When Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots arrived in 2008 it felt, alongside 2007’s Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune like a console-centric answer to the incredible work that was being done in the PC gaming space back then. Here was a game the in-engine cinematics and gameplay could-if you squinted hard enough-be mistaken for the real world.
The PlayStation 3 was notoriously hard to code for. However, studios like Kojima Productions, with a long history of squeezing the most out of Sony hardware delivered a PlayStation 3 experience that were head and shoulders above what was possible on the Xbox 360.
Working around those limitations, Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid 4 was one of the best-looking titles on the market at that time. There was a high bar of expectations to clear here: Kojima’s own Metal Gear Solid 3 redefined what was possible on the PlayStation 2: even today, upscaled to a proper 1080p, Metal Gear Solid 3 holds up remarkably well. The fourth game, of course, expanded things considerably, with wider levels, hours of cutscenes, and an impressive degree of small-scale detail.
And yet, there were a number of compromises Kojima had to make to get Metal Gear Solid 4 running on PlayStation 3 hardware. The sub-native full HD resolution would look positively terrible, upscaled on modern 4K panels. And while material rendering-especially on cobblestone flooring and metal surfaces-was excellent for the time, the actual resolution is very low, thanks to the PlayStation 3’s paltry 256 MB of VRAM. Performance is hit and miss as well, with some sections of the game literally crawling.
With the PlayStation 5 now just months away from release, this is as a good a time as any to think about how an iconic title like Metal Gear Solid 4 could be brought back to life with a PS5 remaster. This was, sadly, something that never happened on the PlayStation 4. While a number of PS3 franchises got the premium remaster treatment-The Last of Us is a notable example-we’ve had to do without a Metal Gear Solid 4 remaster. What exactly would a hypothetical MGS4 remaster entail on the PlayStation 5? What areas could be improved on with Sony’s new ninth-gen hardware? And how would this 2008-era stealth title hold up to 2020’s finest? Let’s find out.
Porting Will Be A Complete Nightmare
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Porting Metal Gear Solid 4 on any other console will be an absolute nightmare. The game was coded very specifically for the PS3 architecture and it will be a wonder if Konami are able to port and remaster the 12-year-old framework to the PS5. MGS4 was a highly ambitious game for its time. Remember the TGS 2005 demo? That was the level of the detail Kojima was aiming with the final version but unfortunately, we got a slightly downgraded version due to possible hardware issues.
While Metal Gear Solid 4 never received a remaster release on the PlayStation 4, it’s important to remember that the next game in the franchise, Metal Gear Solid 5, did arrive on both the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Metal Gear Solid 5 leveraged Konami’s FOX Engine to deliver a cross-generation experience that looked great and performed remarkably well.
Even after Kojima and Konami parted ways, the FOX engine has continued to power the Metal Gear franchise, with Konami’s Metal Gear: Survive multiplayer title running on the same engine. As mentioned before, Metal Gear Solid 4’s custom engine was coded so close to the metal for the PS3, that porting it to the Fox Engine will be a complete nightmare. However, the development team can use the existing engine and try to include modern technology using the power of the PS5. So, what would this entail in terms of improvements?
Physically-based rendering: a world of difference
One of the biggest improvements we’d expect would be in terms of materials and texture work. There were two key weaknesses in how textures and materials were handled in Metal Gear Solid 4. Firstly, texture resolution was terrible in some places, even by seventh-gen standards. Kojima Products, like every other studio working around the PlayStation 3’s 256 MB of VRAM, had to prioritize asset quality. Metal Gear Solid 4 features hours of detailed cutscenes. This meant the quality of character rendering was of the utmost importance.
Characters themselves, especially Snake’s model, had fairly high-resolution textures. Something had to give, though, in order to make this work. Many of the environmental textures, especially the ground and walls, are low-resolution messes. The use of flat, normal mapping meant that definition was limited. Moreover, material quality was a hit and miss. In the pre-PBR era, artists had to effectively “eyeball” physical characteristics for materials-their specular values, roughness and so on. In some cases-with metal surfaces in-game and Snake’s suit, the hand-crafted materials look great. In other cases, not so much. Physically-based rendering allows the art team to craft materials with physically correct properties–they react with lighting the way you’d expect the real-world material to.
