6/22/08

Review: "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" (Playstation 3)

Films and games. I've always hated the mainstream press that often pits the two together, as if the two mediums are competing for the demographic. In April, 'Grand Theft Auto IV' released, much to the press asking the question if the game would hurt the film "Iron Man" on its opening weekend. If the potential player/moviegoer wanted to do both, they most certainly could-- "GTA" has a pause function.

But when a game is essentially a film and a game all neatly tied together, it's another story. "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" is a nearly flawlessly executed game, from its interwoven narrative, stellar graphics and just-plain-fun gameplay.

I haven't played many of the countless "Metal Gear" games in its twenty-plus year history, and it certainly does not help my understanding of the complex story. Regardless, the story of the game is compelling: proxy wars for business purposes are being fought on the battlefields of countries. Nanomachines. Confusing, yet compelling. "War has changed," protagonist Solid Snake says.

Where other games exposition in gameplay, producer/director Hideo Kojima heavily uses sometime lengthy cutscenes to tell a story. With this, Kojima takes a huge risk: by telling the story that way, he could lose the audience. With that in mind, it's clear Kojima Productions has paid as much attention to detail in the cutscenes as they do in the nuances of gameplay. And with that, comes more interest. The cutscenes are as well designed as sequences in films. Plus, there is a layer of activity to it: pressing certain buttons when they appear on the screen allow the player to look in "first-person" or see a flashback.

While some criticize the proportion of cutscene-gameplay, especially later in the game, I think its managable: as long as the story and the direction of those scenes are interesting. A game like "Halo" would lack in this area, because there is simply just not as much nuance to the story (and in some areas, "Halo" is even more confusing).

Later in the game, there's a lot of nostalgic moments, referencing its early days on other consoles, which hampers the story, because it certainly comes out of nowhere.

But what it delivers on the most is that the game has an underlying message, that may be hiding beneath the surface (albeit in the shallow end)-- at least it has one. Some games that have drawn out narratives don't try to say anything about the world, but "MGS4" does. It says more about war than a film like "Rambo," that rests its enjoyment factor on explosions.

One can enjoy "MSG4" purely on the spectacle of the gameplay, but it truely shines in its story, direction, and message.