Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
For: Playstation 3
From: Kojima Productions/Konami
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood, crude humor, strong language, suggestive themes, violence)
“Metal Gear” has never been a game for everyone — not in 1988 on the original Nintendo Entertainment System and certainly not since the series first went 3D on the original Playstation.
“Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” doesn’t change that, living up to its promise as an amazing video game but existing primarily as a means of providing closure to what fans will breathlessly attest (and with very good reason) is the richest narrative in all of interactive entertainment. A massive chunk of the 20-hour single-player component consists of cut-scenes, with the third act positioning you more as a spectator than a participant. If you aren’t well versed in the “Solid” mythos, appreciating the game’s unbelievable ability to resolve so many loose ends is akin to watching a brilliant final season of “Lost” without having seen any of the episodes that preceded it.
That, of course, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try. Even on self-standing terms, “Patriots” offers a lot to love, and while Kojima Productions is as ambitious as ever with storytelling excess, the gameplay is leagues more accessible than that of its predecessors.
How? Let us count the ways. The game’s camera finally feels right, falling in line with what one traditionally expects from a third- (or if you prefer, first-) person shooter. That, in turn, takes some of the load off the controls, which remain on the complex side but come naturally with practice.
That acclimation period is more pleasant than ever thanks to an increased level of freedom in the game’s design, which in turn allows the player to be as stealthy or noisy as their respective abilities and desires will allow them to be. (That said, if you hated playing quietly before, try out the new active camouflage system, which makes stealth way more fun and accessible than it previously had any right to be, and see how you feel about it then.)
Anyone can enjoy playing “Patriots” on some level, and the included starter pack for “Metal Gear Online” proves the gameplay is built to endure with or without a storyline.
Still, make no mistake: This is a product of the same vision that powered its predecessors, and more than anything else, it’s a gift for gamers who appreciated that vision even when it wasn’t nearly as easy to do so. For those who get it, “Patriots” represents, first and foremost, a masterful conclusion to a story that likely will remain without peer until Kojima strikes again. If you’re not one of those people, some of this will inevitably be lost on you. That’s no fault of the game, but it is worth noting all the same.
The Bourne Conspiracy
For: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
From: High Moon Studios/Sierra
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, mild language, use of alcohol and tobacco, violence)
“The Bourne Conspiracy” may be the most annoying game you ever enjoy enough to play through twice.
Based on the events of the first “Bourne” film — albeit without Matt Damon’s likeness — “Conspiracy” consists of two-and-a-half parts: hand-to-hand combat, third-person gunplay, and a single driving level through the streets of Paris. The game also sprinkles in a few quick-timer events to spice up selected cut-scenes.
Separately, each element ranges from enjoyably imperfect to completely aggravating. The shooting portions employ a nice cover system and a wide range of control, but the wonky aiming sensitivity — not to mention the numerous bullets needed to take down an enemy if you’re not proficient in the art of the headshot — leave something to be desired.
The fighting portions, which emulate the film’s throwdowns with surprising authenticity, don’t get off quite so easily. They’re extremely fast, and the enemy A.I. often seems unreasonably strong even on the easy difficulty setting, with near-death combatants suddenly gaining a second wind that produces “Matrix”-like blocking reflexes. One-button takedowns provide some relief — and look extremely cool to boot — when you accumulate them, but using these as a means of bailing out of a losing fight feels like a cheap solution to a cheap problem.
Frustrating though the fight portions sometimes can be, “Conspiracy” truly aggravates when it switches from shooter to fighter on the fly — as it does whenever an enemy enters arm’s reach — before all the shooters have been dispatched. When this accidentally happens, you’re likely dead to rights, because there’s no way to take the shooters out when an enemy is nose-to-nose (and, more accurately, his fist-to-your face) with you. (Fortunately, “Conspiracy” benefits from a forgiving checkpoint system, so this isn’t the deal-breaker it might otherwise have been.)
Yet despite all the mediocrity and aggravation, there’s something completely engrossing about “Conspiracy” when it mixes everything together. When that transition between shooting and fighting actually works, the sense of variety nullifies the individual portions’ failings to a surprising extent. Even the generic driving stage, featuring automobile physics not of this world, is more fun than it should be due to its diversionary nature.
“Conspiracy’s” length — you can beat it in four hours or so — is a rightful concern given the $60 price tag, but its dense appetite for action makes it a candidate to be one of those games you take out and replay every few months. The Xbox 360 version, in particular, encourages Achievements junkies to beat it multiple ways, be it guns blazing or through workmanlike precision.