In the not too distant future, videogames have become routine.  The marketplace is controlled by commercial enterprises, publishing the same fast paced action year on year.  FPS game follows FPS game, bald space marines give birth to bald space marines, EA merges with Ubisoft.

Yes, in the not too distant future, videogames haven’t changed at all.  What’s worse? We’re none the wiser.  Feeding off of these adrenaline pumping experiences, we praise them for their apparent innovation, their direct and exciting plot, their “next-gen” graphics. We’ll feel happy with the cards we’ve been dealt, comfortable in our past time, but for all our contentment we’ll never know how it could have been. Never know how it should and would have been if we had taken notice of Solid Snake.

Our only hope to free ourselves from cookie-cutter experiences pumped out by profit driven companies, is to learn the lessons of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and build a safer future for interactive entertainment.

Although Solid Snake is inexplicably aged in this final mission, MGS4 takes place only 5 years after MGS2′s Big Shell incident. His façade in distinct contrast to his contemporaries, sOLiD Snake is thrust onto a Middle Eastern battlefield. Like Haze’s attempted portrayal, the world’s wars are infected by Private Military Companies. Price-tagged PMC soldiers fight other PMC’s –- aimless battles seek only to support a self-sufficient war economy that has graduated from the Oil economy’s downturn.

Enhanced by nano-machines and trained by FPS videogames, post-modern PMC soldiers sign up to avenge the death of their loved ones, but without political or patriotic goals, they compete as if they’re still playing a videogame. And whoever controls the game, controls the battlefield. And whoever controls the battlefield, controls the world.

The man with his fingers on the trigger is Liquid Ocelot. As head of Outer Heaven, the mother PMC company, he has achieved total real-time battlefield control, puppeteering PMC’s by manipulating the life numbing nano-machines injected into their bodies. Disguised as one of the opposing militia’s hired PMC operatives, Snake enters this “cleaner, safer battlefield” with the aim to assassinate Liquid Ocelot and end his insurrection.

The ride to reach this point portrays a presentation significantly ahead of its contemporaries. Indeed, it was apt to call videogames “interactive entertainment” when discussing MGS4. As I’m sure you’re aware, the game has its fair share of cinematic cutscenes. These are expertly directed, containing some of the most impressively choreographed combat sections you’re likely to see in any cinematic medium.

What’s particularly stunning is the way cutscenes transition seamlessly into gameplay, using clever pans and real-time rendered cinematics. Other techniques are used to make sure you’re never taken out of the game world: playing through mission briefings with the Mk.II, Snake’s health bar is shown at pivotal moments, brief flashbacks occur when you press X, you can regress Octocamo to its default state by shaking the controller, in addition to more refreshing and original methods which I’ll leave for you to discover.

Yes, you’ll always feel part of the game world even though there are a staggering 9.5 hours of cutsceness. However, contrary to the popular exaggeration, this isn’t more than spent in gameplay. There is more gameplay than cutscenes –- for me around 15 hours gameplay, the longest in the series.

Versatile, expansive and varied would be the best way to describe MGS4′s gameplay. In fact, add fine-tuned and engaging, and you might be closer to an accurate portrayal. If you ever had a criticism of previous iterations, it would be control complexity and the birds-eye camera that would top the list. With age comes wisdom and Snake’s maturity certainly signifies solutions. The camera is now set behind Snake, with L1 providing an over-the-shoulder view for more accurate aiming, triangle to look down the sight, and R1 to shoot.

Even with a generous helping of CQC (Close Quarters Combat, which you can learn by watching the embedded video), the controls remain relatively simple. It may at first feel counter-intuitive to use both L1 and R1 to shoot, where other games automatically enter an over-the-shoulder view during combat, but the control system makes the best of unpredictable player actions and will certainly become second nature as the game develops.

New gear enters Metal Gear Solid with more velocity this time around, increasing the gameplay’s depth exponentially. Expanding on Naked Snake’s camouflage in MGS3, Otacon has created something more competent than dressing up mid-mission — a Stealth Camo Suit that dynamically “morphs” to the texture, pattern and colour of the surface you’re pressed against. The ease with which this can be performed is somewhat of an overlooked gem — without it the game would reduce to shadow jumping, as opposed to dynamic hide-and-seek.

MGS4 discards the closed corridors of MGS1 and MGS2, forgoes the tight forest walks of MGS3, and places you in a wide, brightly lit battlefield. The Camo Suit transforms every inch of this environment into your hiding place — at 90% camouflaged you can even survive a PMC’s close stalking as his feet brush past your head.

