One becomes zero.
(SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS FROM FOURTH PARAGRAPH ONWARDS)
Placing in GOTY list: first, 2008|Watch a Cullen Plays LIVE live stream of Metal Gear Solid 4 right now here
2008 was a quiet year. It was a year (and a month) before I’d get to realise the dream of writing about videogames for a living and when being 17 was alright, if unspectacular. I was also a died in the wool Metal Gear fanboy (more so than I am now) who had been looking forward to Metal Gear Solid 4. I was always going to going to get it, but seeing the final preview impressions and reviews giving it nines and tens made the wait unbearable whilst my rage at seeing it get less than an eight from anyone who dared to do so (yes, I was one of them kind of fanboys once, though thankfully never expressed that as such online).
Three years earlier, my (then) favourite game ever Metal Gear Solid 3 had instilled belief back in the series after Metal Gear Solid 2 scrambled people’s brains with the switch over to Raiden from Snake and The Patriots, more or less, randomly telling you to turn off the console, breaking the fourth wall whilst doing so. With MGS2 leaving on a cliffhanger and MGS3 visiting the origins of one of its biggest characters (whilst simultaneously, unbeknownst to it even Kojima and his team at the time, set up one of the series’ future main characters), MGS4 was to once and for all end the series.
In terms of numbered stuff, it didn’t. After all, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain and Ground Zeroes is still to come sometime soon (the latter is set to release in March). But in terms of the lore and how it fits in the cannon, the shoe did fit.
Snake had finally won his war against Liquid and The Patriots and had finally managed to broker peace with a surprisingly alive (for another 20 minutes anyways) Big Boss as he was getting ready to live out his final days, Raiden (at least before Rising came out) reunited with Rose and met his kid for the first time and Meryl & Campbell finally recognised each other as father and daughter. Otacon? He had Sunny, despite – yet again – having to witness another death with someone he cared for in Naomi.
In many ways, MGS4 felt like that like that scene with Zero and what Big Boss was saying. Wrapping up Snake’s story was MGS4’s way of bringing the series from one back to zero in terms of the cannon. We may have MGS5 on the horizon beginning next Spring and – God willing – one day, we will have a mainline MGS6 featuring The Boss as lead character, but Guns of the Patriots felt like – for the Solid Snake saga anyways – the shutting off point in terms of the series’ lore.
If anything epitomised this, it was two key things. The first being the final fight between Snake and Liquid, which took neat little touches from each MGS game (the pixelated HUD and constricted camera for MGS1 or MGS3’s HUD and Snake Eater playing in the background) and added them in during several sections of the fight. The second being the Flashback system, where pressing the X button when prompted would provide sporadic flashbacks to moments from MGS games in the past from MGS1-3 throughout the game.
MGS4 felt like the end, but it was also evolving for the future too. Guns of the Patriots was more westernised in its approach compared to its predecessors. Gone was the topdown camera from MGS1 2 and 3 and in came a 3D camera that was trialed with the Subsistence release of MGS3, controls felt more in line with typical action games (L1/R1 to aim and shoot rather than holding down the square button to aim and shoot) and even little stuff like the confusing menu prompts of Circle to enter, X to back out (typically a Japanese thing in games) were gone in line of the standard X to enter, circle to back out. There was also a psyche meter introduced that would affect gameplay depending on how stressed or the mood Snake was in.
But gameplay wasn’t the only thing with a western influence. Metal Gear Solid 4’s presentation also went down that route, having winked and nodded at it with Metal Gear Solid 3’s blatant Bond influence and Kojima’s well-known love of movies as a whole. Yes, gameplay/cut-scene ratio was way back down in comparison to the more fine-tuned MGS3, and they were a lot longer this time but nonetheless, MGS4 felt like the realisation of Kojima’s Hollywood vision for the series. The setpieces were of Hollywood-calibur (the beginning of Act 5 is the biggest example of this if any), the score (once again) had Hollywood backing with Harry Gregson-Williams and even live-action shorts based on the world MGS4 was set in that time, including a fake chat show featuring Lee Meriwether (EVA’s voice actor) as host with an ultra famous David Hayter as the guest.
One staple of the Metal Gear Solid series was its boss fights and how they weren’t the typical ‘go, kill’ battles. Whilst MGS2’s fights didn’t feel inspired, the remainder of the series has lived up to providing epic gameplay moments, from Sniper Wolf to The End; from Liquid to The Boss. MGS4, thankfully, kept this series tradition going with some fantastic boss fights with the Beauty and the Beast unit, comprising of soldiers who feel like a mix of both Foxhound (Octopus, Raven, Wolf, Mantis) in their skills as a soldier and the Cobras with their emotions (Laughing, Raging, Crying, Screaming).
Metal Gear Solid 4 had the hallmarks of Hideo Kojima within: ridiculously long cut-scenes, weird Kojima-like moments and the Hollywood inspiration that bears on the game like a hawk. And it won’t make sense if you’ve not been following the series since MGS1 (or at least, like me, since MGS2), but Kojima always makes sure you’re in for a massively wild ride with a Metal Gear game, whether you feel that’s for better or worse.
If you got in just for MGS4, chances are you just won’t get it. But for those who’ve been in since MGS1/2, who’s had to put up with breaking the fourth wall, La-Le-Lu-Li-Lo and nanomachines but also some fantastic messaging such as anti-nuke/anti-war, censorship, riveting characters & story, fantastic setpiecing and current & future technology, MGS4 is still another enjoyable Hideo Kojima ride.
And I quite like the ride.
Highlight: The reveal of The Patriots’ origins and the breakdown in the relationship between Big Boss and Zero in Act 3.
More Game of the Generation articles will be arriving throughout the day up until 9pm GMT with the Game of the Generation. Find the full list so far here, with special and honourable mentions going live on the list along with the GOTG at 9pm.