Metal Gear Solid has been one of those series that you either really got into or could not stand. Dominating PS1 and PS2 sales charts, the series and its creator have become something of a Playstation icon over the past decade, so it seems fitting that the story comes to an end for the Playstation 3. For the past few years fans have waited oh so long for the culmination of what has been one of the weirdest and most engrossing storylines in a game, and Hideo and Konami have delivered. Metal Gear Solid 4 is a game that will be remembered for a long time to come. The lengthy trailers, the interviews, the podcasts - they have all led up to this. It is a game that straddles between game and movie all the way through, delivering atmosphere and gameplay in spades. Even if you are not the biggest MGS fan, it is likely that 4 will change your ways.
When we began to think about this review we had quite the conundrum. How do we emphasise just how engrossing and incredibly amazing the story is without spoiling? It's hard, but we have to try. As you would know by now you play as Solid Snake, one of the world's most famous soldiers, trying to tie up all the ends that have been left open from the past three games. The game begins in the Middle East with Snake in the midst of a war between PMCs (Private Military Contractors) and a resistance force, something mirrored across the globe. Those of you who have played the first three games will get so much out of the story. However even those who are new to the series will find the story quite compelling, albeit without understanding a lot of the huge twists throughout the campaign. That is just the very, very base of the story with spoilers abound if we continue on.
As with MGS 3 Subsistence, the series has moved to a third person camera giving it a much more action feel. To us, this gives the game of a more pick up and play feel with the camera completely controllable unlike the previous games in the series. There is no doubt that Hideo wanted everyone to play and finish this game. There are many difficulty levels, ranging from the stupidly easy (you almost never die) through to one of the toughest challenges a game can offer you today. The gameplay itself can feel a bit cliche at times but this all depends on how you play. You can run and gun through and just use brute force to beat the game, or play it as generally MGS is meant to be played, which is with stealth. There really is only two times the game forces this upon you and players who want to run and gun will find these times incredibly frustrating.
At the higher difficulty levels stealth becomes key because Snake will take on some of the toughest foes he ever has. To go with this the developers have constructed 'Octocamo' - a quite stunning graphic effect that makes Snake like a Chameleon. Anything Snake lies on, the suit will turn to, allowing you to move without being seen. This works on every texture in the game, even those which typically you wouldn't lay on. Snake also has a number of weapons to choose from. In every situation there is a lethal and non-lethal solution. It is possible to go through the entire game without killing anyone, but it is an incredibly difficult challenge.
With the sandbox world opened up, the replay value is extremely high. One time through you might choose to kill everyone, the next time, try and play with a stealth manner. How you go about your tasks is up to you as long as you reach the point to progress further. It also helps that the gameplay just feels right with the over the shoulder camera employed for combat situations. We couldn't stop playing this and that is why it is such a shame it is over all too soon. There is a multitude of weapons in the game, with customization options which are accessed from the in-game menus. Some can be used with close quarter combat where Snake sneaks up and hits an enemy from behind, whilst others are purely used for brute force. This is why MGS 4 works so well - you construct the way you want to play the game. Series stalwarts make a return as well such as the cardboard box and dirty magazine.
The size of the game is epic in scale but the length of the game can be short. We finished it in twelve hours which compared to some of the other MGS efforts is a bit of a disappointment. It is possible to go slowly through the game and take it all in, but we would expect the average gamer to finish it in about the same time we did. This includes the cinematics but we will get to that later. However with the length of the game in mind, sometimes games can be too long and there is not one time that we felt the developers had put fluff in and wanted it to finish. There are some truly epic sequences in the game, one that fans of the series will appreciate. Just when you think you have this game figured out, a huge twist or gameplay mechanic will change and your jaw will drop yet again.