Another new piece of kit is a robot created by Otacon and Sunny –- the Mark II. Full of character, this little beauty can be used by Snake to shock enemies, defuse traps, and collect weapons during even the busiest proxy battle, thanks to its inbuilt stealth camo.

Rangebar’s Take
9.8

Let me get straight to the point. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is the best game on the Playstation 3, hands down. If you don’t have a PS3 yet, this is your number one excuse to finally get one.

With an incredible story, graphics that go above and beyond, cut-scenes that make some movies look bad, and action packed gameplay, MGS4 is one of the best games I’ve played. And I’m not even a huge fan of the series. Even without playing MGS3 and only half of MGS2, I still found an inner passion for this game. I’m not sure what it was, but MGS4 kept pulling me in and I kept coming back.

One of my favorite things about the game is its attempt to tell the story of the MGS series all the way from the Philosophers, to the Patriots, Big Boss and Solid Snake himself. Even without playing the previous games, MGS4 does an excellent job of explaining what the heck’s going on.

It’s sad to see the series come to an end like this, when I just fell in love with it, but if there isn’t a fifth installment I’ll just have to enjoy the past ones.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is truly a special game and a must own for any gamer.

Once you really get to grips with the controls, the stealth battlefield experience is quite the revelation. Of course you could, despite Otacon’s advice, blast your way through. Yes, it’s advisable to stay stealthy, but with the new reformed control system an action orientated play-through is certainly possible. But take note, the more combat, the more Snake will stress, thus reducing his Psyche. This will actively slow him down, lower his aiming accuracy and even responsiveness. Take a break, sit in a box, or use a pick-me-up item to gradually return his abilities.

Rather than going all out action or being stealth exclusive, I personally chose a pick’n'mix approach. In fact, since any direction you take feels natural, you may be unaware of all the options available to you: befriend the Militia and battle by their side; snipe the streets from higher ground; crawl through the shadows and tranq. your enemies; or rambo it out using a combination of heavy shooting and CQC.

The variety of gameplay that has been so prominent in the series has now migrated into every moment of the game; you have the tools and the moves to create your own variety whenever you like. This could backfire for action-orientated gamers, since their experience may shorten to create an unhealthy balance of cutscenes to gameplay. Then again, these gamers might just spend a lot of time choosing and modifying their weaponry.

Unlike previous iterations where weapons were discovered gradually, Snake is now on a battlefield littered with weapons from downed soldiers. Problematically, each weapon is ID-Tagged — if your Tag doesn’t match the weapon’s ID, it’ll be locked from use. You’d think this would be a clever way for Kojima Productions to limit Snake’s weapon use, but instead he can collect ID-tagged weapons and pass them over to the gun-launderer Drebin for modding.

Moreover, if you already own the weapon picked up, you can sell it to Drebin for currency to buy from a selection of over 70 modifiable weapons. Now each battle has a myriad of possibilities for every play style.

It is MGS4′s choice that may at first intimidate, but it is ultimately what makes this game trump its predecessors. Once you discover your style of play, experimentation can overtake, pushing the want to replay the game from start to finish. And, thankfully, you can skip the cutscenes.

Geoff’s Take
10

My disappointment with Metal Gear Solid 4 is that it has an end. Not only an end in and of itself, but an end to Metal Gear Solid. This disappointment I freely accept, because of what is gained—a wonderful, truly amazing experience and closure.

Metal Gear is an anomaly. I cannot imagine how I would react to any other game doing what Metal Gear does, but Metal Gear is unique. The story is more than just a quasi sci-fi, anime, film-inspired drama. There are ideas and emotions that are palpable and important: War, violence, technology, control; the human struggle to achieve, to be remembered, to find peace and personal happiness; the passing of knowledge and memory from one generation to the next, their dissemination throughout society; the pressures we feel, our potential. Never has the game’s emotional impact and connections to its characters been more poignant. Passive only if you don’t consider thought to be an activity.

The core Metal Gear sneaking gameplay is immensely satisfying, but never before has there been so much diversity and depth. The resolution of the story belies its often previously perceived incomprehensibility, and while it does so with tidy ease, it is satisfying.

Play MGS4. Give it a chance, and if it does not win a part of your heart as a game that tries more than most, then at least you can see its technical achievements and be educated about what it attempts—even if you think it fails.

One of the most wonderful experiences I’ve had with a videogame. All the sweeter to savor in its finality, and the variety of its many parts.

