Faceoff! Gears of War vs Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
I admit that I wasn’t sure how to approach this weeks edition of Faceoff. For the most part, I conceived this feature as a way to bring back fun debate between our favorite games. In the current gaming climate, however, it’s hard to have such discussions when everything can be construed as a flamebait for the increasingly frustrating and annoying console war. Fanboys fuel it, but even the gaming media itself have become party to feeding the ravaging fanboys that thirst for the blood of their hated console.
I’m not going to pretend that I don’t know that Gears of War and Metal Gear Solid 4 are practically poster children for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 respectively. Of course they are. They are two shining examples of what those machines are capable of. This comparison, however, is not about the Xbox 360 vs the Playstation 3, but of two 3rd person shooters with very distinct takes on the genre, with both influencing the other in some ways. With that said, I hope that this article/opinion piece brings more positive, fun discussion, instead of brutal hatred and vitriol. Now, let Faceoff begin!
Gears of War – I have to say that if I was 10 years old, and this was the 80’s again, Gears of War’s “meathead with guns” take on alien warfare would be right up my alley. The game subscribes to the philosophy that heroes need to be larger than life, badass with bulging biceps, massive space armor, necks as thick as tree trunks, and voices that sound like they eat glass for breakfast, and shit diamonds for lunch. In short, they are ripped straight out of Arnold Schwarzeneggers “Predator,” or any action movie of the 80’s. This is neither good nor bad, but you can’t go into Gears thinking that you will be getting a gripping tale of drama, complicated plots, and emotional resonance. It’s an action movie. Blockbuster fair, pure and simple, and it does this well.
The story revolves around a group of soldiers tasked with aiding in the human’s opposition of the Locust, a badass alien race bent on wiping out any and everything that gets in their way of galactic domination. Players assume the role of Marcus Fenix, who is sprung from a prison and thrown into the thick of the action with his new partner, Dom. Together, the two of them, as well as group of ragtag badasses kill, chainsaw, and grenade horde after horde of Locust monstronsities, that aren’t just your average, humanoid grunts, but even colossal, towering beasts that must be taken down with more than just a pop gun.
And well, that’s about it, really. The characters don’t progress beyond the cliches and stereotypes of the genre, and they lack the depth and nuance to even attempt a personal connection with them. And I suppose the fact that the characters look like they stepped off of the cover of a bodybuilding magazine doesn’t help much with player connection. Like I said before, you don’t go into Gears of War expecting Shakespeare. Besides, do you really need more motivation to kill creepy aliens other than, well, “kill the creepy aliens?”
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots – On the flip side, the Metal Gear Solid franchise is revered (and in many cases, reviled), for it’s heavy, complex, often convoluted plot. There are so many plot threads throughout the four Solid games that I could fill an entire article summarizing it. The gist of it is thus, however: Uber badass soldier Big Boss went rogue after becoming jaded by the US, who he served with loyalty. After attempting to establish his own new world order buy hijacking a nuclear battle tank dubbed Metal Gear, US group Foxhound sends new recruit, code named Solid Snake to take him down. Eventually he does, learning that Big Boss is is father, and Metal Gear is destroyed. This is not the end of Solid Snake’s tale however. It is only the beginning.
During the course of the series and many in game years, Solid Snake will learn that he is not really a son of Big Boss, but a genetic clone. And he is not alone. There are 2 other clones, Liquid Snake and Solidus Snake, the former of which has managed to get his hands on a new prototype Metal Gear dubbed Rex. Eventually Snake defeats Liquid, destroys Metal Gear Rex, but not before one of Liquid’s cronies, Revolver Ocelot, escapes with the battle data for Metal Gear Rex, and sells it on the black market.
Fastforward years later, and Snake’s condition is deteriorating due to exposure to a disease called Foxdie. He is aging rapidly, dying. No rest for the wicked, however, as he learns that Ocelot, who appears to be under the control of the mind of the deceased Liquid Snake, is up to no good, using a new military system called Sons of the Patriots to control soldiers via Nano-machines, and use them to further his ends. Snake once again goes into battle to stop this “Liquid Ocelot,” and end this one and for all. His journey will take him to the very roots of his past, present, and his dark future.
