Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots - Restroperspective Technical Review
We arrive at the penultimate episode in my metal gear chronology, after experiencing snakes adventures both solid and naked among others we reach the end of the twins as they culminate the rivalry into one last epic battle...but I get ahead of myself.
With the dawn of a new console generation it saw hideo return to Solid Snake in an attempt to close off the terrible story of The Sons of The Patriots and of Big Boss. And in doing so he went full obfuscated story mode, not too unsurprising when you are trying to tie up so many story threads, loose ends and character trails in one game. It is crammed to the rafters with series nods, character cameo's and self references. If the previous games acknowledged the 4th wall, in this forth entry no breaks are left standing!
Trying to simplify the story and condense it down into a single synopsis is pretty much impossible as it has so many branches it might as well be an oak tree, but I will give a high level overview,if I was to delve into the lore and each section in any depth this would be a dedicated series of videos all on its own.
Solid is now looking much older and more fragile as we meet him, 5 years after the Big Shell incident and nearly 10 after Shadow Moses but still looking for answers just a little closer to home, the biggest one being why has he aged so fast and how long does he have left?. But more pressing ( and in keeping with the series ) is just one last mission ( a state mirrored perfectly by Hideo's own constant "This is my Last" MGS game ) he needs to complete before he can "rest". Snake is give more motivation by this being a hit on his own brother Liquid, resurrected via his right arm merged with Ocelot ( yes not the series high point in plot device but explained away here as ocelot's own hypnotherapy projection) and now hell bent on bringing down the Patriots control via the Guns Of Liberty AI and PMC forces. Creating his own Sons of Liberty and follow in the footsteps of his father, creating a sanctuary in Outer Haven, no not Heaven that was trademarked. The mission, should he choose to accept it is to find him and finally end Big Boss genes from continuing, and this includes Snake himself.
But it would not be Metal Gear without some extra layers of plot, politics, huge conspiracies, double jeopardy, love, death, betrayal, confusion and er cleavage. In such a long arching story it comes as no surprise that it sometimes buckles under its own weight, Being a fan service in its inception it certainly had much to answer for and with appearances of Campbell back in play, Otacon is a given as who else can pound your small bones to death but we really get the full itinerary of metal gear lore and characters here.
Naomi appears and surprisingly asks for the help of Snake, clearly flashing some skin helps Snake forget all about the fact she betrayed him last time with a bit of FoxDie poisoning. She is accompanied by her new fancy man, Vamp keeping his undead roots going, as pale as ever but still trying to get that perfect head shot for his portfolio right (bang)
But this is but small fry compared to the entire cast list as the game unfolded before you, some feel more relevant than others, Meryl shows that the years and PS3 power have been kinder to her than Snake, such a stark shot between one of the highlights of the PS1 games here against the PS3, sadly in all that time she never saw fit to change her hairstyle, such a military thing to do. Joined by her new nano machines and synced team she has become a strong and grizzled veteran now with her saving Snake this time, the ever present change and re-invent theme. Big momma is one of the more "displaced" characters to appear, giving Eva a close that although in keeping does nothing to improve her character or the ever so slightly disturbing fascination with Big Boss...so...ehm...I really like your top!?!
The recreation of the bike crash scene just adds to the feeling it is trying to hard at times. But is beaten by Mei ling previously a data analyst now captaining a U.S. Navy battle ship, throw in Rose as the psychiatrist now moved in with Roy Campbell could have even the most hardened fan scratching their head. But this is not the complete list or the most relevant as Raiden is here to lend a hand..or two in the battle of battles that is played out across some worn torn areas as the game core message of "sense" unfolds through the story taking place in civil war inflicted countries and its casualties, the bosses are all trapped and child tormented woman that have undergone the most tragic and barbaric experiences that have driven them mad, again a consistency shared with the recruits of Big Boss in Metal Gear solid 5 as he builds his own heaven and solider refuge.
It continues on this twist and turn taking us from a conflict in an Iraq opener, heavy skirmish in South America, some detective 40,s noir action in Easter Europe but it's high point and real "chills" moment comes from its return to shadows Moses and where the twin battle all began, this section as you get to play a fully recreated PS1 version of the first game is superb and feels great, but is bettered still by the original model appearing in the opening cinematic (which can also be used In game and the games again all real time cut scenes) it really delivers and is the point when the game and story all gel and feel cohesive and from this point onwards it feels like a true Metal Gear Solid game but the self-flagellation continues ranging from swap disc prompts, controller port nonsense and even Hideo own protection service...brilliant.
Stealth is less key in the game, now being within a real war torn land was a key part of his design, this comes across throughout the game. Knowing what we now know about 5 you can see the direction the series was going in. It's range of weapons is far more vast and really allows you to tool up, continuing his ever constant film influence from the Brad Pitt comic stooge Johnny, to the wedding talk mid gun fight of Mr and Mrs Jones here Drebin aka Frank from Naked Gun is on hand to launder your found guns and sell you newer and badder weapons. No thong song but we learn that pop is bad for you and cannot be consumed without much belching...
Controls are much better than previous games for shooting, helped by its full first person option including movement and shoot. But 3rd person and camera is better with it now being a freely controlled one unlike previous release ( aside the updated snake eater release) Controls can be clumsy though, auto lock is pretty much intrusive and causes issues when playing, much better and more precise to turn off..... This change is style does help push the game away from it core stealth option, now conflicts can be successful even if you have a small army coming after you. This is amplified by it having a good portion of on-rails sections that turn up the crazy and also show off this new action oriented moments in the game. It also helps add in more gameplay that may have been just a cinematic prior, but by no means does the game not have them...boooooy noooooo! A circle of danger now helps to point you in the direction of danger and possible detection, the solid eye gives you a map complete with pulse to show how much noise you are making. The MKII bot can be used to scout out a path and reduce danger, but bar a Geko kill and door opening section is mostly left un-used and unloved.
