Monday, June 22, 2009

Metal Gear Solid 4: No surprises here

I've been sitting on a couple of my Gamefly games for several months now. It's really quite frustrating because at this point my rental fees are more than the used game price of Starwars: Force Unleashed and Metal Gear Solid 4. Anyhow, they're both going back in the mail tomorrow.

I talked about SFU in a previous post. I basically got stuck about an hour or so into the game and wasn't compelled enough by the game to a walkthru and continue on.

I tried MGS4 for several hours over the weekend and lost interest as well. Truth be told, I've never been able to get into this series: There are too many movies and not enough game play for my liking. Although I imagine that many diehard fans of the IP really enjoyed the 8 minute long movie of Snake smoking a cigarette while some bizarro install process took place (I hope this isn't where console gaming is heading), it left me mostly frustrated and bored.

In terms of core game play, MGS4 was simply too convoluted and frustrating for a relative newb to the IP. The control scheme was overly complex, and not layered on or paced in ways that made it fun (or possible) to learn:
  • There were no opportunities to practice core game play controls and mechanics in safety.
  • Too many movies broke up the opportunity to rehearse and master controls.
  • Controls were not layered on in any sensible way (e.g., start with one or two items, then slowly add more items of the same category, and then new categories of items). I never really understood how to use any of my "items" and found my weapons hard to equip and aim.
  • The stealth game play HUD seemed even more complex than the one in Assassin's Creed. I was never sure what the various color codings of my Stealth Gauge meant, nor could I understand how the health bar depleted or what changes in Snake's stress level meant.
These issues were compounded by frustrating UI and game flow:
  • I could never figure out how to set my camera correctly. There were three places to select vertical camera (invert or normal) and I could not figure out a way to get my in-game camera to be inverted while NOT also inverting the map-scroll camera. And, yes, I did try all 8 permutations (3 binary choices).
  • Although almost all UI options did have help text, the help text was inevitably jargonistic and not very helpful in terms of explaining what changes to each option meant.
  • The "Drebin Store" UI hurt my brain in multiple ways. It was unclear what the "receipt" option did, how I could sell off equipment to get points to purchase new equipment, and what the various highlight colors referred to.
  • The minimap was quite confusing: It contained a large arrow (which did not denote the direction you needed to go in), a red marker (which did not indicate enemy presence), and a hard to read "N" (which was supposedly the north compass point).
  • Weapon and item selection was confusing. I tried to choose the "cycle" option, assuming that tapping the shoulder button would cycle me through available weapons/items. Nope. I couldn't figure out what that option actually did, so selecting the weapon/item I wanted to equip was a constant chore.
The game clearly recognized that users would have problems with learning and mastering the game. As such, it provided a log of helpful descriptions you could read about things you could do in the game (usually involving a lot of holding L1 and pressing R2 it seemed). The problem is that these hints were not context sensitive and thus weren't taught and practiced when players needed to acquire these skills in game.

The game also provided a training mode where you could walk around and shoot silhouetted targets. There didn't seem to be much of a purpose to the mode -- it didn't have scenarios that helped teach tactics and strategies, emphasized differences amongst the various weapons, or provided opportunities to learn more about the use of camoflauge and subterfuge (like dropping a Playboy magazine in the right place to distract a guard).

The final nail in the coffin for me was the fact that save game did not work at all like I would have expected. You could save anywhere, which seemed great. However, whenever you died you would be taken back to the last auto-saved checkpoint. Frustrating? You betcha!

I've played (and worked on) Japanese games with bizarre story lines and plot twists. I tend to like some of the RPGs (as long as they have fun turn-based combat) and some of the action adventures (as long as they are more similar to God of War and Otogi and less similar to Tenchu Z). But I just can't seem to get into the MGS series, or for that matter, the Devil May Cry or Resident Evil series. I can understand the promise and appeal of these games, but they just don't seem to play in ways that I enjoy.

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