Monday, May 11, 2009

Snake Is Out of Control - Redux

(This is a post I wrote for another website, however it's still so relevant to me, I decided to remaster it.)

Ocasionally, I wonder if I complain too much.

I try to balance it out with some good vibes every so often, but..I cannot help myself. When my brain sends me the "bad design" signal, my fingers immediately act on impulse and begin working.

Even the complaint itself is more than a little late, I know... but I eventually received a PS3 as a gift some months ago, and of course, my first title had to be MGS4, the system's true killer app.

After the initial 8 minute install (the end of which, Snake taunts my patience with his infamous "kept you waiting" line), I was ready to jump in, and jump in, I did.

For the first hour or so of play, everything is glorious. The visuals are solid, but not extraordinary, the sound is enveloping and immersive, and the controls take a bit getting used to, but are undeniably Metal Gear. As I snuck around, narrowly avoiding enemies and disabling others with a flick of my knife, I was sated. I was a sneaking machine, and every movement I made, for the most part, traveled cleanly from brain to controller to screen.


Then I met up with Rat Patrol, Meryl's ragtag, yet capable squad. A debriefing and information dump later, the Frogs were unleashed, a full on close-quarters firefight started, and it all fell apart.

Initial impression upon entering battle -- Snake is not built for gunfights.


During a cutscene, Snake is practically infallible, a well oiled combat machine who survives insurmountable odds--even in his old age. He's sharp, agile, quick witted, and most importantly, effective. Watching Snake do what he does best during a cutscene is nothing short of impressive, and one of the many reasons I look forward to putting the controller down and watching him go.

My Snake is nowhere near as effective.

Under my control, Snake is a mess. He moves much too slow, cannot find cover for the life of himself, and has difficulty aiming his weapon. When he isn't stuck awkwardly attempting to fire around a corner, he's standing straight up in the middle of a firefight, as if he were oblivious to the presence of bullets. His transitions aren't smooth. His body language doesn't scream that of a hero.


In my opinion, MGS was never truly about action, it was about stealth, and Snake's gunfight prowess during gameplay, I felt, was gimped the way it was in order to put an emphasis on sneaking. You could fight, but only so effectively, and it simply felt better to conquer an area with your wits instead of your firearms. However, MGS4 wants me to disregard that and engage me in wide open firefights using the SAME archaic battle system that inexplicably has roots in MGS2, despite being loaded with new commands and battle options.


Unfortunately, In the four years it took for MGS4 to come out, I've been treated to such gems as G.R.A.W., Gears of War , Rainbow Six Vegas, and Uncharted all games that have a sound, intuitive cover mechanic at their core. Even Niko in GTA4 will slide behind anything in the game world within reason. This makes it that much harder to accept that when I come into contact with a waist high structure in MGS4, I can't take cover behind it unless the game says I can. I can crouch behind it, or go prone, but doing so only looks and feels awkward, as if I'm taunting my enemies by showing off my moveset.

Then to make matters worse, popping out from behind cover is a chore in itself. To my dismay, I found I can only peek out from the left or right of whichever structure I'm leaning against. To do something as simple as fire over an object, I have to unstick myself from cover, stand straight up, fire off a few rounds, then crouch again and restick myself. Why can't I simply aim over cover, and have him crouch back down smoothly? Even a seemingly thoughtless action like switching aiming shoulders requires me to unstick myself, switch shoulders, then restick myself into cover. I have to disengage myself from behind cover so often to function it makes me wonder why the option even exists. Manipulating Snake feels almost like work, and I literally have to unlearn about two years of good cover mechanics across various games in order to come to grips with this.

This isn't revolution, or evolution. This is just lazy. While I appreciate Kojima Productions taking note of what everyone has been clamoring for and injecting a bit of war into Snake's repertoire, what's in place here is completely counterintuitive. Gears of War showed everyone what a great cover system could be and excelled at it, here, it feels like an afterthrought. There's a way to bring intense, group firefights into MGS, but I don't feel this was the right route at all. Even having finished the game, I still feel like it could've been much smoother. It's even something that gets in the way of me playing Metal Gear Online, given that the entire mode is based around multiplayer combat using this exact same system. I'm sure it's a great deal of fun, but you may have a better chance of getting me to play Resident Evil 5's Versus mode; multiplayer featuring characters who can't move and shoot at the same time.

Feel free to call me a "n00b" and an inexperienced hack, but just keep in mind that even if YOU have come to grips with and completely mastered this flawed control scheme, that doesn't necessarily mean it's too perfect for improvement. There are videos on YouTube of people completely destroying Sonic 2006 despite what a train wreck we all know that game to be.

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