If it was up to creator Hideo Kojima to expound the merits of his masterpiece you'd be in for a verbose, probably boring -- and most certainly unplayable -- account. Thankfully, we will do our best to provide a terse study of Joystiq's runner-up to Game of the Year 2008. So then, what makes MGS4 so darn special?
Short answer: MGS4 is really strange. It's not that the game's strangeness isn't apparent to a casual player or newcomer -- just peep the truly bizarre opening: an obnoxious in-game ad (or is it?) followed by live-action fried eggs. But, and this brings us back to our cliché, to a video game lifer (a "gamer"), MGS4 is not unlike -- dare we mention -- a reader cracking open a postmodern novel for the first time. That is to say, MGS4 experiments with previously unknown possibilities of the medium (you know, it's "innovative"), while sticking to some established conventions. Perhaps it's true brilliance, though, is in its ability to present itself as distinctly ordinary. One could play through MGS4 from beginning to end, doze through the hours of cut scenes, and come away fulfilled, having played one helluva action game.
Here's another cliché: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is an onion. This game has layers. It's a rabbit hole. (There we go again ... ) It's difficult to characterize MGS4 in short-answer format -- without singling out each detail. A good suggestion, then, is just that: examine the details. There's an aching old man who's hip enough to sport an iPod and still sharp enough to steal an up-skirt peek (did you press L1 fast enough?). There's war -- changed, but still the same. A sweeping geo-socio-political discourse not quite on the level of Jared Diamond's Pulitzer Prize winner, Guns, Germs, and Steel, not nearly as organized (or based on real evidence) either, but, nonetheless, provocative enough to fuel a thoughtful dinner conversation. There are literal ghosts visible through the appropriate lens of a soldier stalking through the past. And there are ghosts that really aren't ghosts at all. There's love and revenge and redemption, spun together in a typical twist. And too many clones and government conspiracies to possibly keep track of (hence the companion database).
There are guns (lots of guns!), epic boss battles, insane challenges, insane polygon counts, a moving score (of the musical variety -- and there are game stats, too), a life-size microwave oven, pooped-in pants, hidden "idols" and photo shoots, cynical product placement, a monkey in a Mylar diaper, fourth wall-breaking references and -- enough! -- you get the point. With heads swirling, one thought is clear:
We really gotta play this game. One. More. Time.
Next: And so our story ends.