What the hell is wrong with Snake's ear on that cover? Really, look at it. It's so fucked up. Look really closely. You'll never see the cover without immediately noticing the ear again.
Since I've recently been getting my hands on more and more Sony consoles, I was mostly experiencing the parts of Metal Gear that didn't really see other platforms. Peace Walker, Portable Ops, Metal Gear Solid 3 (which.. are all on other consoles now, except Portable Ops). All of those games were intriguing in their own way, mostly because of Big Boss. Big Boss is a fascinating character; flawed, misguided, foolish, conflicted. He was thrust into something far greater than himself and did what he believed was right at that moment. Big Boss' story has developed into a tragedy, and we'll hopefully see it reach its climax sometime soon with The Phantom Pain. This made me somewhat apprehensive to return to a Solid Snake helmed game.
Snake is badass, but he's a bit of a boy scout. He's got a sturdy moral compass throughout his appearances, which isn't quite as interesting as Big Boss' constant turmoil. For the most part, Big Boss' entries seem to keep Hideo Kojima's (somewhat poor) sense of humor in check as well, not to mention the welcome lack of deux ex nanomachine in the early (in the series' timeline) entries.
MGS4 finds Snake having aged considerably due to the failings of the cloning process used for himself and Liquid. This is hammered home constantly, with Snake clutching his back if you crouch for too long and hacking up a lung while smoking. Strangely, Old Snake works out well. The Colonel from MGS is back, and he's asking Snake to assassinate Ocelot to halt his uprising. Snake is clearly a bit uncomfortable with the thought of outright murdering Ocelot, but accepts. There's an understandably ridiculous number of plot threads that come together in this game, and summarizing them all would result in a week's worth of reading. In the best interests of everyone, I'll refrain from going much further.
Personally, I didn't have any issues keeping track of what was going on. If you've played the other games then everything you've seen before comes to a fine point here. If you haven't, this game may as well be Japanese. If you're unfamiliar and you do want to play this game, there is a companion app that can be downloaded from PlayStation Network that acts as an encyclopedia for the game's history. It's actually very interesting to go through if you're familiar with the plot, but if you aren't then it would be about as interesting as eating a bowl of Cheerios without sugar and reading a medical journal style summary of Tom Clancy's literary output.
It's worth noting that while the plot does move along at a good pace, it takes a while to get started. In addition, there is a plot thread that runs throughout the game that amounts to "WHOSE SIDE ARE THEY ON??" which gets old about... well, the moment it's introduced. Kojima's eye for directing has taken a step up here as well, and the (then) new tech afforded by the PS3 is used well.
Since I brought that up, I have to say that I fucking hate it when Kojima gets cute. There's a cutscene in the fucking game, that occurs during normal gameplay where another character prompts you to change the disc... then goes "oh, whoops, this is the PS3, it has Blu-Ray technology and we don't need to do that!"
Are you fucking kidding me? In the middle of your game about a man who is on his death mission, you stop to talk about the PS3's Blu-Ray technology?
Speaking of which, let's talk about the tone of the game. It's all very final, and we're very much under the impression that this is it. This is the end for Snake. We're on a final tour, even heading back to Shadow Moses. From Snake's age to the title screen, this is the end. Yes, even the title screen carriers a ridiculous seriousness. If you press start immediately, all you see is Snake standing in a cemetery in front of The Boss' grave. If you wait and give time for the camera to move closer to Snake, you'll see that he's holding a gun and clearly contemplating suicide. Aaand we just took a break to talk about Blu-Ray discs.
Let's talk about that Blu-Ray disc more then since we've opened that can of worms. One of the primary talking points about this game was just the sheer amount of data. It uses a full 50gb Blu-Ray disc. I'm not really sure what for. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that PS3 games can use uncompressed audio (and I'm all about the surround sound) but this game would not have been hurt with a bit of texture and audio compression to be on the 360. The graphics are unfortunately not that impressive. The art style still cuts close to the one seen in the PS2 entries, which means the characters still have a bit of an anime flair to them in their styling. They're not really meant to look real. It's a bit disappointing given the storytelling. It was acceptable in the older games as we really didn't expect photorealism at the time. Obviously true photorealism is still a stretch, but it seems as though the idea to try to look real wasn't quite on the table for the developers yet. Metal Gear Solid V has moved on to a more realistic style, and it paid off for everything about the game.
Oh, and that fantastic Blu-Ray disc? The game installs about 4gb of data per chapter. Between chapters, the game rewrites the old data and installs the new data needed for the next chapter. The most recent update to the game will let you install all of the needed data, coming in at about 10gb. Unless you like watching Snake smoke while the game installs, then you can stick with those per chapter installs.
There are a lot of nice details in the graphics which pay help to reinforce character traits and themes in the game. Meryl returns after a disappointing absence in Metal Gear Solid 2, and is now wielding a desert eagle comfortably; the same gun that Snake had mocked her for previously. I believe the wording was "that's a pretty big gun for a woman." Snake is seen using a 1911, a gun that is regarded as old but reliable (and fun to shoot). I'm not 100% positive, but I don't think Snake used a 1911 in previous entries.
The gunplay in the game is vastly improved. It's no longer a ridiculous 3 button combo to bring up your gun, go into first person and shoot the gun. You just bring up the sights and shoot, and it changes the game completely. Stealth is still a viable option (and the most desirable in most situations), but going all out guns blazing is an option now as well. In fact, there are sections where going all out is necessary. The best gameplay change?
YOU CAN CROUCH! Holy shit. Only 6 years after Sam Fisher first crouched, Snake can now crouch. It completely changes the stealth. It's much easier now to sneak up on a guard and grab them, where before it was crawl as close as possible, stand up, and hope you're not too loud. MGS3's camouflage system is also implemented here, in a more hands-off way. Snake's sneaking suit will automatically match the environment when you stay still for a period of time. For the most part it comes off as novelty, but it will save your ass occasionally.
MGS4 is an excellent game. There will be times when it feels like more of a movie, but it's probably the most fully realized Metal Gear game. The plot is well defined and moves to a satisfying conclusion. All questions are answered and basically every living character returns to play their part. If this had truly ended up being Kojima's last Metal Gear, it would have been an entirely satisfying ending.
The Score: 9/10