21 hours later; MGS 4 review
Amazing to think that the Metal Gear saga has been 21 years in the making. Even more amazing that it took us almost exactly 21 hours to complete the first playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 4 - Solid Snake's swansong.
One hour per year - I wonder if that was in the game design like so many other clever and nostalgic references to MG and MGS titles gone by that appear in the game...
There will be no spoilers here - all I will tell you is how it felt to play, and complete, the most important PS3 exclusive of the year.
I'll be up front about it - I've had a problem with the Metal Gear Solid series over the years.
Whether I was playing MGS, MGS2, MGS3 or the PSP incarnation, the controls never felt quite right to me. There was always something frustrating about the way your character moved - whether it was Solid, Naked or Raiden - that led me to give away my position way too often. In a tactical espionage game, this was never a good trait.
As a result, despite having completed every MGS game (and Metal Gear on the MSX - the only one I've missed is MG2), I've never felt like playing through any of them more than once. I forced myself to play the 'second-half' of MGS2, just to experience life as Snake. Although I must say now, I was never one of the Raiden-haters and after his performance in MGS4, I like him more than ever now.
The controls in MGS 4, on the other hand, feel perfect. When you want to do something, it is easy to achieve and Snake responds to your commands with the accuracy you'd expect from an old war dog. Not only does this make life a lot easier, but it goes towards the complete sense of immersion this game creates.
And that is the key result of Kojima-san's brilliant game design - the immersion.
In order to assist this immersion over the years, MGS famously has turned to cinematic cut-scenes, but again there is a marked difference with MGS 4.
The cinematic elements of the story are filled with great cameos from Metal Gear favourites and are all well acted out. For the first time, the graphics in the scenes look the same as the graphics when you're playing, which adds to the level of immersion. Many times throughout you can look at the cut-scene from a different perspective and there are hundreds of 'flashbacks' to access that shows quick clips from previous games in the franchise.
Even the Codec is entertaining, thanks to the live video feed from the caller, and the mission briefings allow for all sorts of interaction using the little Mk. II robot.
The combination of the slick controls, the well-acted interactive cinematics and the natural flow from scene to gameplay combine towards the most complete of experiences. As a result, the cut-scenes never seem too long - they feel just like part of what you're doing to progress through the 'Acts'.
Everything feels like gameplay, even when you're not actually playing.
The result? I will play this title through again, and again. Already knowing what lies ahead and the achievements I have yet to complete, it would not be wrong for me to suggest that MGS 4 has at least 100 hours of gameplay in it - some people will play it for much longer than that.
Although MGS 4 is littered with references to the games that have gone before it, people who are new to the series can pick this up and play it without worrying about prior knowledge. Sure, some of the storyline might get lost on these ' Metal Gear Newbies', but MGS 4 never requires you to have an encyclopedic knowledge of all the characters and the timeline.
After a personal journey that takes in over 31 years of gaming, and 21 years of seeing Hideo Kojima's story unfold, the 21 hours I spent completing Metal Gear Solid 4 results in one clear statement - MGS 4 is a gaming masterpiece and everyone should experience it.