Backloggin’ – Metal Gear Solid 4: A thrilling but somewhat unfulfilling finale

The final chapter, the final confrontation – the final moments of a legendary hero.

On this week’s backlog update – this is Metal Gear Solid 4. BUT FIRST! Roll out the obligatory numbers.

This week’s stats:

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Last week’s stats:

BL_beaten

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Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3)

I’ve gone on and on in previous blog posts about how I discovered the Metal Gear Solid series last year and how it quickly became one of my favorite things ever. As I played my way through each title, I noted the significance of each. MGS1 was a generation-defining classic, MGS2 was a sequel that built its story around the idea of video games as a medium and MGS3 was, well… purely fan-servicing goodness wrapped up in what felt like a b-movie action flick. They were all great games, and while the first still remains my definitive favorite, 2 & 3 follow closely behind.

So, having played the past three – only MGS4 remained. Curiously, it is the only current-gen MGS out there – although that will soon change with the release of MGR: Revengeance.

MGS4 is a departure from the previous entries in more ways than one. Set only five years after the events of MGS2, MGS4 paints a destructively dystopian vision of the world centered around never-ending warfare. Not only does this theme stem from a major integral plot point, but it changes up the gameplay staging dramatically. No longer is Snake running around in claustrophobic, highly secured areas – MGS4 has him smack-dab in the middle of numerous active skirmishes between rival factions. Snake’s new world is a bitterly chaotic warzone, and each setting strongly conveys this. Bullets fly, and soldiers die – it’s chaotic and overwhelming at times, but oddly, it almost feels privileging. Past MGS games have focused around enemies actively seeking you out, but here, they are almost always distracted with something else – giving you the direct upper-hand. These changes mix up the standardized MGS formula quite well, resulting in gameplay that forces you to approach things a little differently, while in turn making MGS4 feel like an overall fresher experience.

Probably MGS4’s best innovation is the addition of proper shooting controls. Gone is that terribly shit mechanic of holding a trigger and releasing square to fire. Kojima finally got it right and went with the perfected dual-trigger control scheme featured in most modern shooters – that is, L1 to aim, R1 to fire. Add to the fact that you can now move and shoot while in first-person aiming mode, and it becomes pretty evident that Snake has never controlled better. Kind of ironic considering how old he is in this game, eh?

But let’s get into the good stuff. Above all else, MGS4 is a finale, designed from the ground-up to tie loose ends together and finish Snake’s saga. Fittingly so, MGS4 does a lot of lecturing – there are more cutscenes and explanations here than really any other game I can think of – and for the most part, they’re all really well done. From a graphical standpoint, these cutscenes – especially coming from 2008 – are quite impressive. Animations are silky-smooth and life-like, expressions are meaningful and deliver immense emotional conveyance, and character voices maintain their MGS-standardized quality throughout. My Mom walked in when I was watching a cutscene, only to tell me seconds later that she’d let me “get back to my movie.” Yeah, that good.

As for the story itself – it’s honestly kind of flat, especially compared to what’s been set as the gold standard for this series. It builds a lot on what MGS2 established, but does little else to really push it above just being a concluding continuation of that game. Despite all it’s innovation and next-gen prowess, MGS4‘s biggest weakness is that it relies too much on what’s been established by the other entries, and isn’t strong enough on its own to be regarded as a classic. It’s like if an author of a popular book series took the last few chapters out of their final book installment, changed it around a little to reflect a time gap and then submitted it as the actual final book of the series. There’s too much reliance on what’s already been established without really mixing things up, leading to an experience that, without considering the others, feels hollow and somewhat underwhelming.

One of MGS4‘s greatest failings are the boss fights. While these sequences have been staples in past Metal Gear titles, the ones included here feel totally contrived and emotionless. The four bosses Snake encounters are essentially insane, emotionless, seductive women with copy-pasted personalities. They yell, they scream and they’re all downed pretty effortlessly, making none of the fights particularly engaging or memorable – and why would they be? When you throw in characters with no discernible motives or even an ounce of humanity, it’s really hard for the player to care, let alone Snake himself.  Honestly, the game would probably be better without these four fights entirely – although the other, notable boss encounters in MGS4 with familiar faces are definitely much more impressive. With these four considered, however, MGS4 has easily the worst boss battles in the series, which is a damn shame.

Still, there are a few memorable moments of pure ingenuity throughout, most notably a segment towards the end of the game in which Snake revisits parts of his past. The game heavily utilizes the nostalgia-factor of older MGS titles, emphasizing sound clips and locales from past entries in a fittingly haunting manner. Some sequences play out like interactive history museums, and while these moments are powerful in rekindling past MGS memories, it’s just a shame that MGS4‘s own story content is so much less impressive.

But even so, MGS4 is a hell of a ride. It may not end the series in the most climactic or inventive manner, and it struggles to be anything but a conclusion. What it is though, is a mostly well-executed finale, and one that will undoubtedly please fans of the series to some extent, while leaving others feeling somewhat unfulfilled. For all its tight story ties, minor plot twists and explosions, MGS4 is good – it’s just a shame that its own standards are so high.

Next…

I’m on vacation, bitches! See you next time for who know what – probably some portable games.

-rav4ge

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