The End of a Generation - My Favourite Games of the 7th Gen: 5-4
I'm writing a series of posts about the games and consoles of the seventh generation (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP and DS). It includes a Top 20 countdown, thoughts on the industry, silly pictures and lots more.
20. DJ Hero
19. Wii Sports
17. No More Heroes
11. Mass Effect 3
4. Metal Gear Solid 4
On paper, there was nothing remarkable about Shatter (2009). It was another Breakout/Arkanoid clone, it came from a studio best known for rugby games and it didn't feature a single combat dog. However, Shatter was remarkable, thanks to a perfect combination of simplistic gameplay, high score chasing, interesting visual design and a spectacular soundtrack.
While the premise of ball, paddle and blocks is nothing new, Shatter made some interesting changes to the old formula. The ability to attract or repel balls added a new dimension to back-and-forth block busting, allowing you to better control the spread of debris and bend the trajectory of your projectiles. The paddle itself was the subject of an important change, introducing a rounded edge that affected the angle of the bounce, and power ups varied the action but never over complicated matters.
Shatter was about chasing scores, besting your own highs and putting a couple thousand more points between you and your friends. This constant chipping-away at personal bests was one of the main reasons why I kept returning to Shatter over the last four years. The ability to put multiple balls into play introduced a risk/reward element; the more in play, the faster your score would multiply but the more difficult it was to control. The Bonus Round and Boss Rush modes provided more opportunities to get your name on the leader board and let everyone know just how good you were at juggling balls.
Shatter was also a very attractive game, standing out from the countless other love letters to the arcade that appeared in the Seventh Generation. The visuals popped, stages were colourful and the explosions looked and sounded wonderful. It was all very futuristic, but in a very retro kind of way. Our little spaceship paddle travelled through an alien world of neon, full of words beginning with X and Z, and huge mecha-bosses that squeezed into tiny spaces.
And then there was the soundtrack. I don't tend to pay much attention to video game music - occasionally something jumps out while I'm shooting aliens or foreigners and I'll take note, but chances are I'll have forgotten all about it by the next checkpoint. Shatter was different. This score, composed by electronic musician Module, didn't just compliment Shatter; it elevated it to another level.
The intergalactic synths, disco beats and screaming guitar suited the gameplay to a tee. It was a futuristic groove, via the recent past, that still sounds as fresh today as the first time I heard it, especially my personal favourite Krypton Garden. It also works well as a standalone composition, something I'll happily listen to away from the game. If you don't believe me, visit developer Sidhe's Bandcamp page, where you can stream the album for free.
Shatter remains the undisputed star of the PlayStation store. It demonstrated that smaller, digital titles could be just as compelling and as long-lived as even the most ambitious of AAA games, and set the bar for PSN excellence.
The press love to talk about system sellers, games that will convince punters to shell out a couple hundred quid for a new black box. I don't know about you, but when I buy a new console it's almost always because I want the latest bit of kit, not because I've taken a fancy to a single game. Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008) is the lone exception. I decided to hold off on buying an expensive PlayStation 3 until MGS4 had arrived, as I was confident that it would justify the considerable outlay. I almost held on, jumping the gun by only a month once I had realised that I’d already saved up enough Yen. I guess that qualifies MGS4 as a system seller, or close enough anyway.
MGS4 was my first big event of the Seventh Generation. It was an occasion, new Metal Gears always are, and it would not disappoint. No one else makes games quite like Kojima, and they are perfect for deconstruction and lengthy debate. It was the main topic of conversation between my friends and I for months, and the more we talked it through, the more we came to appreciate it. Even the lengthy install, with Old Snake puffing on a cigarette, felt special and worthy of discussion, when in reality it was just a massive pain in the arse.
MGS4 was indulgent, even by Kojima’s standards. It was dense, occasionally poetic, humorous, heavy handed and at times heart-breaking. The cut scenes did outstay their welcome, though Kojima wisely provided interactive distractions for when the babble got a bit too dull. Things were much better on a second playthrough, as I was able to self-edit some of the longer scenes and also picked up on points I’d missed the first time around. The story was as farfetched as I had hoped and the characters larger than life. Old allies and foes joined new friends and freaks, and countless loose ends were tied up, some of which I didn’t realise were still yet to be tied.
Old was a different, more human Snake, and definitely the most memorable and interesting Solid. He was at death's door, wrinkled, scarred and far more vulnerable than the younger man who first ran riot on Shadow Moses. MGS4 was full of references to past entries, with the aforementioned return to Shadow Moses being the finest example of fan service. The final showdown with Revolver Ocelot, complete with music and flashbacks to previous games, gave me chills, and Otacon telling me to swap discs was Kojima at his fourth-wall-breaking best. While MGS4 could be enjoyed by anyone, it was much more rewarding if you understood the world of Metal Gear Solid.
You didn’t need to be a fan to appreciate the technical prowess of MGS4. It looked gorgeous in 2008 and still looks great now. Whether you love or hate Koji Pro, you can’t fault their ability to get the most out of hardware. We were treated to a world tour, with Snake attempting to blend in everywhere from South America to Europe, and of course a walk-in microwave. The choice between causing a ruckus or taking the stealthy route felt meaningful, and tighter controls allowed me to be more in control of the action, whether I was skulking in the shadows, RPG’ing a balaclava or snapping the knob off a statue.
Back in 2008, I was bound to be impressed by Metal Gear Solid 4. It was the new entry in my favourite series, on a brand new console that made my Wii look like pixelated puke. As the years went by, I started to wonder whether it was really as good as I remembered or if I had just overreacted to new MGS. Last year’s better-late-than-never trophy patch was the excuse I needed to return, and I was relieved to find a stunning game. War might have changed, but Metal Gear Solid 4 is still superb.