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Friday, March 27, 2009

Game Play: Metal Gear Solid 4

I've only had brief encounters with the Metal Gear franchise, and I think I can safely say I've never finished a single one before last night.

And of course by "finish", I mean watching the last thirty minutes of cut scenes. Whatever you've heard about this game's lengthy cinematics, it is not hyperbole. In some ways, though, this is part of the game's charm. It's unabashedly old school in many ways. It uses long cinematics, there are checkpoints during the levels and no way to save in between, you can die quite easily and need to start all over again, there's extensive menu play to get things done - all things that many modern games frown on ... MGS4 revels in.

The saving grace for me is that the combat feels much improved, and I don't feel like I have to hide in a corner and watch enemy movements for ten minutes to progress five minutes into the game. The mechanics are tight all around, and the production values are completely off the scale good - sound effects, music, level design, textures, animation - everything.

And honestly, I feel like I only scratched the surface of what is possible with the game. I never, for instance, used a Playboy magazine to distract a guard. I only figured out late in the game that falling on someone knocks them out. I rarely used the Metal Gear sidekick. There's so much interactivity to this game that it feels very much like a realized combat world.

Which is probably why the lengthy movies are so forgivable. A lesser game might feel more like a movie, but MGS4 just feels epic all around. And that's possibly the most impressive bit. Remember that this franchise began as a pastiche of action movies, basically a tongue-in-cheek parody (and back in the 80's, these were pretty common ... go look at any of the old game covers) ... Snake himself is now an amalgamation of Mel Gibson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef. Yet, the game can stand on its own as a good story (even if it's an odd and often self-referential one).

I don't know if MGS4 would be my favorite game of the year, but it is definitely up there. Highly recommend. And don't forget Metal Gear Online either...

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