Bullets whiz over your prone body as you sneak through the forest. Mortar fire can be heard in the distance, screeching above. The mortar strikes the ground with force, kicking up dust, dirt and debris, eliciting a wince. You keep going – after all, you’ve got a job to do.
You continue your long, slow crawl through the muck. From the east comes a squadron of militia fighters who do not notice you hiding in some high grass. They push forward while you follow close behind, careful to not arouse suspicion. Soon enough, the rebels begin to engage private military corporation (PMC) troops that are entrenched in their base. Amidst the chaos, you start to circle around the battlefield, but soon find that your initial pathway is cut off by a machine gun that will surely tear you to shreds if you continue on. Pulling back, you quickly check your map for another way to evade these two factions. Confirming that a hill to the west will do the trick, you slither to your destination, successfully evading all combat.
Soon after, you’ll meet up with Drebin, a cool, calm, no nonsense kind of guy who will be your supplier of all sort of explosives, weapons, ammunition. Having access to Drebin’s shop will allow you to tailor your battlefield experience a bit. To be sure, Metal Gear Solid 4 is a stealth action game first and foremost, but there are some concessions here for someone who likes to run-and-gun, first and foremost being the tighter controls, while Drebin keeps you supplied with enough ammunition and firepower.
After purchasing some much needed supplies, you forge ahead. Using your Solid Eye, which allows you to view where enemy forces are, (radar and binoculars) how concealed you are from them, as well as allowing an infra-red option to help you in the darker locales, you spot two PMC soldiers patrolling a road that you need to travel along. Swapping to your tranquilizer pistol, you take aim for the first. A shot to the neck drops him in one fell swoop. His partner turns around, puzzled at the sight of his fallen comrade. Before he gets a chance to investigate, you plug him with two tranquilizer shots, just to be safe. Staring at your pistol, you’re shocked at how easier the controls are than past missions, and you’re thankful you’re not fighting from an over-head, top-down viewpoint. Laying still, you allow your “OctoCamo” suit to readjust to fit the terrain that you will be traversing up ahead. You move forward. Coming up to another PMC base, you take shelter behind a concrete block. You try to take cover behind it, in the hopes of being able to take pot shots at the enemy, then ducking back down into cover. Sadly, Snake wasn’t equipped with this seemingly basic ability.
After infiltrating a compound for a person of interest, you make your way around another battlefield. A bulldozer for the now friendly militia (because you did not fire at them in previous parts of the game) is destroyed, slowing your progress to find this “person of interest.” Destination points on your mini-map direct you to destroy two doors that seemingly lead to where you have to go, though it is clear after many attempts to bust down the doors that your map is mistaken. Instead, you will have to go elsewhere, as you mutter under your breath about the poor direction. This will not be the only time that poor direction will cause some discomfort, most noticeably when you encounter certain boss characters in the game. Not only poor direction, but an extremely “gamey” cheesiness comes into play during a specific boss encounter, where the solution does not necessarily logically flow. Through persistence, constant Codec calls to Otacon, or through a desperate search of online guides, you’ll eventually find the solution, but wish that the challenge was in the fight, rather than finding a convoluted weak point. This is the weakness of the second half of the game, which is heavier on boss fights and plot, rather than intense battlefield situations. For fans of Snake’s saga, this will not be a problem; for fans of the excellent gameplay that Metal Gear Solid 4 provides, it’s a bit of a let down.
Inevitably, you’ll stumble into a cut-scene or two, which is where the bulk of the story unfolds. The game represents a wide swath of genres, from action, comedy, drama, romance, science fiction: Metal Gear Solid 4 has it all. In terms of pure cinematic quality, Metal Gear Solid 4 arguably has no equal in games. In terms of narrative quality, there can be some points of contention. Both melodramatic and insanely hard to follow at times due to the intricacy of the story that is being told (especially to franchise rookies), the plot may turn off those that can’t suspend disbelief. Characters will commit acts that shatter reason, even within the context of an already “out there” storyline. Still, I could not help but to be thoroughly engaged in the way it was presented.
The melodrama and the plot belie the realism that Metal Gear Solid 4 can provide. From snow covered areas under white out conditions that considerably hampers your vision, to the emotion that characters show in their face, Metal Gear Solid 4 presents a believable world. The intensity that you feel in your gut while you’re sneaking past enemy troops, or the shiver that goes up your spine when you’re spotted is very real. The landscapes, the sound of two competing factions barking orders at their fellow troops, the guns firing – all these components add to the gameplay in ways that are immeasurable.
That’s really what Metal Gear Solid 4’s essence was about: the intensity of the fight. There are story elements that will please the hardcore MGS nuts and there are deeper, real-world themes explored here (though very beneath the surface, and it will vary from player to player what they get out of it) but the engaging cut-scenes are not what made Metal Gear Solid 4. It was fear. Fear of getting spotted. Fear of having to fight. Fear of failure. That intense, gut feeling powered the game throughout, and the story and well-crafted cutscenes round out an excellent game. Fan or not, Metal Gear Solid 4 deserves to be played.