In Defense of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
By Ravi Singh, Posted on May 13, 2010
Some of you are wondering why Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots needs a "defense" at all. The game is one of the most critically acclaimed video games of all times, getting perfect scores from numerous publications internationally and winning a shit-ton of awards. The game is often considered to be one of the best video games of all time, often appearing on lists with the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In terms of sales, it is currently the top selling PlayStation 3 title. Why the fuck, you ask, am I wasting your time defending a game that’s got it all?
The rest of you are probably shocked because of the author; it's no secret that I'm not too fond of Guns of the Patriots. My views might be contrary to the mainstream's but it's actually far more appreciative of Guns of the Patriots than a good portion of the fanbase is. This itself is strange as my opinion that any canon game after Sons of Liberty shouldn't even exist has caused me to go against the grain with nearly every fan of the series since 2004. Indeed, along with the fact that it was an unnecessary installment to the canon, there are hundreds of other reasons why Guns of the Patriots shouldn't have been made. That said, the game hardly constitutes a fiasco.
METAL GEARS OF WAR HAS CHANGED?
Metal Gear has changed. While change is a natural thing there comes a point where changes make something completely different than it once was. Despite the numerous additions to gameplay, Sons of Liberty still felt like Metal Gear Solid. Then Snake Eater comes, grabs Snake, puts him in a jungle and with every installment since, it just hasn't felt the same. The removal of the Soliton Radar might be the culprit. Maybe it's the usage of a camouflage index. Perhaps it's the all-new and revamped START menu where you place items and weapons into a backpack.
Next to Guns of the Patriots though, Snake Eater is practically a 3D Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. The START menu is even more expansive, being equipped with an iTunes-like shop for guns and ammunition. The camouflage system is back and this time you can automatically camouflage yourself with your surroundings like a god damn iguana. The Soliton Radar is gone, being replaced with a radar that is a mix of the different radar-like devices in Snake Eater–if you have the SOLID-EYE equipped. The traditional "cinematic" camera has been removed and players are forced to use the "modern" camera with the right-control stick. The controls have been completely revamped to enable players to play the game like a typical third person shooter. If the story and characters had been different, you would barely see anything that can be identified as "Metal Gear" early in the game.
It's still a stealth game though. On most of the difficulties, including the "Big Boss Hard" difficulty and in the earlier acts it could be considered easier to play the game like a Gears of War title. Likewise any newcomer to the series expecting to learn some basic sneaking tips found the Virtual Range to pretty much be a shooting range to test out weapons and items. Still, the game does throw a wrench in the average action game fan's experience.
When playing a third-person shooting game, you really just want to get past waves of enemies and get to the goal. You don’t want to have to be concerned with how stressful the situation can be. Nor would you want to be worried about how hot the beaming sun feels on your back. The introduction of the Psyche Gauge slams on the breaks when it comes to typical action gameplay that Guns of the Patriots alludes to prefering over stealth gameplay.
Even the controls, which feel closer to a typical third-person shooter than a traditional Metal Gear game, creates an obstacle for the trigger happy. It was actually easier to run around throwing grenades and running-and-gunning in the previous titles than it is in Guns of the Patriots, where throwing grenades now requires manual aiming and shooting forces Snake to move slowly even with AUTO-AIM on. As for the Virtual Range, it does make sense in a plot context; why would the legendary Solid Snake need to learn about sneaking?
Starting with Act 3 though, even those who are not deterred by the Psyche Gauge into running a shooting spree will realize that to be unnoticed is perhaps the best means of strategy. The meat of Act 3 is the trailing of the resistance member, Act 4 involves a lot of Gekkos and obnoxious Dwarf Gekkos (which can be easily bypassed with Chaff Grenades… which Drebin interestingly doesn’t stock) and the minor gameplay in the beginning of Act 5 could be considered one of the most challenging, fun and Metal Gear-like parts of the game. Add The Boss Extreme Mode and you got something for those of us who want to play a fucking Metal Gear game.
