Metal Gear Solid 4: Ten Years On

In June 2018 Metal Gear Solid 4 celebrated its 10th anniversary. This article was supposed to go up on that date, June 12th, but I decided to play through it again to see if it still holds up.

I have beaten Hideo Kojima’s 2008 masterpiece more than 10 times, I estimate total credits rolled to be closer to 15 but this was all before the dawn of the current Xbox One/PS4 generation. I had not played Metal Gear Solid 4 in over five years and going back to it was like a homecoming. You know what they say about old friends picking up right where they left off? It was like I had never been away. Muscle memory kicked in, no checking of control schemes, I was off to the races.

War Has Changed

Kojima creates a world where the war economy has taken over. Conflict is no longer a result of tensions boiling over but rather a routine occurrence. There are no hotbeds in different parts of the world where war is normality, the entire globe is experiencing industrialised war where private military corporations rule the roost.

Metal Gear Solid 4 opens with Snake sitting in the back of a truck travelling along a Middle Eastern dusty road that is littered with debris and corpses. A sombre, lilting tune is heard as Snake introduces us to the story.

It’s no longer about nations, ideologies, or ethnicity. It’s an endless series of proxy battles, fought by mercenaries and machines. War, and it’s consumption of life – has become a well-oiled machine. War has changed. ID-tagged soldiers carry ID-tagged weapons, use ID-tagged gear. Nanomachines inside their bodies enhance and regulate their abilities. Genetic control, information control, emotion control, battlefield control…everything is monitored and kept under control.

War…has changed. The age of deterrence has become the age of control, all in the name of averting catastrophe from weapons of mass destruction, and he who controls the battlefield, controls history. War…has changed. When the battlefield is under total control, war becomes routine.

Snake sets the tone. He’s an analogue gunman in the age of digital soldiers. Even though Guns of the Patriots is set just 9 years after the events of Metal Gear Solid we see Snake suffering the effects of rapid aging.  Col. Campbell calls Snake out of retirement for one final mission, to assassinate his old foe Liquid Ocelot.

Open For Business

Due to the ID-Tagged nature of weaponry in Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake’s old method of gathering guns on the battlefield will no longer work. Snake has to deal with a gun launderer named Drebin who can remove the tech in these guns and also sell new items to Snake. Attachments, throwables, ammo, Drebin has it all. This is a huge departure from previous games in the series and once again rams home the new world Snake finds himself in. He’s old and out of touch (like me) and must adapt.

It can be viewed as a departure from previous stealth focused gameplay, and has been by many, but to sell the story it has to be that way. It also allows the player to choose a different approach to a Metal Gear game. If you become handy with a rifle there really isn’t a barrier to stop you from playing this like a normal shooter, to a point. You can go in guns blazing if you like…in many areas that would be suicide but high level play allows for it. This has been balanced however by a Psyche and Stress meter. There’s only so much combat Snake can suffer through before his body starts to let him down. Aim will be affected and damage is increased when Old Snake doesn’t have his quieter moments.

Now, in saying that I have no idea why you would do that. Expanding on from MGS3’s camo system Snake now has “Octocamo”. This allows snakes suit to blend into environments at the touch of a button. The new CQC system has lots of variety and new tools for the stealthy approach. This is a stealth game after all and that is the best approach.

Visuals

This game, even by today’s standards, looks great. Much like The Last Of Us, MGS4 squeezes every last drop out of the PS3’s power. Some textures on walls look a little dated today but there is so much here that really holds up that you barely notice it. Explosions will send particles of debris all over the playspace, even onto the camera. Environments are very detailed and character models are sharp and lifelike. Sure, it might suffer a little on a 70 inch 4K display but wouldn’t we all?!

Fan Service

Hideo Kojima famously didn’t want to make this game, sure, he’s said that alot but for MGS4 he really didn’t want any part of it. This game is so loaded with fan service that it’s easy to imagine that it was made to shut us up!

David Hayter gives his best performance as Snake. The voice acting is so powerful in the game across the board but Hayter turned in the performance of a lifetime for Solid Snakes send-off.

Every little loose thread is tied up in a nice little bow. A decade of questions are finally answered. What ever happened to that guard in MGS1 that fell in love with then prisoner Meryl? Remember him? He complained about the cold in Alaska and that he was feeling quite ill? You know…he keeps getting diarrhea? That’s Johnny and he’s in MGS4! He and Meryl actually get married. So, that’s that little thing put to bed…and so is his story…get it? Meryl. I meant Meryl. Wedding night? Right? I’m here until Thursday, enjoy the buffet.

