We caught a live demo of Metal Gear Solid 4 at Konami's recent 20th anniversary party commemorating the franchise's longevity. Though the demo was similar to Kojima's earlier presentation of the game at a Sony event last week, it afforded us the opportunity to do a bit of dissecting. We picked up on a number of subtle elements in the game's presentation and gameplay mechanics that have left us intrigued.
The first standout was Snake's animation, which features a number of variations. Some of these are tied specifically to his new moves, and some were put in to help him move more fluidly. Crouched running, the ability to flip onto your back while crawling on your belly (to facilitate shooting fools behind you), and the ability to hang from a ledge all add to your evasive options while playing. They also feed into a system that we like to call the Agile Grumpy Old Man system (or A.G.O.M. for short). Gout, arthritis, and rheumatism be damned, Snake moves like greased (albeit occasionally creaky) lightning in the demo. We have mixed emotions about some of the frisking animations, but punching someone in the junk certainly qualifies as grumpy enough.
The second intriguing gameplay element that caught our eye is the circle that appears around Snake at all times during gameplay. In speaking with Konami reps, it sounds as though it's something players will come to use as a gauge of your surroundings, since it reacts to sounds and activity. As such, it will offer useful (and sometimes key) feedback about your surroundings based on its appearance.
We're also intrigued by the various camera options in the game, be it the standard view we expected, or the new first-person view. In some cases, the action appeared to have a camera that's almost too dynamic, making it a challenge to get your bearings, though it's nice to have so many options. Snake's little remote-controlled Metal Gear is also an interesting mechanic that might make for some unique combat solutions.
As far as the visuals go, the game continues to look better, although we're starting to get tired of the same town environment we've been seeing since the game was first unveiled. Still, the level of detail and interactivity is cool. Snake's various camouflages are rendered nicely and factor into gameplay in some very interesting ways. Particle and smoke effects are all nicely done and all add to the chaos, especially when structures are taken down. There is some of the expected performance weirdness, but we're still hopeful the frame rate will be solidified for the game's release.
There's no doubt that Metal Gear Solid 4 will be one of the most scrutinized PlayStation 3 games when it ships early next year. Given what we've seen and the team working on it, we're going to say that it has a very good chance of being able to stand up to that scrutiny. Kojima Productions is doing some interesting stuff with the gameplay, and the visuals are pretty slick, so we certainly like what we've seen so far. Look for more on Metal Gear Solid 4 later this year at Tokyo Game Show and in the months leading up to its 2008 release.