I loved previous MGS titles, but this game completely exceeded my expectations. There are a few things that really set this title above the glut of other action games on the market:
- Original, Inventive Gameplay: MGS is probably the most original and inventive in terms of action game mechanics. Most action games, even my favorites, tend to take a very standard and well established genre and add a few cool, unique touches and polish and clever implementation details on top of that. MGS has so much unique play elements and content in it, that it really goes beyond a simple genre and stands in a league of its own. One good example of MGS originality: the boss battles. If you’ve played any of the MGS games, you will know what I mean.
- Balance between depth and ease of play: A lot of developers are dumbing down their games to cater to a wide audience. We see a lot of titles that are nothing more than very basic run-and-gun gameplay; they are easy to get into but ultimately superficial, derivative, and not very interesting. At the other extreme, there are games that are so complex and require prolonged effort to learn and appreciate. MGS4 definitely balances this well. There is plenty of depth and tons of highly detailed and very original gameplay systems to sink your teeth into, but players can dive right in and enjoy without reading a manual or playing tutorials or tutorial-like levels.
- Variety: The game structure changes quite a bit as the game progresses. Just as you start getting comfortable with one game mechanic, the game changes things up. Some games create a single set of gameplay mechanics, and then build N levels of story, art, and content on top of that. MGS4 is not like that at all. The downside to this is that I sometimes felt like I didn’t get enough time to play with certain game mechanics before I moved on to the next thing. I can always replay the game, but a little more length to some of the levels would have been nice.
- Gameplay Options + Customizability: You can clear most scenes through a blast-everything approach or a stealthy sneaking approach. But beyond that, there are tons of optional ways to customize your play experience. There is an a elaborate weapon customization system, with tons of optional guns, add-ons, and modifications. There is a close quarters combat system to master, lots of specialty stealth moves, a variety of special camoflague tricks, and you can learn how to exploit battlefield dynamics and ally with militia groups. And none of these systems are forced on you or are necessary to progress through the game. You can delve into the ones that interest you and play the game how you like.
- Story: This isn’t Academy award material, but this is top notch comic book style fiction. The villains are reminiscent of Batman, with goofy themes, special powers, and exagerated personality quirks. There is some really well thought out pop-science and dystopian alternative history. The mythology to the series is also very deep and well thought out. Players can appreciate it without any previous knowledge of the series, but it’s more rewarding as you get into it. I’ll be honest, some of the dialog in MGS games has been atrocious, it can occassionally be long-winded, and I’m not enough of a fan to read the Metal Gear graphic novels or anything like that, but for the most part it’s like a really cool comic movie. It’s even better (IMO) than Hollywood comic movies and provides the perfect backdrop and context for the game experience.
- Cut Scenes: Metal Gear has become infamous for having long and frequent cut scenes. Reading about 45-minute cut scenes sounds very daunting at first, but ultimately, the cut scenes are a key part of what makes the game great. I tend to hate cut scenes, because most games have terrible stories, and the cut scenes get annoying after a few seconds. It’s not simply that MGS has a great story, even though it does. The blend and pacing between action sequences and story cut scenes just works. There are tons of storyless action games out there, and many players will prefer them, but for fans, the story and atmosphere are a key part of the MGS experience, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. You can also pause/skip the cut scenes, and many of the cut scenes feature limited interactivity, such as switching cameras, and controlling a mini-robot while the dialog proceeds in the background.
- It’s easy to miss everything: For a game with so many options and gameplay systems and subtleties, it’s really easy to beat the levels really quickly and only see a small portion of what’s in the game.
- It’s not for everyone: For most players who appreciate the occasional comic or graphic novel, this game is a fan’s dream. Some other people don’t have the time or patience for that type of fiction or have simply outgrown their appreciation for such fantasy; these people probably won’t have the patience to appreciate this game.
- Out of Style: I’m so sorry, Snake. But, the mullet? Cigarette chain smoking? The bandana? And what is that, a glute suit? Please don’t try to rationalize it; it looks ridiculous. The designers may have fooled themselves into thinking this stuff was the peak of comic hero fashion in some previous decade, and they were wrong. But today it just looks crazy.
- Online ID System: This is a nitpick that doesn’t affect the core game, and it’s been harped on plenty already, but it’s still worth mentioning: Their online dual-ID system is excessively obtuse and completely unnecessary. Why not hook into the user’s PSN ID like every other game?
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