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Metal Gear Solid 4: updated impressions

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Last night, we were privileged to watch as Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima took the stage at a Konami press conference in San Francisco, sat in front of a giant screen and played through the early parts of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. Privileged partly because it was the man himself, but mostly because he unveiled a few cool things that we hadn't yet seen, like a gun that summons tornadoes and a remarkably non-sucky piece of in-game advertising. He also made the following announcement: "We have finished creating MGS4... it was quite a pest." That's especially good news, seeing as the game ships to retail in less than a month.

We then had a chance to play the game for ourselves, but our session covered a lot of the same ground as our last preview - so rather than repeat ourselves by describing it all again, we'll stick to the cooler points of our experience and Kojima's presentation.

What we played was in the game's opening level, set in some dusty, unnamed town in the Middle East warred over by keffiyeh-wearing militiamen (who all spoke unaccented American English) and high-tech mercenaries from the Praying Mantis private military company. And although you're all probably sick of seeing it by now (since it's been the setting for almost every trailer up to this point), those sandy streets and ruined buildings offer lots of opportunities for hiding, sneaking, fighting and exploration, all of which were a lot more enjoyable than the washed-out look of the place might lead you to believe.

Yes, this is still a game you'll spend as much time watching as playing - but for what it's worth, the cutscenes this time around were remarkably sparse on needlessly rambling exposition, instead focusing tightly on the story and characters at hand. And the action, deep as it is, wasn't intimidating, confusing or tiresomely geared toward joyless "hardcore" players - it was just fun.

When we botched our attempts to sneak up on guards and triggered alerts, for example, running away and hiding was actually pretty exhilarating, as we dashed around corners and crawled through low-to-the-ground openings as quickly as possible, all while bullets popped against the sand and walls around us.

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