Homework: Metal Gear Solid 4 (Part 3)

Part 1.

  |  Part 2.

When Chris set me on this journey to play Metal Gear Solid 4 I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.  One thing I certainly didn’t expect was for the game to be as long as it is.  I remember playing Metal Gear Solid 1 in something like 8-12 hours.  That number might be way off, given the way memory can skew things, but I certainly don’t remember the series being known for really long games.  I’m currently about 10 hours into MGS4 and I feel like I’ve barely made a dent in this thing.  To be fair, the last two weeks have been hectic with the lead up to Christmas.  My wife and I have been travelling pretty extensively over this holiday season too, which hasn’t helped.  What I’m trying to say here, in a really long-winded kind of way, is that I’m not sure how many weeks this little adventure is going to take.  I’m determined to finish the game, that much I know.  Hopefully this week I’ll be able to pour significantly more time into it.  Anyway, here’s my latest report.

Note: As usual, heavy spoilers ahead.

Act 2:  A revelation.

I have an admission to make.  My first report was pretty dead on.  I enjoyed the novelty of playing an MGS game again.  When last I visited the franchise it was in the midst of becoming completely nuts and it was clear that Hideo Kojima had continued with his steady regiment of Peyote and Absinthe.  The second report was a bit of a lie though.  The truth was that after the novelty of a new MGS game wore off, I was extremely frustrated with the title.  I mentioned it a bit last time, but I really disliked the shooting.  I disliked it a lot more than I let on in that report.  At the time, I was trying to be diplomatic and to give the game a proper chance before passing judgment.  In addition, I was not a fan of the Kojima style of storytelling where cutscene interludes last for 20+ minutes.  There were times when I was tired and wanted to go to bed but had to stay up (and keep my wife up) for extended periods of time because of some long-winded cutscene.  Being honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of MGS4 after last week’s report.  Then I started act 2…

Somewhere during the beginning of act 2 I had a eureka! moment.  After struggling through act 1, feeling like the controls of MGS4 were clunky and the shooting was horrible, I was sure that I wasn’t going to like this game.  And then everything clicked into place and all of a sudden the entire gameplay system began to feel natural and incredibly enjoyable.  There are a lot of factors that I think initially set up my dislike for the game, and then helped me change my mind.

For one, MGS4 is simply a different style of game than I was used to from the series.  In previous MGS games I was used to the game itself feeling quiet.  What I mean is that you almost never heard gun fire, explosions or fighting of any kind unless you were screwing up or in a boss fight.  MGS1 is especially low key.  MGS4 is total chaos in comparison.  You’re sneaking through raging battlefields, not isolated fortresses.  It took me a while to get adjusted to this.  At first I felt like I was constantly in jeopardy; like the shots that were being fired around me were being fired at me, when in reality I was still completely hidden.

In addition to the adjustment in style, I was also used to a simpler version of MGS.  Specifically, I was used to MGS games where I had soliton radar that showed cones of vision and nearby objects.  You could almost play MGS1 by just looking at the radar.  That’s the style of game I was used to in the series.  During act 1 I became really frustrated by two things about the radar.  First, it didn’t show cones of vision.  Second, it didn’t differentiate between rebels and PMC  soldiers.  The rebels wouldn’t attack as long as I acted cool but I was constantly trying to flee from them because I didn’t realize that they weren’t the bad guys.  Once again though, at some point it all clicked into place for me and the radar suddenly made sense.  It also started to become really obvious that rebels had red hats and pmc did not.  In addition, the solid eye identifies the parties as rebels or pmc (something I had simply not paid attention to previously).

How I learned to love the shooting.

Let’s be honest, the shooting in MGS4 is fine.  It’s console style 3rd and 1st person shooting.  I’m a PC guy so I prefer a mouse and keyboard to a controller for shooter games, but that doesn’t mean that MGS4 has bad shooting.  Part of my issue was that I just hadn’t played a game like that in ages.  That said, there is one major design flaw in how MGS4 introduces you to it’s shooting mechanics.  The first encounter that forces you to shoot is the one right after you meet Meryl.  Up that point you can pretty much stealth your way through everything.  The enemies you’re forced to shoot are those weird female super soldiers though.  Those enemies are much harder than the normal pmc soldiers and you haven’t yet acquired any of the more powerful guns in the game.  So basically it’s trial by fire.  MGS4 forces some of it’s toughest enemies on you with little help.  It’s a tough encounter and it’s the one that made me really hate the shooting.  Once you’re into act 2 though, it becomes clear that the shooting isn’t bad, it’s more that those enemies are really hard.

Beyond all of that, the Drebin system is quite cool.  At first, when they introduced the system, I was upset.  I didn’t want to have to unlock guns, keep track of currency, and ferret gun parts back and forth.  For some reason I assumed that I’d have to find Drebin throughout the game and physically sell my stuff to him.  Even with my little mk.II buddy running stuff back and forth I figured there would be some annoying manual thing to do.  Not so!  Want to unlock a gun?  Hit a button, spend your points (which you earn automatically by picking stuff up) and poof, you’ve got a new gun.  The same goes for added parts like suppressors and scopes.  It’s a cool system that adds a bit of depth to the shooting mechanics.

The story so far.

Act 2 does something else I liked a lot.  It goes light on the story and heavy on the gameplay.  Act 1 felt more like an interactive movie than a game, with almost equal parts playing and watching.  Act 2 gets away from that.  There is still story, and it’s good, but it’s not quite as constant as it is in act 1.  This felt like great pacing because just as I began to really enjoy playing the game there were less long interludes.

In terms of the actual story, I’ve moved on to South America where I’m trying to free Naomi from Liquid Ocelot’s control.  Drebin has clued me in on the fact that the four half-human, half-metal gear baddies from act 1 are actually female super soldiers known as the beauties and the beasts.  They’ve each carried forward one of the traits of the original FOXHOUND team members so I while I wasn’t quite right that they were actually the characters from MGS1, they’re not terribly far off.

I made my way through the warzone in South America, aiding the rebels as I went.  At some point Jack (Raiden) contacted me on the codec, which was weird.  So either he is Akiba and he’s really good at playing the role of the rookie, or I had that all wrong.  Regardless, it was weird to hear him have such poise.  It’s clear that he’s been doing some training since last we saw him.

I finally found Naomi and she explained that Snake is essentially a ticking time bomb.  Something with the nano-machines in his body is malfunctioning and he’s essentially incubating a virus.  In a few months he’ll become contagious and infect everyone around him causing a pandemic.  Can I just say, Solid Snake has THE WORST luck ever.  All this guy does is try and fix situations, and all he ends up doing is getting screwed over by everyone all the time.  Anyway, once Naomi finishes explaining how much Snake’s life sucks she runs off into the forest and I’m left to battle my first boss, Laughing Octopus.

The boss battle with her was quite tough, but really fun and novel.  I enjoyed searching for her through the building and I liked how sometimes my night vision would help and other times it wouldn’t.  Overall it was a cool fight except for the fact that her roll up in a ball attack was really cheap.  I died about 8 times because of that stupid thing.  I finally finished her off though, and then got to learn all about her sordid past from Drebin.

As of writing this, I’m about to go search for Naomi in the forest.  We’ll see how that goes for me, but I expect they’ll be some fun twists and turns coming up.  Stay tuned next week for more of my epic adventure!