Progress: I made it to Act 1 – Urban Ruins (4th of 8 parts to Act 1)
This is the first video game I’ve played since slicing open my left index finger on May 15. I had to abandon my GTA game play and diary to let my finger heal. It isn’t fully back to normal again (still can’t feel anything above the knuckle on my left index finger) but I couldn’t wait to give MGS4 a try.
I wrote this first diary entry mostly in real time as I played through the initial scenes of the game.
My Limited MGS Experience
The only prior experience I’ve had with the Metal Gear Solid franchise is when I played a couple levels of MGS 2: Substance on the original Xbox. What I recollect from that experience was that the cut scenes were spectacular and the game was, to me, unplayable. It had a clumsy over-head camera mechanic. There was a handicapped first person view that only allowed you to look around when you were stopped. You couldn’t shoot or move in that view. After a couple levels I gave up in frustration.
From everything I’ve heard about MGS4 (and I’ve heard, read and watched a lot over the years) it has been revamped into a thoroughly modern stealth, shooter. I guess we’ll see.
So here we go.
Opening Cut Scene, Err,What The?
I know the MGS series is known to be quirky, but what the heck was up with that first scene. I won’t ‘spoil’ it but I guarantee you, you’d never expect that from this game! When I restarted the game (see below) I got a totally different opening, err, advertisement/documentary, that had absolutely nothing to do with the game as far as I could tell. Odd, really odd!
[Update: I now understand that these are in-game advertisements to join the Paramilitary Corporations “PMCs”). Part of the game’s ‘war economy” fiction. They are slick.]
RTFM! – I Read the Manual – Well at Least the First Few Pages
I initially did exactly what I was warned not to do. I tried playing the game without consulting the manual. After enjoying the opening bits, I was lost in the Prologue. I couldn’t get Snake to pick up a weapon (or so I thought – see below). So I turned to the manual. Page 7 of the manual ‘suggests’ completing the “Virtual Range” and the “Mission Briefing” before attempting to play the game. So I did.
If this is the suggested approach, one wonders why the on-screen menu doesn’t guide you in that direction? And why would they not insert the first mission briefing into the game automatically. Or do they? Grrr…
The virtual range is similar to the virtual training screen in Assassin’s Creed. I did figure out a few basics but what I learned from it was that I really wasn’t doing anything wrong. Either there was a glitch in my game (see below) or the game just wants you to be confused during the Prologue.
[Update: I also realized on day 2 that the Virtual Range can be used to practice Close Quarters Combat (“CQC”). An important skill. Why the Virtual Range doesn’t tell you that or suggest things you can/should try I don’t know. It just provides a virtual reality world for you to play in with on explanation of why or how.]
First Mission Briefing
Bring along a bowl of popcorn because the first mission briefing is about 10 minutes long. Part way through the mission briefing a CNN-style scroller comes up under the mission briefing describing what the controls do (pretty much what the manual tells you if you read it). That got me off to a decent good re-start.
Back Into the Game I Go
The first thing I noticed when playing was the outstanding graphics and sound. This is definitely a game best played on an HD system with Dolby surround sound. The visual and sound quality are even better than those in Naughty Dog’s Drake’s Fortune – the reigning king of quality on the PS3.
Snake (played by David Hayter) sounds like Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.
Missing Items and Weapons – Glitch or Game Design?
[Update: I’m leaving this “Glitch or Game Design” section in because others may experience the same “glitches” – Ha! :). Turns out there’s no glitch. There’s an entire item and weapon inventory system (Press “Start” then select Weapons or Items as necessary) where you swap items/weapons in and out) that I wasn’t aware of for the first several hours of the game. Everything I had picked up, but was unable to use/find, was right there in that inventory waiting for me to use. Ugh!]
Can’t Pick Up Weapons in Prologue: The first time I was able to control Snake I couldn’t pick up a gun. The game graphics looked like he picked up a gun but the gun did not appear in my inventory. Snake was holding his arms as if he had a rifle in his hands but there was none. This is why I stopped the game and turned to the manual. After restarting the game the same thing happened. I got through this part without guns anyway. I gather this was what was intended. I hope it wasn’t a bug.
Picked-up Items Not in Inventory: During the first level of the game as I shook-down NPCs I picked up (or thought I did) many grenades and different gun types that never appeared in my inventory. At one point I picked up a rocket launcher that I really could have used but it wasn’t available in my inventory.
