Imagine yourself, surrounded by hundreds, nay thousands of people, bustling about. A constant murmur rings in the background, as the sounds of endless explosions, gunfire, and bouncy anime music intertwine in a cacophony of disarray. Finally, come to the grasp that you must navigate a complex game in a language which you are completely unfamiliar with. It was under these extraneous circumstances that we've come to play Metal Gear Solid 4 on the Tokyo Game Show floor, having survived the hours-long wait for a brief time with Hideo Kojima's latest.
Simply thrown into the game was a daunting challenge, one that borders on insurmountable. Once again, Snake has an incredible variety of moves at his disposal -- and he must use them in order to survive the challenges at hand. Metal Gear Solid 4 is far from the most intuitive game we've played, and unguided play didn't lead to much success in the battlefield. It's clear that, in spite of its warlike setting, the game remains true to its "tactical espionage" roots. Stealth is highly rewarded, and bravado will usually lead to some trialling battles that undoubtedly end in death. For example, a tank will be able to gun down Old Snake in all but a few seconds: sneaking past the tank, and the troops that support it, is essential for mere survival. Navigating through the environments felt natural, and the context-sensitive icons that appear at the bottom of the screen are certainly a refreshing addition. Snake will be able to walk, crouch and crawl with relative ease, and with the improved camera, navigating the environment has become far easier. The box and barrel, in which Snake can hide, both appear in the TGS demo, and give Snake a few options in remaining hidden in the environment.
But, it's not like Snake will be helpless in the face of combat. Old Snake still has access to his CQC moves, and when faced with enemies one on one, they'll likely face a quick death. The gunplay has been improved, though. The game's over the shoulder mode feels natural, allowing Snake to move and shoot at the same time. The targeting reticule is surprisingly intelligent, indicating when objects and walls get in the course of your shot. Although some may be able to play MGS4 as a quasi-FPS game, the number of enemies will make that a daunting challenge.
While we need a lot more time and familiarization with the game before making any judgment, we can say that the game pays a lot of attention to detail. For what purpose is unclear. For example, in the map, not only will Snake be able to see his location and his goal, but he'll also get temperature and wind information. Extraneous? Or is it a vital part of the gameplay? In addition, we noticed a stress meter at the top left corner, under Snake's energy bar. It rises fairly slowly, but steadily. Once again: what are the consequences of high stress. Certainly, something we're intrigued by.
The feeling of being part of a battlefield is certainly one of Metal Gear Solid 4's greatest strengths. It may look very different from previous titles in the franchise, but it stays true to the overall feel of the series. Enemies will react in a very animated manner, as in previous titles, and humorous modes of play remind the player that this isn't an overly stern discussion on war -- it's a video game, and it's meant to be fun. The presentation seems vastly improved in this new iteration: the menus are clean and sleek, and subtle effects, such as the static that appears in your screen when hit, give the game a nice visual edge.
There's a lot more to be seen of Metal Gear Solid 4. Hopefully, it won't be too long until Kojima Productions provides English language native speakers a chance to play, and maybe even fully understand, the new ideas found in such an ambitious project.