WAR HAS CHANGED: MGS4 M4A1
Author: Frank Woods
The MGS4 M4A1 was an unplanned purchase; an impulse buy that worked out. During a recent playthrough of MGS4 (having not played it in well over 10 years) I ended up googling pictures of the M4A1 as it was configured in the game, and accidentally found that Charlie’s Custom Clones was selling a clone of said rifle… near enough, at least. I’ll get more into that in a sec.
The thing about playing Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008) in 2023 is that the game is now like a time capsule or a look into the past as it pertains to the state of the art in small arms development of the time.
Being that the game’s development began in 2005, the weapons in the game were very much informed by two things: The GWOT (Global War On Terror) and subsequently, its influence on the firearms industry at the time. By 2005, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban had only been expired for about three months; when it sunset however, the floodgates of small arms innovation (with the weight of the GWOT’s demand for newer and better wares) had opened with gusto.
With the AWB out of the way, and the US gov (via the DOD) having plenty of cash to offer, the firearms industry now had plenty of incentive to begin developing new and improved iterations of and accessories for firearms previously restricted by the AWB; the ROI potential was through the roof between both the commercial and professional markets, and the industry hit the ground running to meet the demand, sometimes tripping over itself in the process.
During the 2005-2010 time period, a lot of avant garde designs came forth, some to improve upon what was already in service (such as the M4A1 and M14), some to replace it (such as the SCAR, both L and H variants). MGS4 came out right in the middle of that timespan, and all four of the aforementioned rifles were represented in their most current forms: the M4A1, the M14 in its Mk. 14 configuration, and the SCAR-H/Mk. 17 could all be used.
The M4A1 in the game was a little ahead of its real life counterpart; while the M4A1 at this point in time was sporting the SOPMOD Block I suite of accessory and component upgrades, the M4A1 in MGS4 took it a step further:
• Rather than the drop in KAC M4 RAS handguard rail, it sported the likewise KAC Free Float (FF) RAS developed for the SR-15 & SR-16, which made for a more accurately shooting rifle since the FF rail had no direct relationship or influence on the barrel that could cause barrel flexing.
• Rather than the A2 Front Sight Base gas block, it had the PRI 05-0025 folding front sight gas block, which meant for an unobscured sight picture through an optic when the front sight wasn’t being utilized.
• Rather than the Matech flip up rear sight, it has the A.R.M.S. Inc #40L flip up rear sight. This model has a few extra features than the Matech like dual apertures with a notched top for close and extended range shooting, and spring loaded deployment.
Beyond that, the MGS4 M4A1 sports tan furniture (grip, stock, rail covers) rather than the standard black, which in an arid setting would provide limited camo properties that break up the profile shape of the rifle, and don’t heat up as much in the sun.
In the game, each rifle had modular qualities taking advantage of the 1913 picatinny rails on the top and sides of the rifles; a variety of optics, grips, lights and lasers, suppressors, and underslung accessories like the KAC Master Key shotgun and M203 Grenade Launcher were available to pick from. I chose to model mine after the M4A1 as it appeared in the 2005 Tokyo Game Show trailer that debuted Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots to the world.
Everything about this version of the MGS4 M4A1 was the same as it would be in the final game as far as the weapon light (an early Surefire M961), Vertical Foregrip (KAC in tan), rear sight and rail panels were concerned; the difference was the optic. In the 2005 trailer (as well as the promotional artwork at the time), it was equipped with the EOtech 552; however, no EOtech made it to the final build of the game.
This was a letdown for 2008 me, having been a big EOtech fan at the time and looking forward to using it in the game; only the Aimpoint CompM2 and Trijicon ACOG TA01NSN were available to choose from. But this is my rifle, and I can configure it how I want, so I went with the setup that we all saw first and was reflected in the artwork and early game renders; Law of Primacy in full effect.
I initially asked Charlie’s Custom Clones if I could just buy the upper and skip the lower. They told me all the money was in the upper so I wouldn’t be saving much, and being that they only sold it as a complete rifle, they informed me that they only had enough parts left to make one more such rifle. That last part was what pushed me over the line from “I’m thinking about it” to “I’m doing it,” so I placed the order to secure the rifle. However, I requested a few changes.
For a company that made cloning rifles its business model, they had a few details wrong. To their credit however, they were more than happy to work with me. Most noticeable was the front sight gas block; rather than the aforementioned 05-0025, Charlie’s was using the 05-0025-G1, which was visually distinguishable from the clamp on version of that model used in the game. I asked if they could switch it out for me, and they were more than happy to oblige.
Charlie’s also used an M4 profile 14.5″ barrel, with the game correct Troy Medieval Flash Hider pinned to put the barrel at 16+” and therefore out of NFA SBR territory. However, the in game M4A1 could equip a suppressor (albeit not with that muzzle device, an oversight of the game’s development team over at Konami). Since I already have a Surefire SOCOM556-RC2 & MINI2, I asked them to put the Surefire SFA2 on the barrel instead so I’d have a compatible albeit “USGI” looking muzzle device.
Unfortunately, Surefire SFA2 + 14.5″ barrel doesn’t meet the 16″ length requirement to avoid NFA territory. But there was an easy solution; Charlie’s had the FN 14.7″ carbine length gas M4 profile barrels that are used in the FN Collector Series M4A1 clone. I asked them to swap the barrels and pin the SFA2 to that, and that solved the barrel length problem. Visually you cannot tell the difference in barrel length, everything looks as it should, and I can put a can on there if I’m so inclined.