Possible Reason: The game suggests that enemy weapons (ID guns) are locked and can’t be used (at least not without a code or key). Perhaps that applies to grenades as well. I thought it only applied to the PMC weapons and not weapons from fellow militia-men. If this is the case it took me quite awhile to figure out.
Cinematics/Quality of Visuals
But holy Bazooka, the in-game cinematography, is almost CGI quality. Very, very well done. For the first mission you transition between controlling snake and the game controlling Snake several times. It’s a bit disconcerting to have the game wrest control from you if you don’t move along as they want, but it was a terrific show to watch the first time through.
Act 1 – Liquid Sun
Now I’m more confused, it looked like the mission briefing I accessed above was supposed to be inserted between the end of the Prologue and the beginning of the first mission. I saw the sunny-side-up eggs again but not the rest of the briefing. I have no idea if I’m doing this right.
1 Hour Before Game Play Begins
I’m now about 1 hour in, I’ve watched a whole lot and controlled Snake for only about 3 minutes. Let the games begin.
The game encourages and rewards stealth. I’m naturally a stealthy player. So I’m liking the first level a lot so far.
Militia-Men Firing At Me
I thought that if you worked with the militia-men they won’t kill you. So far they are all shooting at me all the time. I don’t recall ever killing one of them. But then again I’m not 100% sure. I never shot at the guys with blue letters. [Update: Turns out both sides have blue letter names, See Diary Entry #2]
Hints and Tips
Press X and L1 During Cut Scenes: Every once and awhile during a cut-scene you’ll see an orange X in the top right or an L1 in the top left of the screen. Press the indicated button when you see it to get some sort of hidden image (probably images from prior MGS games) similar to how Cortana kept interrupting us during the Halo 3 campaign. I don’t really know the purpose. It seems interesting. I missed this for the first bit.
Read the Manual (see above): As lame as this sounds, it REALLY helps for the first few levels of the game. The game itself doesn’t teach you much. You might be a bit surprised at what that ‘threat ring’ is about. It’s not what I thought it was. See page 19 of the manual.
Nits, Complaints, Rants
Clumsy/Sluggish Close-Up Gun Fights: I’m a bit worried about this. I’ve played too many Splinter Cell games with the same problems. When you trip the alarm and the troops are shooting at you from all directions, Snake is hardly like Master Chief. He turns and moves way to sluggishly in close in combat. I’m taking hits from all directions with little agility to properly respond. This leads to a bit of a farce. I survived this because I’ve collected 7 ration kits that automatically regenerate my health and keep me alive through what should have been death many times over. But I just keep whirling about shooting until they are all dead and nobody else comes. I suppose auto-aim would make this less an issue but I refuse to use auto-aim. The shine is off the apple already.
No User Selectable Save Points: This is always an issue for me. The game chooses when it will save. I haven’t played enough yet to assess whether there are enough save points. If they are too few and far between, that’ll be a game killer for me, as it always is.
Hurry-Up & Wait: Why must the game stop every time during the load process to remind me not to switch off the PS3 system when the game is saving? One or two reminders should be enough. Argh!!!
Press Start to Continue: This frustrated me in Resistance and is frustrating me again in MGS4. Every time a new level loads it asks you to press “Start” to start. Well, damn it, I wouldn’t have asked it to load the next level if I didn’t want it to start now would I? Argh. Another PS3 convention that angers me.
Inversion Aversion: I play all games with the Y access inverted. In most games, the option screens asked you once if you want the Y axis inverted. In the MGS4 options screen there are three, count’m three, options that have to be set to invert the Y access. And even after you’ve set all possible options to inverted, there is no way to invert the controls that manipulate the in-game map. Grrr!
Note to Sony: On the 360, there is a global inversion option that can be set which all games use. Once set, the player need NEVER fuss with inversion options again – in any 360 game. Sony, please implement this feature on your console soon.
No Jumping: Once again, Halo has spoiled me. I don’t like it when games don’t allow you to jump up onto things that any normal human could jump on.
Despite some frustrations (the close-up gun fighting being the worst) this game is shaping up to be possibly better than the very good Resistance Fall of Man. I like stealth games a lot. Or at least the idea of them. Despite all of Ubisoft’s attempts, they never got it right in the Splinter Cell franchise. Based on what I’ve experienced so far, I’m cautiously optimistic that MGS4 will be a good game. The graphics, cinematics and sound are certainly best in class.