Dear Reader; do you see that thing in the top right hand corner of this article? The number? No, not the date, below that - the score? Yes that's it, now, please ignore it. They made me do it.
Metal Gear Solid 4 does not deserve a score. It is not fair to rate it on the same level as other games. It's kind of like asking someone to rate Pac-Man or Space Invaders; sure you could do it, but you'd be wrong to. Metal Gear Solid 4 is more than just a game. Many will say it is like a game and a movie in one and they would be arguably right. It definitely feels like a hybrid of entertainment mediums, but unlike games such as Mass Effect which attempt to be interactive movies, Metal Gear Solid 4 mostly splits the two between playing and watching.
Close to half of the game will actually involve you just sitting and watching some of the most beautiful, masterfully directed and longest cut-scenes you have ever seen in a video game. A lot of these cut-scenes have some clever interactivity to them, which helps with both fan service and preventing boredom. Hideo Kojima has a remarkably good grasp of action, drama and comedy (though the latter is a little more hit-and-miss). He has also managed to tie together one of the deepest and most complicated storylines in the history of gaming. This is even more remarkable when you consider that the series is over 20 years old now. There are a lot of familiar faces who turn up and everything finishes up extremely well. Some of you may even shed a tear or two, as this is the end of a great video game icon and the completion of a hero's journey.
Solid Snake is not just a clone or a soldier or a patriot (just a pun, not a spoiler, relax) but he's a man. A great man. And in this game, an old man. This is due to him being a clone, as his body is ageing at an accelerated rate which is killing him. It is at this point in his life he is asked to go on what will be his final mission - to kill his twin brother Liquid. For those not familiar with the series that probably sounds like a bad soap opera, but in this game it works.
This is potentially one of Metal Gear Solid 4's biggest problems; it's made mostly for the fans. I know that sounds great (and it is for us) but if you haven't played the other games or are not familiar with the story (thank you Wikipedia!) you will be completely lost. The story is complicated and confusing with a lot of different characters. It's good, extremely good; but it will be very difficult for people new to the series to follow.
If you are a fan of the series however, you'll find it's not only the best Metal Gear Solid game ever, but definitely one of the best games this year. I would go into detail about the graphics but to be honest there's no point. This game is a piece of art, and arguably the best looking game on the PS3 to date. It's also a technical marvel with in-game cut-scenes moving into gameplay without missing a beat. There is the occasional framerate drop, but with everything that will be happening on screen at the time you won't notice or care.
The characters are fantastically detailed, both in appearance and animation. Old Snake obviously is the star of the show, and his age is in a lot of the details of the game. For example, you cannot jump roll too much or he will have to stop from a sore back and stretch it out (really bad in the middle of a gunfight). He can also get stressed, which affects his psyche; which then affects his aiming and healing. While it's a neat idea, it doesn't really have a huge effect on gameplay.
What does have an effect on gameplay is the new focus on action and much improved controls. Gunning your way through this game is a real option; in fact you could probably play through most of it as a shooter if you wanted. There is even a first-person shooter view when you really need those headshots. But of course, there is still a great emphasis on stealth (and cardboard boxes). The level design mostly gives the opportunity for the player to choose if they wish to sneak or fight. There are occasional missions that force you into one way or the other, and these are noticeable weak points in the game. But then again there are some outstanding action sequences, like a certain bike ride through a European town, which are just incredible.
Snake also has some pretty cool gadgets at his disposal, like a mini Metal Gear that you can control to scout ahead a little. He's extremely cute, but not actually as useful as I was hoping. The second most useful of these gadgets is his new Solid Eye. This looks like an eye-patch but allows tons of useful view options all in one such as binoculars, infra-red, and a normal view that gives you a radar and helps nearby items stand out more. And the most useful gadget or gameplay feature is his new Octocamo. This is the combat suit he wears that is able to mimic the colour and textures in the environment around him, chameleon-like. So basically, if you hug the wall, you become the wall. It's very easy to use and very cool to watch.