Analyzing the Problematic Hysteria Regarding MGS4

June 19th, 2008

Yes, I am aware of how my Metal Gear ramblings are probably off the charts by now. Cut me some slack though, I mean how often am I ever at the fore front of gaming conversation? So let me bathe in the sun for a little while longer.

In order to find my footing to write the last piece, I read a number of recent reviews of Metal Gear Solid 4. What I found to be quite surprising is that there appears to be a bit of a backlash regarding the mixed opinions of this title. Of course, this is another great example of the lack of acceptance and maturity among a proportion of the enthusiast crowd. I’m not particularly interested in what they have to say myself instead I feel that the pillars supporting this debarkle are much more interesting (and highly relevant to another issue that I wish to poke at later on).

Rather than summarizing the situation and picking out the tasty bits I want to work backwards this time so that I can highlight the cause of the problem. This way I can concentrate my efforts on a resolution.

1. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

solid snake crumbleMetal Gear Solid 4 is problematic in itself as it represents a new style of digital entertainment. There are two defining features that make this game distinctive from what has walked before it:

a strong understanding of backstory is required to fully appreciate the game
the composition and weighting of cut scenes to gameplay is different to most games before it

MGS4 demands a lot from a new player to the series. Not only in story but also in control and while this has been eased up for this fourth installment, a steep learning curve still awaits. The whole cinematic experience is also largely foreign and unseen within any game before it, at least on the scale in which MGS4 presents this with. This is what I think makes MGS4 so appealing in that it is a different, highly directive approach to cinematic game design.

In this way, MGS4 stretches the definition of what a video game is meant to be and places MGS4 in the same pool as other definition stretching titles like Wii Fit, in that it is largely an individual product.

2. The Reviewing Framework

I have discussed my beef with the current critical analysis of video games before. Just to briefly reiterate though, what I find so frustrating about current game reviews is how games are assessed by a preconceived set of rules rather than the experiences that the player has within the game.

This broken logic of game assessment has resulted in some interesting reviews in games that are beyond the scope of this narrow structure. Much like the previously mentioned Wii Fit, MGS4 falls into such a category in that the foundations of the game place it outside of what is deemed ‘suitable’ by such a system.

3. Fan Fare and the Great Hype Machine

MGS4 because of its strong narrative legacy commands a significant following of dedicated fans. While not as large in numbers as other popular franchises, a substantially large fan base is still present. MGS4 also carries the burden of being dubbed as the saviour of the Playstation 3. A monkier that the developers openly accept. This overbearing weight is not helped by fan enthusiasm, a lengthy development cycle and high production values.

And When You Throw All of These Things Together…

Alright, no need to dally, I obviously place a good amount of blame on the reviews, as expected.

MGS4 represents a different kind of game being pushed through a flawed system and then being jumped all over by fan fare and anti-fan fare. The game is by no means perfect and because of the assumed knowledge surrounding it, it can be difficult to slip into this game as easily as others. This does not necessarily make MGS4 any less of a game, just subjectively better for some and less for others.

Unfortunately the current system, in many instances is void of the scope needed for reviewers to accurate communicate this to their readers. Rather, reviewers are forced to asses MGS4 through a limited framework in which the “assumed knowledge” factor is weighed up against the actual qualities of the game. The alternative? A critique orientated review scheme where more emphasis is placed on the reviewers personal experience. Such a system (as seen in movies and music) provides the outlet necessary for the reviewer to state how such factors (cut scenes etc.) were detrimental to their experience. This then provides a much more clearer landscape for the writer to justify their feelings and for readers to then understand (and accept, key word that ;)) why they feel this way.

metal gear solid 4 poster

I think that some reviews have (and generally do) got it right. Unfortunately for the most part, the way that modern game reviews assess a series of attributes over experience and opinion has in a way conditioned us who read it to be less aware and less conscious of other peoples opinions. Hence some of the large fan rants that have exploded around the internet.


The current review scheme is flawed, yeah I know you get it. 🙂 What concerns me greatly is how so much misunderstanding is created because of it. In other media such as music and movies I think that the audience is more likely to accept that a review is someone’s opinion and deal with it. Unfortunately in our own medium we haven’t matured to that level yet (because of reviews and how they condition us) and I feel that it is holding our industry back significantly.

In this case, instead of the focus being on how incredible the story is and how this is effectively a new type of game, people are shouting back and forth as to whether one person’s opinion is more valid than another’s. Pathetic isn’t it?