Thursday, June 26, 2008

How can anything be so right and so wrong at the same time... I mean besides me, of course...

Ahh yes, Metal Gear Solid! We come to it at last! If the blithering of pungent otaku hermits is to be believed this legendary videogame franchise is said to act like a combination of Viagra and powdered rhinoceros horn on the superfluous appendage of the fanboy elite. Crafted over the course of years by the very kensai of console gaming, Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid 4 – Guns of the Patriots is said to be the conclusion and crowning achievement of this twenty year old epic. The game’s protagonist, Solid Snake, nears the end of his life and with his last remaining days he will battle all adversaries, both old and new, for the freedom of the very future itself!

Not bad, eh? So after all that let me just come out and tell you what you want to know right off the bat: Guns of the Patriots is a must-have PS3 title for two reasons. The first is because the latest Metal Gear has some of the greatest things I’ve seen in a videogame. The second is because this game has some of the most ridiculously pathetic things I’ve seen in a videogame. With but a single Blu-Ray disk you get all the heady highs and basement-bottom lows this medium has to offer. I regard Guns as an old high school girlfriend; gorgeous, tight, and thoroughly fucking retarded every time she opened her mouth. The constant hassle of breaking up and making up (read: cut-scenes and load times) are more than ameliorated by the high quality hate-sex (read: game play.)

First, the sex - I mean game play. From the moment the menu screen loads up you know that you are in for a treat! Metal Gear Solid 4 truly is a game that has to be seen to be believed. Graphics-wise whatever measuring stick you want to whip out, this Metal Gear will satisfy. Environments, textures, particle effects - the game excels on all fronts and is one of the finest looking console titles around. The sound, both in music and effects, is right in step with the visuals.

That however is not the great part. The game engine is capable of real time cut-scene quality close-ups that can then swing out seamlessly into the third person view. They prove this by often transitioning directly from cut-scene to combat and the only way you can tell the difference is because your H.U.D. returns to view. With the touch of a button you can shift between the traditional third person, to the newer over-the-shoulder view, to the first person/aiming down the sights perspective at any time. You can play this game in any of those modes and it will serve you well to use all three on the fly in any given scene in order to see exactly what you want to see.

What this amazing multi-view does is make Guns not only the decent stealth game it always was but a truly great shooting game too boot. There are seventy weapons to find or buy and while you can only hold five at a time the other sixty-five can be quickly accessed out of the pause menu and then equipped. You can even buy ammo and special attachments mid-battle. Assault rifle not thrilling you like it use to? Pull out your drum-fed grenade launcher or perhaps one of the Javelin or Stinger missile systems. The sheer volume of weaponry at your fingertips, from tranquiller darts to rail cannons, makes it a Metal Gear for all players and all playing styles.

This variety, the level design, the difficulty settings, plus the tons of secrets to find and special rewards to earn give the single player story more re-playability than most narrative-driven games. Perks like an in-game digital camera and virtual iPod allow you to take pictures while you play and create your own soundtrack with music from the current and all previous Metal Gears. The on-line component – aside from a torturous registration procedure – is surprisingly good once you understand that this is a multiplayer shooter that is not in direct competition with games like Call of Duty 4 or Halo 3. The game’s stealth elements are married very well with the standard on-line modes and encourage you to mix up your techniques. The overall polish, thoughtfulness, and product depth say one thing above all: there was a lot of skill and love put into this game.

The sad irony to be found in Metal Gear Solid 4 is that a title with such excellent game play and features doesn’t require the crutches of complex narrative or elaborate cut-scenes to add value to the product. Alas poor Guns has been not only been saddled with such conventions but brought to its knees under the weight it must bear. In my experience Metal Gear Solid 4 stands alone in this regard: not only is it the most comically horrible action story ever told, it requires HOURS of your patience to tell it.

There are chapters or acts in this title where the game play and the cut-scenes share equal time! This goes far beyond getting up to make a sandwich. True Story: One time my lovely wife was watching me play this game until a cut-scene came up. She then went into the kitchen and started preparing lasagna for our dinner; four layers of meat, tomato sauce, cheese and pasta sheets. She finished this noteworthy task, popped it in the oven and then returned to the living room.

“Are you on the same cut-scene?” She asks me.
“Uh-huh,” I nod, suddenly realising a film or glaze had fogged my eyes.
“Wankers,” she cursed and then went to mix herself another Cosmo.

Wankers indeed. Metal Gear’s storyline is a leviathan of narrative excess, an effort that is too galling and self-indulgent to simply ignore or gloss over as we do with so many of the games we love. Every single melodramatic Japanese anime cliché can be found within from cute animal sidekicks to weapons-laden weddings, emo ninjas to giant robots. Dead people come back to life only to give a monologue and then they die again!

Spoilers, you gasp? Respectfully, I say fuck you sir. This trite nonsense needs to be dragged out into the cleansing sunshine where we can all watch it shrivel and expire. Skipping cut-scenes would normally render my outrage moot but within these vignettes are button prompts that earn you cash and opportunities to move around the area in order to find extra equipment. Suffer through the cut-scenes and you are rewarded in ways other players won’t be. “Watch my movies” the developer is telling you, “and I’ll give you the camera.” In my mind this is the very height of egotism.

I will admit there were a few exciting action sequences and truly touching scenes, rare moments that were smothered by the meandering dialogue and pointless back-story. I have played all of the four main Metal Gear Solid titles and I can appreciate the reams of fan service this game provides. Defensive diehards have proposed that such things are what a “Metal Gear” game is made of, as if this point somehow makes the title beyond critique. This story and the huge swaths of time it takes to tell doesn’t merely besmirch the game play however, it actively works against it. The narrative destroys all manner of pacing. The excitement you feel after finishing a scene is left to dwindle and die once the cut-scenes enter double digit minutes. Having started my second go-through and skipping the cut-scenes I’m happy to report that unfettered the game takes flight. The pacing is restored despite the fact that you will still sit through multiple load screens between chapters.

Writing about this most bi-polar of games has brought out my own extremist reactions and so I thank you, gentle reader, for my own spot of self-indulgence. Again I reiterate my recommendation to put this game in the collection. While playing, I think you will find it a superlative experience and while watching, you will bear witness to something… Well something truly unique anyway. At last we gamers have our Ishtar! We have our Waterworld! It is an entertainment milestone worth mentioning.

Words from people you don't know on games you don't care about...

Jay from approached me with the opportunity to have my writing appear on his website! After reading several articles I thought it would be a good fit. The site is equal parts irreverent and insightful with a good measure of the potty humour that you know I love to roll around in. This review also appears on videolamer and I hope others will follow. If you're are looking for a new and interesting gamer site then I recommend checking out the above link.

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