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Even when life was less busy, when the evenings stretched on into the darkness and the mornings were mine for the consuming, even back then for some reason I never turned my hand to Metal Gear Solid. This espionage action game now sees its fourth release and gives me more reason than ever to pop my Metal Gear cherry.
Since then a lot has changed, the family has grown and the aforementioned franchise has evolved. But strangely, now that my free time is scarcer, and I really should know better than considering getting involved, I feel more attracted than ever to don cat suit and armour in the world of Metal Gear.
To give it its full name, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, is the last outing for director Hideo Kojima's Solid Snake character. This is the culmination of a saga that spans 20 years and has games going back to the 80's. This is a game that has made its mark amongst a loyal hardcore following who lapped up not only some of the highest production values of recent years, but also the unfolding legend around the main character himself. From the top down NES classic now emerges a cinematic experience as butch, thrilling and suspense-filled as any summer blockbuster.
Once the family are a little more self sufficient and I can sit back with the missus and relax of an evening, perhaps I'll find again that strange land called disposable time, and within it conquer my journey back to these hardcore classic.
Pop the disc in for the first time and there is the obligatory ten minute PS3 installation process. At least here you are treated to a full physics animation of Snake meaningfully smoking a cigarette. Although this could be a cheesy introduction to our protagonist, the quality of animation and fidelity of the visuals actually makes it quite entrancing. I was reminded of the scene that first introduces Strider in Lord of the Rings. There he sits, impenetrable, stealthy and silent (just like Snake), across a crowded pub in a dark corner chugging on his pipe. The connection may not have been intended, but it worked well for me - I'm into that kind of thing.
Now, before I say too much I should note that being just a few hours in, I am far from being able to talk with any real authority. But hey, that's not going to stop me and like I said this is a family gamer first impression rather than the in depth analysis you will find elsewhere (in abundance).
These first ten minutes with the game are actually quite telling of the experience as a whole. A lot of the action is viewed in cut-scenes that are of sufficient quality to keep the player away from the skip button. This continues a rich vein of PS3 games that pursue a cinematic presentation. In fact, Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4) on the PS3 could be seen as the perfect homecoming. Both the game and the system cater to an audience who want more from their games than a quick play. They want to be engaged like they are in movies. MGS4 certainly delivers on this count in, by the bucket.
However, being of the more casual persuasion with games these days, it wasn't surprising then that my early enthusiasm for the game started to wane in the first hour. As I progressed through the introductory filmic episodes I realised I was woefully ill-equipped to get very far here - I simply didn't have enough time. This was made more frustrating by some ingenious and intriguing touches that made me want to learn more. Flash backs for example, were available at certain points in the narrative. Pressing a particular button cut the footage to a grainy image from Snake's past, and helped alleviate my lack of knowledge of the story. These half-second clips cleverly connected me to the characters being talked about, or the distant history that was referenced.
As I progressed through the introductory filmic episodes I realised I was woefully ill-equipped to get very far here - I simply didn't have enough time.
The watchable sections were interspersed with a variety of different mission based levels. It really does feel that way around, as MGS4 stretches the balance between watching and playing to absolute breaking point. The game never seems to quite commit to being either a movie with gameplay or a game with cut-scenes. Either way it is certainly nice to get to direct the action yourself after watching so much character acting.
The player directed portions are played largely in third-person, and have similarities to other games that obviously drew heavily on previous games in the Metal Gear cannon. Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon spring to mind for example. There is an ever increasing array of weapons and equipment to help you on your way, not to mention remote controlled robots, bionic eye patches and stun knives. But having said all this, we still haven't really got to the heart of what sort of game MGS4 actually is.
Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4) on the PS3 could be seen as the perfect homecoming.
In a nutshell what we have here is a tactical sneaking-shooting game. The term sneak 'em up seems to sum up the general play mechanic pretty nicely, although as you progress there is more emphasis on the sneaking than the shooting. Usually the most effective way through a level is to spend time planning camouflage, enemy line of sight, and your visibility profile. Charge forward hoping to get away with Gears of War's run-and-gun stop-and-pop tactics and you will soon come to a sticky end.
To reduce this game down to its constituent elements is, like glossing over the substantial back-story, is to miss the point. MGS4 is significant because of what it is as a whole. Where other titles fail, it coherently brings together some impressive disparate pieces, such as filmic graphics, pixel perfect gameplay and believable voice work, in such a way as to give it the air of poignancy and meaning.
As a newcomer to the franchise, I was unsurprisingly left a little cold. Much of the gameplay I had seen elsewhere. I didn't find the sneaking all that much fun, and I simply didn't have time (or patience) for the lengthy cut-scenes. But above and beyond all this I could tell there was a great game here. It was just a game for someone else, not me. Or rather, I should say not for me now. Once the family are a little more self sufficient and I can sit back with the missus and relax of an evening, perhaps I'll find again that strange land called disposable time, and within it conquer my journey back to these hardcore classic.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: