Previews

Metal Gear Solid 4

A more violent and brutal MGS game in which there's no break in the action let alone a place to hide

He has the hacking cough of a chronic asthmatic, the leathery skin of a reptile, and the facial hair and hairstyle of an ageing '80s porn star, but Snake is still as sprightly as a stick-thin Russian gymnast in his latest big budget outing.

Snake's repertoire of moves has increased, he's got his new OctaCamo camouflage suit, and in general - going by what we've seen to date - it's a more violent and brutal game in which there's no break in the action let alone a place to hide. Barrels appear to have replaced cardboard boxes as Snake's preferred method of concealment. Enemies still don't seem to notice that the same barrel is no more than five feet away whenever they turn around, but just to be on the safe side Snake can turn a heavy barrel into a bowling ball and smash into enemies as if they're skittles. Strike!

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Perhaps it's because he's close to death and needs to rest those creaking bones, but Snake spends a lot of time lying on his back. From this position he can roll from side to side to avoid bullets as well as to get a better shot at enemies, chuck grenades over his head, and hide among bodies. Playing dead might work against humans, but the formidable new Metal Gears can literally sniff out anyone with a pulse using one of their tentacles as feelers. When one of the machines tries to stomp him, Snake expertly rolls out of the way and shoots the mechanical beast in its belly. It's enough to send it crashing to the ground, hinting that this might be a Metal Gear's weak spot, though it gets back on its feet in a few seconds.

SUITS YOU, SIR
What's clear is how often you'll be relying on the OctoCamo suit, whether it's hiding outright from enemies, making it harder for them to get a clear shot at you as you move through an open part of the battlefield, or simply getting close to a lone enemy to take him out silently. It changes the dynamic from previous games, since you aren't so much hiding in traditional hiding places (such as underneath tables or inside cupboards) anymore.

This time out, you're blending in with surfaces so that you almost appear to become invisible - even if parts of your body are jutting out. If you can't get your head around the new concept, it's the difference between being able to stand in front of an object and still remain concealed instead of having to crouch behind it.

You'll recall the most recent trailer, which just wouldn't be a Metal Gear Solid 4 trailer without an enigmatic ending, and once again Kojima doesn't disappoint. A figure dressed in the OctaCamo suit and wearing the Solid Eye System blends in with a statue to avoid four enemies, narrowly avoiding being shat on by a bird too. As the enemies leave to search elsewhere and the suit's colours revert to normal, the figure is revealed to be a younger version of Snake! He puffs on a cigarette, just before a lump of bird crap slops down his cheek. It doesn't look like a flashback, so your guess is as good as ours what this final sequence could mean.

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Kojima isn't telling, but he's let slip a few other interesting details about the game. The E3 trailer in which Snake is caught in the middle of the war between mercenaries and resistance fighters in a dusty city will be used as part of Metal Gear Solid 4's opening sequence. Not only that, the sequence includes gameplay elements, so you won't be forced to sit there doing nothing for ten minutes.

For the first time in the series, characters are based on real people, with a significant reason behind this that'll be divulged at a later date. Finally, Snake can negotiate with enemies in order to get info, weapons and items. The recent footage proves that the gameplay can live up to the high expectations caused by all those cinematic trailers we've seen over the past couple of years. And with that release date slipping to at least late 2007, Metal Gear Solid 4 is only going to get even better.

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