The story, is deep, complex, and with endearing, tragic characters. The biggest problem the game has is that the narrative is often mired in what I like to call, “Kojimaisms,” named thus after series creator Hideo Kojima, and his penchant for mixing the absurd with the real (ie, a Cybernetic Ninja that happens to stop a gigantic battle ship from crushing Snake with his bare hands), and his need to often wax poetic about war and trauma through incredibly long, meandering cutscenes (seriously, the last cutscene in the game is 30 minutes long, and after the credits, there is a 45 minute long epilogue).
Metal Gear Solid 4 wraps up 20 years of gaming history in one game (the Metal Gear series debuted back on the MSX in the 80s), so I understand the need for excessive exposition. Fortunately, the majority of the cutscenes are badass action sequences rendered in real time on the Playstation 3 (but we’ll get into the visuals later). The biggest issue with MGS4’s narrative is that, in Kojima’s own words, the series is a love letter to fans of the series. And believe me, it is filled with many a nod to previous games and characters in the series, that a newcomer would miss out on them, and not understand the emotional resonance of it (in particular a nostalgic section of the game near it’s end).
Personally, I prefer the deep, thought-provoking narrative of Metal Gear Solid 4 over the “meatheads with guns” narrative of Gears of War, so I’m giving the win to MGS4, but it ultimately depends on what mood you are in for the day.
Gears of War – Gears of War took what other third person shooters like Resident Evil 4 and Killswitch did, and refined it. Moving while shooting, taking cover, and accessing, using items was all very fresh and responsive when the game released. Even the simple act of reloading your weapon was turned into a mini-game of sorts, where hitting the reload button just as a cursor on screen entered a white section on the HUD would grant your next clip with extra fire power. Personally, I felt the characters in Gears were very heavy and sluggish, and the “roadie run” (where the camera drops low and follows behind the player chase cam style) gave me more headaches than thrills. The cover system was also imprecise, due to the game’s “one button” for actions setup. The same button that made you take cover, made you roll and dive, which could lead to players rolling when they meant to take cover, and taking cover when they went to dive.
Overall, however, the game controls well, and being able to use your guns chainsaw attachment to dismember Locust never gets tiring. The sequel further refined the control scheme, and the game does control remarkably well, and is still a model by which all other third person shooters apply, even Metal Gear Solid 4.
Metal Gear Solid 4 – Producer Ryan Payton admitted that he introduced Hideo Kojima to Gears of War and it’s controls when MGS4 was in development. Kojima took an instant liking to Gears of War, and looked to implement the things it did right in MGS4. The main thing taken from Gears would be the over the shoulder third person camera view, which controls exactly like Gears. Where the games differ is in MGS4’s ability to allow players to play the entire game in First Person, like an FPS, and not having one button handle multiple actions like taking cover, evading, and more.
On the control front I think both games are a wash, with MGS4 feeling more responsive (Snake isn’t burdeoned by heavy space armor, so he is naturally more nimble than Marcus Fenix), and the animation transitions being better (but again, that’s a visuals thing which I’ll get into below). I’ll cover it more in the gameplay section, but I ultimately feel that MGS4 is the better controlling game, but that’s due to it’s overall gameplay design in comparison to Gears.
Gears of War – Gears is pure mayhem and carnage, from beginning to end. It’s bloody, brutal, and pretty damn straightforward. The levels are linear, and somewhat corridor esque (which is remedied somewhat in the sequel), with the overall progression being battling through various locales, killing as many Locust as possible while accomplishing whatever goal you’ve been give by command (such as taking down a rampaging Beserker, or defending a caravan from swarming Locust and gigantic beasts called Brumaks). The setpieces are intense and hectic, and overall a lot of fun.
As mentioned many times before, Gears is not a thinking mans game, so the gameplay is all gunplay, all the time. One of my problems with this setup (and this is the case with most shooters, not just Gears), is that, in the end, the weapons are pretty much the same. As a result, it can get a little repetitive killing horde after horde of Locust, but thankfully, the changing locales and fairly varied setpieces break things up.
