In Defence Of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots

Metal Gear Solid 4 is a disaster. The plot goes beyond not making sense, to the point of parody. Retroactive continuity is stretched thin around the most bloated entertainment production since Caligula. Entire sections of the game are clumsily executed and are simply not fun to play. When it finally ends — after what seems like hours of false endings, nonsensical twists, and some truly, truly terrible dialogue — you want to strangle someone, but you're not entirely sure who you should be strangling.

But when people ask me what my favourite video game of this generation is? Depending on my mood, I usually say Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

I love Metal Gear Solid 4. I love it with a passion that makes absolutely no sense. I love it for its ambition. I love it because it's a silly pretentious mess. I love it because others hate it. I love it because it's almost impossible to explain why Metal Gear Solid 4 is special, why it's still a landmark video game that people should care about.

I've spent years trying to convince people they should love Metal Gear Solid 4, so I have plenty of experience hearing the same complaints. The story is stupid — agreed. The cut-scenes are too long — absolutely. The third act is weird — yep. The ending... okay, let's not talk about the ending.

Yes, Metal Gear Solid 4 is silly, it's not cohesive. On some levels It's fundamentally broken.

But. But...

But, crazy as it may seem, I'm going to ask you to forget about all of that. I'm going to ask you to pick up your PS3 controller, and play Metal Gear Solid 4. Just play it — the first two acts at least — play it and try your very best to see what I, and those who share my strange love for Metal Gear Solid 4, see.

———-

"I like to play video games, not watch them."

I've heard this complaint.

"You like to play video games," I say. "You should totally play this video game. It's called Metal Gear Solid 4."

Metal Gear Solid 4 is strange. It's designed for the enthusiast. It's designed for human beings who play one single game obsessively to the exclusion of all others, but at no point does it ever encourage that kind of dedication, or hint at the rewards.

"I'm a run of the mill action game," it says with a shrug, "with some bonus cut-scenes to confuse you. Please blunder through and forget I ever existed. Then tell your friends I was a little bit shit."

I didn't truly love MGS4 until halfway through my third playthrough. It was only then, after having such dramatically different experiences each time, that I became fully aware of just how incredibly dynamic the game is, and how committed it is to allowing players to define their own playstyle.

Metal Gear Solid 4 goes the whole way. It is a game that laughs hysterically at design shortcuts, a game in which choice is truly meaningful. Chances are you've played Metal Gear Solid 4 as an action game with a choice sprinkling of stealth. Now try and play it as a pure shooter with squad mechanics. Your team mates will cheer as you slaughter the PMCs, they'll share gear with you, they'll pat you on the back. Metal Gear Solid 4 will provide you with an outcome that makes sense, it will respond to your presence in a way that most games don't.

Now play Metal Gear Solid 4 as a pacifist, on the hardest difficulty setting. Don't touch a single soldier on the battlefield, sneak your way past every single enemy. Now Metal Gear Solid 4 becomes the most delicately balanced game of hide and seek every committed to disc. You'll be amazed by the details — soldiers who trace your footsteps, who respond to sound. Try smoking a cigarette from your hiding spot — they'll smell the smoke. Every move you make will feel significant; every move elicits a response.

Now try again. Play Metal Gear Solid 4 as a troll. Attract enemies with a knock on the wall, sneak up behind them, aim your pistol at their testicles and scream freeze. Lay porno mags on the floor for unsuspecting pervs, knock them out cold with a well timed grab of their churlies. Experiment — you'll find sections you didn't know existed, entire layers of control you couldn't comprehend on your first playthrough.

Metal Gear Solid 4 dovetails from act to act, from cut-scene to cut-scene, but what happens in between is truly yours. It an experience that belongs to you and you alone — and you can shape that experience any way you damn well choose.

————

That's what gets lost — but it makes sense — those who criticise Metal Gear Solid 4 are the ones who spend the least amount of time with it. That's a fault of the game, undeniably, but making it less impenetrable would reduce the reward for people like me — the ones who persevere.

Prod Metal Gear Solid 4 and it'll prod you back. It's like a weird monolith, impenetrable at first. Most video games are designed to be played by monkeys with sticks — it caters to that lowest common denominator — but Metal Gear Solid 4 has to be unlocked. It's a delicate thing and it requires perseverance.

Take something as simple as control.

Nowadays video game controls have edged towards a streamlined ubiquity, and it renders most games flaccid and dull. Right trigger is shoot, X is jump, Square is reload, left trigger for iron sights, Circle is the action button — pick up a video game and there is nothing to learn. Instantly you understand, instantly you can move in this world. There is nothing to learn, nothing to be rewarded by. Predictable, banal, turgid. Blergh.

