Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is a title that was tasked with doing the impossible, and, as far as the fanbase and critics are concerned, it managed to pull it off. Metal Gear Solid 2’s complex narrative threads meant that any chronological sequel would have a million questions to answer, and that was before Hideo Kojima threw a few more questions onto the plate by adding another story, the prequel Metal Gear Solid 3, into the mix. All in all, Metal Gear Solid 4, widely assumed to be the closing chapter of the beloved Metal Gear series, had to escape the proverbial corner that the series had painted itself into.
As a result, what we got was a multi-layered smorgasbord of Metal Gear story goodness, but one that does its components a reasonable bit of disservice in the process. Metal Gear Solid is a series which is dearly beloved by many members of the Vexoid team, myself included, but following a week of beautiful articles articulating the brilliance of Kojima’s creations, it’s time to highlight the weaknesses within Solid Snake’s final chapter. Please note that there are spoilers for Metal Gear Solid 4 within this article.
MGS4 stands up to any game released on the PlayStation 3. The game is often visually breathtaking, particularly in the Shadow Moses-centric Act 4, while the soundtrack is effective as always; the title theme of MGS4, ‘Old Snake’, is one of the finest pieces of video game music around, while the use of the classic MGS1 track ‘The Best Is Yet to Come’ is timed to perfection, invoking a strong sense of nostalgia for long-term fans as soon as Shadow Moses comes into view. The return of the radar is welcome after its absence in MGS3, while Snake’s Solid Eye acts as a sort of Batman Detective Mode-lite, adding an extra dimension to proceedings.
MGS4 also conforms to a more common control scheme, and handles like any other PS3 shooter – R1 to shoot, as opposed to the square key, for example – which makes the title a lot easier to get to grips with, and makes the game easier to play if the player is caught in a shootout following a failed attempt at stealth. For some, this is a good thing, because it means that stealth is not necessarily required to progress in the game; but for others, this adaptability takes away from the essence of Metal Gear. After all, this is the same series that saw a boss battle extended in length in proportion to the amount of enemies you had killed, as opposed to using non-lethal force or evading them.
In a similar complaint, the Codec is criminally underused in MGS4, with the visual layout of the Codec completely changed, complete with the Metal Gear version of FaceTime, and a sort of speed dial mode being used, as opposed to being able to manually select frequencies. The Codec is Metal Gear, and these changes rid it of any of its typical charm, making the Codec conversations a lot less enjoyable. Charm is also absent from several of the game’s voice actors; Naomi Hunter and Mei Ling are given American accents, ridding them of their respective English and Chinese accents, while Liquid Ocelot lacks Cam Clarke’s distinct tones. While these changes would not affect a new player, they irk long-term fans, and Metal Gear Solid is very much a series for long-term followers.
The environments in MGS4 also suffer due to the game’s insistence to move around the world. None of the areas – with the exception of Shadow Moses – are particularly memorable, with Act 1’s depiction of ‘the Middle East’ particularly guilty of this, being visually pretty indistinguishable from any war-themed FPS circa 2008. Even Shadow Moses does not escape without fault; the game effectively invokes nostalgia at key points during Act 4, but the fact that the base is swarmed by Dwarf Gekko means that there isn’t really much time to explore.
MGS4’s biggest missteps are its characterisation and story, and in reviews of the game, this is often overlooked because the gameplay is fantastic. A key moment near the end of the game continues from the striking title sequence, where Solid Snake prepares to commit suicide following the completion of his mission. The entire game effectively builds up to this moment; Snake’s rapid ageing, the continuous references to said rapid ageing, Snake’s general weariness and self-loathing, and acknowledgement that he and his ‘brothers’ have caused nothing but trouble all point to Solid Snake pulling the trigger at the end of the game. Except he’s unable to go through with it, which totally goes against everything that Solid Snake stands for, as well as everything that led up to that moment. MGS4 places a great emphasis on giving its characters a warm send-off, even if doing so contradicts established facts.
In another example, Johnny Sasaki, the meme character of the series known for suffering from diarrhoea, features as a protagonist in MGS4, despite Johnny being a guard to avoid in previous versions. Johnny, known as Akiba in MGS4, is for all intents and purposes, a joke character; his conveniently-timed diarrhoea allows Snake an opportunity to escape from tight situations, and for the first half of MGS4, his now poorly-timed diarrhoea leaves Meryl and her team in difficult situations. He is comic effect. Yet, by the end of the game, he is revealed to be handsome, and immediately becomes incredibly competent, dispatching several guards in the lame scene in Act 5 where he proposes to Meryl while the two are under intense attack. The game’s desire to give Meryl, a long-standing character, a good send-off means that Johnny, like Solid Snake later on, goes completely against what has already been established for his character.