The fact that you can play through the entire campaign with a buddy (either online via Xbox LIVE, or on the same couch) ups the enjoyment factor exponentially. Speaking of playing with buddies, Gears hosts a rather enjoyable online mode, supporting up to 10 players (for the sequel; the first title only supporting 8), and features a lot of fun game modes with unique twists, like a “Capture the Flag” mode, where the “flag” is a living, resisting person whom you and your team have to subdue and take back to base while the opposing team tries to do the same. Gears 2 also features “Horde Mode,” which has you and 5 friends taking on, well, horde after horde of increasingly deadly Locust. It’s like Left 4 Dead, but not a whole game revolving around it.
As an action shooter, Gears of War is hands down one of the best out there when it comes to visceral, violent gameplay. New map packs and modes are often made available regularly by developer Epic Games.
Metal Gear Solid 4 – The gameplay in MGS4, despite being in the same 3rd person shooter genre as Gears, is remarkably different. For one, the levels in each of the 5 Acts in the campaign mode are massive, with multiple paths to your destination/objective. This allows the player to approach the game with a strategy that is more to their play style. If they want to run and gun, they can, and if they want to play it classic Metal Gear style, employing stealth, they also can.
And they can do this using a variety of weapons and items, two of which are the Solid Eye, and the Octocamo. The Solid Eye is mounted on Solid Snake’s left eye like an eye patch, and serves as his Night Vision Goggles, Heat Vision Goggles, and Binoculars. It also works as a radar, displaying enemy positions, and highlights details of items, ammunition, and weapons left around the environment and on enemies bodies. The Octocamo is the sneaking suit that Snake is equipped with on this outting. When the player leans against an object, lies on the ground, and remains stationary, the Octocamo will take on the form of whatever his texture is against, and Snake will blend in. A camoflague index in the upper right tells players how effective the camo is performing, to make evading enemies easier.
Another item at Snake’s disposal is the Metal Gear Mark 2. It is a small, portable robot that Snake can deploy and control, using it to do reconnisance on the area before going into action.The Mark 2 can also camoflague himself completely with stealth.
Snake also has access to a wide variety of weapons and ammo thanks to a weapon launderer named Drebin. Rocket launchers, sniper rifles, tranquilizer guns and more are available at a moments notice. Due to genetic tagging, the guns that Snake finds in the field are useless to him until he lets Drebin launder them and remove the ID locks. Turning in multiples of the same weapon will give Snake “Drebin Points,” which he can use to purchase more weapons and items, as well as customizations for his various guns. Players are able to add laser sights, flashlights, and grips for better accuracy to their weapons, which greatly increases their efficiency in combat, naturally.
And that is really just the tip of the gameplay possibilities in the title. Over the course of Snake’s adventure, he will travel the globe, visiting 5 distinctly different locales, facing various enemies, as well as the mysterious “Beauty and the Beast Corps.” A group of beautiful yet traumatized war victims who have donned special suits/armor, and now work for Liquid Ocelot. Players can also choose to help or hinder two rival military factions that are battling it out across the various locales in the game.
The boss battles and set pieces are absolutely epic in scope, and the boss battles are varied and clever, with a bit of a puzzle element thrown in as players must figure out the strategy required to defeat the beasts.
Metal Gear Solid 4 also boasts an online mode, dubbed, Metal Gear Online, but in my opinion, it doesn’t lack the visceral punch that Gears of War does. It truly is Metal Gear Online, as stealth, teamwork, and coordination are the name of the game if you and your team want to win. Supporting up to 16 players, all the standard gamplay modes are there like Capture the Flag, Team Deathmatch, and Deathmatch, but with a Metal Gear Solid twist in most cases. Modes where one player is randomly chosen to be Solid Snake, another Metal Gear Mark 2, and the rest of the players are charged with hunting down the super soldier, with a new Snake being randomly chosen when the old one dies is just one of the highlights.
Like Gears, content is updated fairly regularly for the title, but the cumbersome Konami sign in ID makes logging into games and updating patches a chore. Thankfully, Konami is doing away with the Konami ID in the future.
