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Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Score: 92%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Kojima Productions
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 16 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Stealth/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
Once again, Kojima and crew have "spared no expense" in making Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots one of the most visually stunning games available on the system. The character models are eerily life-like, right down to the subtlest of muscle twitches and body movements. While most of the early footage would lead you to believe the entire game takes place in dusty middle-eastern streets, that's only about a quarter of the game. The rest of the game takes you all over the world... though letting you in on some of the locations would spoil things. If you need a reason to justify buying a big screen HD set and PS3, this is it.

While you're picking up the big HDTV, you might as well throw in a sound system as well. The audio is absolutely flawless. Every gun has its own distinct ring and the soundtrack hits all of the right notes. Voicework is consistently good and does nothing but good things for the story sequences.

As a bit of fan service, several songs from past games are hidden in levels and, once found, can be listened to on Snake's iPod. You can even listen to codec transmissions through a headset.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots takes place in a world that is in near constant war driven by Private Military Corporations (PMC) and the War Economy. At the center of the story is a terminally ill and aging Snake, who is out to stop his "brother" Liquid's plans to throw the world into chaos.

The overall story plays its multiple roles with little trouble. While the main structure aims to be a complete, one game narrative, it also ties up the loose ends left dangling from the last three games, as well as working in a few bits of fan service for those who have stuck with the series and come to see the old girl off.

With the exception of a slow second act, the core story is compelling and you'll find yourself waiting until the next story sequence is over just to see what happens next - and wait you will. Although the game clocks in at about 30 hours, nearly a third of that is spent watching story sequences (some lasting nearly half an hour or more). However, length isn't the biggest issue here, but rather the insistence on over-explaining things. It's almost equivalent to George Lucas having to explain how the Force works in The Phantom Menace; sometimes "the point" is more powerful with what is left unsaid. This was especially true for one or two key plot moments where the lengthy "follow-up" killed what would have been some of the more powerful and emotional moments in videogame storytelling.

There are a few cool twists thrown into the mix, so the presentation isn't completely stagnant. During mission briefings, you can use the Mk. II (a remote-controlled drone) to explore Otacon's flying base of operations during mission briefings or activate "flashbacks" that act as a reminder to important plot elements from past games. There are even a few 24 -style split-screen sections that show both gameplay and story on screen, which is one of the game's better contributions. Still, as immersive as these elements can be, the reliance on older narrative techniques for a majority of the game has a way of making you feel like you're watching instead of participating.

As easy as it is to knock the game on its stubbornness to evolve its storytelling methods, the same can't be said for what really counts. In terms of gameplay, MGS4 is probably the biggest revision to a series' core gameplay since Resident Evil 4. Stealth is still a viable gameplay aspect, yet violence is no longer seen as a "bad" thing and has been brought into the fold as a valid option. At times, it almost feels like gunplay is encouraged over stealth, especially after Drebin, MGS4's answer to RE4's Merchant, is introduced. Whereas other games have tried to marry the two play styles into one game, MGS4 makes options viable and truly gives you an experience that can be played however you want.

MGS4 also ships with Metal Gear Online, an online multiplayer mode. However, it's a bit unfair to judge the mode since what's included is mostly just a starter set that was admittedly tacked on late in development. What's here does show promise and the only real issue could be the PS3's online network, which has yet to really prove itself as a solid platform.

The Stress and Psyche meters, which are meant to make Snake's trip around the battlefield a little more difficult, aren't implemented well and only seem to play a major factor when playing on the hardest difficulty level. The idea behind the two meters is that Snake's recovery time and aim are thrown off as situations become more intense. The system is functional, though its effects are never readily apparent and only seem to matter if you're taking the "shoot everything" approach; if you're good at stealth, the meters never come into play, which makes little sense since sometimes sneaking around is more tense than being out in the open.

Every so often, Snake will come across battles between local rebels and PMCs, introducing a new level of strategy to stealth. These skirmishes can make Snake's job harder since one stray bullet can be enough to alert people to your presence, yet they can also make things easier. Sometimes it is better to wait out a battle and let the locals thin out the herd. If you are detected, you now have more options for getting out of trouble. You can always pull out your handy box (or barrel) and wait for the heat to die down or take the battle to enemies from the shadows or by donning a uniform and joining the fray.

Enemy A.I. is good in a fight; they take cover and their guns usually outnumber your own. Some will even jump and hang on walls, taking the ground battle vertical or use raptor-like flanking techniques to outflank you. Some are also quite curious and won't hesitate to raise an alarm if things look out of place.

Boss battles are always some of the game's more memorable experiences, and Snake's battles with the Beauty and the Beast squad - four cybernetic and genetically-enhanced beauties - are challenging and some of the best in the series. Unlike past games, boss fights don't come in easily identifiable packets. There isn't "The Sniper Fight" or "The Knife Fight"; instead most of the game's tools and tactics can be incorporated into each battle. Though each has their own identifiable patterns and weak spots, the new tools give you more ways to exploit them to your advantage.

Game Mechanics:
One of the major pitfalls of combining two entirely different play styles is that one will inevitably work its way to the top as the better of the two. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots somehow sidesteps this problem throughout most of the game. There are areas where one approach is better than the other, though you aren't required to follow one method or the other.

The stealth approach is still the trickier of the two play styles, though the inclusion of the Mk. II makes it easier to scout out areas without blowing your cover. The camouflage system introduced in MGS3 returns in the form of the much more streamlined OctoCamo suit. Instead of digging through menus to find the right camouflage, all you have to do is take cover by a wall and the suit will change to match its surroundings. By far the most useful of Snake's new toys is the Solid Eye, which combines the radar functions from previous games with night vision and a radar function that let's Snake identify items and enemies from a distance.

Once you meet Drebin, you get access to his mobile weapons shop, which can be accessed at any time through the Pause menu. You can collect weapons from fallen enemies and sell them to Drebin for points, which act as a form of currency for buying new weapons. It's a really cool idea, though it doesn't take long for you to figure out that more downed enemies means more points and better weapons. Having a direct mainline to all the guns and ammunition you could ever need changes most of the game's underlying mechanics. It assures that you'll never run out of ammo during boss fights, but also takes away the pressure of having every weapon count. It also makes stealth gameplay easier in some sections since you can usually just tranquilize everyone in the level and never have to worry about hiding bodies.

While it isn't clear where the series goes from here (though a few clues are dropped that the series will continue), the one thing that is clear is that Snake's story has come to an end. Though flawed in some areas, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is one of the most complete experiences currently available and a must-have for PS3 owners.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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