real lengthy ones get going. If you’ve been a real critic of this kind of plot progression, then Kojima isn’t attempting to change your mind. He just wants to tell his own story the way he sees fit.
If there’s one criticism, then it’s towards the end of the game. With the story reaching its stunning climax, the last few hours of gaming will be spent with only a fraction of the time under your control. Yes, this might negate the whole "game" premise of Metal Gear Solid, but with the absolute enjoyment of the story on offer, it’s a minor flaw at worst.
That’s not to say that it’s all peaches and cream. There are moments of dialogue and certain cutscenes that will be remembered just like your favourite film snippets. But equally there’s a lot of over-the-top awkward chat between characters, and a fair few cringe worthy moments. But again, what self respecting Metal Gear Solid fan would expect any different?
The hinted-towards epic battles shown off in the many trailers make for one of the best gaming openings of all time. Starting in an un-named Middle Eastern city, Snake finds himself stuck in the middle of a huge firefight. And with your new found freedom, it’s entirely up to you what to do next. Do you simply keep to the shadows, making sure the coast is clear before heading to the next point of cover? Or do you get stuck right in and keep your trigger finger itchy?
It’s unfortunate that this freedom isn’t continued for a greater length of time. As fantastic as these opening Acts are, you’re gradually forced down one narrow avenue as the game continues. That’s not to say that they fail to be really bloody impressive. Just when compared to the incredible opening sections, they just can’t hit the same heights.
With streamlined controls from the convoluted nature of Metal Gear Solid 3, battling it out is far more intuitive. With the huge combo’s removed, it’ll take half the button presses to kick some enemy bottom this time around. And expect to see some stunning actions performed by the old Snake this time around.
Kojima claims to be using the PS3 to its limits, and when you peek at the visuals, you can’t really argue with him. Metal Gear Solid 4 is stunningly gorgeous at the worst of times, and downright incredible at best. The edges might, at times, but slightly rough, but the artwork here is something truly special.
By the way, make a brew before you stick the Blu-ray disc in as the game requires an 8 minute install before you can get down and play. Plus, there’s a brief install time between each Act too, leaving you just enough time to keep your snacks of choice topped up.
And then there’s Metal Gear Online, which is bound to be incredibly well populated, and adored by gamers around the world. No it’s not thrill a minute stuff, but its not trying to be Call of Duty 4/Grand Theft Auto IV.
To finally see Snake go is certainly a sad time. As a closing to an epic series, this is the fan service we all dreamed of. As a game on its own, it’s stunning in its own right. Ignore the naysayers who claim the story is dull and tedious, they’re just fools. Metal Gear Solid 4 is simply fantastic.