That phrase. It’s hard to deny the impact it has had on gamers over the years. Tactical Espionage Action! Cinematic story-telling! Plot twists replete with double and triple (quadruple?) crosses! Most of all – Snake! For almost two decades, gamers have grown up with Solid Snake, his allies and enemies as he strives to uncover a global conspiracy to control the world (albeit a rather confusing one).
Now, his journey is coming to an end with the upcoming release of Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. In what is to be expected as series creator Hideo Kojima’s last Metal Gear game, The Phantom Pain will (hopefully) be a fitting, emotional and satisfying conclusion to the Metal Gear Saga. In celebration, a retrospective review for each Metal Gear Solid game written and directed by Kojima-san will be released every week leading up to the September 1st release date.
For this week’s Metal Gear Solid Retrospective review, we take a trip back in time to 1998 with Metal Gear Solid for the Sony PlayStation.
“The only person I fought for was myself.” – Snake
The Past is Prologue - a brief synopsis of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
1995 – Metal Gear
Solid Snake, an agent for Special Forces Unit FOX-HOUND, is sent by his commander Big Boss to infiltrate the military fortress Outer Heaven and eliminate Metal Gear, a nuclear equipped walking battle tank. After destroying Metal Gear, Snake is betrayed by Big Boss. It turns out he was the mastermind behind Outer Heaven and Metal Gear! Snake emerges the victor after battling his former boss and escapes the fortress’s destruction as Big Boss vows to see him once more.
1999 – Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake
Snake is brought out of retirement to rescue kidnapped Czech Scientist Dr. Kio Marv from Zanzibarland, a recently made independent Central African country. Its leaders seek to control Dr. Marv’s OILIX invention, a device which could save the world from a major oil crisis. Under the command of new FOX-HOUND commander Col. Roy Campbell, Snake infiltrates the prison where Dr. Marv is being held only to discover him dead. After retrieving the OILIX data, Snake battles another version of Metal Gear piloted by his former comrade-in-arms Grey Fox. Upon defeating Metal Gear (again), Big Boss reveals himself to Snake (again) and the two engage in mortal combat until Big Boss is finally defeated (again). After escaping and returning the OILIX data, Snake retires to Alaska…alone.
2005 – Metal Gear Solid
Snake, retried and living alone in Alaska, is bought in by force by the United States government in order to stop a nuclear strike after members of FOX-HOUND and the Next-Generation Special Forces take over a secret nuclear weapons disposal facility on Shadow Moses Island. Their demand – Big Boss’ genomic information.
1.) Rescue the DARPA chief Donald Anderson and the President of Armstech, Kenneth Baker. Both are being held as hostages.
2.) Discover whether or not the terrorists have the ability to launch a nuclear strike…and stop them if they do!
As Snake navigates his way through the Shadow Moses facility, a series of twists and turns keeps the story fresh and entertaining. The pacing is superb. Rarely does the story drag and the voice acting and dialogue are top draw. David Hayter’s Snake has been engrained in many a gamer’s mind over the years. The characters are all unique with their own set of quirks and mannerisms – especially the members of FOX-HOUND. While MGS gets a bit into ‘fantasy’ territory (e.g. Physio Mantis), it never strays into absolute nonsense…just wait ‘til MGS2 for that! The big plot twists that occur at the end make sense and help deliver on the most important themes of the game: government manipulation, genetic disposition, and the ability to control one’s fate.
“I’ll let you decide the best COA (course of action).” – Col. Campbell
There are many ways to approach MGS. You can use stealth to sneak past enemies, take them out silently or release your inner Schwarzenegger and go in guns blazing. Even through the latter is strongly discouraged, there are significant gameplay bugs that allow you to alert guards, leave the area and immediately reenter without the alert phase active. This is more effective later in the game when Snake has more health, inventory slots and weapons.
The controls are solid, much like Snake’s trusty SOCOM. It’s reliable, responsive and feels good. Compared to today’s action games it might feel a little heavy and hard to use, but it works given the limitations of that generation of gaming. The camera is a typical top down perspective consistent with the era and doesn’t provide the best coverage of the player’s surroundings. However, the Soliton Radar, which reveals enemy positions and their cone of vision, more than makes up for this limitation.
The variety of weapons such as a sniper rifle, grenades and stinger missiles all feel great to use and make the game’s iconic boss battles even more so. I personally found myself using new techniques I haven’t even thought of since I last played in what seems like a generation. Try using chaff grenades against the Cyborg Ninja! The most iconic battles in my personal opinion are the sniper duels with Sniper Wolf. Using diazepam to steady the hands, binoculars to find the target and waiting for her to show herself was still exciting after all these years.
“It’s not over yet!” - Liquid
MGS is still an impressive-looking game when compared against its contemporaries at the time. The environments are detailed…enough, the character designs are unique and the cinematic presentation pushed the PlayStation hardware to the max. Even though the characters faces are almost non-existent, I strive to imagine the cut scenes are presented as an Ashley Wood Metal Gear Solid Graphic Novel.
Both feature similar ‘blocky’ art styles that place emphasis on the action and kinetic movement rather than detail. I personally really enjoy the codec sequences that show hand drawn character faces. It gives the characters real facial emotion and creates a reference point for the real-time cut scenes. Everything else about the game – story, voice acting, and gameplay more than make up for the aged graphics.
Infinite Ammo or Stealth Camo…hmmm…
There are two different endings to the main story depending on a single outcome – can you push the circle button really fast for 10 seconds? Depending on which ending you get, you receive a special item for the next play through. Upon completing the game, you can watch all the cut scenes and codec conversations in one uninterrupted movie. In addition, there are 10 VR missions that serve as training as well as story logs recounting the first Metal Gear game and its sequel Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
“Age hasn’t slowed you down one bit” – Col. Campbell
Overall: Metal Gear Solid is a bona-fide classic and the progenitor of modern video game story telling combined with innovative stealth gameplay that together produce a one of a kind interactive experience.