Snake? Why did it have to be Snake?
After 20 years of espionage action, Guns Of The Patriots is being billed as the final instalment in Konami’s million-selling series, and an explosive farewell for the surly Solid Snake. Yet while previous Metal Gears have been criticised for focusing too heavily on the muddled plot and not allowing fans to actually play the game, it feels as if technology has finally caught up with digital auteur Hideo Kojima. The PS3 delivers the muscle needed to bring his violent visions to life and refines the experience so it doesn’t drive impatient players to distraction.
While the action is still riddled with confusing movies and bewildering conversations - each seeped in the macho nuttiness that has defined MGS and makes it feel like a cross between Andy McNabb and a Manga movie - welcome tweaks such as the ability to skip cut-scenes and optional flashbacks to earlier Metal Gears help make the labyrinthine story more engaging. It also allows Kojima to convey a strong anti-war message that’s sharply poignant in today¹s political climate and adds a sense of gravitas to the testosterone-pumped tale.
Using the PS3 to bring this latest instalment to life has also given Kojima the opportunity to create the most detailed and stylish world MGS aficionados have ever seen: from the sun-baked streets of crumbling middle-eastern cities to frozen arctic bases and steaming jungles, all the environments are brimming with detail and convey a unique atmosphere. This time Kojima has also been careful to make the experience less linear and offer players multiple routes through the levels, which provide a deep sense of satisfaction by finding your own way through a maze of war-torn streets, rather than being forced down a narrow path peppered with set-piece challenges.
Also making the traditional MGS experience friendlier are the game’s stripped-down controls. Whereas earlier episodes saw players tangling themselves in a jumble of thumbs while attempting advanced moves, hiding in the shadows or targeting enemies is now as simple as tapping a button, allowing players to execute split-second decisions. On the flipside, the enemies in Guns Of The Patriots are much smarter than the grunts found in previous Snake fables, the streamlined controls coming into their own as you roll between patches of darkness, snuggle against walls or hide inside abandoned oil barrels and inch your way across hostile territory.
Like all Metal Gear titles, the intense stealth action is an acquired taste and players more enamoured by the gung-ho heroics of Halo or Call Of Duty will probably want to drop a star from our final score. Even fans of console sneak-a-thons such as Splinter Cell will find Guns Of The Patriots hard going, the game requiring you to find a skittish rhythm, where you slip between stealth techniques and defensive action in the blink of an eye, and have the imagination to use spy gadgets in unorthodox ways. But as the swan song of a series that defined a genre, Guns Of The Patriots should be cherished as one of the PS3’s greatest achievements - and because Metal Gear is the only place where smoking and pornography are actually seen as good for you.