Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Metal Gear Solid 4: Almost perfect except for the happy ending

In case you care, I bought a Playstation 3 last semester. It helped to fill what otherwise would have been a pretty lame winter break. It's an awesome machine that let's you do lots of cool stuff, like playing blu ray movies and streaming Netflix. Oh, yeah, the games, right?
My first one was (not surprisingly) rock Band 2. In the past years, but biggest regret about not having a console was not being able to play music games. I mean, 2 of my biggest passions together, it can't go wrong right? And it didn't. RB2 rejuvenated the way I listen to music. Now I pay more attention to specific sounds like what is bass and what is guitar. It may sound silly, but I never thought it was really important to separate sounds. But of course it's VERY important. Also, it was pretty cool to get a little idea of how a guitar works.
It was made me go back to bands that I had forgotten like Alanis Morissette, The Cranberries and The Offspring.
For some time, I could hardly play anything else. RB2 was THE game. But then I suddenly got tired of it. I guess it demands too much exercise and I usually play at late nights when I'm tired after a long day. Of course since there is so much to this game, I'll certainly go back to it, I just don't know when.
My Playstation came with 2 games: LittleBigPlanet and Rachet and Clank's Future: A Crack In Time. The first one is considered one of the best games of this generation, so obviously I was very curious about it. It's a platform game that let's you create your own levels. The idea is pretty cool and you can many interesting things if you let your imagination run.
The creation of levels in LittleBigPlanet (LBP) lets you effectively be a programmer, creating your own fun, which has a particular appeal to me, since I'm really curious about these things. And yet I didn't play it much! I don't know. I guess I just didn't have the time (and energy) to dedicate that attention that a title like LBP deserves. But maybe I'll go back to it in the future. well, even if I don't, it makes me proud to have such a smart game in my library, specially when there is so much crap around (hello, Nintendo Wii).
Rachet and Clank is a game that surprised me. Being kind of a platform game with animals, I was expecting a cheap copy of Mario or Crash, but it's not not like that. It's almost a shooter. With many weird weapons. Also, there are levels with very smart puzzles. It's so much more than Mario.... Another good point is the humor. It has some very funny moments. It putted a smile in my face a lot of times. Oh, yes, and the graphics are phenomenal!
However R&C is not really memorable. Yes, there are many very good things about it, but nothing is memorable or legendary. I didn't finish the game yet and I don't know if I ever will...
Valkyria Chronicles is my favorite PS3 game. The fact that it looks like a dream might make you think that it is a superficial game but it nothing like that. It has a very original battle system (seriously, you never played anything like it...), a heartwarming story with excellent character development, and a great replay value. Maybe I will write about it later (this post is supposed to be about Metal Gear...), but for now let me say that this was the game that truly made me remember how much I loved video games in my teenage years. That made me feel the same way (more or less) that I felt about games like Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil during the 90s... To cut the story short, VC is a masterpiece in its genre. If you ever liked RPGs and you have a PS3, you're committing a crime against yourself by not playing this game (no, Sega is not paying me to do the ads). I'd say more, only VC is worth a PS3. That's just how much I love it.
But today I'm talking about a much more popular game: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. If you're reading this, you probably know a lot about the game, so I won't bother explaining it to you. Instead, i'll just give my personal experience with it.
I had a hard time "getting" Metal Gear Solid 4 because of the very very long movies, but now I love it. It's extremely well done entertainment with a lot of references to the first Metal Gear Solid, one of my favourite games of all time.
SPOILER ALERT: If you didn't play Metal Gear Solid 4 yet, and you might play in the future, the next paragraphs may ruin your experience!
But obviously MGS4 is much more than that. The graphics are just "wow". It's almost unbelievable how good HD games look, and MGS4 is one of the best in that department. The gameplay has a bunch of cool new features, but it's in essence the same one from 12 years ago. And this is definitely not bad. I mean, the first Metal Gear Solid is, after Final Fantasy VII, my favorite game of all times! You can confront enemies if you want, but the real fun is in advancing without being noticed. It can be really hard this time because the enemies aren't completely stupid like the ones from other games..
The story is complex and pretty much everyone from the series appears in this final chapter. There is a very real effort from the creators to put all pieces together, but the final result is a little bit overwhelming: too much information. As a result, even after beating the game, I still don't know exactly what the hell was going on. But I love it!