PATRIOTS OF THE GUNS
So why Drebin? What kind of a game where non-confrontation is key would have you having to pick from an arsenal of weapons and purchase ammunition on-demand? One that is meant to. That sounds a little simple but that's what it all comes down to. One of the major themes of the game is the war economy and the farce of privatization. We got several private military contractors duking it out with militias around the world. People got scared and as a result either pushed for some sort of government regulation to make the battlefield more progressive.
The Patriots introduce the SOP system which is seemingly done to control the "excess" of PMCs by creating an ID system. Of course, as a result the Patriot supported PMC monopoly, Liquid Ocelot's Outer Heaven, pretty much got stronger as a result as did the war economy. Yet as with any sort of regulation, people get away with not complying for huge profits. Sometimes there is even secret support by the government such as the United States supporting cocaine dealers in the 1980's during the Iran-Contra scandal. In the case of Guns of the Patriots, the DREBINS were specifically created by The Patriots to allow those who otherwise would not be able to acquire weapons, fight or have access to nanomachines in general. They have to–otherwise there wouldn't be much for Outer Heaven's PMCs to do besides fight other PMCs.
It's okay, this guy seems legit.
When you think about it, wasn't Solid Snake fine with just his Operator and AK 102? In the original Metal Gear Solid he mostly relied on his SOCOM and FA-MAS. However things have changed in the nine years between the Shadow Moses incident and Liquid Ocelot's Insurrection. This itself might explain why Snake, who believes his body condition is decelerating due to a virus that was transmitted to him by needle, is seemingly okay with a complete stranger injecting him with nanomachines with a simple line as "Relax, it won't hurt. You scared of needles or something?"
Without DREBIN, Snake would have to do what was done before and scavenger the site for unlocked weapons. With the way the system is set-up though, finding such weapons through legitimate means is as easy as soliciting for sex at a day care center. Snake has to go underground with DREBIN in order to be up to date with how things work. Thus Drebin's Shop is a means to immerse the player into the war economy depicted in the game.
The connection between the Drebin Points is obvious but there's also the change in how the player reacts to running out of ammunition or even acquiring weapons. Most players will buy ammo when they need it rather than conserve it like they would have earlier. Guns of the Patriots is also the only Metal Gear game where you can simply purchase special unlockables such as Stealth Camouflage and the infinite-ammo-granting Bandana (face paint in MGS3) if you don't want to bother with earning it. On the other hand, the only way to obtain the Tanegashima Gun is through Drebin's Shop. War has changed, indeed.
THE MEN IN SNAKE'S MUSTACHE
If you were to say that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a better looking game than Guns of the Patriots, you might be subjectively correct. However if you were to claim that Uncharted is graphically superior to Guns of the Patriots, I might disagree. Let's get two things out there. First, Uncharted is an amazing-looking video game. Second, like any other Metal Gear game, Guns of the Patriots can otherwise look amazing… until you go into first person and realize how blurry and undetailed the textures look. In this case they were actually quite detailed, but there was a lack of bump mapping.
While the environments might not look amazing, there is one thing that shines and that's the models they used. Different painstaking methods were used to create 3D models of everything from the Triumph Bonneville T100 motorcycle to the character models. Snake looks amazing, as do the Beauties; what is more impressive though is how detailed everyone from PMC soldiers, to militia men and even the seemingly unimportant civilians at the end of Act 2 are in Guns of the Patriots compared to the likes of Uncharted, where the main characters are detailed while everyone else are lacking. Not only is the detail for every single model used in Guns of the Patriots including those that were only used in cutscenes brilliant, but so were the animations. That's the difference between Guns of the Patriots and most current generation video games that may look better–the amount of detail given to things that are otherwise not considered.
One more thing that Guns of the Patriots shines in terms of graphics but is often overlooked is it's dedication to those who have not adopted HD yet. Often forgotten, those of us who are still playing on older television sets that run 480i-576p find themselves not able to read subtitles or HUD data. While there are a few minor details missing in a 480i setting, effort was put into making sure the game looked great even on an old television set. To this day developers of high-definition games have issues with unreadable "tiny text" being displayed at standard resolution and either release patches that address the issue such as Rare did with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts or simply turn their backs on consumers as Capcom did with Dead Rising, leaving them with a flawed product.
