Trigger Warning: This post analyzes and discusses the game’s use of suicide as a plot device.
The only review that I remember seeing for MGS4 was Game Informer’s, which gave it a rare ten out of ten. I let it raise my hopes about how good the game would be, but the more I think about MGS4, the more I think that it didn’t quite measure up. How can that be? Let’s look at Kojima’s history and his attitude towards this creation of his for answers.
Kojima did not fully plan out the plot and lore of the MGS series. After the smash success of MGS1, there was pressure on him to do a sequel, which he really did not want to do. Yet, he still took on important roles within the development team (for example, he took charge of MGS3 when the team was not making much progress on the game). This affected the kinds of stories that he told.
Originally, I wrote a hell of a lot of rambling text about MGS2 and MGS3 before I did a little research on the background of the development of MGS4, and I think I learned the root cause of why 4 turned out the way it did: Konami, as ever, a source of problems. They were the ones that wanted Kojima to write a final chapter that wrapped up everything from MGS1 and 2.
If Kojima wasn’t done by the time he made MGS2, then he was done-done with the fourth game. Though I’ll go into more detail, I think all you really need to know was his original plan for the ending: for Snake and Otacon to be tried and executed for war crimes. The rest of the dev team understandably refused to do any work on the game until Kojima changed the damn ending.
To reinforce his desire to make this the last MGS game – at least with Solid Snake – Kojima emphasized Snake’s deteriorating condition and rapid aging. Snake is only 42 at this point, but looks a couple decades older. This was to be Snake’s last mission, no doubt about it.
This is where we challenge GI‘s ten out of ten. When fans got ahold of the game and played it through, they began to pick the storyline, characterizations, character motivations, and long cutscenes apart. This was perhaps a bit unexpected.
It comes back around to a possibly uncomfortable question: Was Kojima’s heart in this game? I would lean towards the negative that it wasn’t. Not totally. For while MGS4 still has plenty of feels, it also gives me this strange ambivalence in hindsight. That’s not what a 10 out of 10 is supposed to be.
Some elements that give this theory credence include:
1.The game had an overwhelmingly neutral color palette to emphasize the sadder elements of the story
2.EVA is reintroduced, only to die without doing much or having meaningful interaction with Snake
3.Naomi commits suicide and dies from cancer just by repeatedly stopping her nanomachines. I believe it’s mainly because Hal is never allowed to have a love interest for long, but also because: Naomi had to die to atone for her sins, and they just couldn’t or didn’t want to think of a less biology-failing way for her to pass on. What if Vamp killed her after she gave him the last injection to euthanize him? Two sinners together in death. (Yeah, MGS4 has kind of a screwed-up relationship with death and martyrdom…)
4.Some feel that Vamp’s death was given more feeling than he deserved for being a killer (though his backstory is somewhat sympathetic)
5. Meryl is suddenly given a romantic subplot with a goofy comedic relief character to tie up her story and provide another reference to MGS1. Though I was pleased that she was given a happy ending, there must have been a better way than suddenly pairing her off with, as one person on a gaming forum described it, “a guy whose defining trait is his bowel problems”.
6.A point that I somehow didn’t even GET to in my original VGJ: Ocelot is not actually possessed by Liquid. He convinced himself through hypnosis that he was. What a waste of a potentially cool plot point and characters.
7. The old Metal Gear REX somehow works after years in disrepair
8. Some fans believe that Raiden was supposed to die when he is crushed at the end of the Shadow Moses chapter, and question why he had to be crushed in the first place, which leads us to…
9. Raiden is still alive and somehow able to come back for the ending. Talk about cheap drama. Maybe my “we have extras!” comment about his arm getting severed was taken farther than I thought… (Anyway, I wouldn’t have exactly been happy with Raiden getting killed)
10.Drebin somehow knows all of this stuff about the Beauty and the Beast Corps with no explanation
11. Drebin himself is revealed to have a ton of potential backstory with him belonging to ai of Drebins created by the Patriots. This is never explored.
However, there were some choices that I think were more successful, like how the final, ultimate enemy of the MGS series is… a pitiful, ancient old man that isn’t even aware anymore of the evil he brought upon the world. I think it strangely fits with the theme of the futility of war. And I actually love that they brought Big Boss back. His interaction with Snake has a lot more feels than Snake’s interaction with EVA.
An aside: The game really lost a layer in the English dub compared to the Japanese one. What’s that, you ask? In the Japanese dubs of MGS games, Snake (and young Big Boss) is voiced by Akio Ohtsuka. But for the ending of MGS4, the middle-aged Big Boss was voiced by Ohtsuka’s father, Chikao Ohtsuka, himself a veteran voice actor.
Before MGS4 was made, Akio and Chikao were estranged. They weren’t even talking to each other anymore. But they reconciled after filming their scenes in this game.
Chikao passed away last year.
The Gameplay: The game doesn’t feel as memorable from set piece to set piece somehow. I think it’s because the game is devoted to a pretty rigid structure:
1. Mission Briefing
2. Intro cutscene
3. Gameplay segment
4. Intro to a Beauty and the Beast Corps member
5. Actual B&B boss fight
6. B&B member’s breakdown
7. B&B member’s transformation into a “Beauty”
8. B&B member’s death
9. Drebin’s explanation of said Beauty’s backstory
10 .Ending cutscene of act
Rinse and repeat, add the odd on-rails vehicle segment as needed.
Then there’s the issue of the length of some of these cutscenes. MGS is infamous for having loads and loads of cutscenes, a problem which really came into question with MGS2. Though MGS4 arguably has a more even split between long cutscenes and long gameplay segments, it’s hard to argue with the game “winning” the Guiness World Record for the longest cutscene of all time for the ending. And that’s coming from someone who liked the ending. Note also that I didn’t mention the gameplay that much, certainly not as much as the story.
I think that the game did not take as much advantage of its future setting as it could have. The only gadget that I remember relying on was the Solid Eye. The OctoCamo is kind of a gimmie because it automatically blends in with your environment. And then, there’s Drebin’s shop, which I didn’t use much.
In contrast, I use the iDroid a lot in MGSV.
I can’t say anything for Metal Gear Online because I never got to play it.
MGS4 got its fair share of criticism. Did Kojima Productions listen? It seems that they did, because MGSV has a higher gameplay-to-story ratio. The story is certainly still there, but a lot of the character and story details seem to be buried in the cassette tapes menu. Did KojiPro overcorrect? Is MGSV a worthy sendoff to Metal Gear, at least from KojiPro? Are they to blame for a whole third chapter of the game getting cut (at least from standard editions of the game – ugh, what a mess), or is it Konami’s fault? Or was Konami justified in stopping Kojima from spending more budget and development time? It should be noted that the game made back more than its budget…
In conclusion: Should you play MGS4? In spite of everything above, I think that you should if you haven’t already to make up your own mind. It’s unlikely at this point to be rereleased on next-gen systems at the rate that Konami is going, however, especially considering their split from Kojima.
Kojima himself is a pretty interesting figure, and MGS4 isn’t the last we’ll see of him on here.