Metal Gear Solid 4 + MGOnline

There is a lot of interesting debate floating around about whether this game should be looked upon as a video game or as a work of art. I think that these people are all trying too hard. The bottom line is that MGS4 is a captivating and fun installment of this year's interactive entertainment. Many people complain that the game isn't interactive enough, that too much time is spent on cutscenes and story for it to be considered a video game. So where is the international committee that set the standards for these things? Just because the game does not match up to your previous experiences following inserting a disc into a console, you decide that it is an invalid form of media? Have you tried just... I don't know... enjoying yourself? The truth is that the game does have an unprecedented volume of cutscenes (about half of your time will be spent watching them) but I don't see how that is necessarily a bad thing. The story in MGS4 is immense, and part of the fun of the game is being driven by that story. Few people would play Final Fantasy games if all the dialogue and non-interactive segments were cut out. I think that the problem in many peoples' minds is that they are used to seeing a cutscene as their reward for accomplishing something in the game. With MGS4, the cutscenes aren't your reward, they are a wholly integrated part of the experience.

Another frequent criticism of the game is that the story either sucks, or is not told well. Unlike the "not interactive enough" point, I think that this is a more valid criticism. I, for example, hate everything penned by Charles Dickens. Some people think he was a genius, and I just don't get it. So it would make sense that some people simply don't get as sucked in to the story of MGS as most others do. But that really only addresses the story itself, not how it is told. The "problem," if you want to call it a problem, with the MGS storytelling style is that it really isn't easy to follow. However, that seems to be intentional. The game WANTS you to struggle with seemingly disconnected plot points, a myriad of characters who are not all what they seem, and apparently minor details that end up being the most important things in the world. The game WANTS you to THINK. Not very many stories are told this way, and those that are usually get mixed reviews. Some people believe a story, regardless of its point, should (at least in the end) come together and present itself clearly and coherently to the viewer. Other people enjoy a story that doesn't give itself away, leaves questions unanswered, and provides for excellent coffee-talk the next day. The entire MGS series definitely falls into the latter style of stories. The timeline of the games is MGS3--MGS Portal Ops--Metal Gear--Metal Gear 2--MGS--MGS2--MGS4. Each game pretty much just chronologically shows you what happens to the main characters during the timeframe in question. Little details such as how the Dr. Madnar who appeared in the original Metal Gear is the same Dr. Madnar who shows up in Metal Gear Solid 4 are left up to the player to figure out. One could say that the story would be better if such things were more explicitly explained to the player. One could also say that the story is greater for choosing to make the player think, or even that the story is so grand that 7 games (more if you count Ac!d) simply was not enough to cohesively put together the massive plot.

Final Review: I beat MGS4 twice and loved every moment of it, but my favorite game in the series is still MGS3.

 

To follow my defense of the artistic merit of Metal Gear Solid 4, I have reached a hasty verdict for Metal Gear Online (which comes packaged with the aforementioned). MGO is.. free with the purchase of MGS4! That's the nicest way to describe it. The Playstation servers are subject to frequent crashes, which is coupled with the inevitable crashes you get when players are hosting the actual game servers. If you can actually manage to get into a decent server, chances are there are no decent players. It's really no fault of the players, they are only doing what works best with the system the game presents, but it still just feels wrong to have players running with assault rifles and holding down the trigger while pointing the barrel in the general direction of their opponent's ever-conspicuous skull. I mean, the game has "Metal Gear" in the title. The entire series is about tactical stealth at best, tactical combat at worst. If you are really lucky you will get into a game with a few people who can pull off the tactical combat. Stealth is an absolute non-factor. When someone kills you, the camera shows you where they are. That sniper you never saw, the one who so skillfully bested you with his knowledge of positioning and careful aim, the one you should now be fearing every time you proceed through that area again... well, the game just showed you exactly where he was hiding. So now you can grab a shotgun and effortlessly dispatch him while he tries to maneuver his awkward Dragunov rifle in close range. The game also starts you at level one in all "skills" and provides a Call of Duty 4 inspired level up system. You level up by essentially playing for horribly long periods of time. The time between level ups does provide for a lot of potential online time spent leveling up your skills, but the progress is much too slow to provide appropriate intervals of reward. There is nothing inherently wrong with having such a level up system, and Call of Duty 4 did it wonderfully, but in many cases the game actually strips you of abilities you took for granted in the single player game. Upon creating a character in MGO, you must select 4 skills to start with. If one of them is NOT Close Quarters Combat, don't expect to be able to do anything other than throw a couple of weak punches when someone gets in your face. Even if you do take the ability, at level one all you can really do is throw people down or try to choke them out. In the single player game throwing someone to the ground knocks them out instantly. A level one character in MGO throws an opponent down to no effect, unless you (for some reason) WANT help your opponent drop prone, stabilizing his aim, making him a harder target to hit, and leaving yourself wide open to his ensuing hail of gunfire. The game seems to be actively discouraging stealth and clever tactics. Even when you sneak up behind someone, if he has the bigger gun, you are probably going to die. At least they don't charge you anything to play!