Previews

Metal Gear Solid 4

Hands-on with MGS4, but we want more...

The pad sat in our hands; we eagerly tapped at the buttons in a vein attempt to speed up the loading process. The Konami rep to our right was into his rehearsed sales patter - something about history of the series or Kojima has total control - when the game finally booted up. Loading over, the screen brightened to reveal Old Snake crouched among the debris of a Middle Eastern town and we were in.

The bad news first: this is the same level we played at the Tokyo Games Show four months ago, the same Middle Eastern war zone, the same grey ruins, the same glimpse at the Metal Gear MKII robot quirkily controlled by Snake using a PS3. So, same old, same old? Not quite. We're not sweating it out at a Tokyo trade show, the throng isn't crowding us and the nice man from Konami isn't pressuring us for time. We have time to explore the game.

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Open-world espionage
What is clear about this level from the game is the degree of freedom you'll get to explore Snake's new world. Old MGS levels were fairly linear, albeit with multiple routes, these levels are more open. You're given a goal and tasked with getting there by any means necessary. Our first foray began stealthily enough, pressing Triangle to activate the camouflage suit and mask Snake's body to the environment, then crawling past guards unnoticed. We then discover Snake has more weapons and ammo than in past games, so out came the big guns and after a rattle of fire from the AK 102 assault rifle, in came the tanks and soldiers.

It's here the controls felt a little awkward. Konami has simplified the button configuration in an attempt to make Snake easier to handle, but in doing so has assigned dual functions to many of the buttons - Triangle also makes snake hunker against a wall and also changes the camouflage, in a heated gunfight this can lead to irritated scenes of Snake going through the 'change' as bullets rain down on his vulnerable body.

Controlling Snake when crawling is a little odd too, like the old Resident Evils, the Left thumbstick moves Snake around on a fixed point while the right moves him forwards and backwards. It's the same system used in past MGS games, but could have done with a revamp.

Control quirks aside, and on the whole, MGS4 feels robust. The overriding feeling was this looks and feels just like the trailers Konami has been releasing over the last year. There are few glitches and Snake has some nice touches that help create the feeling of being in a real physical world, such as the way he'll trip over dead bodies.

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Hush puppy
Back to the level, we ditched the gung-ho approach and reverted to classic MGS stealth. Gaining higher ground, we used the sniper rifle to stun a couple of guards before dropping to ground zero and shaking them down for booty - health packs and ammo. Stunned enemies will only be out for 30 seconds or so - add to this the new war zone setting - and no place is ever truly safe in MGS4.

Guards were on to us in seconds once their mates failed to complete their patrol patterns. We jumped in a bin to escape the unwanted attention.

From here we could use Sixaxis to lift the bin lid, but oddly couldn't look around once the lid was ajar, narrowing Snake's view of the outside world and so making this yet another frustration to add to the list; albeit a minor one.

The second stage of the demo began in the heat of a raging street battle. The task is to get to the checkpoint at the end of the street, as enemy soldiers tussle with rebel forces - both of which will shoot Snake on sight unless you can change the situation.

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