Set in 2014, five years after the â€śBig Shell Incidentâ€ť that took place in Metal Gear Solid 2, Guns of the Patriot is the first game in the long-running franchise to appear on the next-gen PS3 console. To say that Metal Gear has a cult following would be an understatement, considering the first title came out over 20 years ago. Despite this though, it is clear that the game is not suited to everyoneâ€™s tastes. The long, over-indulgent cinematic cut-scenes combined with the sometimes inappropriate odd-ball humour has had many gamers scratching their heads in confusion. Regardless of your view point though, very few could question the artistic genius behind this latest instalment.
After a series of fairly lengthy but dramatic cinematics that set the scene in the Middle East, you are placed back in the boots of Snake. Except he is now known as Old Snake due to an unfortunate cellular degeneration disease that has afflicted him, causing him to age prematurely. Although despite Old Snake looking like a grand-daddy, he is still as agile and buff as ever. Apart from the occasional comedic sore back animation, he moves just like the original Snake, letting you crawl through holes, climb ledges and take diving rolls into cover. Thankfully the controls have also been updated for the PS3 version and are now much smoother and slicker than the previous titles.
Guns of the Patriot is intended to be an epic finale, wrapping up Hideo Kojimaâ€™s story of the main protagonist, Snake. As fans would expect, it delivers in spades with all the plot-twists, emotional roller-coasters and action packed scenes that you could possibly imagine. The storyline revolves around Old Snakeâ€™s hunt for the notorious Liquid Snake who has plans to amass an army matching the manpower of the entire United States Army. Old Snake, despite being disillusioned by his rapid aging and typical outlook on life, has been sent in to track down and eliminate Liquid once and for all. His search will take him from the Middle East and South America through to Eastern Europe, and with the world in complete turmoil between private military companies all battling for regional dominance, you can expect plenty of conflict.
One of the problems with the Metal Gear Solid series was that gamers didnâ€™t quite know how to categorise the game. In many respects it is a stealth shooter along the lines of Splinter Cell; however, the massive amounts of items and the way it paused the action whilst going through your inventory started to push the game towards the role-playing genre. Even the elements within the game could be confusing with the ridiculous ability to carry a cardboard box around with you and quickly duck underneath it to hide. Guns of the Patriots doesnâ€™t change any of this and the end result is still an unusual mix. Having a fellow solider getting struck down by chronic, audible diarrhoea during the middle of a massive gun-fight is just one example.
As mentioned, the game is a tactical third-person shooter that combines elements of stealth and gadgetry. Snake is equipped with an impressive new armoured suit this time around known as OctoCamo. This tight-fitting number not only shows off your quads, but is actually advanced camouflage gear that gets its name from its attribute of mimicking the abilities of the Octopus. When Snake moves up against an object, for example a brick wall or crate, his suit will imitate the texture and colours of that object, making him difficult to detect whilst standing still. Naturally this doesnâ€™t make him instantly invisible and Snake can still draw attention to enemies, but this slick method of hiding is not only effective, but plain cool to see in action. No need to press buttons or change camo gear â€“ it is all intuitive to your movements. Your level of stealth is indicated on the HUD as well and hiding in shadows and kneeling stationary by an object is obviously better than hanging out in a well-lit area.
Snake has other fashion accessories to play with as well, including a rather dashing eye-patch. Known as the Solid Eye, it gives the player a large amount of extra visual information on screen when worn. Weapons or items are highlighted, allowing you to see them easily, and both enemies and allies are clearly indicated too, allowing you to differentiate friend from foe in the middle of a war zone. This is particularly useful when you are so busy sneaking around or flanking your opponent that you lose track of where your team mates are at. Although despite having friendly units, Snake still works on his own and your allies are merely cannon fodder in terms of the gameplay. Most of the time your friendly troops will be of use by having them run out onto the battlefield guns blazing, giving you time to see where your opponents are positioned.
The traditional exclamation marks and curious expressions made by unsuspecting enemies are still present in Metal Gear Solid 4. Even the trade-mark â€śbrinnnngâ€ť noise when you have been discovered is still here, but thanks to the amazingly detailed graphics it doesnâ€™t seem to be quite so comedic this time around. You can even sneak up on friendly units, but once they realise who you are, a sickeningly cute heart icon appears above the head. However, it really sounds worse than it is and can be easily ignored. Not to mention fans of the series will love the familiar humour of it all.
Graphically, Guns of the Patriot is breathtakingly spectacular. The moody cinematics, although noticeably long at times, are always a pleasure to watch. The character models and voice actors are possibly the best youâ€™ll ever get to see or hear in a video game. To add to this, the developers have even added some interactivity to make sure you donâ€™t fall asleep or switch channels to watch some TV midway through. Certain cut-scenes allow you to press a button (X or L1 for example) when indicated to give you a different angle, or a flashback to accompany the dialogue of the cut-scene. There is no penalty for missing them, but it can offer some insight to the storyline.
However, it is the outstanding character designs that really bring the rendered models to life. Metal Gear Solid 4 introduces a whole new arsenal of weaponry thanks to the use of nanotechnology that the game revolves around. Nanobots have become common place on the battlefield and these intelligent microscopic robots have been injected into soldiers as a control measure. This technology also allows for global tracking, physical upgrades and even the ability to lock weapons so they can only be used by particular hands. But with this new advancement in technology also comes new instruments of destruction.
Four new bosses make their debut in Metal Gear Solid 4 and they are all as beautiful as they are deadly to behold. Each one is a mix of machinery with flesh and represent the animal characteristics they are named after: the Crying Wolf, the Raging Raven, the Screaming Mantis and the Laughing Octopus. Perhaps this last one doesnâ€™t sound very frightening but they are all extremely terrifying to come up against.
The shear scope of this game will either attract fans of the series or overwhelm the more casual gamers out there. Going through menus of items and deciding what to have at the ready can be daunting as your possessions constantly stack up. This includes having a packet of cigarettes to steady nerves, an iPod (with a nifty control method that mimics an actual iPod) for listening to music, some instant noodles for health, a packet of Diazepam to relax muscles and even a Playboy magazine (yes, you heard right â€“ this item of reading material can be used to distract males from the ages of 18 â€“ 80). You can even carry around a great big dirty barrel (which is bigger than Snake himself) and use this as cover during the game. It all sounds ridiculous in writing, but most of it is so well implemented into the gameplay that you seldom consider the logistics of it.
Overall Metal Gear Solid 4 will be a particular taste, but this latest instalment is more likely to please a bigger audience than previous titles in the series. Thanks to the pain-staking attention to detail by the Kojima team, no PS3 owner should go without seeing this beautifully presented game in action. Just be prepared for long periods of no gameplay as you are forced to watch a mini-movie and some strangely placed comedic elements.