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Previews

Metal Gear Solid 4

Mad story. Smart controls

Seven spikes. Bad. Snake's in hiding, but his new 'threat ring' - the mysterious white circle surrounding him in recent screenshots - is flashing red to indicate incoming enemies, and 'spiking' to reflect their position - the number of peaks reflecting the number of enemies. Worried? Pah. Thanks to the streamlined controls - including a contentious FPS mode - MGS4 makes combat more intuitive, less gruelling, than ever.

Previous MGS battles involved fiddly flipping between static first-person targeting, and wayward third-person charges, but in MSG4, you can flip between three flexible aiming modes: 1) 'Auto-aim' - press L1 to lock-on to foes and R1 to shoot, as you shuffle around in third-person. 2) 'Normal' - Tap Square to change modes and the camera flips over-the-shoulder like Resi 4. 3) First-person - Hold L1 and Triangle to pop into FPS mode, enabling you to strafe multiple foes with ease. Upshot? You can play the game any way you want - a boon for new players. Veterans needn't fear, mind, since you can't just run through the game in FPS mode - CQC moves only work in third-person, while ammo constraints and relentless alerts (triggered the accompanying lack of stealth) make it a more effective short-term tactic.

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More 'complex' commands use the context-sensitive 'Action' button Triangle - tap it near a wall to lock to cover, and free-aim using the left analogue without holding multiple buttons, and press again to release. The Action button vaults objects, open doors and lets Snake dive into dumpsters. The rubbish triple-tap x crawl/crouch/stand system has gone too - so no more lying down in the middle of a gunfight. Now you tap x to switch between crouch and normal stance, or hold it to lie flat. From this position, you can 'inchworm' forward (the breakdance-style crawl) to maximise camouflage. The Octo-Camo suit, which mirrors your immediate backdrop, is activated with a button tap.

Aside from health, you'll need to keep an eye on Snake's 'Psyche' and 'Stress' levels. Hiding in smelly bins, or standing in burning sunlight will reduce Snake's psyche, reducing his accuracy and stamina. You can read sexy mags to restore your psyche - but due to diminishing returns, you can't just stare at the same page, but need to read on. Stress creates a 'combat high' during tense battles, increasing your accuracy and damage resistance - but you'll suffer a crippling psyche crash afterwards.

Codec chat's now in 3D, and waffly as ever, but you can forward/rewind messages if you miss key info. Like Assassin's Creed's 'glitch' moments, Codec chat will sometimes spark flashbacks from previous games - hold Circle to view these plot-building snapshots. The story's too complex to abridge, but Kojima did reveal that the 'Beauty and the Beast' bosses (see left) pose a moral dilemma - like recent PC smash Bioshock, you can opt to 'save' the bosses from their torment, revealing the motion-captured models underneath.

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Baffling, potentially brilliant, plot aside, it's easily PS3's best-looking, most-anticipated, exclusive game - and thanks to the intuitive, yet deep, controls there's never been a better time to sample Snake's charms. Roll on March 2008.

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