Nasu, Japan. March 13, 2008. After playing MGS4 for three days, in shifts from 8am to 11pm, we're almost pleased when Hideo Kojima requests - with a polite legal nudge - that we don't talk about 80% or more of what we've experienced. As it stands, we're struggling to keep the revelations down to ten pages.
A fuller explanation of the game's myriad surprises, shocks, twists and highlights - trust us, you won't be disappointed - would spill out of this issue, and into the months, maybe years, to follow. Does Snake die? Why is he ageing? What's with the young Snake in the E3 trailer?
What happens to Raiden? What's the game's final location? These are all questions for another day, and in truth, you'd hate us for spoiling them two months before the game's release. What we can tell you is that we've finished MGS4, what Kojima really thinks about it (including rare insight from a 1am bar chat) and why it might just be the most important next-gen game to date.
With so much we can't share - like the string of set-pieces in , which are even better than the ending of MGS3 Snake Eater - let's talk about what MGS4 isn't: an unrecognisable departure. Strip away the gloss, the mythology of the trailers, the gravity of Snake's predicament, and the core experience is classic Metal Gear - a fusion of MGS3's advanced mechanics and MGS2's cut-scene, set-piece, heavy eclectic feel.
It's as fiddly, deep and rewarding as ever. In fact, the polarities are stretched: it's less fiddly and deeper - the series' most-refined mechanics yet: with a more direct, gung-ho, feel for newcomers; and incredible emergent AI, stealth possibilities and multi-route playgrounds for veterans.
Your first play through will only yield a fraction of the game's true potential , and it's possible to complete it while completely ignoring many of the game's incredible features. For example, we only used the drum can roll ability once. And barely touched the array of Stun/Sleeping Gas/Smoke grenades. It's a game you play by your own rules, and as such, initially bewildering.
Structurally, we're sworn to secrecy, but in Kojima's words, it's closer to MGS2 in feel than MGS3 - he described MGS4 and MGS2 as "on a level, while MGS is more like MGS3" - i.e. it's cut-scene heavy and piecemeal, while MGS3 was a more focused, personal journey. MGS3 described how a noble hero, Big Boss, was altered by circumstance, forced to make a cruel decision to become the series' infamous 'villain'.
MGS4, like MGS2, has a broader scope, addressing the story of the world-manipulating Patriots and just about every loose thread and character in MGS' history. As such, it's cut-scene and plot intensive. While anyone can enjoy the game, it'll require an MGS expert to absorb every nuance from the story.
Kojima is typically self-deprecating, despite MGS4's epic sweep. He describes his original vision for the game as a '10', which was scaled back to a '1' - after basing his original concept on a hopelessly optimistic estimate of (the then unfinished) PS3's power; revising his ideas when he saw the finished tech specs.
He is at pains, however, to stress he's impressed by PS3, and feels MGS4 pushes the limits of the Cell chip. In the very first teaser trailer shown at E3 2005 (rendered in the MGS3 engine on PS2) where Snake plays musical chairs, the theme was 'Nowhere to Hide', with the implication that MGS4 would have a completely destructible battlefield.
After looking at PS3, Kojima realised this wasn't possible, so the finished game looks 'merely' as good as, say, Uncharted or GTAIV, though you can't destroy everything. At times, it's a hi-res version of MGS3, at others, the most cinematic, improbably-beautiful, game in history. One chaotic real-time scene caused us to scrawl 'THIS IS NEXT-GEN!!!' on our notepad, for no reason than we had to tell someone.