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Tuesday October 23, 2007 1:11 pm

E for All: Metal Gear Solid 4 Demo Impressions

Posted by Steve Van Neil Categories: Action, Konami, PlayStation 3,

MGS4 pic

My mission was clear.  Behind a barbed wire facade and slew of No Camera signs lurked one of the few worthwhile E for All offerings: a playable Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots demo.  The official word was that this short demo was the only taste we Americans would get of the latest Solid Snake outing before its release next year, so Konami’s booth was naturally my first stop at the show.  The line snaked around the entire booth.  I queued up and waited.  And waited some more.  Finally, we were led into a makeshift theater (appropriately outfitted with sandbags and cargo netting) where a company representative gave us a crash course on the game’s controls.  Afterwards, the door opened and we were unleashed upon the demo kiosks.

The demo opens with some Otacon codec talky talk which I quickly bypass in hopes of digging into the meat of the gameplay before time ran out.  And there I was, flung face-first into some war-torn Middle East locale, with only a whole arsenal to aid in my survival.  Switching between weapons is done by holding down R2, and by doing so I see that I’ve got a couple different assault rifles, grenades, tranquilizer darts, and a combat knife at my disposal.  So far so Metal Gear….

I arm Snake with the knife because I’m a series vet and that’s how I roll.  Rounding a corner, I realize I’m gonna need a bigger boat.  It occurs to me that the game is called [i]Guns[/i] of the Patriots for a reason, and just sneaking around and being all Snake-like isn’t gonna fly in the short time allotted.  A soldier has spotted me, a monstrous armored carrier is rolling down the street in my direction, and both are intent on ruining my day.  So I bare my fangs, pull out my machine gun, and come to a glorious realization: shooting in a MGS game has never felt this good.  Holding L1 aims, while R1 fires.  If you press the square button, you toggle between manual and auto aim.  Aiming pulls the game into a Ghost Recon-esque over-the-shoulder perspective, and it all works surprisingly well.  Shooting in these games has always felt something like navigating an obstacle course while blindfolded and with one hand tied behind your back, so this new Westernized approach is welcome.

Another good new addition is the camera system.  Taking cues from its own Subsistence (not to mention Splinter Cell), Kojima Productions has mapped full control of the camera to the right analog stick.  No more of that fussy adjusting the camera angle ever so slightly and clicking the stick to lock in the perspective stuff from Snake Eater.  And this streamlining has been extended to general traversal, as well.  One of my biggest gripes about the series in the past was the way in which it was impossible (or maybe just excessively complicated) to move around while in a crouched position; moving the stick while crouched caused Snake to start crawling around on the ground.  Well, this is a problem no more.  The X button toggles between crouched and upright stances, both of which allow full range of movement.  Only by holding the X button will Snake go into crawling mode.

Also gone are the mind-bogglingly complex button combos that were required to pull off the simplest moves.  If I recall correctly, merely peeking around a corner in Snake Eater called for an array of button presses and stick movements.  Well, Kojima has discovered the beauty of context sensitive controls, as in Guns of the Patriots the same move can be pulled off by holding the triangle button and looking around with the analog stick.  The triangle button also lets you jump through open windows when being pelted by enemy fire, a common occurrence in my playthrough. 

What is missing from the demo is context.  I am thrown into this war zone with exploding bombs and chattering machine gun fire dotting the aural landscape, and confusion sets in immediately.  Who are these soldiers?  Otacon informs me that if I ignore these combatants then they will ignore me.  Well, that advice sounded good at the time, but when every soldier on the map seems to zero in on Snake with pinpoint accuracy, the old MGS rules get thrown out the window.  Snake is playing on other people’s terms for the first time in the series history, and I suppose this is the point; Kojima himself has said that the purpose of Guns of the Patriots is to put Snake on the battlefield.  He has undoubtedly achieved that goal, but the cumulative effect is of a game startlingly unlike previous offerings in the series.  And I’m calling it right now: more than one hardcore fan of the series will feel betrayed by this action-heavy approach.

All of this is irrelevant while actually playing the thing, however.  The fifteen or so minutes of Guns of the Patriots featured in the demo comprise the most visceral gaming experience of the year, and I can only imagine it will get tighter.  At this still-early stage, it looks good and sounds fantastic.  All signs point to a typically great game and the best reason to own a PS3.  Just realize that Metal Gear Solid 4 is the product of years of Kojima Productions playing other people’s games, in addition to developing its own, and therefore the final result may not be what the world expects it to be.  But then it’s not really like Kojima to take the expected path, now is it?




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