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

    mgs4 is in my pile of shame, i just cant bring myself to finish it, its a good game and this article was great but personally i havent enjoyed metal gear since MGS1 on ps1, snake eater was pretty good though.
    one day i'll try get through mgs4....maybe

    I'm sure the article is intending to start a war between gamers but...

    "Metal Gear Solid 4 is a disaster. The plot goes beyond not making sense, to the point of parody. "

    No, you just don't take the time to actually listen to the story. It actually makes sence, If you bother to invest the time. If you don't want to invest the time, thats fine. Just stop accusing it of not making sense.

    I just couldnt stand the awful load times, there was like 5 during a chase sequence, a chase sequence! With the mech things.

    i blindingly object to all negative comments against this game, it was a complete escape from reality and that's what gaming is all about.

    Metal Gear Solid 4 can defend itself, but this does a pretty decent job of it too. As a fellow Metal Gear fanboy, it's great to read an article by a 'games journalist' that I can actually tell that the author is truly a fan.

    Though I will say this... the story? I was sincerely impressed with what Kojima came up with. For what he had to work with, Kojima made it all come together in a way that both made sense in-universe and wasn't lazy. Metal Gear Solid 2 wasn't intended to have a sequel. Vamp and all that craziness wasn't intended to have 'scientific explanations'... but Kojima caved and made it work. Was it the best explanation ever? Not at all. But it could have been a LOT worse. :-P...

    This article is a bit full of it. The game had an amazing story.

    The game had massive hype before it came out and it was heaps more better then what we expected.

    When I bought a copy 3rd day it was out i saw 6 people it front of me buy mgs4 and 2 behind me.

    And not to mention the glowing reviews. Game reviews were praising the games story.

    It was great because it used everything goid from previous MSG games and perfected them or came very clOse to perfecting it, and it added extra depth to the gameplay by throwing you into large battlefiels and the loads and loads of extra ways to hide and how important scouting and planning became such an inmportant factor of staying alive.

    And the graphics were amazing and by heaps of surprise still is amazing. The lands scapes and battlefields and building and inside of those buildings, the wind blowing sand and the objects flyingaround the place are breathtaking.

    The AI were simply amazing. They reacted to ur every move depending on ur difficulty, they tracked you down by footsteps, noise, smell and brains. They actively communicate with the other enemies.

    Plus the story was a prefect fit into the story that left us wondering what happened to solid snake in MGS 2 and 3.

    Perfect Game in my opinion.
    I could go on about how amazing this game was. Finished it the 10th time last week

    this was the first PS3 game i bought. Amazing, MGS is by far my favorite series.

    Even though people are entitled to their opinion, obviously the author of this post has never played this game.

    You have examine the series as a whole.

    I've played through all the games and it wasn't hard to understand the hidden meaning and the plot for each game. Even with the crazy over the top characters, settings and twists and turns in the story , I was still able to interpret the story and plot. from my point of view this is what I collected from the series

    - recruitment of child soldiers
    - Love
    - Conflict with identity
    - Artificial intelligence controlling technology to create wars and enforce rules
    - man vs technology
    - civil wars
    - World domination
    - treason
    - Losing your motions not to feel any sadness or pain going into wars
    Money

    Major Zero and Big Boss both interpreted the Boss' will differently according how they saw it and how they wanted the world to be. Thus Big Boss and Major Zero split becoming two rival factions and Solid Snake was in the middle being used by both sides. and some where in between the snakes been born.

    Not to mention if you're out of the loop it gives you and detailed explanation of every game on wikipedia for you to read. So for the author to say it's confusing made no sense, is no excuse.

    I love the MGS series. Absolutely love it to pieces. MGS2 is ingenious, MGS1 is a work of art, MGS3 is nigh on perfect, but 4? Sorry but it's a little bit crap. I completely understand why you love the first 2 acts. They are great. But then act 3 starts to collapse into horrific stalking and then on rails shooting, act 4 is great fanboy service but is ultimately catered purely to action and act 5 largely consists of hammering a button and beating up an old man. 4 is the black sheep of the perfect MGS clan. It is quite frankly a failure. An ugly scar upon an almost perfect series. By all means enjoy it for what it is, but don't elevate to the heights it's predecessor's reached.

    <3 the words right out of my mouth Serrels

    Im falling back in love with the MGS series after buying the new HD remakes. I still think that 2 is the most underrated, i love the sh it out that game. As much as i want to punch Raiden in the face i also love his story.

    And 4, going back through Shadow Moses gives me tingles.........

    First of all I love the metal gear solid series; Snake eater being my favourite for its time and
    MGS4 has to also be my favourite game of this generation of consoles.

    In terms of the story making complete sense....it wasn't planned from the start and kojima had to join random dots to try to make it fit together. Before you say otherwise, Kojima said so, and also said there are a few valid inconsistencies and plotholes fans have called him out on. Hence, the story is a bit messy so a 30 minute cut-scene explaining something that is a bit contrived and a bit of a stretch can be frustrating but is also necessary.

    The storyline may be a bit of a mess but the cutscenes and the gameplay do a good job of portraying the emotions and motives of characters, so if you need something other then gameplay to give you a sense of purpose, (and the plot isn't doing it for you) you atleast have that.

    I don't think any other game will be able to pull off the player being an old, dieing man, that's coughing, holding his back groaning in pain and sometimes puking onto the floor every 10 minutes. That is an accomplishment. Can you imagine GTA doing that in their next sequel??

    MGS4 advanced the plot to a conclusion, they went full circle even though it was never planned, and continued many of the long running themes and gave closure to the characters and the gamer. As confusing,messy and long as this all was, they respected the fans. There are too many games these days that will cater to new players mid-series at the expense of their own material, and make the overall story arc self contained in the one game (mass effect 3 comes to mind).

    The same respect and non-spoon feeding of the narrative is apparent in the gameplay. It doesn't treat you like an idiot. So I would like to say i agree 100% with the first paragraph of this brilliant article yet I still love MGS4's plot, story, themes...all of it.

    The start of my post was in response to the comments that Serrels doesn't 'understand' the story/plot.*

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