Metal Gear Solid 4 Updated Impressions
Director Kojima shows off 40 minutes of new gameplay and more at MGS4's press conference.
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TOKYO--With Metal Gear Solid 4's launch just a month away, Konami held a press conference in Japan to celebrate the game's completion. Half of the conference was about speeches and launch promotions, but with the event taking place in a cineplex, we also got to see a lot of game action on the big screen.
To make the cinema experience as real as possible, the press conference started off with a "No Smoking" MGS ad, followed by a few CGI-rendered commercials that were actually fake ads based on the Metal Gear Solid 4 world. It was an interesting way to start off the event because the ads were all supposed to be from the in-game Private Military Companies (PMCs), which subtly hints that they're a major power in the MGS4 world, even outside of the war zone.
Following the ads, the conference started off with MGS4's opening scene in the Middle East, which can be seen at MGS4's new official site together with the aforementioned ads. In the opening, Snake is seen riding on the back of a truck that's heading toward a war zone, and he's disguised in a robe to look just like the other civilian soldiers riding with him. He goes on a monologue about how the war is no longer about nations, ideologies, or ethnicities. It's become an endless series of proxy battles by hired mercenaries and machines, and the consumption of life has become a practical business in the world.
As Snake continues to talk about how the soldiers are completely controlled with nanomachines and ID-tagged weapons, he reaches the war zone and gets off the truck. He finds himself in crossfire as soon as he gets off, as the other soldiers around him are quickly picked off by well-equipped PMC mercenaries. Much to his misfortune, he finds that his gun is totally jammed before he even gets to make a shot, leaving him completely empty-handed. The game switched from the opening scene to gameplay at this point, which was impressively seamless and almost unnoticeable, had it not been for the life bar and other interfaces appearing on the screen.
Thereafter, the game seemed to function as a tutorial. As the unarmed Snake sneaks around the war zone to avoid confrontation, he finds a gun on the ground used by one of the civilian soldiers. As Snake picks up the gun, we heard the familiar voice of Otakon, telling Snake how to press the start button to open the game's menu and equip the weapon. Unlike weapons carried by the PMCs, the civilians' primitive arsenals aren't ID-tagged, so Snake can just pick them up and use them without problems.
As Snake moved forward, an elephant-like cry echoed through the sky, silencing the soldiers as they stopped shooting to figure out what was going on. After a few moments of dead silence, a hoard of Gekko units jumped from a far distance and suddenly landed in front of the soldiers, quickly killing them one by one. With Otakon telling Snake not to confront the killing machines, Snake evacuates into one of the buildings shown numerous times in previous game demos and trailers. There, he finds a cardboard box on the second floor, placed too obviously on the middle of the floor (the box ironically says "No place to hide" on one side, and "No place for Hideo" on the other). As Snake goes into hiding, two Gekkos reach the floor, search around, and decide to smash the box, causing red liquid to splatter all over the place. Fortunately, it turns out to be a bunch of watermelons rather than a mashed Snake. After the Gekkos go away, Snake powers off his camouflage and appears from the side of the room. The camera zooms in on Snake's face, Metal Gear Solid 4's logo appears onscreen, and the opening sequence ends there.
After a few words from Konami Digital Entertainment's president and director, Hideo Kojima, a fresh movie-like trailer was shown off, done completely in Hollywood style and narrated by a Don LaFontaine-like voice. The trailer featured new scenes such as Snake confronting Liquid Ocelot (and getting beaten up), a Metal Gear Ray jumping out of the water, and Snake mysteriously turning young. The trailer is viewable at MGS4's official site.
After the trailer, Kojima showed some live MGS4 gameplay and unveiled new information. The demonstration ran for about 40 minutes with an experienced staff playing the game, and Kojima mentioned that they're showing off only about one-fifteenth of the whole game.
First and foremost, Kojima revealed that, unlike any of the previous installments in the series, MGS4 will be chapter-based. Each chapter starts off with a scene in which the small, young heroine Sunny is frying eggs in her room. According to Kojima, the eggs allude to what will happen in each of the chapters, in the way that they're cracked or the way that they're fried.
