Metal Gear Solid 4 Piggyback Guide Review - 11/07/2008

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is an amazing game, one that features so many small nuances and secrets that even a veteran would have a hard time finding without a little help. This is where Piggyback come in, with the MGS4 Official Guidebook. But is it as essential as the impeccable game?

Before even considering buying this Guidebook, you have to have completed Metal Gear Solid 4 at least once. The book is full of spoilers, and it’s easier to avoid spoilers by not having it anywhere near you. That said, the walkthrough section of the guide does block out major puzzle solutions to let you try and work it out for yourself, all in its own section of the walkthrough. This will provide you with basic tips to defeat bosses for example, but not tell you the trick behind an overall victory. Spoilers are handled excellently throughout the guide, but they are still there, meaning that you should definitely avoid this guidebook during your first run-through of the epic mission.

The Guidebook is split into 5 distinctive sections: How to play, Walkthrough, Inventory, Metal Gear Online and Extras, each of which is then split into further subsections discussing the intricacies of these different aspects of the game. Obviously the most extensive section is the 76 page long Walkthrough that takes you through the entirety of the 20 hour game. But this is closely followed by what is probably the best section of the guide, the Extras section, which not only helps you to find all of those elusive Emblems, but also features a fantastic analysis of the series’ story.

What a game!

The Walkthrough of the game does a good job of both assisting and advising you on a second playthrough, not giving too much away, while still making valuable points on enemy patrol routes and the like. Paths through the area that players would have never thought of are taught in small captions next to some of the high quality screenshots littered around the walkthrough. And while the writers haven’t picked up on every little thing that is possible in each Act, they provide the fastest, and the most fun ways to get from A to B, which makes future playthroughs much more enjoyable. Because of the new types of gameplay that MGS4 adds to the series, the guide gives alternate strategies at every point of the game. Whether you want to know the way to create the most destruction, avoid confrontation, or just find a piece of Kojima genius tucked away in an abandoned corner, the guide will show you where to go. It does this instead of giving a step by step guide of ‘The’ way to get through the game, which makes the open ended nature of the gameplay even more prevalent. As a walkthrough, it isn’t as detailed as one you could find on GameFAQs for free, but it helps to make the experience a lot more about you, and lets you use your own brain rather than copy whatever someone else has chosen to do.

The three smaller sections of the Guidebook: How to Play, Inventory and Metal Gear Online, are not as essential to read as the other two sections, but they achieve what they set out to do. The How to play section is little more than an embellishment on the game’s manual, but it does a good job of explaining some hard to grasp techniques in a clear and concise way. The CQC pages in particular are vital if you need to use this difficult form of combat, with easy to understand diagrams and screenshots. The other two small sections fare just as well, despite the subject matter. The Metal Gear Online section gives advice on all of the maps available in the game, marking key areas for the best ambushes and sniping spots, while still giving you the overall choice. But unlike the How to Play section, there is nothing in the instruction manual of the game that the Guidebook can base the section on, instead giving seemingly vital information regarding the game. This ranges from how to actually play MGO, to the different modes and what they entail. This information really helps when you’re just getting started with MGO, a flaw of the original game manual. This leaves the Inventory section, a fairly self-explanatory section that contains tables and data on the many weapons and items you find throughout the course of Guns of the Patriots. It can help at times, and provides extra help with the Drebin Store, but the Inventory chapter is by far the least helpful in the Guidebook, which is to be expected.

If you're a completionist, the guide is a must-have

But all of these sections are designed with a first or second playthrough in mind; the real quality of the guide comes in the form of the Extras chapter. This informs you of how to achieve every emblem, the different rankings you get for a playthrough of the game, focusing on the elusive Big Boss emblem especially. Explaining everything you need to do to unlock the ultimate title is an accomplishment, and the guide is a great asset to anyone trying to become the stealthiest of soldiers. But while this is great, and the tips on unlocking close to every item and costume in the game is helpful, the standout feature of both the chapter and the guide is the extensive story synopsis, character biographies and plot interpretations located at the back of the book. These explain the lore of the entire Metal Gear saga, from the opening of MGS3 to the closing minutes of MGS4. This 50-year journey from the Cold war to the War Economy is the ultimate telling of the Metal Gear story, giving fans a glimpse at the world of the game as a whole for the first time. Small details that you may have missed are brought up, while tying up loose ends, and linking the games together. The interpretation that follows makes the story even more complete, with themes that MGS4 only hinted at being analysed in full. Add this to the excellent character biographies, and you have a 20-page franchise supplement that no fan should be without. It is the perfect accompaniment to the story of Guns of the Patriots, and is the defining feature of this Guidebook.

The story of the saga is the highlight

Despite all of this praise though, this is still a videogame guidebook, which means that only diehard fans would even consider this a purchase. But with Metal Gear the way it is, there are lots of diehard fans out there that will lap this Guidebook up. Everything about it is immensely polished, from the screenshots to the fantastic artwork that accompanies the high quality content. This is probably thanks to the involvement that Kojima Productions have had with the Guidebook; the experts indeed. If you are a fan of the series, then I may go as far to say this is worth it, if only for the amazingly conceived Story section. Even so, anyone who wants to get the most from what is possibly the best stealth game of all time on their second or third playthrough should think about picking this up, it is a great help, and besides, it looks good next to your copy of the game. For an RRP of only 12.99, the Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Guidebook is a great way to spend your money, a prime example of how good this game really is.

Read our review of Metal Gear Solid 4 if you're still undecided about whether to get this awesome stealth 'em up.

- Sam Atkins