As always, major spoilers are ahead.
I finished it!
If you’ve been sticking with me through this process then you know that this has been a much longer road than it probably needed to be. It took me a whopping SIX entries to complete a game that’s around twenty hours long, but I’m proud to say that I’ve worked my way through the first MGS game I’ve played since MGS2, way back in 2004. I have a lot to say about the game as a whole now that I’ve completed it, so strap in.
I always like to start with the bad first so that we can end on a more positive note so I’ll start by telling you that I didn’t love Metal Gear Solid 4 as a whole, but there were parts that I thought were spectacular. Unfortunately, there were also many parts that I didn’t care for.
The pacing killed me.
One of the things I did not like about MGS4 were the really long cutscenes. I mentioned this before, but what I didn’t want to mention then (because I wasn’t sure how recurring a theme it would be) is how much it actually affected the gameplay for me. As I said before, it took me six weeks to beat the game and the cutscenes were a big reason why, and for a much more practical reason than you might expect. Let me explain.
In virtually every game that I play the story is presented in either a) short bursts or b) during the gameplay. I almost never have to worry that I’m going to get stuck watching a 30+ minute cutscene when I want or need to go do something else. Many nights my wife and I laid in bed and played Mario on our new Wii U. A few times she asked if I’d rather play Metal Gear Solid 4. The truth was that I did, but it was getting late and I was getting a big sleepy, and because I had no idea what was going to happen next, I didn’t want to dive into MGS4 only to be stuck watching a half-hour or more of story. So, regardless of how I feel about the pacing from a critical point of view, it also had negative effects on my practical ability to play the game. MGS4 demands long play sessions, and with a busy life, and a family it proved hard to carve out really extended periods. I’m not sure that this is MGS4’s fault exactly, it was just my experience.
The story is really dumb.
I know that I’ve mentioned this before, but I had reserved my ultimate judgment until I’d finished the entire game. Now that I have, I can tell you that I’m just simply not a fan of the MGS storyline, or the way it’s told. For my taste, there is too much dialogue (which feels extremely stiff and poorly acted), and the over-arching story itself is such a rats nest of side-stories and backstabbing and retconning to fit other games and characters in. And I want to be clear here, I tried to engage with the story. In fact, immediately upon finishing the game I went and watched another hour+ of videos on YouTube that recapped the entire saga in chronological order. To me, it was still just ridiculous. That’s not to say that there aren’t good characters or good moments; in fact the MGS universe has some of the best individual characters in all of gaming, it’s just that the overall story is so disjointed and unintelligible that I feel completely lost.
The game is too short.
The story is too long for my taste, and the gameplay itself was too short. I did a bit of research and apparently the game can be beat in about 5-6 hours if you’re good and you skip all the cutscenes. That’s absolutely insane to me. I don’t have the actual minute count but that would mean that the story makes up 10+ hours of this experience? To me that’s less game and more interactive movie. I’m of the mind that games should be no more than 50% / 50% story and gameplay and to me that would be the absolute max. For my personal taste, I’ll take 25% story. What’s especially frustrating is how great the gameplay is. I wanted more of that. I find myself being drawn back to the game to play it again (and definitely skip the cutscenes) just because the core gameplay was incredibly satisfying. There is so much left to do in the game that I never took the time to try. I didn’t do much melee combat or much distracting. I didn’t use my claymore mines. There are tons of things that I wanted to try, but felt like the game didn’t really give me enough room to stretch my legs. What’s more, there are portions of the interactive parts that aren’t even the core gameplay. Riding on the motorcycle and piloting the Rex are core examples of this.
So obviously I have some beefs with MGS4, but that’s not to say that I hated the experience. That’s actually not true at all. I found myself enjoying it, despite itself.
The gameplay is great.
The core gameplay (sneaking and shooting) is really fun. I’m not great at console shooters; I don’t have great finger agility with the sticks, but I got used to the controls and found them to be plenty good. Also, the game has options to adjust the speed at which the camera moves which helped the controls feel less sluggish. The sneaking and gadgets are awesome, and everything seems to have at least a couple of cool uses. The replacement of the original soliton radar took some getting used; I couldn’t get over not seeing vision cones. It was fine though, and being able to go first person at any time means that you can actually look at a guy and see which way he’s looking. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the parts of MGS4 that you actually play.
The story was dumb, but at least it was fun.
When I let go of this notion that the story had to be amazing, it was easier to embrace all the weird stupid little things in the game. Hideo Kojima likes butts…a lot. They seem to be everywhere. You see tons of Snake’s butt. All of the B&B beauties have skin tight latex with big old badonk butts. Even Akiba tries to poke Mei Ling’s donk while she’s giving a briefing. It’s totally ludicrous but hilarious. The moments where the game breaks the fourth wall are absolutely great, too. Oh, and let’s not forget about Raiden, my least favorite part of MGS2. He’s back and this time he’s totally awesome. There are many memorable moments in the game, and I those made the story feel a lot more lively.
It’s not that big of a commitment.
An MGS game comes out every four or five years, right? They’re typically 20 hours, roughly? That’s not a huge commitment for a series that does do a lot of stuff pretty well. MGS1 was a game that I cherished in high school and I’ll never have the same passion for the franchise as I did then but that doesn’t mean that I can’t engage with the MGS universe. If I can find time to play Saints Row, Borderlands, and the like, then I can find 20 hours every four years to see what’s up with Snake and the gang.
A final note.
As I played through MGS4 I wrestled a lot with how much leeway to give the game, especially in terms of storytelling. I had trouble remembering that this game was released in 2008. I went back and did some research and found some titles that came out within 2007-2009 and some of them were doing some interesting story stuff, but a lot of that was just beginning. Bioshock, for instance, came out in 2007. Even if Hideo Kojima had played Bioshock and decided that he wanted to make MGS in that style, it would have been far too late for that kind of change. A lot has changed since 2008, so I’m definitely excited to see what Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain does. Will it stick with the tried and true Kojima formula of long-form cutscenes or will it adopt more recent trends of shorter form storytelling. One thing I know is that MGS5 is to be the first ever open-world MGS game, and that makes me very excited. Having the freedom to just run around the game world and do all the cool stuff that makes MGS games so great is exactly what I’m looking for. So bring it on Kojima, weirdness and all.
In the end I’m glad that I took the time to play Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s a game that many people love, and it’s one that I think is worth playing. It’s not my style of game, but that’s fine. I can still appreciate it for what it is, and I still got plenty of enjoyment from it.
P.S. – What will Snake do now that he’s retired? How does and old soldier spend his final days? I think I know…