Metal Gear Solid 4

TOKYO–You may have heard of Metal Gear Solid 4 by now. It’s one of the PlayStation 3’s most important exclusive games in the race for next-generation dominance. It is also creator/director Hideo Kojima’s purported last outing with his seminal stealth series. And it’s playable here at the Tokyo Game Show. We were lucky enough to sit down with illustrious Kojima Productions producer Ryan Payton for an all-too-brief 90 minutes with the game, during which we found that many familiar mechanics have changed. But the heart of Metal Gear Solid is definitely still beating here.

First, it’s worth pointing out that the demo of the game we played is essentially the same one Kojima Productions began demonstrating publicly back in July. So if you haven’t seen that video yet, take a look to see everything we’re talking about here. Luckily, Payton contextualized the action we played in the demo and filled us in on the initial story of the game. As it turns out, that gameplay demo is set only about 15 minutes into Metal Gear Solid 4, so you’ll basically watch the intro sequence and play a very brief section. Then you’ll end up right in that dusty village setting that we’ve seen so much of during the past two years. Payton confirmed during our demo that this Middle Eastern area is just one of the locales you’ll visit throughout the course of the game. Just because that’s all we’ve seen of MGS4 so far, don’t think the entire game–or even the majority of it–takes place there. Payton let slip that you’ll also travel to South America later in the game, among other places.

Before we jumped into the demo, we stepped back and got the scoop on the storyline at the outset of MGS4. The game will begin with Col. Campbell contacting Solid Snake to deliver the disturbing intelligence that Liquid Snake is alive and running Outer Heaven. This is a dummy corporation that oversees and controls private military companies all over the world. The PMCs will essentially act as Liquid’s private army throughout the game, so they’ll be the on-the-ground enemy forces you’ll be fighting against. The PMCs will also vary between areas. For instance, the company in the Middle East was called Praying Mantis, but the one in South America will have a different name and appearance.

Further intelligence indicates that Liquid is currently operating in the Middle East, so Campbell essentially hires Snake to travel there to perform a contract hit on Liquid and put an end to his machinations. It’s important to note that the villain we’re talking about here is actually Liquid Ocelot–Revolver Ocelot’s body with Liquid Snake’s attached arm and consciousness. So the bad guy will look like Ocelot, but there’s nothing of Ocelot left in there: The personality is 100 percent Liquid Snake. However, you’ll hear Ocelot’s voice actor delivering the English voice-over in the forthcoming TGS trailer and in the final game, so no more Cam Clarke here (sorry Ninja Turtles fans).

At any rate, Snake’s first objective on the ground in the Middle East was to meet up with a group of informants that have been tracking Liquid’s movements, which we found out through a dialogue scene with longstanding support character Otacon via codec transmission. The codec interface has come a long way since the minimal, 2D talking heads in the first MGS. Now, it’s been overhauled to show a video window of the speaker that takes up a much larger portion of the screen (though you don’t see Snake during codec scenes anymore). Otacon was sitting in a fully 3D-modeled room that we could move the camera around in a limited fashion, so you’ll get some visual context on where your codec buddies are physically located every time you talk to them. Another nice feature is that you can fast-forward by hitting the triangle button–complete with superfast dialogue delivery and sped-up animation. Then you can let off the button to let the conversation resume with full spoken dialogue. Payton confirmed that the lips will be synced to the audio in MGS4 rather than tuned by hand, so the lip sync should be much more believable in the English and other localized versions of the game.

To find the informants, we had to move down a length of streets and nearly demolished houses to reach the rendezvous point. You can watch that gameplay demo from July to essentially track our progress through the area, although like much of the game, this section had more than one path. For instance, in the starting area, we could move down the street itself on the left, but that route was blocked by a number of Praying Mantis soldiers and a large armored vehicle with a top-mounted gun turret (which Payton said will replace the security cameras of previous games). So we chose to break to the right to cut through some ruined buildings, which afforded us a number of crawlspaces and blast holes. In these areas, we could slink through and avoid most of the soldiers in the area.

So how does the game play? As mentioned, it’s different yet the same, in that the actions you perform–things like taking cover and pulling close-quarters combat moves on unsuspecting soldiers–are still in here. But the control methods you use to perform them are different and largely streamlined over past games. The “action” interface–that is, anything you make Snake do that isn’t combat-related–is now assigned solely to the triangle button. That ranges from climbing up ladders and vaulting over low barriers to simply walking up to a wall and taking cover against it (which you used to do by running Snake headfirst into the wall). Anytime there’s an available contextual action, you’ll get a small icon at the bottom indicating what you can do by hitting the triangle button. We saw one exception to this rule when Snake climbed into a garbage container, which puts you into first-person view: You’ll have to flick the Sixaxis upward forcefully to push the lid open and climb back out.

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