PBR is a major highlight these days and will be a given on PS5. PBR results in surfaces that are consistent, realistic, and just flat out appealing. The increased amount of VRAM available on PS5 means that texture resolution could be massively increased. The combination of PBR and high-resolution texture work would be a true generational improvement. We’d expect an hypothetical MGS 4 remaster to both utilize a physically based material rendering pipeline and to deploy far higher-res texture assets across the board.
Particle rendering enhancements
Improving particle rendering is a relatively easy way to enhance Metal Gear Solid 4’s visuals. We think a remaster will likely make this happen. Anyone that’s played Metal Gear Solid 4 will remember the long “extra” installation scenes. Particle density in that particular case, and in cutscene closeups is great.
However, particle quality in-game is par for the course, as far as the seventh-gen is concerned. Most effects, such as dust and blood spatter are “flatter” than we’re used to and this comes down to MGS4’s reliance on 2D sprites for particle rendering. Even other seventh-gen titles, like Uncharted 2 leverage volumetric particle rendering in certain scenarios. Metal Gear Solid 5 does, too, with volumetric clouds visible almost anywhere on the map. A Metal Gear Solid 4 remaster would benefit immensely from volumetric particle rendering. We’d like to see denser particle volumes for explosions, billowing clouds of dust, and lighting systems that interact with particle volumes. This would significantly enhance the cinematic appeal of parts of the game.
Audio quality: Tempest and more immersive stealth
Audio quality in Metal Gear Solid 4-and in PS3 games in general-was fairly good, in large part due to the plentiful amount of storage space on the Blu-ray disc. On PlayStation 3, Metal Gear Solid 4 features a great implementation of 5.1 surround sound. However, as a stealth title, there’s always room for improvement. The Tempest audio engine is one of the biggest improvements the PlayStation 5 brings to the table. Tempest allows for hundreds of simultaneous audio channels to be layered on top of one another.
Moreover, the use of HRTF (head-related transfer function) audio allows for an unprecedented level of positional audio mapping. A Metal Gear Solid 4 remaster that utilizes Tempest would be a far more immersive experience. Guard movement and other audio cues could be visualized with far greater accuracy, improving the stealth experience. In retrospective, MGS4’s sound design was phenomenal as is with little details like bullets falling down clearly audible to the player so the Tempest will make little details like that stand out even more. We think many of Metal Gear Solid 4’s somewhat interactive cinematics would benefit, too.
Performance and image quality: must-have improvements
Any cross-gen remaster worth its salt delivers a major boost to resolution and framerate. We think that Metal Gear Solid 4 could do both on the PlayStation 5. Sony’s latest console targets 4K resolution as a standard. This is a far cry from the code that shipped on PlayStation 3. However, we think that Metal Gear Solid 4 at 4K/60fps is completely achievable. However, here’s something surprising. Almost every seventh-gen title out there, barring Grand Theft Auto IV and a handful of outliers, will have no trouble hitting 4K 120 Hz on RTX 2070 Super class hardware-what we’re likely to see on the PS5. So a 120fps option is certainly not out of question specially if the remaster had a 1080p graphical option as well.
With higher resolution texture assets in place, the move to 4K would mean greatly enhanced image quality. MGS 4 is a slower-paced stealth game. This means that 120 Hz experience won’t necessarily translated into better in-game performance. However, it would radically improve the moment-to-moment “feel,” of play. Another low-hanging fruit would be anti-aliasing. Aliasing is very noticeable in Metal Gear Solid 4, A temporal AA pass, together with a higher resolution framebuffer would effectively solve the game’s aliasing woes on PS3. And lastly, we will see a big boost in shadow quality on the PS5.
Metal Gear Solid 4 remains a hallmark title. It is one of the most technically accomplished games on PlayStation 3 and holds up remarkably well, considering it’s almost 13 years old by now. However, two entire console generations have come and gone. If an MGS4 remaster does release, it’d be a great exercise to demonstrate just what the PS5 is capable of: exceptional 4K hardware powering great exclusives.
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