Technically, MGS4 needed to be a PS3 showcase, and while the finished effort doesn't deliver quite as much awe as the early videos, the amount of environmental detail, the richness of texture and lighting and the overall quality of the character rendering and animation is pretty much unmatched by anything else this generation, with the possible exception of Gears of War and Uncharted. It's as big a step forward over MGS3 as MGS2 was over the first. If you're a Metal Gear fan, then this is Metal Gear as you always dreamt it might one day be. Frankly, it's practically impossible to tell the cut-scenes and the in-game footage apart, presumably because both are being done with the same assets and engine.
This is a big game, and one that will take you many hours to get through (not least because of all the cut-scenes). And as with any MGS game, it's so riddled with secret spots and weird little tricks to try that you may be tempted to play through more than once. Don't forget, either, that it also bundles in the first installment of the much-anticipated Metal Gear Online. Sadly, I haven't got time or space to go into more detail on that here, so we'll come back to that for a separate look.
To be honest, I didn't know what to expect from MGS4. After several years of hype and my own mild disappointment at MGS3, I wasn't sure that Snake would get the send-off he deserved. Well, he has. MGS4 isn't perfect, and to some extent it's preaching to the converted rather than making any real attempt to reach out to the masses, yet part of me feels grateful that Kojima and co. haven't tried to compete with Splinter Cell or Assassin's Creed. Instead they have simply tried to make MGS4 the ultimate Solid Snake game. For all its flaws, for all its painfully epic cut-scenes, that's exactly what they've managed to do.
The cut-scenes are too long and portions of the gameplay feel antiquated, but this is a dazzling last stand for Solid Snake, and one of the most compelling action games you'll play this year.