Another reason it impresses is its use of light and material work, although now it does come across as overly glossy with heavy use of specular reflectance and cube maps giving walls, floors, faces and metals an aggressive shiny look. With the latex suits of the octopus all looking sufficient enough to pass as early PBR work, but elsewhere it never convinces as well aside the huge wealth of metal objects in the game.
Animation of characters and snake in particular is much better, with far more traditional frames of movement for each action, although it never equals the work achieved in its motion capped cinematic's which staying true with Hideo and his first delivered Kojima Productions game (now sadly disbanded) are all real time and where the game and engine impresses the most, but they never feel sufficiently enhanced over the actual game play which helps the game deliver on its aim of making you care about its cast, and a huge one that is has. But in game is not lacking, with a good spread of design from the war torn streets with the Iraq opener, to a rather lacking South America village, but in the streets of Eastern Europe it starts to show off some more tricks. Bloom is not only walked out but whacked up to give that detective noir style, but it is in shadow Moses that these all come together in perfect harmony in so many ways.
But this shift into a more powerful machine saw and evolution of the previous engine rather than a brand new one (that we now have in Fox Engine). As such he same traits can be seen with its love of heavy overdraw with alpha effects being a key part of its arsenal, foliage, smoke, fire, fog all actively play a part to not only add depth to a scene along with its focal controlled DoF but also swamped the machine. In general play it holds a stable 30fps in play and bar some very minor and rare occasions it never really exceeds this in play. But it can dip at points when required to overpopulate its pixels with such large qty's of textures with its bigger actions scenes. Through play you get minor dips and stutters with the clear traits off its PS2 engine showing its dips to 20fps solid (laugh). But it never feels a bad performer in overall play to be anything like the issues from 3. Aside the Rex escape towards the end of act 4 which is the heaviest section of the game, here in my stress test you can see it hitting lows of 13 but this is really working the engine and machine hard as the entire screen in overdrawn to outer heaven and back. But cinematic's are slightly different and occasionally show smaller but more obvious leaps to 60fps when it can. With the game not running a standard unlocked framerate, but instead being aware of its render budget and able to adapt this as needed to alternate to a V-sync rate as most appropriate, seeing the clear run from 16/33/50ms as this happens dynamically. Like the previous games it runs a full V-sync so no tearing happens in the game allowing it to Present a clean frame as often as it can, again a real testament to the technical skill at Kojima Productions on a solid engine that powered through 1 and half generations of console and PC.
A key part of the design team is the conservative use of topology meshes an area key in all the games, not going mad on vertices and instead using a good mix of composite texture work for normals, decals etc gives a much better display, even if at times these can have some obvious errors compound by artefacts from the low resolution shadow maps in cinematic's. But the game largely returned to a more solid and persistence performance far more In line with Hideo's prior works.
This iconic stage for MGS1 is faithfully and lovingly recreated here, with heavy alpha work on snow drifts blinding you, snow and crystallised water can be seen on your suit, these are all rendered at the more standard half resolution resolve but blend well with only traces seen on edges of the lower quality against snakes leg here for example. The frosty air even puffs up and away as you walk through it, a nice touch. But the nostalgia is real and is only perfected with that music from the end theme playing as you walk into that opening pad...shivers.
In an even greater nod to the first game you can even play with the head model of snake from MGS1 ( what other way can it really be played). And not only here does the incredible art style and technical tricks of the engine shine, but it also where the game as a whole comes together and feels right. Prior to this many scenes and story all felt very jumbled and almost shoe horned, but here with some parts taken care of it all starts to gel, with it being the standout act (for me) aside what is a dramatic, emotive and damn right epic finale. It really was and is a fitting end to such a hero (snake part of not being one) ..sorry Snake, well at least a hero to many of us..It is just the ending that had fans feeling disappointed or happy, I myself fall into the disappointed side as I hoped for a more gritty and fitting end than we got, but the bow was tied neatly enough for everyone to enjoy the present.
It serves as a poignant example of how his humour and style can be awkward at times,Akiba the comic stooge is funny at first but quickly grates as an extreme nerd that obviously was not nano'd up. Some of the shots and scenes have an almost fetish style to them but is in keeping with his agent provocateur methods.
AI can be clunky at times and get in the way, never leaping on as much as the rest of the games presentation. Japanese style and characters design comes through, Snake himself looks more Japanese now with his new moustache, Ocelot now looks like a Yakuza boss or escaped from Tekken ( well virtua fighter as the nod to the MGS1 battle becomes a full on 3D fighter) But it is more so in the samurai Raiden and blind swordsman battle that set him up for his own successful spin off in the Metal Gear Universe, now becoming a far more amiable character with more depth and angst and what looks to be his won fair share of demons.
A little self indulgent in is exposition, both with qty and length of cut scenes and its lingering editing. Story is a mess at times, far to much political webs and double/triple jeopardy for its own good.
Hideo is superb in that he really defies genres and rules, throwing a solid fps control, 3d fighter, 40's noire detective explorer where else but Hideo. Comedy and almost perverse fetish sections of the game feel too strong and childish at times.
But ultimately it was a fitting end to such an iconic character that shaped a generation and more of games and gamers, one that which we have the joy to enjoy in 2 weeks time as we get to see just how big boss became such a villain afterall ( or did he? )