Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots Review - 18/06/2008

Metal Gear Solid 4 was bound to disappoint. The hype that begins when a game of this calibre is first announced can only spell bad things for the game itself. There will always be one thing that critics pick up on that makes them ever so slightly disappointed, which is largely due to the thinking that the game in question will be the 'Best Game Ever', a title that no game can truly inherit.

And so, as you have probably already guessed, I am disappointed with MGS4, a game that I have been hotly anticipating, and the game that I bought my PS3 for. But unlike critics of many games that don't live up to the hype, I am not disappointed because of the minor problems that Guns of the Patriots has. On the contrary, I am disheartened by the fact that this will most probably be the best game we see this year, with Kojima setting the benchmark for Stealth Action so high. Nothing in the genre will ever stand a chance against Snake's last mission. Disappointing may not be the right term to use though, it being seen as a negative one, maybe I must just accept that Metal Gear Solid 4 is as close to perfection as the series has ever got, nailing everything that the franchise has achieved since its conception back in 1988. That was a lot of praise for an opening paragraph, but MGS4 deserves every bit of it.

Solid Snake is decaying. Accelerated ageing has caused not only his hair to whiten, but also his combat abilities to slowly diminish. The story of Guns of the Patriots can be seen as two conflicts, the struggle of Old Snake, as he is now known, and his rapid ageing; and the conflict between the soldier and Liquid Ocelot, the convergence of the series' two main villains into one body. Both of these fights take their toll on Snake, who becomes progressively more fragile as the mission goes on. His search for Liquid takes him across the globe, continuing the James Bond like structure that the games have attempted to have, with him travelling to places such as the Middle East and South America.

Snake has returned in the adventure to end all adventures.

Snake is assigned the mission of Liquid's assassination by none other than MGS1's Colonel Campbell, who explains the mission to Snake during an interactive mission briefing. Before each location, Otacon performs a mission briefing with you aboard his plane, the Nomad, with the lovable scientist staying there to look after the child of the late Olga Gurlukovich. If you have no idea who this oddly named woman is then you may be thinking that MGS4 doesn't have the right story for you, and you would partly be right. Yes, the story is very complex, requiring solid prior knowledge of the series to get around its intricacies, but even without knowing your La Le Lu Le Lo from your Big Boss, you can still enjoy the vastly compelling narrative the game tells. Every plot twist comes at the right time, with some real '24'quality surprises later on. But mostly, Kojima knows how to deliver a deeply emotional and personal plot, the perfect way to end a series that has thrived on this throughout. Anyone that cried at the end of MGS3 is sure to shed a tear once or twice here, if only for the closure that Guns of the Patriots gives to franchise. A brilliantly woven story, that tugs every bit of emotion out of this ageing hero as possible, makes for a narrative that is definitely the best in the series.

If you have paid attention to any of the many trailers for Metal Gear Solid 4, you will probably already know about the warring factions that you can side with, depending on your current situation. The PMC troops always have a resistance group fighting against their oppression, and siding with one or the other can help you proceed to your destination with assistance. This is as simple as whoever you have shot last, which means you have to be careful not to hit a comrade by accident if you want to remain undercover. This works well, and allows for different play styles depending on the kind of gamer you are. But as we know, Kojima isn't one to reveal all there is to a game in some teaser trailers, and once again we have been fooled by his strategy. This gameplay comes to an abrupt end in the second act of the game - each of the 5 acts lasting around 4 hours - where Snake must locate scientist Naomi Hunter of MGS1 from a lab in South America. After this point, the enemies you fight become, how should I put it...less human, and you no longer have to side with a faction. This is actually a surprisingly positive aspect of the game, increasing the longevity by providing varying styles of gameplay throughout. Each act focuses on a different area, and in turn a different way of playing MGS. Some are better than others, the tracking sequence in Act 2 being one of the standout moments of the entire franchise, and while some are less interesting, the trip back to a memorable location is little more than a way to pull on the threads of nostalgia that you hold, they are still better than your average action game level. The best parts of Guns of the Patriots end up being the standout moments of the series, using the excellent stealth gameplay of the other games, all the while innovating on these ideas. When talking about MGS4, the weaker moments are only relative to the awe-inspiring set pieces that litter the game.

The combat is on an entirely new scale to match the power of the PS3.

But as much as Guns of the Patriots perfects what the series has achieved so far, it builds on these with newly thought out features that show that Kojima Productions are innovating with even the last entry in the series. These range from the psyche and stress meters, values that can affect your health, and more importantly your aiming, dramatically; to the gun launderer Drebin who will buy weapons you pick up on the battlefield in exchange for his services when it comes to more guns, ammo, and even upgrades for your most beloved armaments. Both of these additions give new life to the game, with Drebin being especially helpful in allowing you to buy any ammo you require at any point during the mission. Throw in Snake's new gadgets: the Solid Eye, an all in one eye-patch that shows you what side enemies are on, the location of nearby items, or it can also be used as a set of Thermal or Scope Binoculars; and Metal Gear MKII-Ocelot's homemade robot that can be used for reconnaissance and scouting during the mission, and you have some great additions to the stealth gameplay of Metal Gear. And while you may not use either of these items, and may forget about the stress and psyche meter, the one aspect of the game that you won't do without is the new controls, the best the series has ever seen.

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