Metal Gear Solid 4 Hands-On Impressions Plus

mgs4_tgs07_handson.jpgWhen Metal Gear Solid 4 assistant producer Ryan Payton honorably justified his team's video game, many of you wondered "Who?" and "Where can I get that hat?" To simplify it for the masses, while Metal Gear figurehead Hideo Kojima is the great river from which all ideas flow, Payton may be the dam that controls the flow of insanity. Yes, there are moments of surreality in Metal Gear Solid 4, such as soda-addicted monkeys, hilarious send ups of irritable bowel syndrome and a woman in a giant wolf mech exoskeleton. But there are also plenty of technical ideas that must be implemented, with Payton aiding to implement a simplified control scheme and further addressing Western tastes. Based on the hour with spent with the game in a private meeting, MGS4 retains not only the series' artistry, it's technical implementation is reaching mad-genius levels, too.

But let's focus on one thing first: the controls. What has grown to become a complicated control scheme that requires great finger dexterity has been wisely refitted to appeal to both hardcore players and those who have never played a Metal Gear game before.How has this been accomplished? By adding context-sensitive controls and limiting most of your action to the triangle button. Walk up to a wall, an on-screen icon will show that Snake can sidle up against it. Approach a dumpster, the icon will change to show that Snake can get in. To aim, simply press L1. To fire, L2. Holding L1 then pressing triangle will bring your view to first person mode.

While the new first person mode is handy in many situations, only expert level players will have the skill and patience to play the entire game in this fashion. It's fantastic for taking out PMCs and surveying your surroundings. Any encounter that involves the game's close quarters combat, however, will pull you back in third-person. Still, for those who want to play the game through again with the intention of never being spotted may be up to the challenge.

Back to the controls, the X button changes Snake's stance. Tap it and he'll hunch over. Snake can still move around easily in this stance, keeping cover below certain objects and below the sight line of windows. Hold X a moment longer and Snake will lay down, entering the prone position and allowing him to crawl for extra stealth. This is the stance with which you'll obtain the highest level of cover and the one that will allow you to do the "inchworm", Snake's breakdancing, slow moving forward progression. During these times, you'll know exactly how well-covered you are, as your camouflage percentage is always shown in the HUD at the top right.

The rest of the button lay out includes the square button which toggles the game's auto-aim feature and the R2 and L2 buttons, which cycle through Snake's inventory. That inventory (items and weapons) can be custom designed, so you needn't outfit Snake with cigarettes for the entire Metal Gear Solid 4 experience. Very handy.

Oh yeah, for those of you who find the culturally inverted use of circle to confirm and X to cancel confusing, Payton says they're planning on addressing that for the Western release.

The HUD in MGS4 has been simplified, too. To further ease players into the game, you won't necessarily see the whole thing all at once, as the overhead radar doesn't come into play until Snake is given the new Solid Eye futuristic eye patch. There are still a few things that new players will have to familiarize themselves with. In the upper left are three meters, Snake's health, his "psyche meter" and "stress meter." The first two are simply horizontal bars, but stress is indicated as a percentage.

Snake's psyche meter will vary depending on what's occurring on the battlefield and a drop in the meter will affect his performance. The stench from dumpster diving and the intense heat of Saudi Arabia will also mentally affect Snake, giving environmental elements a bigger starring role in the way the game plays. Fortunately, Snake can calm himself with the aid of risque men's magazines and other unannounced items. Checking out one babe won't quite do it, though, as the diminishing returns from just staring at one (or a pair) will require Snake to "read" more and more of the mag.

Stress compliments the psyche meter, giving Snake a "combat high" in the thick of action. He'll increase his accuracy and take less damage as adrenaline rushes through him.

In addition to the radar view provided by the Solid Eye, Snake will have a "threat ring" around him, one that will change colour based on whether enemies can detect him. It's the 3D circle that you may have seen in Kojima's walk through of the game, but it's changed slightly visually. The ring will remain white while Snake is well hidden, but will become more red as his chances of being spotted increase. Fortunately, Snake's new auto-camouflage suit and the ability to play dead can save him in a bind. And while playing possum, Snake can quickly snap into a firing position to take out an enemy.

All of these new additions make the game control much better. These changes and the simplified interface should make the game appeal much more to those not already familiar with the MGS series. Of course, the PlayStation 3 game's graphics look absolutely stunning, equally as gorgeous as the game's cut scenes and promotional trailers.

One more thing to mention about the HUD is that you'll see a battery life indicator in the bottom left, below your currently equipped item (that is, if the item is the Solid Eye). This battery shows the power available to the Metal Gear Mark II and Snake's eye patch. The MG Mk. II is part of your inventory after your meeting with the petite Metal Gear and it's plenty of fun to control. It will help with field recon and non-lethally take out soldiers with its electrified arm. Like Snake, the MG Mk. II features built in camo, making the little robot virtually invisible on the field. There's no management involved with the MG Mk. II, so you won't have to return to Snake for him to recover it.

On the action front, for those who want a bit more action in their tactical action espionage, Kojima Productions delivers. Customizable weapons, a huge armory (including Javelin and Stinger missile launchers that really satisfy), and brilliant new close quarters combat moves make the game fun to play. The CQC system has been tweaked with new analogue stick controls, turning quick flicks of the left stick into a takedown motion for throwing enemies to the floor. Gunplay works better than ever before with a functional auto aim system that takes advantage of the evolved camera system. Everything just seems to work.

Metal Gear Solid 4's new improvements definitely broaden the appeal of the long running marquee franchise. Having personally waned as a fan during Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, based on the excellent work the team has done to expand the audience and address many player's concerns about the complicated interface, the game is simply a must buy.

At this point, the game seems to live up to the hype. The visuals are sharp, the audio effects are unsettlingly realistic and the fourth MGS adds tight action gameplay to its stealth formula.


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