Metal Gear Solid 4 makes some moves towards accessibility — it's nowhere near as convoluted as Snake Eater — but it retains that spirit of discovery, the ability to learn a new skill, the ability to grow as a player within the game world. The intricacy of its control scheme allows for that, it allows players, on their third or fourth playthrough, to discover a new way to use CQC, a more efficient way to take out a boss. It allows for new dimensions of approach — incredibly varied ways in which to achieve a goal as simple as taking down one single soldier. MGS4's controls are tactile, inventive, difficult, endlessly frustrating — but above all else, they're worth learning, and they're worth mastering.

———-

Metal Gear Solid 4 is worth mastering, perhaps that's the best way to put it. It feels like an actual skill as opposed to a process; as extraneous and pointless as juggling. But still, worthwhile.

But Metal Gear Solid 4 also works incredibly well as performance — all the best games do. Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter II — games that allow you to hone the most basic of skills are endlessly replayable because they allow for style, they allow you to perform in a way most games don't. You can blunder through Metal Gear Solid 4 like most players do on their first playthrough, but you also have the propensity to master it — and that mastery can be expressed in a variety of different ways.

It could mean utilising the broad arsenal of moves and weapons available in the most dramatic way possible; it could mean using none of them at all. It could mean headshotting every enemy in the game, or it could mean sending every guard to sleep with the Metal Gear Mk II. It could mean anything you want it to mean.

That's how truly dynamic Metal Gear Solid 4 is, and that's why it's a beautiful thing.


Comments

    Some of these points can be stretched to the series as a whole- Metal Gear Solid has always been about interacting with the systems.

    Witht eh rumours of trophy support coming to 4, I might just have to play through again.

    Hey Mark can you cut down the header, it's filling up the sites feed! Also, I'm liking where you're going with this MGS4 article..

    This was brilliant. Whilst my experience with #4 is very limited, I adored the original to no end, and feel that these same arguments can be brought back to that. Whilst in no way was it as convoluted as the later games, it was something truly special.

    This was a great read!

    Okay, listen. It seems that I'm in the minority here, but MGS4 was one of the very first PS3 games I played, was *the very first* MGS game I ever played, and I got the story on my first run through. I was completely flipping hooked- hell, I kept my parents an hour behind when they were planning to leave for a trip so I could watch all the finishing cutscenes.

    I really enjoyed the storyline- the gameplay was creative and adaptable to an almost Crysis-like extent, but I really loved the story- the characters, the overly-complex writing... I'll admit it was pretty damn contrived at points, and I'll be the first to say whatever "message" the game was trying to get at was as watery as a wafer cracker that's been left in the ocean for 17 years, but all the individual plot elements, the character's relationships with each other, the overarching plot, the moments and expeditionary flashbacks, and yes, the infamous hour-long cutscenes- I found it thigh-grippingly, spine-injuringly-from-leaning-forward-way-too-much-ly fascinating, and still did during my several other playthroughs.

    Flawed? Yes. It's a video game. The writing is not, sad to say, historically brilliant in our patron medium. But horrible? Pathetic? A mess? Not to me.

      I'm with you buddy, I've always been a huge fan of the MGS series & I can't wait for more.

    Excellent stuff. Having bought the HD set recently I've been getting back into Metal Gear in a big way, this article has just made the afternoon at work seem like it's going to take even longer. I need to get home and do some sneaking!

    I admit, I'm not a fan, but I appreciate this love letter to the game. I kind of feel the same misunderstood sentiment for L.A. Noire. A game some people hate and I have to resist the urge to defend it every damn time. :P

    Thats how i feel about 2, most people don't give it the time of day but i think 2 is the real masterpiece of the series. The story in 4 makes sense even if it is a bit of a stretch in some areas, the gameplay is great its just the pacing and the levels, needed a lot more of the gameplay from the first act and the constant installs where annoying as hell, and ACT 3 was a bit shit ACT 4 was great as a long term fan of the series, however having to sneak past all those little bots was just annoying and i ended up running around with a Machine Gun most of the time mowing them down...just didnt feel right, however the final boss fight in that ACT... haha was awesome.

    I looked past all the flaws of the 2nd and despite hating raiden and rose and not playing as snake and stacks of other stuff its still the best in my mind, the purest gameplay. This is how you can see 4 you look past it all and it just has that hook much in the same way 2 was to me.

      I remember the hype for MGS2 - just huge. Talk of bettering Metal Gear Solid? Bah! I do not remember the hype for 4 ever being like that. Honestly, I felt like I was the only person in store buying MGS4 on the opening day.

      I agree completely, the 2nd is the real masterpiece. The 4th Seems a little unfocused, but still with many great moments.

    This was brilliant. 5 stars.

    As soon as those trophies hit I'm loading this big boy up again.