Equally as bad are the game’s attempts to untangle the narrative web that it has constructed over the past few games. The key story development in Act 3 reveals the cast of Metal Gear Solid 3 as the Patriots, and therefore, the chief antagonists of the whole series. But having played MGS3, it’s hard to swallow this; for example, the player is told that Para-Medic is in fact Dr. Clark, the doctor who performed inhuman experiments on Gray Fox to the point that he begged for death, despite the fact that she came across as nothing but a pleasant movie buff in the prequel. Similarly, Major Zero, a commander who showed no real signs of villainy in MGS3, is, all of a sudden, responsible for all the horrors of the Metal Gear Solid series. …No, not buying it.
In a different example, Vamp, the seemingly immortal, creepily sexual character from MGS2, makes a return in MGS4 to revive his rivalry with MGS2 protagonist Raiden. Raiden, who is now mostly mechanical, is able to take severely damaging blows, and is able to match Vamp at a level he couldn’t before. However, since the good beats bad narrative has to win in the end, the game has to come up with a way that Raiden can actually defeat Vamp; therefore, the game needs to explain Vamp’s immortality. This is explained by revealing that Vamp’s body was injected with experimental nanomachines, which allow him to recover at a much faster rate than normal humans – a la Wolverine. It’s a weird scenario where a character being immortal for no discernible reason ends up being the preferred explanation, but this is what happens in this instance; a better end for Vamp would have been for Raiden to disintegrate Vamp’s body without explaining his immortality.
Metal Gear Solid 4’s insistence of using ‘nanomachines’ as an explanation for anything out of the ordinary is jarring and a significant cop-out. Nanomachines are again used as a way to keep Snake in control of his rapidly deteriorating body, as well as a way for Naomi to nullify the effects of cancer. I’m sure there are other examples of this that I have missed, but in its attempts to provide an ending for every single one of its unsolved threads, MGS4 cuts a few corners. This isn’t even necessarily the game’s fault; by creating so many plot threads and questions that need answers in the preceding few games, Kojima and his team may have captivated and intrigued their audience, but left MGS4 with one hell of a clean-up job.
My final gripe with the game is Liquid Ocelot, a character that I feel doesn’t quite make sense. A triple-agent that went on to be Solid Snake’s biggest obstacle, Ocelot is one of the most important characters in the entire series, and yet I feel the game should have treated him better. Ocelot’s adoption of Liquid Snake’s personality is confusing at best; in Metal Gear Solid 2, he surgically attached Liquid’s arm to himself, and appears to be possessed by the arm at certain points during the game. The player is therefore led to believe that Ocelot’s actions are the result of Liquid’s influence, acting, as ridiculous as it sounds, through his arm. MGS4 then ditches this idea completely and reveals that Ocelot underwent hypnotism to adopt Liquid Snake’s personality, and is not being possessed by Liquid at all. This is a significant deviation, and the reasons for this aren’t particularly clear.
The internet appears to be divided on the issue as well; some speculate that Ocelot, as part of the Patriots, had to appear as though he was possessed in order to shift blame for his actions in bringing the Patriots’ system of control down from the inside, which seems a fairly reasonable theory. But the fact that I’ve had to look this up, as well as the fact that so many forum threads exist on the internet debating this plot point, is that the story has not been written well.
MGS2 went as far as casting Liquid Snake’s voice actor, Cam Clarke, to speak when Ocelot was supposedly possessed. If we’re now being told that Ocelot was never actually possessed, why was he able to use Liquid Snake’s voice? It all doesn’t make sense.
MGS4 was deemed a perfect game by several leading gaming publications, but appear to have done so despite the glaring flaws the title clearly displays. However, it’s easy to see why this is the case; MGS4 does so many things well that it’s easy to look past the negatives. The game, for all my criticisms, does an admirable job of attempting to clear up the mess left by its prequels, and does so in a way which is more than acceptable, when not looked at from a critical perspective. I’m not going to comment on the length and frequency of cut scenes, because by this point, you can’t play a Metal Gear Solid game without accepting unreasonably long cut scenes as part of the experience.
As discussed before, the gameplay, graphics and soundtrack are all wonderful. After a brief sojourn, Solid Snake returned to his rightful spot as my favourite Snake in a tale of torture, mortality and catharsis – one which supposedly intentionally mirrors Hideo Kojima’s feelings about working on the franchise. Raiden returns to the series as a much stronger and worldly character that makes it easier for the player to like him and sympathise with him, in a way that the immature Raiden of MGS2 could never be liked. MGS4 makes some salient points about the nature of humanity and war as a whole, and uses some memorable moments to drive these home; the horrifying back-stories of the Beauty and the Beast unit are shining examples of this, even if they may be slightly over-the-top. And from a fan perspective, the return of Shadow Moses, as well as several key characters from previous games such as Naomi, Mei Ling, Meryl, Psycho Mantis, and of course (FINAL SPOILER WARNING) Big Boss, were greatly appreciated.
The final battle between Solid Snake and Ocelot is memorable, with the series’ best music tracks accompanying a no-holds-barred fist fight – the style of which changes periodically to reflect the play styles of the four Metal Gear Solid titles (complete with changing health bars). Metal Gear Solid 4 is just a phenomenal experience for any MGS fan, and, despite all of its issues, has an appropriate air of finality to be a fitting end to the series.
…Wait, there’s a Metal Gear Solid 5?