Metal Gear Solid 4 is a game designed to make it difficult to stop playing. The mechanics are much more addiction based than previous games in the series, specifically the ability to find and buy weapons. Metal Gear Solid 4 features a looting system, where every enemy you kill drops either a new gun or an amount of cash, which can be used to buy new weapons. Additionally, new weapons and ammo are scattered much more liberally than in previous Metal Gear games. In the original Metal Gear Solid, for instance, you couldn’t miss a gun, because they were all necessary and in the path of progress. In Metal Gear Solid 4, there are a million guns, and while you don’t have to pass your time finding them, who’s going to turn down a rocket launcher?
This is, perhaps, one of the poorest game design choices I’ve ever seen.
Japanese development tends to have a kitchen sink approach to game design: if something was made, it has to be in the game, and the player really ought to see it. Metal Gear Solid 4 is like that. By adding a loot system, all corners of the map are going to be explored, because exploration now comes with a reward. It’s not about seeing the pretty sights. It’s about finding new guns, or money to be used to buy that amazing rail gun from Drebin, the game’s store.
The flaw in Metal Gear Solid 4 is that there’s no reason for you to be exploring these levels. Snake goes from being a badass special operative on a sneaking mission to an explorer who kills everyone with his utterly overpowered guns and searches every corner of every level to find loot.
How do you get this gun? You explore levels. Or, rather, you buy it, from the merchant, with money you got by killing every enemy. Most scenes in act one, in fact, revolve around Snake helping one side of an army fight its way up a street. The enemy can, inexplicably, spot you, even though that makes no sense; you’re in a war zone, so shouldn’t they be expecting you? It’s not like you’re special or anything, as far as a random PMC soldier sees.
I was discussing the stealth in the game with someone (who’s actually playing the game; I’m watching it more literally than most people, though I played the first two chapters myself) and what we realized was that the only reason to be stealthy in this game is to play it the right way. You’re not rewarded for being stealthy and not killing anyone: in fact, you’re penalized for it. There are places, in fact, where you can’t be stealthy: your options are kill everyone or get shot a lot while you run through the war zone.
Here’s the problem with money in Metal Gear Solid: it’s monetizing failure. If I had a nickel for every time I ran out into enemy sight to pick up 1000 Drebin points of guns, I’d have enough money to buy something pretty nice. Furthermore, when you’re giving chase to someone, you’re encouraged, by the monetization of guns, to explore, and take your time, rather than follow the necessary path.
Metal Gear Solid was an intense game. It made you feel like, you know, there was something like a time constraint. You couldn’t futz around indefinitely. Well, I mean, you could, but there was absolutely no reason to. There was no benefit. Here, you could sit around with the alert on, killing waves of respawning enemies, grinding money. It’s an irony, in fact: Snake possessing infinite ammo (you can buy more) and having absurdly overpowered guns necessitated respawning enemies, which made grinding, and the possession of even more overpowered guns, possible.
Simply put, Metal Gear Solid 4 is an action game. There’s the long and short of it. Sure, you’re stealthy, but there’re very few situations solved better with stealth than with overwhelming violence, and that’s a shame.
And that says nothing of the other parts of the game. But that’s another post.