E For All: MGS4 Hands-On Feature - The Next Level

E For All: MGS4 Hands-On

Expo report on the final chapter of MGS.

Article by Edward Boyke (Email)
November 7th 2007, 07:32PM

Bustamante went on to explain that in the demo, which constitutes the beginning of the game, Snake is caught in the middle of a desert city battle between P.M.C.'s (Private Military Company Soldiers--think Blackwater) and a local militia. There are not really any "bad guys" per se. Snake can decide to help them, fight them, or avoid them as best he can. New moves at Snake's disposal, such as playing dead, will help him evade detection by enemies even if they're right on top of him. The radar system common to the franchise has been replaced with "threat ring," a broad translucent halo that appears above Snake when enemies draw near. Small "mountains" around the diameter correspond to the direction of the threat. Think of it as a "bogie at six o'clock" style indicator. Finally, Snake now has an "opto-cameo" suit, which allows him to take on the color of his surroundings like a chameleon.

After this debriefing, we were set loose upon the demo room where twelve gameplay stations awaited, all but two of them equipped with the new Dual Shock 3 controllers. The demo begins with a quick introductory codec cutscene (skipable), after which we assume control of "Old Snake" (literally 50+ years old) in the back alley of a war torn middle-eastern city. His objective is to make it to a rendezvous point across town, working his way carefully through ruined buildings, tunnels, and other cover to avoid open combat. I soon found myself in the middle of a firefight between PMC's and insurgents, whereupon a timely codec transmission advised Snake to avoid fights as "neither side is your enemy." I chose to flop on the ground and assume stealth rather than help out the insurgents, who meet their end quick when a PMC Striker Tank rolls up, spewing gunfire as reinforcement troops jump out the back. Avoiding the sightline of the camera on top of the Striker is key--I ran afoul of enemies several times before I learned to wait for it to turn away before proceeding to crawl past.

When my cover was blown and I had to engage the enemy (which was regrettably often), I preferred manual aim to automatic. It was tough to select targets with auto, and often it picked out enemies who were behind columns and edges of walls, wasting ammo. Hopefully there's an option for inverse Y-axis aiming in the final game, though I didn't take time to check for it during the demo. The new threat ring is functional enough, but I'm not sure if I like it better than the old radar. It's a bit distracting since it sits right on top of Snake like a cloak, and sometimes doesn't kick in until an enemy is too close for comfort. I did appreciate that it turned red to indicate you had been spotted or aroused suspicion. The camera works smoothly for the most part, but can get a little squirrely during heated combat, though it'd probably get more comfortable with practice. Metal Gear Solid's controls have always been more tuned for deliberate stealth than run n' gun action anyway.

The context-sensitive function of the triangle button was very intuitive and flexible, allowing wall-hugging, body-dragging, dumpster-diving, all responsively enough that I didn't miss a dedicated button for any of those functions. An icon of the context action appears at the bottom of the screen (like a visual of Snake dragging a body) to clue you in on what the triangle is currently assigned to. The demo gave a generous selection of weapons (and thankfully, also health rations), and my fave was the sniper rifle. Taking out PMC's with headshots from the sun-drenched balcony of a dilapidated middle-eastern villa was a real treat. One time, I missed a shot before sniping an isolated guy, and he barely grunted into his walkie talkie before biting the dust... But that grunt apparently was enough to communicate the need for reinforcements to his position post-haste. That logic gap bothered me a bit in a game so attuned to detail. But otherwise, the AI was very solid, often enemies would try running for cover, flanking Snake, and calling for backup rather than taking him on alone. I did find that foes would only follow Snake up to a certain point before they stopped and allowed him to recover (not uncommon in previous MGS games).

There were a few minor nitpicks. With the threat ring, camouflage meter, Snake's stress percentage, health bar, and destination arrow (think Crazy Taxi) all being active parts of the heads-up display, there are almost too many onscreen indicators to keep track of. I'm still not sure if the threat ring works as well as radar did, and Konami seems to feel the same way, asking that very question in their post-demo survey form. The graphics are near the top ranks of this generation, with well-detailed textures, good lighting, polished animation routines, and high poly models all around. I wasn't a fan of MGS4's muted color scheme, but after going hands-on with the demo, I can appreciate the gritty feel it gives the desert city setting. It looks like Snake was just dropped into Black Hawk Down. The sound deserves mention as well, and the headphones Konami provided brought home every explosion, enemy chatter, and bullet whine, putting me right in the middle of a battle zone. All in all, this is looking to be another "solid" entry (groan) in the series for fans and PS3 owners wishing to show off the power of their console.

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