There are so many emotional moments. Detailed references to previous games that only fans would notice. While playing I said more than once: "wow, this is so cool".
The cut scenes are LONG. But they are very interesting once you get into the story. And the story is nothing short of fascinating. It makes me feel a little bit like Lost with so many problems and so little concrete answers, but I just can't get enough of it. It took me almost 19 hours of "gameplay", about half of it was spent watching movies. This makes MSG4 a very long interactive movie.
To truly appreciate this "movie", you have to understand the creator's idea: to change people's perceptions of games and movies, and to surprise! Yes, there are a bunch of WTF moments here. At some point you just start playing MGS1. Not a MGS1 with HD graphics, but truly a scene of the Playstation game. It brought back memories from 1998. But the best part was that I wasn't really sure about what was going on. I thought it was probably a dream (I mean, Snake's dream and not my dream, hehe) but then I screwed up and died, and I had a 'continue' just like in the first MGS! In the end it was just a prank, but you gotta admit, a genius one. Try to find something like that in Super Mario!
In another scene, I was warned that I had to insert disc 2, with Otacon immediately remembering that since they were on PS3 and had blu rays, there was no need to multiple discs, a clear mocking of Sony rivals' Xbox360 and Nintendo Wii.
In a boss fight against an enemy with physical abilities, I was reminded that I couldn't use the MGS1's trick of plugging the controller on port 2. Ok, that wasn't really a WTF moment, but I was surprised by how rapidly I remembered the epic fight against Psycho Mantis 12 years ago.
MGS4 is divided in 5 acts. The first 3 are more gameplay-intensive and the last 2 are really an interactive movie, which could be kind of frustrating because the gameplay in the first three is really diverse and fun. Except that it's not. THe best boss fights of the game are in the last two acts.
But the real deal is the story. These last two acts are better than most movies that I saw last year! Very big moments and great twists create an atmosphere of chaos and depression. The characters are having such a hard time. Naomi, the friend-then enemy-then friend-then enemy again..., finally dies (kind of a shame because she was super hot, but I guess she kind of deserved it...). Raiden not only lost his girlfriend, but his two arms in a noble effort to save Snake. He pretty much believes that he has nothing to lose. Solid Snake, the once ultra cool super soldier, is very old. He will be a walking machine in a couple of months (I won't even try to explain why, go to wikipedia) and dead a little after that. This is definitely his last mission.
All keeps building up for a very tense atmosphere. I was playing a game to see characters that I learned to care about being defeated and then the climatic end to one of the most epic videogame sagas of all time comes. I was expecting not only Snake to die (I mean he was old, this was his final mission) but another big character to pass away. But it didn't happen! The ending was too happy for me!
I mean, I never asked to love a game that was about depression and dark themes, but after all that happened, how come everything was magically solved in the end? Snake didn't die. In fact, he looked healthy like a horse in the end. Raiden got the girl and his arms back (ok, his arms, I can understand, Konami needs to make money in the future and Raiden is arguably the future of the series), but common'! Seriously, I hated the ending. I hated specially because the story was getting me depressed after the end of act 4. I was totally immersed in an amazing experience and then they just had a normal happy ending.
That's my main complain. I wanted a sad ending. Seriously, Kojima (if you're reading this up until now, you know who that is, right?), that's cheating. The entire journey is depressing and in the ends things magically work out. But perhaps that was his objective, to surprise people, to piss people off.
Come to think of it, MGS4 was partly about showing the middle finger to the players. You thought the other Metal Gear had too many movies? Make them even longer now. You didn't want to play with a war veteran, an "old" man (a girl reportedly said this in a letter to Hideo Kojima years ago). Make Solid Snake really old. And so on.
Which brings me to my last point: MGS4 is not perfect and is not for everyone. Your 4-years old cousin will give it up after 5 minutes. The typical Xbox360 Halo player that just wants to kill everyone (in a game, obviously) will hate it. No, MGS4 tries to do one thing and it does that thing extremely well. I play most games because of their story and I love a complicated plot. MGS4 is definitely for me. Sure, it's not perfect (that damn happy ending!), but it gets close...

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