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Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is more of an interactive movie than a game, and as expected for such a cinematic experience, the relationships between the characters take up a good part of the screen time. I loved the well-crafted genuinely moving moments, and particularly the fact that there were a lot of strong women. However, I wish it could take its relationships as serious as the realities of war. I disliked the childish humour, the voyeuristic mini-games, oh and Snake's hiney.
As I played and watched (well, mainly watched) Metal Gear Solid 4, one of the things I noticed is that there were some great female characters in the game. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the women were stronger than the men. Snake himself, ravaged by rapid aging, is no longer the super soldier he once was, whereas his former love interest Meryl is as tough and more together as ever - although the same cannot be said for some of the members of her Rat Patrol team.
Then there's uber-geek Otacon, who prefers to hide away from the real world in his airborne Nomad base, using the Metal Gear Mk III robot to help Snake out so that he doesn't have to actually be there himself. This culminates in his helplessness as he watches through a television screen as the woman he loves die, unable to hold her in his arms in her final moments.
His hiatus of prescience is made all the more obvious by his adopted daughter, Sunny, who has already surpassed him in terms of abilities despite her tender years, and often ends up finishing off his projects for him.
We see Jonny take his helmet off for the first time and rescue Meryl, and I begin to twig to why she might keep him around.
Some of the toughest bosses in the game are also female - notably (for me at least) Crying Wolf - one of four formidable creatures that are a Beauty and the Beast Unit. Something about them struck a chord deep within. Their stories were. to me, the most moving moments in the game - each of the women is a former victim of war who has suffered atrocities and then been convinced that Snake is the one behind them.
After you finally defeat each of them, you get to hear their terrible, tragic stories. There is a moment of real remorse and wonder at what might have been. If only more games would do this gaming would become a wholly more reflective art with a sense of responsibility for the killing that's been done.
Snake himself is without love in this game. I felt kind of sorry for him, but it seemed fitting. He's old, tired, and grumpy as hell, he has a mission to do, and he knows that one way or another he's going to die soon.
We do see romance blossom among some of the other characters, principally Meryl and Johnny. This was more interesting that it might have been. Perhaps I should have seen it coming. Johnny starts the game playing as basically a male version of a bimbo - himbos? - he seems utterly clueless and to be constantly putting Meryl and the rest of her team in harm's way. I initially thought his character had principally been included so as to add an element of comic relief to the dark themes of war and the long, dry exposition. I found myself shouting at my television for someone, anyone, to shoot this guy before he got everyone else killed through his stupidity.
It just didn't seem appropriate - especially given that the girls were victims of war atrocities.
Later though, we see Jonny take his helmet off for the first time and rescue Meryl, and I begin to twig to why she might keep him around. Johnny - whose voice and personality made me think he would have a face only a mother could love - is H-O-T. Meryl seems to think so too - and after discovering that Johnny is not such a coward after all, but that he simply wasn't using the nanomachines that numbed everyone else to the horrors of war - he definitely grew on me.
One moment in particular, where he reveals his love for Meryl and asks her to marry him in the middle of a firefight was oddly moving and my favourite in the game. Something about the story really appealed to me - probably the element of the underdog finally coming out on top.
But for all the love and deep dark narrative there is no sex. This seems to be a world where people are prepared to talk about their feelings for hours on end rather than get down to it. Otacon and Naomi presumably get it on when she drags him into the helicopter and closes the door, but what happens after that is left to our imaginations.
What we do get a lot of though is bottoms. Figure hugging outfits and camera angles seem to disproportionately focus on rear ends. This not only applies to some of the women, but to Snake too, whose tush I had no choice but to focus on for most of the game. It will certainly take a long time for the image of his camo-clad buttocks to be wiped from my mind. I mean, it wouldn't be so bad if he was a younger guy, but he looks like he got his free bus pass several years ago? Uh, no thanks.
I applaud the brilliant, intelligent female characters, but I could have done without the schoolyard humour.
After finishing the game, I went online to clear up a few of the plotlines, and while doing so found out about two of the more notorious Easter eggs. The first is being able to get psychological counsellor Rosemary's breasts to move around under her sweater by shaking the controller while talking to her. The other you get if you don't kill any of the Beauty and the Beast bosses for three minutes. After that time, you are then transported to a white room, and if you get out your camera the girls will pose for pictures. If you play a certain song on your iPod they will start busting moves and singing along karaoke style. It just didn't seem appropriate - especially given that the girls were victims of war atrocities suffering from a post traumatic stress disorder. But as is perpetuated here once again, video game land in a world where these things don't register.
But perhaps that's the point. Metal Gear Solid 4 is a game that doesn't seem to know whether it's a man or a schoolboy. One minute there's an in-depth discussion about the war economy, the next everyone is falling about laughing because a pet monkey wearing a plastic nappy is burping. It's a formula that lets them dig deep into war theory but leave other more human concerns such as intimacy and love on the sidelines. I applaud the brilliant, intelligent female characters, but I could have done without the schoolyard humour.
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.
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