Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots | Games to Play Before You Die
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is the closest thing the mainline series has to a black sheep. The first three Solid titles need no defense, each one a gaming landmark worth playing today. MGSV’s shortcomings in story are offset by the best stealth gameplay in the series — potentially of all time — and Peace Walker is a sleeper favorite in the fanbase.
But MGS4 languishes under the reputation of “that” game: the one that ends with more than one hour of cutscenes, the one that retconned goofy side characters into the global elite, the one that would fully earn Metal Gear Rising’s infamous “Nanomachines, son!” line. You get the picture.
MGS4 was the first Metal Gear game I ever played. It was a brief stint of five minutes before I realized it wasn’t the FPS the box art led me to believe. The game opens with multiple in-world TV shows the player is able to flip through at their leisure. They glorify the dystopian privatization of war, poking fun at players like me who just found out they bought the game by accident. The clips and commercials are each brilliant in their own right, parading Gilliam-esque stowaways and dreamlike interactions one after the other.
Snake wasn’t made for open battlefields. I wanted to play as a faceless power fantasy of a protagonist and was instead handed control of a wizened, hunched old man who gripped his pistol like flaccid rubber. He balls up his fist against his lower back, groaning, and hands the players a stress meter to manage. He’s aging out of a world that doesn’t want him.
Of course, he’s still got it. Until MGSV, this was the peak of stealth gameplay. The tools at your disposal and depth of CQC laid the groundwork that would let its sequel soar. It occasionally even reaches near emergence. Playing the PMCs against each other, building trust and manipulating the war economy to your advantage could be a game all their own.
The level design facilitates these mechanics well. Acts 1 and 2 are arguably the best in the series alongside Guantanamo. They loop in and throughout each other, offer multiple paths for progression and facilitate verticality better than its predecessors. At their best, these are the high points of the series.
These don’t excuse Act 3, of course, nor do they excuse the impotent retcons and insane cutscene length. Pick from the host of accusations hurled at this game and they’ll probably stick. But the truth is, MGS4’s identity isn’t in its shortcomings nor its mechanical successes — MGS4 is identified by its indulgence.
The development team recreated major sections of Shadow Moses Island for players to explore in Act 4, culminating in a Metal Gear Rex v. Metal Gear Ray showdown where players finally get to pilot a Metal Gear. Liquid Ocelot gets to ham it up to transcendent levels, holding out his fingers like revolvers, shouting “Bang!” as though he were six years old at a backyard birthday party. The game ends with two old men locked in a groggy fistfight, shooting nanomachines into each other all to make sure they can keep swinging just a little bit longer — of course performed on top of a battleship with a Mount Rushmore of Big Boss and his clone children plastered on the front.
These decisions are ludicrous, of course. MGS has always dabbled in the egregious, but none of the games quite rival the fourth game’s total abandon. As MGSV surpassed it in gameplay and its predecessors surpass it in story, none deliver even one moment as excessive as MGS4’s. This game breaks convention, rules and all semblance of propriety just for the hell of it. Creating those twelve minutes of TV sequences at the start of the game took nearly as long as the game itself did, and there’s a good chance players will never see the entirety of those minutes. There’s nothing quite like it.
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