by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots & r & Rated Mature; PS3 & r & 5 Stars & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & nake, the hero of Metal Gear Solid 4, has aged into a gray-mulleted old man since his debut in Metal Gear in 1987. Yet despite his current elderly status, his butt still flexes youthfully as he crawls across floors pressed flat on his belly. It tightens like a gunmetal gray knot while he crouches down behind boxes. And it keeps its arch even as he runs and dives for cover.

If you think I've dwelt overlong on the technological achievement that is Snake's ass, I can only assure you that somewhere in Japan there works a team of videogame programmers who obsessed over it even more. And not just Snake's ass -- rats' asses, soldiers' asses, even the shifty mechanized asses of the giant robots that spring around on tentacle legs -- all are rendered with a degree of detail that sets a new standard for the current generation of videogames. Every outcropping casts its own shadow. Each curve catches the light. And every crevice shades into a blackness that could hide the forces necessary to undermine an entire army.

I'm not exaggerating. Metal Gear Solid 4 may be the first videogame to feature both the challenges of diarrhea and direct sunlight. Like its predecessors, MGS4 is a "tactical espionage action" game, meaning that stealth is the preferred means for Snake to fulfill his missions. From avoiding bright spots while sneaking through the darkness, to staying downwind from scent-sensitive foes, MGS4 has more means of increasing tension than most combat games with fields full of weaponry.

Part of the reason that sneaking is so exhilarating is due to the game's equally intense combat engine. It makes solid sense for Snake to avoid his enemies. By coordinating tactics, even the basic opponents in MGS4 become multifariously deadly. Of course, Snake can incapacitate them in a number of ways as well. He can grab them unawares and knock their weapons out of their hands. He can even use them as living shields while he fires at their teammates. But his best bet, as always, is to stay out of sight and save his own exceptionally well-rendered ass.

THE GOOD: MGS4 is remarkably replayable. The levels, though occasionally huge, are always dense with interactive detail. Even with a single goal to reach, most of MGS4's levels can be traversed via numerous distinct routes, each with their own sets of challenges. Dozens of weapons keep the combat different during each playthrough. And in the ultimate courtesy move, the points players earn to unlock new weapons carry over between playthroughs. Thanks, Konami! My summer just vanished.

THE BAD: MGS4's writer/director/producer, Hideo Kojima, needs an editor. Characters talk, pause, move, pause, then talk and pause some more. One of the cinematic sequences was so lengthy that my PS3 controller powered-down automatically. And "We have to stop him. Now. BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!" is not good dialogue -- it's obvious, flat, and entirely at odds with the otherwise polished, innovative game.

THE BOTTOM LINE: With enemies that range from basic grunts to epic monsters, and a story that stretches across the globe, Metal Gear Solid 4 is the grandest, most intense mission on which Snake has ever been sent.

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