    After my recent comments about how I felt this game overwhelmed and frustrated me, this article is an encouragement. Might need to go and re-buy it...maybe.

    Great article, Mark. Personally I think MGS4 is a culmination of all previous Metal Gear iterations rolled into one, and that's what makes it so great. I believe had we not played MGS1, 2 and 3 - this game would be less meaningful. But it is, and it's my favourite PS3 game.

      *But it ISN'T less meaningful. Sorry.

    I love mgs I actually just beat mgs4 again today my favorite of all time is mgs 1 mgs4 does have its flaws but I still think its amazing

    Great Read Mark :)

    Been a fan of the Metal Gear Solid Series since I played the first game on my good old PS One back in the day.

    I swear it's a common thing that every Metal Gear fan hears sooner or later..."why do you like this? It's barely a game and almost one long cut scene...so why do you like this?"

    Or at least its something I've heard and its something I can never truly explain to people who just don't get it.

    Story - In this department, I liken it to the works of John le Carre...some of Le Carre's most famous spy novels can be quite densely convoluted in their plotting. Yet for some reason, that's what I love about Le Carre's writing...same thing goes for Kojima's absolutely convoluted plotting in the Metal Gear series. Sure it's long, convoluted and at times a little too densely plotted...but that's kind of what I like about the series...that and the weird sense of humor and sense of Japanese Melodrama that is inherit in the series

    Gameplay - I'm still surprised how good MGS3 is. I recently went back and played the HD Collection across both Vita and PS3, and was just shocked as to how immensely playable and rewarding it was...after having games guide me by the hand in the last few years, it was kind of rewarding to re-play The End Boss Battle and feel truly challenged again (on hard difficulty that battle is challenging)

    Sure it's micro-manage heavy with the food and cure systems...but I kind of enjoy it. The aiming mechanic maybe doesn't hold up so well...but outside of that, the game really does hold its own...something I can't say for MGS2 or MGS...as much as I still love those games, they play pretty roughly when it comes to combat.

    I'm going to be brave though and say that my favourite of the series just might be Peace Walker. Okay, sure it's more Action orientated then it is Stealth Based...but it's everything else that game does that got me. The Story is tightly crafted...the Build Your Army system and leveling up your weapons and items was really addictive...despite the lack of 2nd analog nub on the PSP, it did play pretty well for what it had to work with (once you got used to the controls)...it was just downright addictive and made me want to master it...something I did as I invested close to 150 hours in the PSP version

    Okay I'm going to stop prattling on since I went way off topic...I don't know what it is about the series, and its hard to explain to newcomers, but there is just something about the series as a whole that hits the right note for me.

    It's one of those series where the fans will absolutely love it to death..and outsiders will look on with bewilderment

      Oh I forgot to mention this above...regarding the "Plot Twists" in the story

      I think that's kind of why it works for me...It's almost like Snake SHOULDN'T KNOW the whole truth behind why he does what he does. He is just the guy who gets sent to do these things...the reasoning behind why he does what he does should almost remain mystery to him

      Hence the paranoia behind the story...this is where I felt MGS 3 got it perfect in the story department, the Cold War was all about paranoia and betrayl...the use of "Double Agents" and "Triple Agents" was perfect considering the common nature of such agents back in the day (and still to this day)...It's almost like Snake gets his orders, does what he is told, but will never know the true reasoning behind everything that happens (well maybe he will never know ;).)

      So yeah skip to the end....that's kind of why I forgive the conoluted nature of the story in this series...since it kind of works in context of the idea of "Man on a Mission who will never quite know why he is on that mission"

    I always wanted to play this game so I bought it for $20 at dick smith like 18months ago... still in shrink wrap. Its not that I no longer wanted to play it, its just the more I read about it the more I became convinced I wouldn't have time, or it seemed a task too daunting to begin. However, Mr Serrels, you may have just convinced me to finally crack it open! Well maybe after I finish ME3. (hey i may as well be disappointed by the ending of 2 games in a row...)

      *still in shrink wrap = now. Not just when I bought it.. duh :)

      Has an excellent ending, don't worry. Just remember to keep watching after the credits for more cool revelations and "what the" moments.

        Metal Gear Solid 4, I mean.

    A defence for a game that on release received a heck of a lot of 10/10 and 100% ratings and even now holds a metacritic rating of 94% with zero mixed or negative ratings with a user rating of 8.9. Does this game really need any defence? I guess this article isn't talking to me anyway, I've always known the game was great.

    Metal Gear Solid 4 is an amazing game and my favourite game of all time on PS3. Those who dig deep into the philosphy of war, and society in general, will gt the most out of the series. To me the story is not convoluted at all. Its the perfect mix of satire and serious. Anime and realism. Beautiful design. And story and themes that rivals anything from Philip K. Dick! Truly amazing when you "get" the complete story, but too spell it out would break those wow moments of pure understanding.