The rifle originally came with a black KAC VFG, and I couldn’t find a tan one anywhere, but Steve over at Charlie’s offered to cerakote it to the same tan color as the KAC for a small added fee. For the convenience of the novelty this rifle would be, I figured why not since I was already spending the money.
Once that was all figured out I went to eBay and found both the gray anodized Surefire M961 and the earlier version square shaped neck component that was used for the in game model. For its size, and the three (3) CR123 batteries it uses, the light puts out a whopping 125 lumens of incandescent light. We’ve come a long way in WML capability, but this was the most effort I’ve ever put into cloning a rifle, and the only time I’ve done it really. Getting everything for it was easy, and the project was fun.
I found the EOtech 552 on Amazon sold direct from EOtech. The price was the same as I was seeing everywhere else, but Prime shipping got it to me quick so that was an easy decision. It’s just like the 552s of old, only with the new EOtech logo laser etched on it, and now the battery compartment appears to be made of polymer rather than aluminum like they were back in the day when I had a 555 (AA powered 553).
The barrel swap, muzzle pinning, and cerakoting delayed the process by a week or two, but to speed things up they shipped the lower to my FFL as soon as it was ready, and the upper directly to me once it got back from the shop. When it showed up, I put it all together (using in-game images from the TGS 2005 trailer for reference to make sure everything was positioned properly) and it was all done. I was holding the rifle I had only first seen in a CGI trailer 15 years earlier. Others have cloned the MGS4 M4A1 before, but not in this configuration, so it was pretty cool to finally see and hold it in the real.
I don’t know who made the upper receiver; the lower was made by Palmetto State Armory, and oddly enough it’s marked “M16A4,” a small detail easy to overlook despite its inaccuracy; my head canon rationed that it’s what was necessary for Drebin 893 to “launder” the weapon off the Patriots’ SOP nanomachine system, though I would prefer an FN Collector Series M4A1 lower if I’m being honest. The buffer is an unmarked black H1 buffer, and the trigger is a mil-spec single stage.
Once I had some free time, I got it to the range to zero. I used XM193 55gr FMJ since it’s a toy capable of being used as a tool, but mainly for fun. I zeroed the irons first at 50 yards, and despite having forgotten my front sight tool at home, it was quick and easy to get those sorted. The plan for the EOtech was to zero it at 100 yards, but between the heat and mirage of the sand pit I was shooting in and the sweat in my eyes, and not being able to tell if I was holding the 1MOA center dot over exactly the same spot per shot in a five round group while proned out, I settled for a tight group that was an inch high at 50 yards.
After a second range trip with the rifle, I confirmed the zero for both the irons and the EOtech at 50, which is the target you can see above. It wasn’t as hot or humid out, so it was a much smoother process. Although I’m sure I could have squeezed a tighter group out of the rifle by perfecting my prone positioning and being more careful with my aim, I was happy with this; I had other things to do while I was there and not a lot of time to do it. I did take the opportunity to fire three rounds at 100, and given the result for how hasty I was being and the fact that I wasn’t using magnification, I decided I was okay with the result; now I see what my betters mean about their eyes getting old.
Functionally, the rifle did fine across two range trips. No hiccups, nothing unusual to report, multiple mags through the rifle both suppressed and unsuppressed. I would have shot it more the first time but after putting 800 rounds of 9mm through a pistol earlier in the day, the heat beating my ass, and the possibility of having to work that night, I called it a day after that and headed home to get cleaned up.
Although we’d consider it dated now, this version of Stoner’s finest implementation was 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙝𝙞𝙩 back in 2005-2008, thanks to the KAC FF rail and folding BUIS coming right off the AWB sunset in 2004. If you don’t believe me, check out this mothballed SHOT Show 2007 picture thread for example and you’ll see what was new at the time; I watched threads like this play out in real time back in the day, having just came of age to buy my own rifle and constantly refreshing for updates to gaze at stuff I couldn’t afford.
No doubt, despite the 15 years that have passed since, this GPR configuration can still hang and put the work in today especially if it’s zeroed with duty ammo. The WML might need an upgrade, but EOtechs are still used to this day as primary optics on ARs all over the world. I just need to add a sling to this one and it’s good to go.
Every gun owner that was a GWOT kid needs an ~M4A1ish with tan furniture; exemplary of the era. This one is mine. In terms of video game examples, the half tan M4A1 from Modern Warfare 2 (2009) is an acceptable alternative, but I’m biased towards this one for a few reasons.
This is a gift to 2005-2009 me, the kid who was just really getting exposed to this industry and all it had to offer after the ’94 AWB expired, but possessed neither the financial means or the knowledge of how to obtain such things, of such a standard of quality.
This is the only AR I’ve got that resembles an M4A1 proper (despite the more advanced components) and the first since my very first AR that had an M4gery upper from DPMS and trigger pins that walked from its Pre-Ban Bushmaster lower (that I still have and have since fixed). Difference is, the parts and build quality are premium in comparison, and it’s got all the stuff my younger self wouldn’t know where or how to obtain. War has changed, but you can’t beat a classic. Enjoy kiddo.
Stay in this L.A.N.E.