Both of these screenshots were taken from a 480i source. Only one of them violates your eyes.
Just this year BioWare actually announced that the tiny text in Mass Effect 2 cannot be fixed, leaving those with standard definition television sets to either deal with it, splurge on an HDTV or just play another fucking game. BioWare, despite being somewhat apologetic, dismissed the issue as only occurring in "a small portion of SDTV owners" despite consumer research revealing that only 46% of households in the United States have at least one HDTV (LRG, 2009). Kojima Productions, on the other hand, had Guns of the Patriots ready for SD from launch.
DISSOLVING THE NANOMACHINES: SENSE AND WILL
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is without a doubt the most misunderstood Metal Gear game in the series. It is still often criticized for being what it was meant to be–one of which was a means to an end. This is why it's successor which was also meant to be an end to the series, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, was a prequel. Nonetheless even after Snake Eater, the misunderstood Sons of Liberty caused many to beg for a direct sequel.
With these "mysteries" being solved by Kojima pulling "answers" out of his ass, the question I have for anyone who was shocked at the end product is this: what the fuck were you expecting? The series was supposed to end in 2001. Snake Eater was still pushing it despite taking place decades before any of the other Metal Gear titles. Anyone who was expecting another Sons of Liberty was simply setting themselves to be let down. Much like the wave that pushed Kojima into making a direct sequel to Sons of Liberty, Hideo Kojima is pretty much going to keep things simple when it comes to Metal Gear plots.
Happy indeed. So really, nobody is justified for having high expectations for the plot of Guns of the Patriots, especially with the release of Portable Ops. That's not to say that the hate for the story is not based on legitimate arguments. There’s plenty that can be said. It would be an incorrect assumption to make, however, to claim that all of the critics who disliked the plot have a uniform code of what, exactly, made the plot unappealing compared to previous titles.
This is because everyone had their own idea on how a sequel to a game that was never supposed to have a sequel will be like. Everyone who criticizes Guns of the Patriots' plot tend to like certain things and would keep them while changing other things and thus create their own perfect version of the game's plot that may be disputed among others much like the actual official version is.
David Hayter, the English voice actor for Old Snake seems to like Guns of the Patriots but he did voice a complaint at the 2008 Anime Expo. Snake pussies out of shooting himself to prevent the FOX-DIE in his body into mutating in such a way that it would kill everyone. At least that's what he believed and despite being able to kill a good number of people in his life, he simply could not do it. Hayter actually begged Kojima to change this.
It's a justifiable argument, but there is a valid counter-argument as well. Such is the case in a vast majority of the issues fans including myself had with the plot. If there's one thing many can agree on though, it's probably that the concept of nanomachines was so overused. But one cannot dismiss the fact that nanomachines played a huge part in the plot for Guns of the Patriots. Certainly doesn’t excuse the fact that it was continuously thrown at you at every chance but this could be chalked up to Kojima fearing that the audience just wouldn’t get it. The reaction to Sons of Liberty has clearly scared the shit out of him.
Ironically despite his efforts, Guns of the Patriots is the new Sons of Liberty. Not in story presentation or complexity or any other good reason, but in that it's also misunderstood to some degree. The themes just flew over some people to the point where their very presentation became the reason for complaints from the likes of Jessica Chobot from IGN:
UNTIL, one of those fodder-troops happens to step into my "ring" and all of a sudden becomes keenly aware of my presence!
Keep in mind that in [a] cut scene, I was doing the same thing while hiding from the gekkos. In fact, they were so close to me, they actually threw my lit cigarette back in my face. Gekkos that have thermal imagery detection and hyper-sensitivity couldn't find me but the hired chode that's randomly wandering around managed to "see" me through a wall. Did the opposing forces hire nothing but psychics that can randomly sense my old-ass presence?"
Ms. Chobot was probably too busy licking PSPs for attention to realize a few things. For starters, the "threat ring" is more of a visual indicator than an actual physical thing in the game that enemies can detect. The Octocamo manages to allow Snake to avoid being detected by "thermal imagery detection" so that's not an issue either. Could it be that despite all the advances in technology within the series' universe, these unmanned weapons lack the human ability to detect certain things? The Gekko didn't feel a draft. The human? Most certainly. So while nanotechnology will make a man less human, there is still elements of human nature that is desired over that which is machine.
