Two years ago we saw 'Metal Gear Solid 4' being previewed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. It brought the room to its feet. Now Hideo Kojima's much-lauded game is on store shelves and it's sending scores of gamers to their consoles.
Two years before it arrived on store shelves, I saw Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots being previewed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. A high-def snippet from the game left the packed exhibition hall full of fans and press cheering and rubbing their hands in anticipation of grabbing a PlayStation 3 controller and sneaking up on some new-tech action.
For those gamers familiar with the series and its ingenious creator, Hideo Kojima, that fevered longing for a fourth and (supposedly) concluding chapter in the Metal Gear saga seems understandable. After all, few video game franchises have been so stuffed with cutting-edge gameplay and quirky histrionics as this one.
A Twist of Snake
Metal Gear Solid 4—through cinematic cutscenes that could almost amount to a full-length film if strung together—plays out as a sweeping and convoluted melodrama of a future dominated by a war economy. PMCs (private military companies) are the major employers in this new world and armed conflict is the equivalent of a business lunch.
Soldiers pumped up with microscopic nanomachines—that monitor their every move, improve their teamwork, and give them strength and health boosts—are this generation's disposable superpawns. And with those new-fangled troops, the world's governments, armament traders, tyrannical madmen and, well, everybody struggle to grab their piece of the pie. But one villain in particular (who is called, among other things, Liquid Snake) is very close to maneuvering his way into control of the whole kit and caboodle.
It's the gamer's job to stop him. So you suit up as a prematurely aging rogue mercenary named Solid Snake (tagged Old Snake) who chain-smokes his way through the game like a crumbling coal train. Now, if you're scratching your head about the different Snakes involved, I'll just say that they're actually cloned twin brothers, birthed from the genes of another powerhouse called Naked Snake (aka Big Boss). That Snake was a key player in the world-dominating, nuclear schemes of a secret international conglomerate called the Patriots.
Clear as battlefield mud, now? Well, believe me, the cast of central characters grows exponentially from there—with equally cryptic monikers like Big Mama, Vamp and Zero—and the tale gets murkier and ever more tangled as it inches toward tying up all of the series' loose ends.
Creep, Peep and Kill
As you make your way through the treachery and layered megalomania, though, you quickly realize that this is a finely tuned stealth/strategy/shooter. Battlefields in Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East are graphically superb, taking full advantage of the PS3's Blu-ray capabilities and making the active firefights strikingly lifelike.
On that shooter-focused front, gamers tumble amidst the rubble and dive behind burned-out vehicles for cover, taking aim with one of over 77 different upgradeable weapons that include sniper rifles, shotguns, RPGs and machine guns. And when you get into close-quarter squabbles, throat-slashing knife kills can come into play as well—with you systematically dropping enemies who scream and spurt gore.
All of which eventually leads to big finishing battles in each level that pit Old Snake against inventive big bosses in high-tech gear. Surprisingly, that's where a lot of slinky sexuality is ushered in. Because most of the final bosses are actually women wrapped in fancy super-powered battle togs. But not for long. When your Snake bests them, the combat equipment falls away leaving the shapely beauties dressed in form-hugging bodysuits. They each stride or crawl toward the soldier-hero with seductive movements as the camera swoops in to ogle their every well-defined curve.
Other female characters wear low-cut, cleavage-baring outfits that the camera likes to examine closely, too. There are also some rather odd live-action commercials with provocatively dressed actresses, and girlie magazines are scattered here and there for you to pick up and page through (showing pics of bikini-clad models).
As for language, the s- and f-words make the lexicon. As do "d--n," "h---," "a--" and "b--tard."
"My Games Shouldn't Be Like That"
That kind of stuff is a major stumbling block for discerning gamers. And I really wish it wasn't there. Because for all the death-dealing and sexy goings on, the real fun of this title comes to the fore when you're trying not to bloody your foes or peep at girls. The AI enemy characters work incredibly well within the imaginative environments of each level and this creates exceedingly challenging stealthy gameplay.
Old Snake is set up as a hired agent who's really not aligned with any fighting force. So how he accomplishes his job is pretty much up to him. In fact, there are certain storyline incentives that encourage him to keep his killing to a minimum. With the help of a silencer-equipped tranquilizer pistol and OctoCamo battle suit—that mimics an octopus's ability to blend in with its environment—you can actually choose to hug walls, glance around corners, hang from ledges and crawl your way through a large portion of the game without firing a single lethal bullet.
"You don't have to kill the enemy. ... I want people to understand that kind of feeling—killing someone you had no intention to kill," Hideo Kojima told the U.K.'s Official PlayStation Magazine. "These days, with any [first-person shooter] you're either on side 'A' or side 'B' and you're killing, killing, killing, but my games shouldn't be like that."
That's an interesting viewpoint in today's rabid, blood-and-guts industry. But his quirky, creative and involving Metal Gear Solid 4 ultimately force gamers in the direction of so much gunplay and blood that it can't follow through on his sentiment.