      A lot of people who complain about story line silliness seem to forgot that a lot of it does draw inspiration from anime.

      Yeah - I hate it when people dismiss legitimate criticisms as just not getting it. I got what it was on about, I just thought it was poor way of expressing it. Even within the same series there are much better discussions of the futility of war.

        That's a good way to put it, tbh. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't like MGS4, and I don't know how many times I've had a fan berate me for not "getting" it. And that simply isn't true. I "get" it. I even think the ideas and philosophies are quite interesting and thought-provoking. But that doesn't mean the story isn't a bloated, un-edited mess of a thing. It would be far more interesting and coherent if Kojima had hired a competent editor to cut down the bloated dialogue scenes and tighten the plot elements that dragged.

    Sad they recently pulled the plug on MG online, I loved that so much, great friends on there helped. Might have to get a Japanese copy

    Mark, Love the article. I bought a OS3 recently to play this and Valkyria Chronicles. You're point of learning and mastering new controls is a good one. I've love the other installments of MGS so much because I start off being so clumsy and by the end I'm sneaking, rolling and silently taking down enemies. It's so good, I want to cry.

    I loved this game on the first playthrough, and the second, and I'm sure I'll still love on on the third (coming soon!).

    Even if the rest of it wasn't as brilliant as it is, it's worth the price of admission purely for the return to Shadow Moses Island from MGS - first in a dream sequence complete with original PS1 graphics, then immediately followed by doing it "for real" in PS3 HD glory. That and hammering the controller as Snake agonizingly drags himself down that corridor at the end. Two of the greatest moments in all of gaming (although the Shadow Moses one probably wouldn't do much for anybody who didn't play MGS on PS1), and they're both in the same game.

    I actually disagree with your opening points and didn't read the rest, although I got to the part where you said you actually love the game.

    I don't understand where you're coming from. The game is brilliant, the cutscenes are as long as they need to be, the dialogue is standard for a strange game to begin with and the final act is nothing short of amazing.
    One of the best games ever made, even when looking at it from every perspective of game design.

    This article brilliantly articulates my own feelings toward the series. I was nodding my head the whole way through.

    Something that I'll never personally understand about the "cut scenes are too long " argument is "what's wrong with lengthy cut scenes anyway?" If there's a story to tell, then tell it.

    Some people don't seem to realise that games like COD are almost one big playable cut scene. Events in the game don't exist until you reach a certain point. There's no spontaneity. No Life. In MGS4, guards will rock up in an APC and go about their business. Whether you run in to them or not they'll be there. You can back track and discover them half way along their patrol route. Not sitting in the back of the APC waiting for the player to turn up.

    I'm glad to see you acknowledged the downfalls of it early on, I hate when people ignore the faults of a game as they can make or break it in my view. I remember first playing MGS4 my first experience with MGS series and I played exactly like you said , an action game with sprinkles of stealth and didn't enjoy it at all.

    Years later after finishing Deus Ex I had fallen in love with stealth in games and decided to man up and buy MGS collection, I loved all of those games and went back to play 4, though I don't think it's shit anymore I still prefer the earlier entries and would call it good but not great.

    I think the moral of the story is to slow down, enjoy games and replay old ones you didn't enjoy previously, Majoras Mask and Bayonetta are tied as my favourite games of all time and I thought they were both good but not great until I replayed them.

    MGS 4 is the first MGS game I actually played through. I watched my friend play some MGS 3, but 4 was the first one I played myself. I absolutely loved it and I plan on getting the HD collection and Gamecube remake.

    this is perfect every time i try to explain why people should play metal gear solid (any of them) the best i come up with its just awesome you just got to play it.

    MGS4 imo is good, but it has way to many problems. The whole reason the story is so off the mark in some places is because Kojima wanted to make this the LAST MGS. So he had to find away to get all the story bits from all the other games to sync together. That's why there's more "movie" than "gameplay" ratio.

    I loved the shooting in MGS4. It felt way better. I also liked the new camo which was a step up from MGS3. Same for the gun shop and what. It's still a solid game and it is way better then people give it credit for. My favorite MGS has to be the first one on the PS1 (and the remake for GC). The story was more stream lined and the action/bosses were amazing and well thought out. I like the GC remake more (even though a lot of people hated it, which Idk why) because it took the best things from MGS2 and brought it to MGS1. I also really liked MGS2 and to be honest, I think people should replay MGS2 because the story feels kind of more important because of what is going on in Iran and China at the moment.

    Overall I say if no one has ever played an MGS game, they should really do so now. They're all still very good games and should be experienced once in your life.

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