Thursday, May 20, 2010

Top 50 Games - 30. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

E3 2006 was the coolest video game trade show I've ever seen second-hand via the internet and magazines. One of, if not the most impressive showing was the epic 15-minute trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Purportedly the last game in the Solid series, that E3 video, with its beautifully bloomy Middle East setting, its rambling but intriguing talk of mercenary armies and proxy wars, its nostalgic reunion of characters, and its striking image of an old, mustachioed Snake literally biting the bullet, was awe-inspiring. I remember thinking, upon peeling off my headphones and blinking myself back into reality, "How cool would it be if this actually turned out to be like the best game ever?" 2 years later, the publications from which I had first absorbed the E3 hype gave MGS4 perfect 10's, and I, astounded, wondered if my question was prophecy. Later that summer, I played the game on my new PS3 and found out for myself. It turns out, if you go by this list, that it's only my 30th favorite game of all time. So what? It still kicks ass. The graphics are jaw-dropping; in 2008, they really clued me in to the difference between the visuals of this generation and the last. Look at Old Snake's stealth suit: never before had I seen more convincing cloth, rubber, and plastic textures outside of Pixar. The surprising variety in environments, from South America to Eastern Europe to Alaska, shows off the blinding fidelity and polish in the game's graphics. From Snake's slow ground-humping crawl to him scratching his back, the animations are full of personality and detail. In fact, one of the Metal Gear Solid series' most redeeming values is its ridiculous attention to detail; it's hard to find other games so rife with easter eggs, self-aware gags, and surreal, utterly surprising instances of creativity. One facet on par with the graphics is the audio. MGS4 was the first showpiece for my new surround sound and headphones, and it might still be the best. The sound in this game, whether you're listening to the in-game iPod or to the nerve-wracking rattle of war, is heavenly. The mixing is divine, the variety is suburb, the music is full of memories, the effects are pristine and effective. Don't think that the A/V aspect is all that's without fault in MGS4, though. The controls in past Metal Gear Solid games were praised by some as in-depth and full of options while derided by others as convoluted and unintuitive. MGS4 reconciles the two: the layout is clean and logical while retaining its sophistication. For all of its technical perfection and artistic ambition, Metal Gear Solid 4 somehow isn't "the best game ever" or even one of my top 10. Why? To be honest, I don't really know. Part of it, I think, is that the Metal Gear series is better played at a younger age, when its occasional stupidity goes unnoticed. Part of it is that, being the last chapter in the saga of Solid Snake, Hideo Kojima tried to tie up nearly every single loose thread, which encumbered the experience and in many cases (but not all) took away the supernatural aspects that make Metal Gear so much more than just James Bond meets Rambo. Regardless of my hard-to-pinpoint faint disappointment, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is absolutely brimming, overflowing even, with Kojima's distinct genius. Lying on my stomach in the middle of a warzone, flipping through a Playboy while listening to a relaxing instrumental blues. Staring at the amazing menu screen, which depicts Snake in a flowery graveyard, pistol in hand. Transitioning from the unexpected pre-intro commercials to the haunting cellos in "Theme of Love." Mech battles. Crawling through a giant microwave in split-screen. You're such a goddamn mastermind, Hideo, that I may just forgive you for pretending to turn off my TV.

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