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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines exclusively compiled online reaction to Konami's stealth-action sequel Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which reviews describe as "a dazzling, heart-lifting voyage of discovery" - reviews,

Danny Cowan, Blogger

June 11, 2008

7 Min Read

This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Konami's stealth-action sequel Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which reviews describe as "a dazzling, heart-lifting voyage of discovery." Konami's Metal Gear series has been credited as a pioneering force in stealth-based gameplay, with each new entry earning widespread acclaim and high marks from critics. Metal Gear has also earned a degree of infamy due to its twist-filled and often long-winded storylines; recent sequels have been criticized as featuring excessive amounts of dialogue sequences and cutscenes. Early reviews thus far paint a positive overall impression of Metal Gear Solid 4, however, with the title currently averaging a review score of 93 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Oli Welsh at Eurogamer acknowledges the Metal Gear series' weaknesses in his review, scored at 8 out of 10. "There are those - this reviewer included - for whom Metal Gear Solid is a love it and hate it proposition," he begins. "Flawed, intractable, unspeakably tedious at times, and yet blessed with incredible production values, imaginative design, and a brilliant, brave willingness to think and do the unexpected and impossible." "At times they're barely videogames at all," Welsh continues, "but they're capable of moments of pure videogame genius, joy and shock that few other series can match." Welsh finds that Metal Gear Solid 4 features all the twists that fans have come to expect from the series. "[Series designer and director Hideo Kojima] has barred no holds in an extraordinary, kitchen-sink finale to the Solid Snake story. Plausibility is stretched to extremes as every character you can think of (and several you never would) makes a cameo appearance in this melancholy epic," he describes. "Such is the luxurious length and mind-numbing detail of the cut-scenes and codec conversations that you could put the pad down for almost half the game's ample length." These excesses do not always work in the game's favor, though. "There's almost too much going on," Welsh criticizes. "Metal Gear Solid 4 is, in most senses, the biggest Metal Gear yet. But the best? Maybe not. If the super-slick thriller of the first Metal Gear Solid remains Kojima's masterpiece, then this operatic monster is his magnum opus." "Laden with sentimental sermons and metaphors for the evils of war, struggling under the weight of the resolving the plots of four previous games and the personal destinies of characters as diverse as Raiden, Meryl, Naomi, Vamp and Eva, it is in all honesty a mess," Welsh explains. "Motivation and consistency fall by the wayside and by the end it's totally unclear who is on which side, or what's at stake." "Maybe that's deliberate," Welsh admits, "but it doesn't work, and the hours of talking-head exposition involved are too steep a price to pay for this muddled closure." Welsh is notably more impressed with Metal Gear Solid 4's gameplay. "Design-wise, MGS4 is mostly a refinement of what's gone before," he praises. "The new gadgets are superb, the weapons are expertly realised and much easier to get hold of, and there are always plenty of options, even if stealth is still usually the best of them. Hand-to-hand combat feels more natural. The environments are more complex, but nothing like as large or open as you might expect, and this is still a linear game." Welsh finds that Metal Gear Solid 4 emerges as a worthwhile experience, but ultimately accomplishes little in comparison to its prequels. "Guns of the Patriots is a frustrating, fractured game that turns Metal Gear Solid's world upside down several times over, but never changes it," he criticizes. "You could not ask for a funnier, cleverer, more ambitious or inspired or over-the-top conclusion to the Metal Gear Solid series, but it's definitely time to move on." PSM3 Magazine UK's Daniel Dawkins takes a more positive angle in his 9.5-out-of-10 review, though he also admits that the experience may be disappointing for some. "MGS4 is a masterpiece, arguably the best in the series and - though many will fiercely disagree - ever so slightly disappointing," he writes. "Will you enjoy it? Yes, definitely, but while most hardcore fans will adore it, a tiny minority may be left slightly deflated by the weight of their expectations, despite the game's unarguable quality." "The game's