A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this game is part of the Metal Gear franchise, which spans several games, books, comics, soundtrack CDs, and toys. It ' a violent and decidedly mature game featuring extensive and bloody gunplay and knife fights, as well as glamorized use of tobacco, romantic topics, and some profanity. However, the game's primary theme is one of pacifism. Its multitudinous narrative sequences include ruminations on the world's conflicts, lamentations on our culture's war-like mentality, and even touch on complex issues such as the problem of developed nations relying on arms-based economies. The philosophical nature of the game puts it in contrast with most other titles in the military action genre, which often make war and soldiering out to be alluring.
What's it about?
METAL GEAR SOLID 4: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS is purportedly the final adventure for the tactical espionage action series' eponymous hero, Solid Snake. Though it takes place not long after the events of previous games, our grizzled, philosophical poet-warrior appears much older, due to an unidentified affliction causing him to age rapidly. His final mission sees him tracking down his old nemesis, Liquid Ocelot, while coming to terms with an unfamiliar world in which private military companies wage wars on behalf of corporations and nanotechnology augments the abilities of its soldiers. Between the lengthy and numerous cut scenes, players engage in the sort of third-person action for which the series is famous as they sneak about trying accomplish mission objectives and take part in the occasional all-out gun battle.
The Metal Gear Solid games have always been about good storytelling, and, unsurprisingly, the same is true about the series' fourth entry. Players will find they spend just as much time watching the game as they do playing it. Lengthy cut scenes that either show off Hollywood-style action choreography or feature characters elaborating upon the intricate MGS4 mythos pop up every few minutes throughout the game, making it feel, like its predecessors, more akin to an interactive movie than a typical shooter or stealth game. But that's no reason to avoid it. In fact, it could be viewed as the primary reason to play. The game's characters -- primarily our disillusioned hero -- have a depth rarely seen in video games. What's more, the game's story, unlike those of other popular shooters and stealth games, has a smart and important message about the evils of war and the difficulties involved in bringing about peace. It stops short of making any particularly shocking observations -- it feels less like Syriana and more like Political Science 101--but it's still quite satisfying to play a big budget game that attempts to tackle such complex and socially relevant issues.
Is it any good?
As for the actual game, it's one of the most polished action experiences available for any platform. From the tiny manufacturer's print legible on soldiers' weapons and uniforms to the video-realistic animations of the game's characters, it's a stunning visual achievement. Graphics aside, the play is refined and highly addictive. New gear includes Snake's Octocamo suit, which turns the same color and texture of any object he leans up against, the Metal Gear Mark.II (a little robot companion that Snake can take control of to scout new areas and interface with colleagues), and the Solid Eye, which covers Snake's left peeper and provides players with night vision, zooming capabilities, and a smart heads-up display that identifies enemies and objects. Getting a feel for the relatively complex controls can be tricky, but an innovative instruction manual that walks players through the game's first mission via instructive comic book panels helps ease players new to the series into game's idiosyncratic mechanics. The sophisticated 16-player squad-based online mode is just the icing on the cake. PlayStation 3 hasn't had much in the way of exclusive mega-games up until now, but Metal Gear Solid 4 fills that void nicely.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how effective the video game format is at tackling such complex societal issues as war and the politics that drive world conflicts. Do the game's extensive story sequences do an adequate job of identifying and examining these problems? Do you appreciate having a "message" in the games you play, or would you prefer that they stick to action? How would you rate Metal Gear Solid 4 compared to other mature shooting and stealth games that focus more on action than story?
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