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Metal Gear Solid 4

PSM3 visits Japan to finish MGS4, and give you unparalleled, spoiler-free, access to the most important next-gen game on any console [Part 1]

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What a way to begin
In fact, the game's opening hour is one of the most gripping, and cinematic, in history. After the opening movie - see 'What Konami have confirmed' - the action cuts to Old Snake smoking quietly on the back of a militia truck, as seen in the E3 2006 trailer.

As the gunfire escalates, and they enter the Middle East battlefield in a confusion of shouts, explosions and engine rattle, Snake continues to puff quietly under his cowl, unfazed, as the militia around him disembark and panic. The atmosphere is palpable - you can hear Snake's heartbeat in your ears in Dolby 5.1 surround, while standard next-gen blur and defocus effects are amplified by a 'dirty filter', which makes the inside of your TV look dusty - sort of the reverse of Metal Gear 2's screen-splatting raindrops.

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Suddenly, the Gekkos appear - the bipedal Metal Gears from the previous trailers - and Snake is forcibly ejected from the truck. He disembarks in a cinematic swoop, as the background pulses with gekko shrieks, militia screams and booming gunfire - completely disorienting in 5.1 surround.

The camera zooms in, pausing for a microsecond, and - unbelievably - you're playing the game. The cut-scene to real-time integration is even more dramatic, and seamless, than Uncharted. We were so excited, we could have popped.

What follows is a dramatic real-time tutorial - Snake is invited to crawl, move, look and explore his inventory as events, literally, explode around you. Otacon urges you to follow your radar to a safe zone. The action's interrupted by a cut-scene, as a Gekko corners Snake and he cinematically loses his cowl - as seen in the E3 2006 trailer. The opening song 'Love Theme' (lyrics by Hideo Kojima) surges into life, as Snake reaches for his gun.

Viewed from the first-person perspective, Snake lifts his gun to reveal the words 'Produced by... Hideo Kojima' underneath - a typical cinematic touch. Snake eludes the Gekkos using octo-camo and a carboard box decoy. Cue the first, ingenious, Mission Briefing section - see 'How Briefings Work'.

The game flips 'three days earlier', to Old Snake at the grave of Big Boss, as seen in the trailers - repeatedly tap q during key moments in any cut-scene to see Assassin's Creed-style flashbacks from previous games (in this case Big Boss saluting the Boss' grave at the end of MGS3) - before he's interrupted by Otacon and Colonel Campbell.

We're not going to even attempt to recap the plot. Suffice to say, Snake is ageing, his brother Liquid has re-emerged to take over the world, and the all-powerful Patriots (from MGS2) are behind the scenes. The game begins with Private Military Companies (PMCs) waging war in the Middle East, controlled via nanomachines, creating a form of war economy controlled by The Patriots. Confused? Watch the trailers.

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MGS4 is unashamedly for fans, stuffed with in-jokes, easter eggs and secrets. Newcomers will be oblivious to about 70% of it, but the more obscure references are a deliberate choice on Kojima's part - in our late night chat, he claimed the uncompromising approach was inspired by the Bourne films, which work as individual units, but also in unison to weave a more nuanced story. As huge fans who've finished every game (sometimes more than once), even we found bits of MGS4 confusing - but you have to admire the depth and attention to detail.

East is east
When gameplay resumes, you're back in the Middle East, at the start of the TGS demo described in PSM96 (see http://tinyurl.com/37dwj5, or watch it on the PS Store). The core mechanics are the same, so check previous issues or our online preview for details. The key change is that the game's much less stealth dependent - there's even an FPS mode - and combat's more about aligning with warring factions, than quietly going it alone.

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