At CES 2008, much to my surprise and delight, I had the opportunity to play the MGS4 Trial. I'm a huge Metal Gear fan so being able to play the game before it's Q2 launch was incredibly satisfying (if only to reassure me that the game is still on track to live up to the high standards of the franchise.)
Because the game is likely to remain low-key until launch, I decided to record my entire play-through and post it for the Metal Gear fanatics out there who are scouring the net for even just a morsel of new MGS4 footage. The good news is that MGS4 has all the production value you've come to expect from a Metal Gear game and even in the tiny taste that the trial provides, it's clear that it will put Snake into some pretty unfamiliar, but nonetheless incredible, settings and situations.
First thing I'd like to mention is that the controls were non-inverted and I'm used to playing inverted (we tried changing them, but it wouldn't stay)... So if you're watching the video and wondering why every once in a while I look directly up at the sky or down at the ground, that's why.
Similarly annoying is my play style; Metal Gear is a sneaking game, but due to the fact that there was only one demo terminal and it being my first time playing this installment, I just wanted to experience the entire thing as quickly as possible so the next person could play (it still took over 20mins.) The silver lining here is that, if you're a shooter fan who traditionally hasn't liked MG's stealth gameplay, you'll be happy to know that you will probably still have a good time playing through the entire game guns-a-blazing.
The ability to play through the game like a shooter is made possible, almost exclusively, because of the new control scheme. On paper, the buttons are mapped in a very Gears-of-War-style, but they definitely don't feel that way (which, I'd guess, is because the cover systems of the two games are completely different.) Left-stick moves you around, right-stick changes your view, clicking right stick switches the camera to your other shoulder, left trigger to aim, right trigger to fire, etc. Probably the biggest indicator that the controls are more shooter-oriented is that the square button is used to enable or disable auto-aim on the fly.
All of that being said, I'm still undecided if I like the new controls. While this is probably due to the inverted/non-inverted issue I faced, control-wise the game didn't feel very much like previous Metal Gear titles. It also doesn't help that I ran through the trial as fast as possible, but a lot of what I liked about past MGS games was the ability to use my radar in conjunction with what I could see on screen... that just isn't necessary anymore.
So while the controls feel really awesome, insofar as replicating a standard with an N-th degree of polish, at this point, for me, they seem to water-down the Metal-Geary-ness of the controls and how I personally play the game.
It's also important to note that the audio of the game is so much better than what you can hear in the video. Not only from a positioning standpoint, but also in its clarity - particularly the bullet sound effects, which whiz by your head and actually sound like they make contact with objects behind you.
This is especially impressive because of the atmosphere of the game; it really feels like there's a war going on around you with skirmishes breaking out seemingly at random. One of my favorite parts of the trial has a crew of PMC troops fighting their way up a street, when out of nowhere a building in the background gets bombed by organic-looking flying machines (at 16:50 in the video.) As the troops continue to make their push, the building collapses and, a few seconds later, plumes of smoke and dust gush out into the streets (which are a couple of blocks away from the blast.) Cool!
Speaking of skirmishes, prior to playing the trail I was under the impression that you could actually choose which side you want to fight for or remain completely neutral. However, throughout my play time it seemed like you're always against the PMC troops and you only have the opportunity to ally yourself with the Rebels.
A better example, whenever you're spotted it's the PMCs that call for back-up and sweep the area in traditional Genome Soldier fashion. So I have a feeling that we're going to end up being on the Rebels side of the conflict by default (which 99% of people would prefer anyway.)
On the graphics-side of things, MGS4 looks identical to what I was expecting. Despite the high expectations made by previously released trailers, gameplay videos, and screenshots, I was still impressed with Kojima Productions ability to make the game look so good.
Every scene is bustling with life and movement, all happily moving along without any dip in framerate (I couldn't tell if it was 30 or 60fps, but it didn't so much as hitch once.) It looks good... it has that organic appearance that can only come from a combination of awesome visuals, animation, and atmosphere, all of which are hallmarks of the Metal Gear Solid franchise.
Additional footage download:
I should probably mention this before I finish up: The video was recorded at 24fps, so you won't be able to distinguish the proper framerate based on the video. Also there are a couple of jump-cuts/glitches where I merged consecutive video files (at 8:43, 10:46, and 17:21); none of those glitches were present in the game.
It was butter - nothing but liquid-fluid. I recommend you burn the video or put it on USB key and play it back on your 360 or PS3 as it looks best on a TV. A big thanks goes to BlimBlim/Gamersyde for being gracious enough to host the video (which nears a whopping 700megs.) Also, keep checking back as there should be some more CES video coverage coming soon. And, yeah, it'll have more N'Gai!