Even the final showdown with Liquid Ocelot is full to the brim with fanservice. It goes through four stages with music representing each of their battles from the previous titles playing as they duke it out. Even the names on the health bar change as the battle moves from sequence to sequence. It’s one of the best boss fights of all time. It’s all hand to hand combat, up close and personal, filled with struggle and high emotion. Lovely.

The Return To Shadow Moses

Act 4 of Metal Gear Solid 4 is my favourite moment in the history of video games. It opens with the infiltration of the beloved snow covered disposal facility from Metal Gear Solid. This section of the game was famously on an Official PlayStation Magazine demo disc so even people who never actually played the full game have at least played this part. You actually play it again in its original form. Using your old tricks to mess with the guards you make your way up the steps, past the then demon-like security camera, and into the vents. Oh boy.

The game cuts back to Snake in a helicopter, his face has been replaced with a PS1 polygon version of his famous mug until he shakes his head and snaps back to reality. “Everything alright, Snake?” asks Otacon who is piloting the trip back to my youth. “I was having that dream again” he says as he tries to recapture his breath. Amazing. Otacon tells us that “we’re here. Shadow Moses” and off to nostalgia town we go.

Otacon lowers the chopper toward the sacred ground of Shadow Moses Island. Snake jumps out but hurts himself as he does. It isn’t the last time this type of scene is used to highlight Snakes age. After we make our way up a little hill we turn a corner to see the hanger in all of her glory. Music queues are fantastic here as we gaze upon the sandbox that was our youth. “The Best Is Yet To Come” from MGS1 plays as Snake walks towards the helipad where once a Hind-D resided. Little audio flashbacks are littered throughout this area as we move around the old stomping ground. Once you reach the stairs it’s clear that the famous surveillance camera has seen better days. Snake has a little polygon flashback before it falls to the ground. Once again, age. Lovely.

If the trip down Hanger memory lane wasn’t enough you later get to pilot Metal Gear Rex. I mean…come on. There’s only so much blood that can rush to my lower extremities all at once. Snake has to make his way out, blasting the hell out of everything on his way, before meeting Metal Gear Ray with Liquid Ocelot in the cockpit. An epic battle ensues and once again…blood levels at the top of my body were very very low. I considered a transfusion.

Playing 2008’s trip back to 1999 here in 2018 is some Inception level nostalgia. It evokes vivid memories of playing my rented copy of the original game in 1999 before buying it. It reminds me of how joyful it was to play 2008’s Shadow Moses nostalgia trip for the first time and my reaction to it back then. My then girlfriend would roll her eyes as I was close to tears looking at a broken down surveillance camera in a video game. Cosmic stuff. It was a powerful moment. I’m such a nerd.

At 13, 22 and 32 I had a “first” with Shadow Moses, that’s pretty cool. Hopefully at 42 we’ll finally have a goddamn remake of the first MGS but I don’t hold out much hope. Fuck Konami.

The Cutscenes

Many have derided the hefty cutscenes in Metal Gear Solid 4. There are some very long ones, even one that approaches an hour, but they are fantastic. Even the famous Microwave Hallway part has a cutscene playing as Snake struggles through on his hands and knees while players bash buttons furiously to keep him alive. It’s a call back to the torture scene parts of previous games just updated a little.

It’s fanservice. The cutscenes are great, some are awe inspiring, so go fuck yourself. That’s it, that’s the paragraph.

You’re Pretty Good

10 years on Metal Gear Solid 4 remains one of my all time favourite games. The game itself is designed to please the most amount of hardened fans as possible while also trying to maintain a contemporary game style for newcomers. Upon review a decade and a console generation later it stays in my Top 10. The only shame is that it’s stuck on that god forsaken PlayStation 3 hardware. In the era of HD remasters and backwards compatibility on Xbox One it’s a real shame that MGS 4 is stuck on PS3, possibly forever with the way Konami are these days.

When I got a PS2 I boxed up the PS1. After getting a PS3 I boxed up the PS2. When I got a Switch I sold the Wii U. When I got an Xbox One I boxed up the Xbox 360. Upgrading to Xbox One X led to me boxing up the Xbox One. The same can be said of every other console I have owned. They have either been sold, given away or packed up for future Steve. My PS3 is still hooked up to my living room TV purely so I can play this game. I can’t think of a better compliment to pay Metal Gear Solid 4 than that. It’s a masterpiece.

Steven Murphy
2Bit Sports Co-Founder. Junior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Creative, Live Events but also Third floor Janitor. Gaming Editor, Manchester United loudmouth. Whatever I am actually employed to do I probably did it earlier. It's on your desk, I'd say. Its safe to say that I call 'em as I see 'em. Be warned, I hate a lot of things. It's easier to count the things that I do like. I probably hate you.

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