Hey ho! Bet you thought I'd died or something? But no, after some soul searching and a trip to the Big Apple I'm back and will be coming at full force with some great reviews (as well as a significant New York update. Wait for it!)
Anyway, without further ado, here comes the first review in a while but no less deserving of attention, the end game in Kojima's yarn of love, war and metal gear everything, Metal Gear Solid 4.
'Love can bloom, even on the battlefield' were the famous words someone once said. Trying to remember where they came from is a good way to lead into a review of the game I'm about to cover, the by-no-means-infamous Metal Gear Solid 4 (from here on referred to as MGS4).
MGS4 is nostalgic. Players who have played the previous MGS games in the series will notice that MGS4 is a game primarily made with them in mind. Although the game does not set out to repel and exclude those new to the franchise it certainly rewards those who enthusiastically soaked up the tales woven in MGS 1, 2 and 3 (even though that was a prequel). As you play the game Hideo Kojima and company go to work on making sure that the story is fully and thoroughly communicated to the player, allowing those who persist with playing through the game's chapter to go through Snake's journey to stop Liquid Ocelot.
Players will enjoy the twists and turns in the story as they are told in a well-executed cut scenes that show the MGS world and its great fusion of technology, warfare and emotions (the Raiden/Vamp fight is a highlight). Although the cut scenes at some points in the game can be excessively long (there is reportedly an extremely long cut scene in the middle of the game that is only broken up by the opportunity to save) they on first viewing are neither boring nor uninteresting (although granted on repeat viewing will most likely be skipped which you have the option to choose to if you so feel). They make for gelling the story of MGS4 together in a satisfying manner for the player and, no doubt, one that realises Kojima's vision fully.
The game's graphics are certainly something to write home about too with amazing effort and attention to detail put into the game's characters and environments (figure-hugging suits for makes and females a speciality.) It is quite stunning how detailed areas can be and this pangs of the effort and hard work that Konami have put into bringing the game world to life. add to this the game's music score composed by Harry-Gregson Williams (a staff member who has been on board since MGS2) that accentuates the action sections and even the quieter moments and you can see that MGS4 has lots going for it. However, presentation alone does not a good game make, so let's look at MGS4's gameplay and how it holds up.
In terms of actual playing MGS4, the game retains many useful elements implemented in the previous MGS games yet introduces several new elements to the gameplay to make it fresh and exciting for the player. As always you can sneak around the environments in a covert fashion so as to not be spotted by the enemy as well as crawl along the ground too. The player can attack enemies in hand-to-hand combat, throw them to the ground, hold them in front as a hostage, shout whilst restraining them among other close quarters combat (CQC) maneuvers.
In addition to this Snake has at his disposal more weapons than ever (either by picking them up from enemies, the surrounding environment or from Drebbin (the game's mobile weapons store). Compared to the old MGS titles, Snake now has access to handguns, machine guns, rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers, grenades, mines and various other weapons of varying degrees. Fans of firearms will be happy with the care and attention that has gone into reproducing the various weapons for Snake to use in the game and these can also be modified courtesy of Drebbin at his mobile weapons shop with extra grips, additional mounts, increased capacity, scopes and other enhancements. The game is smart in that it doesn't give you all this firepower without the means to utilise it.
Players can either tread carefully and play safe, taking enemies out with head shots from a distance or run in all guns blazing to take the enemy head-on. Snake also has at his disposal additional items such as rations (to keep his health up), the Solid Eye (which allows for night vision and infra-red vision) as well as the Mk 2, a small mobile robot that can be used as a scout, attack enemies and even use stealth to sneak around. All in all, Snake has many moves and items at his disposal to allow him to move through the different environments in ways that will vary for each player (and within that lies the versatility of the gameplay in MGS4).
I am confident enough to go on record and say that Kojima and co. have pulled out all the stops in balancing the gameplay systems of what has gone before in the previous MGS games whilst introducing enough new elements to the gameplay to make MGS4 interesting and enjoyable to play for old and new players alike (and if you still don't like the game then fair enough!)
Not to wax lyrical about the game however as even MGS4 has a few issues that should be raised. It may have already been mentioned but MGS4 does trade on nostalgia heavily and where as new players will be able to enjoy the game they may miss some of the references to their titles in the franchise littered through the game (Psycho Mantis and The Sorrow dolls anyone?) It has also been mentioned before but in certain parts of the game the cut scenes are verging on being too long where you may as well put the kettle on, make a cup of tea, drink it and then make another one (no joke, my living room and kitchen are in the same room and I was able to do this whilst playing/watching the game.....twice!)
Although the majority of cut scenes help to further the story and are interesting to watch, some can branch off into being just techno-babble that will go right over the head of an average games player (they are skippable though). In addition to this, the game can have a tendency to get into its own head sometimes with the story and may make the player feel less involved than they should be, It should also be mentioned that although MGS4 provides the player with many gameplay options with which to progress through the game it may still not be to everyone's tastes (those pulled in by the militaristic theme hoping for something along the line of Call of Duty 4 may find themselves severely disappointed). It must be mentioned that although MGS4 allows you to shoot in first-person this is not the focal point of the gameplay nor is Konami apologetic for that.
Criticisms aside however and players will find that MGS4 is not only fantastically presented with memorable characters, environments, versatile gameplay, good nostalgia and some nice easter eggs too. All in all MGS4 comes highly recommended and yes, love can bloom, even on the battlefield. With MGS4 you'll find a game that is in 'full-bloom' from the beginning right to the closing credits (and beyond, literally). Pick up a copy and play without further ado!