Note: As always major spoilers ahead so act appropriately.
I’m disappointed to tell you right off the bat that I wasn’t able to finish MGS4 this week. I took another big chunk out of it, and I’m pretty positive that I’ll beat it next week, but I suppose that for now, the weekly series continues. I have to admit that doing a dedicated WoW piece every week, plus playing games from my backlog AND working a day job has severely cut into my tactical espionage action time. Regardless, I managed to get in another 4+ hours and made it to (what feels like) about halfway through act 4 so I’m pretty sure that there can’t be that much of this game left. So without further ado, here are my latest adventures in the weird world of MGS4.
Yet another change in feeling.
Perhaps no game in recent memory has provided as much of a rollercoaster as MGS4. The first week I was lukewarm, then loved the game, then hated the game, and now I’m back to really enjoying it. I cannot decide if I like this game in part because I don’t think Metal Gear Solid 4 can decide what it wants to be. Act 3 bugged me so much because it was so incredibly story heavy, after the game’s action had just gotten good. I was frustrated because I wanted to play more MGS4, not watch more MGS4.
Act 4 presents the player with so much to like though, and almost all of it flies directly in the face of what act 3 did. For example, a large portion of act 4’s story (up to this point at least) is told as you play. Snippets from Otacon buzz in your ear, filling in bits and pieces of the story. In addition, the visuals of the act help to paint a great picture. Seeing Shadow Moses island laid out exactly as it was in MGS1 but all run down and dilapidated is really cool, and it goes a long way to tell the story in a subtle, elegant way. Act 3 feels heavy handed and blunt, like a movie with bits of game crammed in because marketing said the product needed it. Act 4, on the other hand, uses the interactivity of games in the ways that I feel story should be told in games; as part of the interaction.
The glory of Act 4.
My overall feelings on Metal Gear Solid 4 aside, the opening of act 4 might be the single best moment in gaming history. As the story progresses, Snake and Otacon find themselves at Shadow Moses island once again, the site where it all started. Without any context or prompt, act 4 loads straight into the helipad section of MGS1. When I say it loads into MGS1, I don’t mean some reimagining of MGS1 in the MGS4 engine. I mean that you’re playing MGS1 for the original Playstation, with the original graphics, sound, and everything. The game is even in standard definition, so there are black bars on the left and right side of the screen. It’s glorious. Unfortunately it’s just the helipad section, and as soon as you get through that, Snake snaps out of a dream and act 4 proper starts, but it’s still pretty amazing.
As I began act 4 proper, I made my way through a snowy section and came upon the same helipad sequence I had just played in MGS1, only now it was reimagined. Geometrically, the place was identical. Everything was in the same spot it originally was, complete with hidden ducts and rooms that I explored way back in the day. As someone who was so influenced by the original Metal Gear Solid, I found this section to be nothing short of spectacular.
It’s fan service of the highest order, and it works really, really well. As you move through the helipad, the song from the end of MGS1 plays (I had forgotten how cool that song was) and the memories of my original experience flooded back. For some reason I found the experience to be surprisingly emotional, almost tearing up at one point as the story seems to be obviously pointing to Snake’s ultimate demise. For a franchise that I’ve had my ups and downs with, this type of curtain call for Solid Snake really hit home for me.
A few other tidbits.
There is this moment in act 4 that was so stupid and weird, and yet so gloriously fun that I simply have to point it out. At one point you move from one section to another (when the game loads), and as I went to leave Otacon stopped me and instructed Snake to put in disc 2. He then stopped himself and remember that ”this is Playstation 3. Blu-ray, dual layer even. We don’t need to change the disc.” Snake then responds to Otacon with a confused, “Get a grip!” That kind of fourth wall breakage should win a Deadpool award or something.
You could make the argument that act 4 leans too hard on the fan service, that it’s too easy a way out for the game. I’d argue (and we’ll see what ultimately happens at the end of the story) that act 4 really works to pull MGS4 back together, tying up some of the plot strings that have been lingering since the beginning of the game. I’m not sure how the finale of MGS4 is going to play out, and the game hasn’t completely won me back over, but so far act 4 goes a long way to do that.