Kojima showed off the first chapter, Act 1: Liquid Sun. The game started off in the same familiar area from the previous demos. Kojima explained the new changes to the game, such as the threat ring, which replaces the enemy location on the map from previous installments.
In MGS4, the area map can be displayed by pausing the game, though it doesn't show enemies. The map is rendered in 3D so it can be zoomed and rotated, giving you a more accurate judgment on the best course to take to reach a destination. Height seems to be a vital factor in MGS4, given that you can make use of building structures to evade enemy encounters.
As the game progressed, we saw the war zone changing; a vehicle sent in more PMC mercenaries, making situations worse for the civilian soldiers. It's up to you to decide whether to help the soldiers or stay neutral. For the sake of showing off to the press, Kojima decided to help them out and took out a few PMC mercenaries. He took one out by close-quarters combat and showed that your enemies can be hidden in lockers, just like in previous MGS games. He also showed that Snake could give items to the civilian soldiers and get stuff back in return. The game was played in hard mode, in which the enemies patrol in a team of two and wake up faster after they're stunned. Consequently, Kojima and his staff played carefully so as not to make any major mistakes while playing in front of the press. Kojima also took the opportunity to once again show that Snake can blend into the environment using his suit's Octo-cam capabilities. Once he blends, the pattern can be recorded for future use, which is great for gamers who like to keep a collection.
It's also worth mentioning that Kojima's team put in quite an effort to give details and a realistic feel to MGS4's world. A microphone speaker rang out in the middle of the war zone, broadcasting a PMC propaganda announcement. We were also shown the area with the statues where Snake can blend in by use of his Octo-cam. As a small Easter egg, Kojima showed that parts of the statue would eventually fall off if Snake keeps camouflaging and touching them.
As Snake went into a building, we once again saw the demo scene in which he meets up with Otakon's Metal Gear MKII for the first time. There, a small mech supplies him with some additional hardware to survive in the fierce battlefront: the Solid Eye, a gun called the Operator, and a tranquilizer gun. The Solid Eye has multiple functions and modes. It can be used to detect human emotion, detect enemy type, find items on the screen, uncover footsteps, as a telescope, and as a night goggle.
From here on, the Metal Gear MKII can also be controlled by the player. MKII is equipped with stealth camouflage, making it perfect for use in surveillance. It doesn't have any weapons, but it can stun enemies with electrocution wire.
During the dialogue scene, the screen suddenly buzzed like a broken TV when "Metal Gear" was mentioned by Otakon. Although we didn't get to see what it does, Kojima revealed that there's a flashback button that appears when something or someone from the past is mentioned during dialogue scenes. When the button is pressed, you get to see a glimpse of the past that's related to the subject.
After the scene ended, Kojima opened up the menu screen, which has a set of menus on the left side (Code, Weapons, Items, Camouflage, Drebin's Shop, Save), and the area map on the right. In particular, Kojima mentioned the new feature called the Sunny Camera. There's something that looks like a live webcam at the left bottom of the menu screen, and it shows what Sunny is doing in her room, 24 hours of the day.
Going back into the battlefield, Kojima showed that the civilian soldiers have a hideout in one of the houses, which looked pretty vacant and badly funded, with some wounded soldiers lying on the ground. We could hear dialogues between some of the soldiers, and they didn't attack Snake because he's an ally. According to Kojima, Snake can also move around in the hideout wearing the civilian-soldier robe that he starts off the game with, in which case the soldiers won't notice him even if he's made enemies with them.
Walking around a bit more in the hideout, Kojima picked up a Regain energy drink, which is a real-life product in Japan. It looks pretty yellow and gives a nice energy boost to Snake, kind of similar to the Calorie Mate snacks that were in MGS3.
What was more surprising was when Snake picked up an iPod music item in the hideout. In MGS4, Snake carries around an iPod player, and he can listen to music whenever he finds a new track in the game. The tracks can be run as background music while playing the game, and what's more, when the game is paused to the menu screen, you can see Sunny dancing to the tune on the Sunny Camera.
