Metal Gear Solid 4 - hands on

Dec 19, 2007

MGS4 feels different - and not just as a result of ‘wave form’ play, but more on that later. It isn’t unrecognizable or broken but neither is it sublime, or intuitive. The buttons are sort of the same, but sufficiently different to feel dislocating. Old flaws - like collision detection and camera wobble when crawling through tight gaps - remain, as do old thrills - like cruelly toying with guards using your variety of skills and weapons. We spent our first hour cursing the revamped CQC (Close Quarters Combat) system and clumsily blasting past PMCs (Private Military Contractors) suspecting that we were ‘doing it wrong’, only to put the pad down three hours later with heavy hearts, after a thrilling last 30 minutes of finding new ways to baffle, torture and debase three guards in the demo’s relatively tiny final section. It is, in short, a reflection of its producer, Hideo Kojima - an idiosyncratic, frustrating, flawed and endlessly entertaining kaleidoscope of comedy, invention and barbarity that entirely defies neat categorization. And as such, it’s still on track to be the most important, and exciting game of 2008.

‘Wave form’ play? It’s a fancy term for what we’ve always loved about Metal Gear Solid - the masterful pacing and juxtaposition of gameplay styles. MGS3, for example, contrasts an excruciatingly tense one-hour boss battle (The End jungle fight), with a leisurely, but certainly no less memorable, ten minute ladder climb, forcing you to reflect on the magnitude of your journey so far. ‘Wave form’ play attempts to solve Metal Gear Solid’s central dichotomy, making a ‘stealth’ game where combat is actively encouraged.

“The problem with previous games was that we throw you dozens of enemies and give you cool weapons and plenty of ammo, but you could never use your arsenal because weapon noises alerted nearby guards who would hunt you down,” reveals Kojima. “In Metal Gear Solid 4, stealth remains at the core, but when Snake enters a battlefield, all bets are off. He doesn’t need to be quiet. You can unload on enemy soldiers, or if the PMCs are losing you can kill local militia to even the score, sending the battle into stalemate and allowing you to proceed in the commotion,” he expands. “Then we send Snake back to stealth-based play, then onto another battlefield, and back to stealth. It’s this tension and release, wave form gameplay that satisfies both stealth and action game fans.”