In no way am I saying that the criticism of the game is from ditzy observations such as Chobot's–otherwise I'd be calling myself ditzy–but often there really is more than meets the eye with Guns of the Patriots. Big Boss' appearance in the end seemed like an obnoxious way to let Naked Snake fans orgasm over an unnecessary conclusion. But was it really that unnecessary? I can argue that it was. But what's important is what he says, specifically regarding why he became a completely insane military dictator–The Boss' "will." Well so was Zero, wasn't he? All of this was already known from the conversation between Snake and Big Momma. It's just that it wasn’t completely covered back then.
Solid Snake's appearance in the end of Sons of Liberty, seemingly unharmed by jumping into the Atlantic to follow Metal Gear RAY wasn't as farcical as Eva somehow performing skin transfer to Big Boss. Rose being a real person isn't as goofy as Zero still being alive at over a hundred years of age. Nonetheless these endings both served the same purpose; it wasn't until the end that a character’s whereabouts are known and the main theme of the game is expressed.
While both Zero and Big Boss had an idea of what The Boss' will was, they totally fucked up and Big Boss just figured it out after something as absurd as his fucking resurrection. The Boss influenced a great number of people but by leaving the world, her ideas led to an on-going war that led to events such as the Zanzibar Land Uprising. Zero was getting old and decided to pass his sense to the JD AI and it created the entire war economy which itself led to the events of such as The Big Shell Incident. All of this ends with an old man walking through microwaves, beating the shit out of another old man and–oh, just reviving some guy you killed twice already. It's okay though, he'll kill Zero once and for all and just by being there he will get a heart attack.
Well fuck, what the hell was the point of the rest of the game? The optimism Kojima had during the development of Sons of Liberty was expressed in his belief that people would grasp the messages of Sons of Liberty was proven to be unfounded and his sense of the game was picked up only by a minority. So in this aspect, Kojima simply wanted to take it slow.
After making two titles that were apparently not adequate as a proper end to fans, he answered everything. What couldn't be answered through the game he had Big Boss answer instead. So Big Boss spewed out things like explanations of things that could have still been left open in the game. Someone had to do it. After all, wasn't the reasoning behind making a sequel to Sons of Liberty essentially tying everything up?
IT'S RISING AGAIN
Despite the assassination of any ambiguity left in the series, Kojima left the ending open… by changing it last-minute.
It might be a set up for a sequel. Makes sense as Sunny later talks about how her shitty eggs look "sorta like the sun" and that "it's rising again." Or maybe Metal Gear Solid: Rising has nothing to do with this and Kojima just wanted to leave something open to our imaginations. Let’s be honest though, Rising will probably be a canon game, and even if not, we already got Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker which is being touted as spiritually being "Metal Gear Solid 5." Ideally, the series should end it’s canon as soon as possible but nothing has happened that suggest this will happen.
Perhaps Guns of the Patriots brought everything to zero much like Big Boss. With little left to question, new Metal Gear games can essentially reboot the series while still remaining canon. The explanation for Vamp’s faux immortality was stupid, but at least we know we won’t see him in a future title. The Patriots being the cast of Snake Eater is laughable but throughout the series they’ve died one-by-one and their AIs have been destroyed. I’m not expecting anything phenomenal in the future, but Guns of the Patriots does give the series canon the semi-blank state it needs to be creative. At least enough to let them be better than Guns of the Patriots in plot.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is by no means the worst video game ever… or even the worst Metal Gear game ever for that matter. However I must say it does feel forced in both plot and presentation, making the game seem almost like a mainstream politician: an entity made to appeal to anyone who can vote, or in this case, anyone who could afford a PlayStation 3 and a copy of this game. Still, for a game that shouldn't have been made at all, it's fun, it looks great and within the mess of a storyline there are some good points made. It might even benefit future titles. That’s pretty impressive for an afterclap.