In the end, however, I think that Gears of War features the more pure and easy to hop into online mode, but Metal Gear Solid 4 features the more in depth, robust single player campaign, with an involving story (especially for Metal Gear Solid fans) and deep gameplay.
Gears of War – The Gears of War series is, without a doubt, the bestlooking gaming franchise on the Xbox 360. Since the very first title it set a bar as to what next generation gaming should look like, and very few developers have been able to rise to that challenge, and take up the gauntlet that developer Epic games threw down.
I don’t care much for the larger than life character models (who also feature some weak animations and poor textures when viewed in cutscenes and up close), I absolutely love the environmental art design. The world that Marcus and company travel through is gritty, grimy, and atmospheric, with impressive architecture, textures, and lighting (in particular Gears of War 2). Draw distances aren’t that great, as the game is still very linear and corridor heavy, but they are by no means awful, and on some levels (like the caravan level in Gears 2), you are able to see across vast distances, even if you are unable to explore them.
Unfortunately, the Unreal Engine 3, which the game runs on, is approaching it’s 4th birthday, and is showing it’s age. Under scrutiny, things like texture detail, and character models aren’t as impressive as they were when the engine first burst onto the scene with Gears of War in 2006. Despite improvements in the lighting engine for Gears of War 2, Epic needs to really push the next iteration if Gears is to compete with some of the games out now, and releasing in the future. Overall, however, the game is most certainly nothing to scoff at, and still stands as the best example of what the Xbox 360 is capable of as a graphics powerhouse.
Metal Gear Solid 4 – In short, this game has to be seen on an HDTV to be believe. There are some truly amazing visual feats at work in this game that it’s quite easy for your brain to simply refuse to believe that it’s all being rendered in game on the Playstation 3. Character models are the first to stand out. From Solid Snake, to the supporting characters, to even the soldiers that you fight against or alongside. Character animations are also remarkably fluid and lifelike, and the cutscenes, which are also being rendered in real time on the Playstation 3 are truly jaw-dropping.
After the superb character models, the incredible attention to detail that Hideo Kojima and his team at Kojima Productions are known for is in full force in MGS4. Ambient sounds, environmental details like blowing wind, debris, leaves, even animals like snakes and prairie dogs permeate every aspect of the title. Adding to this is amazing texture detail on environmental objects, water effects, and simply gorgeous lighting affects. Even weather affects are phenomenal, such as a level that has Snake traversing harsh snow, the snow and frost will build up on Snake’s sneaking suit, hair, and mustache, and eventually thaw when he enters a warmer area. When it comes to immersion, very few games can hold a candle to the Metal Gear Solid series, and MGS4 is the king of the crop.
Metal Gear Solid 4 isn’t just a showpiece for the Playstation 3 and it’s graphical capabilities, but it stands as a shining example of what this generation of gaming should aspire to in terms of quality and presentation. It is truly a game that has to be experienced to appreciate it’s artistic beauty and technical achievements.
This was a tough call, but ultimately I feel that the attention to detail in terms of atmosphere, character models, lighting, animation, and texture detail when scrutinized up close or from afar puts Metal Gear Solid 4 over Gears of War. The total package of MGS4’s graphical presentation is simply above and beyond the call of duty.
CONCLUSION: So here we are, the hard part. Both titles are simply excellent at what they do, but as a defining 3rd person shooter experience, with deep gameplay, compelling characters, and amazing graphics, I have to give it Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. At the end of the day, it is the game that truly embodies what next generation gameplay should be about.
It is truly doing things that were simply not possible in the last generation of consoles, and not just on a graphical level, but on a gameplay level (play the end of Act 3, and you will certainly understand this sentiment). Wacky Kojimaisms aside, the game features a story that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining. Metal Gear Solid 4 is the epitome of a classic video game experience that people will be talking about for generations, just like it’s predecessors.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
This entry was posted on July 15, 2009 at 6:45 pm and is filed under Editorials, Playstation 3, PSN, Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE with tags Faceoff, Gears of War, Metal Gear Solid 4. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.