Candied, crushed sago't gulaman
The Metal Gear Solid series holds a special place in my heart. I already talked in length about how Metal Gear Solid changed my view of video games. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty broke my mind. After shedding a tear (or two) during the ending of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, I was ready to have my very being consumed by the follow-up that would tie it all together into a masterpiece of innovative gameplay and compelling story-telling playing out in groundbreaking next-gen technology.
It was 2008, and my parents and I just did not have an extra FIVE HUNDRED NINETY NINE US DOLLARS (around 28k in Philippine pesos at the time) to spend on a PlayStation 3. So I waited. For five years, I managed to avoid all manner of spoilers. But what I did hear about the game during my wait wasn’t exactly very promising – a plot that managed to be even more convoluted than MGS2 and cutscenes that went on for more than an hour.
I forgot about all that when I got to buy a PS3 just last month, and the prospect of finally being able to play the game turned into a reality. Borrowed the game, and I braced myself for what I thought was going to be another life-changing experience.
[There will be spoilers for the Metal Gear Solid series from this point on.]
My first takeaway playing through it?
GOOD GOD THERE WERE WAY TOO MANY CUTSCENES AND THEY WERE WAY TOO FUCKING LONG
Yeah, the previous three main games had their fair share of 30 minutes to hour long cutscenes. They just weren’t THAT many, and they didn’t come right after the other like in this game. And even if they were interesting, I wouldn’t have expected that in a freakin’ video game. It really felt like I was just watching an incredibly lengthy film at times with how much I had to put down the controller.
It didn’t help at all that this was probably the worst in the entire series when it came to dialogue (or my tastes just have grown up in the past 8 years). Almost everybody was speaking in either technobabble or metaphorical platitudes. The technobabble was intriguing in a way because I’ve always been a sucker for MGS’ conspiracy theory leanings about technology, but it really made for really stilted dialogue that had the characters repeating themselves with THE WAR ECONOMY and PROXY WARS and MEMES and NANOMACHINES.
The melodrama was mostly unbearable, especially every time Naomi opened her mouth. Never have I had such little compassion for a character that was shown as a victim of sorts. I truly felt saddened about her back in MGS1, but I just loathed her throughout the entirety of MGS4. Good riddance when she died. Otacon’s romance angles just plain suck.
Did not find any of Johnny’s antics funny at all because of how utterly juvenile and distracting they were. In the past MGS games, the toilet humor of Johnny was more of one-and-done deal so it never got grating. Because of his heightened importance in this game, they just had to keep going back to it.
I was not convinced at all by his sudden “BADASS” turn. My eyes were just rolling at every scene with his developing romance with Meryl. In fact, that entire Rat Patrol was a waste with how little I cared about the team. At least that guy with the stupid exclamation point haircut was worth a chuckle the first time you see him.
And what the hell was up with all those pervy shots? What possible reason was there for Naomi’s shirt to be unbuttoned all the way down to her sternum? SIDEBOOB EVERYWHERE. Same goes for Eva. The B&B’s portrayal was also blatantly fetishistic. ASS SHOTS AND JIGGLY BOOBS ALL THE TIME. Even Mei Ling wasn’t spared!
Speaking of the B&B, they went full-on storytelling mode with their backstories. Kojima simply does not know the saying “show, don’t tell”. Then again, actually giving them screen time would have eaten up more space for gameplay.
As for the plot itself, I wouldn’t have minded its convoluted nature because that’s just what I expect from an MGS game. It just goes back to the poor pacing with the s***load of cutscenes doing nothing but spewing exposition. Even then, that very last bit with Big Boss appearing and explaining that the body that was burned being Solidus’ and Ocelot just pretending to be Liquid all this time and everything else for that matter was just UGHHH. His entire death scene was also incredibly dragging, as he had to give closure to every single plot thread. He managed to keep talking for like a good 10 minutes despite his lungs giving out.
And I would’ve been absolutely fine with Snake offing himself to put a tragic end to his life. It would’ve still been seen as a wholly unselfish and kinda heroic act if the game hadn’t gone back on the plot point about Snake turning into a biological weapon in a couple of months. Having him be the only thing that could really kill himself – not any Metal Gears, not Liquid, not FOXDIE, not Big Boss, not Ocelot, not the microwave hallway that would’ve killed any other man – would’ve been a great exclamation point for Snake.
I also wouldn’t have minded having Raiden meet his maker at the end of Act 4 or at the end of Act 5. Staying alive after being crushed by a fucking battleship, getting impaled multiple times and having both of his arms cut off, only to have him recover through all that and find out that Rose never really married Campbell and that they’ve got a kid who idolizes him was all just way too neat an ending.
In fact you could say that for the whole game, leaving me rather empty with how all the good guys win and the bad guys all get their due. Nothing as heartbreaking as Meryl potentially dying in the first, Emma getting killed by Vamp in the second, and The Boss sacrificing her life for her country.
I did thoroughly enjoy the scenes where the game just embraced absurdity, including most of Raiden’s and Liquid Ocelot’s shenanigans. Raiden just flipping the fuck out as a cyborg ninja, slicing and dicing Geckos and battling Vamp were jaw-dropping. Liquid Ocelot going crazy with the hand motions when he took control of SOP as well as the part where he fakes dying of FOXDIE were the most fun I’ve had watching.
As for the gameplay, what I got in between all those cutscenes was pretty damn good. Really liked the chaotic dynamic in the first two acts, even enjoyed following that one dude around in the third, loved just about everything in act four especially with the unexpectedly awesome METAL GEAR FIGHT, and was absolutely thrilled by that climactic one on one battle against Liquid Ocelot.
The first three B&B fights were also great, but the last one was a bit disappointing albeit quite nostalgic. The hide-and-seek battle with Laughing Octopus was incredibly tense with how she hid herself. Raging Raven had my adrenalin pumping every time she flew right into the tower. Stalking the Frogs and Crying Wolf in the snowstorm had me using all the tools I had. Screaming Mantis at the very least had the funny codec conversations with Campbell and the ghost of Psycho Mantis giving me a literal blast from the past moment.
The weapon customization system was pretty tight, and I loved experimenting with some of the guns and the upgrades you could get for them. Rocked the sniper rifle, the M4, and the shotgun and had fun shooting the enemies’ faces off. Have to say that the first person shooting was actually good, considering it was a bigger leap in combat for the series and it’s a 2008 game!
If only I just got more of those instead of melodrama, forced romance angles, and mostly trite and expository dialogue every hour.
A video game’s strongest trait as a medium is its power to engage through interaction.
It becomes totally limp when you’re forced to go through its supposedly most compelling moments simply staring at a screen, robbed of all agency. I can usually forgive that when it’s all reserved for a game’s ending when you’re just done playing. Unfortunately, this was not the case for MGS4 with how every act was littered with so. many. cutscenes.
It’s also why I actually enjoyed the entire segment where Snake wills himself through the microwave hallway by way of the player furiously having to tap triangle. In that moment, I truly felt one with Snake, his struggles, and all the burdens he had to bear.
Same goes for the battle with Liquid which was a stroke of genius. Every strike felt meaningful because I was also a part of it. Of course, the stage, the shifting music, the sheer epic scope of it all helped immensely. That was great video game storytelling. Not the parts where the characters were just explaining every single plot detail for an hour and throwing in “dramatic” lines in an effort to sound deep. Only Mei Ling gets to wax poetic because that was established in the first game.
I just feel like if it just focused more on actually playing a game, it would’ve been so much more satisfying. Here’s hoping Hideo Kojima realizes that for Metal Gear Solid V, because as much as I feel disappointed by 4, I’ve invested way too much to give up on this series.