One would expect a soundtrack in a series like Metal Gear Solid to strive to be cinematic, but even so the degree to which its fourth and supposedly final installment does so is surprising. More surprising is the degree to which it succeeds.
Metal Gear Solid 4 Original Soundtrack has some of the highest production values I've heard in a game score. The synth-orchestral base instrumentation suits the "tactical espionage" theme nicely, and it's taken to another level by superb electronic accompaniment. An electric guitar sometimes enters the fray to juice up the orchestrations, and the frequent use of rapid electronic percussion, synth, and filter effects in tracks like "Haven Troopers" clearly distinguishes the score from other game soundtracks. Choral accompaniment is also added to the mix, usually only briefly but to great effect, as with the almost spiritual sounding female chorus in "Breakthrough" and "Endless Pain". "Mobs Alive" gives us the instrumental and choral works for the length of the entire track, providing an epic end to the first disc and the climax of the soundtrack.
We get a few other action extravaganzas like "Desperate Chase", with its urgent strings and melodic guitar riffs, but most tracks let loose only in bursts that though short are worth waiting for. Our first delectable taste comes right near the beginning in "Gekko", where suspenseful strings subtly but persistently build until a sweet techno-New Age synth horn climax rises.
Though the first disc is paced evenly and stays interesting for its entirety, the second disc suffers in its first half from a string of similar-sounding atmospheric pieces that become a bit dull. A couple more "Infinite Loop" action numbers or "White Blood" synth excursions would have done much to break the monotony.
Near the end of the score comes a succession of more typical, melody-driven compositions. "Sorrow" is rife with a feeling of loss but also of dignity, reprising Harry Gregson-Williams' new Metal Gear Solid main theme among New Age synth and an angelic chorus. Then for the grand finale, "Metal Gear Saga" unabashedly lets the theme loose in several action-packed repetitions, sounding very much like something from The Rock or another Bruckheimer popcorn flick. The more instrumentally complex, melodically subdued majority is the real draw of the score, but these few concluding indulgences are pleasing in moderation and satisfyingly bring the story to a close.
Metal Gear Solid 4 Original Soundtrack often feels as much like the score to a movie as it does to a game. That sort of comparison gets differing amounts of love from game music fans but in this case I say it with copious amounts of affection. It may drag a bit at times, but when all its elements come together it sets new standards for an already renowned series.