so rich and contentious, we've had five separate 30-minute discussions about MGS4's merits and failings," Dawkins explains. "Our problem? The game doesn't conclude on an emotional swell, but fades out in a way that makes the 'Gandalf on a boat' finale to Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King look like flash-frame editing." Dawkins continues: "Kojima has to resolve too many character arcs and plot threads, so the conclusion feels like it's happening around you, rather than through you. Given that it's the last chapter in our favourite game series ever, we expected to be moved to tears - but it's got far less impact than, say, the intensely personal, shocking ending of Half Life: Episode 2." Dawkins notes similar initial troubles with Metal Gear Solid 4's gameplay. "The core sneaking/shooting mechanics are relatively intuitive, but fiddly for newcomers, and abruptly introduced," he asserts. "It isn't until about six hours in that you feel any mastery, and in our first two completions, we largely neglected stealth and the variety of sleeping gas mines, evasion items (like sexy magazines) and the remote-control Mk II." "Still, with a game this exceptional, it feels like criticising the Venus de Milo for having no arms," Dawkins counters. "The mechanics are fine-tuned to perfection (bar the wonky auto lock-on), the production values are unprecedented (the intro movie is stunning, while certain 'on-rails' sections made our skin prickle with sheer cinematic glee) and the story sporadically leaves you reeling, or hanging on every word." Dawkins explains that Metal Gear Solid 4's gameplay triumphs over its occasionally plodding cutscenes. "The frustration - and it bites harder given the breathless pace of earlier scenes - is that all the brilliant gameplay, plotting, philosophy and detail gets swamped in the 'noise' of unnecessary content," he claims. "For every killer line, there's ten of filler, and the conclusion feels like an 'Oh, and another thing...' fan-pleasing trawl, rather than the bold finale we hoped for." "It's a journey we implore every gamer to take, regardless of their feelings for the series," Dawkins concludes, "because while the destination won't be to everyone's taste, the route is paved with gold." Dave McCarthy at IGN UK disagrees with claims that Metal Gear Solid 4 is inferior to its prequels, awarding a score of 9.9 out of 10 and calling it "The ultimate Metal Gear game. Without question." "Surprisingly, it gets off to a pretty slow start," McCarthy warns. "The absence of fixed camera angles, for example, or of extended Codec conversations, or of the distinctive PlayStation 2 textures, making the game feel less like a Metal Gear game and more like a typical action title. As the game starts, with its fairly generic next-gen textures and desert battlefield setting, you can't help feeling that you could be playing the latest Call of Duty, or Assassin's Creed." Metal Gear Solid 4's lengthy cutscenes are described as a positive by McCarthy. "If you've been following all of the twists and turns across the series so far, you'll gain enormous satisfaction from the multitude of cut-scenes in MGS 4 because they wrap up everything you ever knew about the Philosophers, the Patriots, The Boss, Big Boss, Solid Snake and his brothers," he claims. "And if you haven't been following?" McCarthy asks. "Well then it does a pretty good job of recapping the whole thing: if you've never played a Metal Gear game, you'll still enjoy all the overblown drama and intrigue." McCarthy explains that MGS4's gameplay meets equal standards. "Metal Gear was the original stealth game, but here, the mechanics of sneaking around and snapping necks are the most polished they've ever been," he writes, "a refined control scheme, new gadgets, and just the sheer muscle of the PlayStation 3 take the stealth in MGS 4 to another level." "If you’ve ever loved any one of the Metal Gear games, or any moments from the series, there will come a moment when MGS 4 will send your spirits soaring," McCarthy notes in conclusion. "Just play it, and enjoy a dazzling, heart-lifting, voyage of discovery." Judging from initial reviews, Metal Gear Solid 4 is as acclaimed and as controversial as its predecessors. Though many reviews praise its revamped gameplay and added features, some claim that overlong cutscenes often add frustration to an otherwise enjoyable experience. Series fans already know what to expect from the Metal Gear franchise; critics, however, warn that newcomers may not possess the necessary patience.

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan

Blogger

Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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