As if this wasn’t enough, MGS4 is a visual feast, leading the way on the PS3 in art direction and graphics. Artistically the game shines with a variety of visually distinct environments, including the stark and bright middle-eastern battlefield, and a real-time night to daytime transition (some might call it a “sunrise”) as you climb through an Amazonian landscape.

When the art is peppered with beautifully crafted character models, billowing smoke effects, dust/blood settling on the camera lens, and impressive lighting and shadowing, it’s hard to ignore how stunning the game is in its visual fidelity. Although you’ll find higher resolution textures in other games, it’s the subtleties and attention to detail that will impress.

MGS4 will visually exceed your expectations for a console game. In fact, ignoring the gorgeously rendered cutscenes challenging Hollywood CGI in its presentation, there are some latter gameplay sections that will knock you off your sofa with the technical achievement, making it incredibly hard not to crown MGS4 the graphical king.

The sound design similarly impresses, with 5.1 warzones making love to your speakers — the distant whirring of a helicopter is joined by the popping shots of your P90, the overwhelming screams of PMC’s and Militias in combat, a Gekko’s demented mooing, the sound of a rocket whooshing past your head, let alone the blockbuster soundtrack that makes every scene so emotive. Paired with great voice performances from David Hayter (Snake), Debi Maye West (Meryl), Patric Zimmerman (Liquid Ocelot), and Lee Meriwether (Big Mama), to name but a few, it’ll be easier to ignore some of the less exceptional voice acting.

What do you have to suffer to enjoy this presentation? A large initial install and 3 minute installs after every Act. However, these hardly affect your enjoyment. A 4.6GB install is understandable for a 50GB game, and due to good data management it only takes 10 minutes to complete. Moreover, the install is actually enjoyable, consisting of a witty and ironic harking to cinema warnings.

Act installs occur after such meaty gameplay and cinematics that an interval is warranted. However, MGS4 can get away with this due to its moderate stealth pacing and cinematic core, and is thus inadvisable for the fast-paced action game. Where loading does affect MGS4 is in short 5 second loading screens during gameplay transitions, or more damningly, chase scenes. This should have been ironed out, since the pace and excitement of these scenes can be somewhat dampened.

Thus, Metal Gear Solid 4 isn’t perfect.  It has its failings, and the narrative could disorientate new series players.  If, however, they embed themselves in the folklore and background of the series past, MGS4 will thoroughly reward them. Each character is fully fleshed out, explored and taken to their magnificent end.

What extends MGS4 to an ambitious and original result is that the game is a tragedy involving a character stepping ever closer to his death. For long time fans this is almost unbearable.  As Snake’s place in the world continuously becomes more hopeless, you’re always wondering if the next Act is his last.  The impact with which this tragedy is delivered is due to MGS4 taking full advantage of a videogame’s virtue to immerse players in a virtual world.  This results in some truly heart-wrenchingly beautiful and tragically inspired combinations of cutscene and gameplay.

Moreover, as you’ll discover, what has always been Metal Gear Solid’s overriding success is that no character is evil or morally good.  There are no clearly defined villains.  Uncommon to most filmic narratives, not a single character can be rooted to one end of the moral spectrum. Solid Snake may be the traditional Hero, but MGS4′s magnifying glass shows that even the most villainous characters are trying to be the Hero.  All are attempting to live up to their interpreted ideals of The Boss.  That you can find Hero’s in the most unlikely places is MGS4′s legacy to future narratives.

You may have noticed that I have refrained from mentioning the online portion of the game.  The fact that MGO is even included on the disc is a gift.  Its certainly not as perfect as its cinematic brethren, but when it shines, it shines bright — modes such as Sneaking Mission and Team Sneaking top the experience. MGO is the perfect place to show off the skills you mastered as Snake.

As Solid Snake’s final mission comes to a close, MGS4 fights its way to the top of this generation’s offerings. The polish is undeniable, from the art direction and graphics, to the gameplay and cinematics. What the game ends up being is a masterful example of what the videogaming medium can achieve — if ever there were a case for videogames being art, MGS4 is it. This fact and the vast list of successes, drowns out the negatives to result in an overwhelming experience.

Solid Snake’s conclusion ushers us to forget about his exploits, to move on from the history within the Metal Gear Solid universe.  We can no longer yearn for a sequel to fill in the gaps.  MGS4 gives you the conclusion and completes the cycle. It’s time to live for yourself.

What does this score mean? Check out our review scoring breakdown.