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Metal Gear Solid 4

Hands-On: Hideo Kojima waxes lyrical on his proudest invention

This is only part of PSM3's exclusive hands-on with MGS4. For the full article including screenshots look for issue 96 of PSM3, in shops from December 20.

MGS4 feels different - and not just as a result of 'wave form' play, but more on that later. It isn't unrecognisable or broken but neither is it sublime, or intuitive. The buttons are sort-of the same, but sufficiently different to feel dislocating. Old flaws - like collision detection and camera wobble when crawling through tight gaps - remain, as do old thrills - like cruelly toying with guards using your variety of skills and weapons.

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We spent our first hour cursing the revamped CQC system and clumsily blasting past PMCs suspecting that we were 'doing it wrong', only to put the pad down three hours later with heavy hearts, after a thrilling last 30 minutes of finding new ways to baffle, torture and debase three guards in the demo's relatively tiny final section. It is, in short, a reflection of its producer, Hideo Kojima - an idiosyncratic, frustrating, flawed and endlessly entertaining kaleidoscope of comedy, invention and barbarity that entirely defies neat categorization. And as such, it's still on track to be the most important, and exciting game of 2008.

'Wave form' play? It's a fancy term for what we've always loved about Metal Gear Solid - the masterful pacing and juxtaposition of gameplay styles. MGS3, for example, contrasts an excruciatingly tense one-hour boss battle (The End jungle fight), with a leisurely, but certainly no less memorable, ten minute ladder climb, forcing you to reflect on the magnitude of your journey so far. 'Wave form' play attempts to solve Metal Gear Solid's central dichotomy, making a 'stealth' game where combat is actively encouraged.

Warmonger
"The problem with previous games was that we throw you dozens of enemies and give you cool weapons and plenty of ammo, but you could never use your arsenal because weapon noises alerted nearby guards who would hunt you down," reveals Kojima.

"In Metal Gear Solid 4, stealth remains at the core, but when Snake enters a battlefield, all bets are off. He doesn't need to be quiet. You can unload on enemy soldiers, or if the PMCs are losing you can kill local militia to even the score, sending the battle into stalemate and allowing you to proceed in the commotion," expands Kojima. "Then we send Snake back to stealth-based play, then onto another battlefield, and back to stealth. It's this tension and release, wave form play gameplay that satisfies both stealth and action game fans."

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Choose your path
Our hands-on impressions are based on an extended version of the Tokyo Game Show code - the bulk of which can be seen in the 15-minute PS Store demo (or on PSM92's DVD), where Snake camouflages himself as a statue and holds another carving's genitals. While the demo is set over a relatively small location, there are multiple approaches.

Remember the incredible 15-minute tanker demo for MGS2? You could zip through, or spend hours finding new ways to bamboozle guards, marvelling at your ability to shoot individual wine bottles or write your name in darts on a foe's buttocks. The Metal Gear Solid 4 demo isn't as seismic a leap, but it's equally open-ended. Enemies might be smarter, but not shockingly so, while environmental damage isn't as extreme as once suggested - bullets leave direct scars in cement, and glass panes shatter, but we couldn't blow the scenery into chunks using the Patriot rocket launcher or RPG

Visually, it's impressive, but not staggering. Squint and pop into first-person view, and it's not dissimilar to the Middle East sections in Call Of Duty 4. In fact, playing MGS4 in FPS mode feels initially disappointing, since a part of your brain thinks you're playing Infinity Ward's incredible shooter. Extended play soon erodes comparisons - Metal Gear 4 is way more flexible - and the graphics gently dazzle: the volume of gunfire, explosions, soldiers and smoke in the final showdown with the PMC tank spikes your breath.

It isn't PS3's best-looking game, but the solidity and detail - zoom in and just look at Snake's grizzled face - is confidently reassuring. We're yet to fight a single boss, or endure a set piece like, say, the final white rose petal battle against Boss in MGS3, or the showdown against the choppers in the mountains, so it's fair to expect big surprises in the finished game. The demo is effectively one long 'bridge' section - a proof of concept - with no more significance than, for example, the first hour of jungle paths in MGS3.

This is only part of PSM3's exclusive hands-on with MGS4. For the full article including screenshots look for issue 96 of PSM3, in shops from December 20.

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