It turns out that Konami is doing a bunch of collaborations with multiple companies in MGS4, including Triumph Motorcycles, Sony Ericsson, and Ubisoft. Triumph already collaborated with Konami on MGS3 (Eva rode one of their bikes), and it's going to happen once again. Sony Ericsson's phone is used by Vamp and Naomi during the game. Later during the conference, we were shown an impressive scene in which Vamp just wouldn't let go and stop talking on his phone, even though Snake shoots him in the middle of his forehead. Considering Ubisoft, the Assassin's Creed Altair-style robe that Snake wore in an April Fools MGS4 video on YouTube will actually be an unlockable feature.
Taking the stairs and walking up the hideout, we saw the scene in which Snake meets up with a hairless, gray monkey and the mysterious arms dealer named Drebin, who sells PMC weapons that have been ID-tag unlocked. We were shown an extended dialogue scene in which Drebin reveals that there are weapon launderers all over the world. "Drebin" is a generic name used by all of them, with him being the 893rd Drebin.
The scene continues as Drebin gives a complimentary gun to Snake in token of his new acquaintanceship. After checking to see that there's nothing suspicious with it, Snake pulls the trigger and finds out that it doesn't work. Puzzled, Drebin realizes the possibility that Snake might have an old-generation nanomachine inside his body, which can sometimes clash with even unlocked ID-tagged weapon systems. Snake, suspicious of how Drebin could have such knowledge, questions who he really is. Instead of keeping himself secret, Drebin reveals that his main job is as an employee for Arms Tech Security, which gives him access to ID-tag chips before they get registered. He also mentions that Arms Tech has two faces, just like how Snake isn't officially a soldier in the battlefield, though he's not a civilian either.
After the scene, Kojima went back to the battlefront and used his newly acquired weapon to shoot down a few PMC mercenaries. He also showed how weapons could be customized or newly purchased through the Drebin Shop option from the menu screen. For instance, you can add on a laser sight or a suppressor to a gun, or purchase a sniper rifle if an enemy's too far away. Customization and purchases are all done with Drebin Points, which can be acquired by picking up equipment and weapons in battle. On some days, the Drebin Shop has discounts.
Kojima showed off a few weapons that can be purchased from Drebin's Shop, including a M60E4 machine gun. There was also an XM25 airburst grenade launcher, which lets you adjust the distance of travel before the explosion for an accurate hit to the target.
In the closing of his presentation, Kojima showed off what he called the "ultimate weapon" that is available in Drebin's Shop. For a whopping one million Drebin Points, which should take about three to four loops through the game to accumulate, you can buy a classic Japanese Tanegashima muzzle-loaded firearm. The weapon seemed to be the most impractical firearm in this day and age, with Snake having to painstakingly push a ramrod into the gun's barrel for each reload. However, Kojima showed that, every once in a while, the gun would cause a massive typhoon, annihilating everyone in sight and making items drop all over the screen like rainfall.
After the end of the live gameplay demonstration, Kojima talked briefly about plans for a "Metal Gear Solid 4 World Tour," during which he and his staff will travel around the world to meet up with fans of the series. The tour locations include London; Madrid, Spain; Milan, Italy; Frankfurt, Germany; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Paris; New York; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.
One of the surprises at the press conference came at the very end. As the lights dimmed out for the event to end, a one-way dialogue very similar to the endings in the MGS games took place, hinting at some sort of worldwide live event and a sequel, though it was too vague to make any assumptions.
"Yes, the presentation event has ended. Everything is according to plan."
"We will proceed to the final steps of the mission. The surprise that's planned on launch date, should it be executed?
"Yes. Akihabara, New York, LA...worldwide live broadcast. Yes, there are no problems. The VIP has agreed to come. Yes, that's correct. That person. Understood. June 12."
"And what should we do about that project? Yes, that's right. That man has shattered, but...about the sequel. Yes. Yes... I see. That's understood, Mr. Company President."