Yahtzee reviews Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: Tactical Espionage Action.
It's funny how things stop being funny the longer you live with them. Everyone in Britain stopped sniggering at the name "Spotted Dick” by the time they turned twelve, I've almost completely forgotten Nintendo named a console after a bodily fluid, and it's funny how we can now we can hear the words “Solid Snake” without picturing the kind of throbbingly powerful erections you get from wearing skin tight combat suits while hanging around women who never do their shirts up properly. Yes, Metal Gear Solid has joined Devil May Cry, Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil in the elite group of series that have current generation installments with shiny glistening graphics and titles with 4's on the end. The series sells itself right there under the title as “Tactical Espionage Action,” which implies a gritty, pulse-pounding, sneaky-bollocks runaround. And while that's certainly present, it always seems to be occupying the same space as a stiff and inefficient third person shooter and the paranoid manifesto of an internet conspiracy theorist with several gunmen short of a grassy knoll.
I'm going to recount as much of the story as I can before my brain starts to hurt. Solid Snake is a cloned mercenary who is suffering from premature aging due to a planned obsolescence scheme worthy of Microsoft. He lives with his support character and “best friend” Otacon, and the two of them have adopted a child together. (That oozing sound you've just heard was made by all the worlds homoerotic fan fiction writers simultaneously emitting torrents of hot lady spunk.) Anyway, Solid Snake is tasked with assassination of his evil clone brother who is dead but lives on through his possessed arm which was crafted onto the body of -- oh Christ, I can't go on! This shit is bananas! Play the games yourself if you want to know what's going on, although I can't guarantee that that will be enough. To truly get into the mindset of Hideo Kojima you'll have to do something pretty drastic. Probably involving experimental brain surgery and the complete X-Files box set.
Kojima's problem is that while he's very much aware that games are a new and exciting medium for getting a message across, he doesn't have much patience for the whole game aspect. In the past I've slagged off a lot of story-based games for having too much story and not enough game, but all those previous titles swiftly disappear beneath the waves of Metal Gear Solid's verbal diarrhea. I actually timed how long it took from pressing “New Game” to engaging my first enemy: twenty-three cocking minutes! And this is supposed to be the fast-paced action hook to draw you in. Further on some dialogues are long enough to warrant an intermission and refreshment counter, and most of them consist of the characters learning things that most of the audience figured out by the first trailer! The funniest part is, I was diligently sitting trough all the cutscenes and I still wasn't sure what was going on. Somebody once said that a politician is a person who can talk for hours and never actually say anything. If that's true, Hideo Kojima could run for government and be emperor of the universe by mid-afternoon.
Every now and again, though, the game snaps you out of your exposition-induced trance and begrudgingly lets you actually play it for a bit. And in these moments the gameplay is adequate but severely cluttered, like it's suffering from the gaming equivalent of Asperger's syndrome. The sneaking works well, but they load you down with a toy box full of gimmicky stealth tools and techniques that you will never, ever need to use because you start off with a silenced tranquilizer pistol that can knock out enemy soldiers in one shot and never runs out of ammo, breaking the stealth gameplay over its knee with the sickening crack.
There isn't even much sneaking to do, compared to previous games. When you're not tripping over cutscenes, the emphasis is more on the “action” than the “tactical espionage,” although it seems no one explained this to the gameplay programmer. The controls are much better suited for sneaking, and when action takes over, a million petty annoyances nibble at your shins. Having to press both shoulder buttons and triangle to aim and fire is not good design, and when you're ducking behind cover you have to stand up before you can fire back, which is a good way to get your mustache perforated. When you desperately need to immediately return fire, it takes a crucial agonizing second to get Snake to ready his gun, presumably for fear of breaking a hip. Luckily, this is compensated by most of the enemies being legendarily thick and armed with papier mâché.
This is the part where I make gentle coos and reassurances to soften the game up before I drive the last stake through its heart. For all its frustrations, the gameplay is never flawed enough to be a deal breaker, and if you're prepared to forgive the heavy cutscene-to-gameplay ratio, the characters are well-rounded and imaginative enough to keep you interested. But here comes the killing blow, children: Metal Gear Solid is, and has always been, very badly written, in the same way that the world's largest pie couldn't honestly be called a good pie because it's uneconomical and probably won't fit in an oven. So much of the dialogue is redundant and is in dire need of an editor, preferably one armed with waders and pruning shears.
I think it's safe to say that if you're not already a fan you're not welcome at the MGS4 party. The game assumes you know and have accepted all the bullshit that's come before and all the characters who haven't had the poignant death soliloquy yet show up whether we like it or not, including Mr. and Mrs. “Oh christ not you cunts again” from Metal Gear Solid 2. And since I hate redundant dialogue so much, I won't redundantly say that fans should buy it, because if you're a fan you've already bought it, finished it, written a plot analysis guide for GameFaqs, and are now hiding behind my house trying to decide which window to break. As for the rest of youse, play through the previous games first and then check it out, assuming that they don't bore you so hard that even your unborn children take up table-top gaming.
Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw?!: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I'm probably just jealous because I'm not yet in a position where I can write whatever bollocks I want and never get called out on it
MGS4 deus ex machina count: 9