Metal Gear Solid
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
In 1998 the name Hideo Kojima didn’t mean a whole lot to gamers. The title ‘Metal Gear’ didn’t mean a great deal either. Sure a few of the more knowledgeable geeks out there would have known about the NES Metal Gear 1 & 2, possibly even heard of Snatcher or Policenaughts, both released slightly later but impressive and underappreciated games in their own rights. The fact of the matter is that Kojima was more or less an unknown at this point, Metal Gear a mostly unknown series. 1998 was the year that all changed, and the video game world was sent a shockwave that would forever adjust its focus, help it mature and grow to the superpower it is, and put Hideo Kojima and the Metal Gear series on the map forever.
It’s hard to explain in all the ways this title changed the landscape of gaming, the sheer level of innovation this game has helps in a large way to cause it to be the masterpiece it is. As I said, in 1998 Hideo Kojima was more or less an unknown, and despite this, or perhaps more likely because of it was able to push the boundaries of what players knew and expected from games. Not only was he one of the first game developers to take, at the time, relatively new technology and use it to its fullest extent, giving the player an experience no other game ever had, but he was also able to help the games industry take a huge step forward in terms of storytelling and cinematics, allowing you to truly feel for the characters as much as you would in any film, and perfectly blending drama and subtle tongue in cheek comedy together.
The closest example before Metal Gear Solid of making a truly cinematic game would have to be Resident Evil, released a full two years before in 1996 and featuring laughably hammy dialogue and cut-scenes, and not till 2001, with the release of Grand Theft Auto 3 would you see such an ambitious title, but it’s not just the cinematics that make the game shine, it’s the whole package. No game before this had the intense level of development of the very idea of computer games, and arguably no game since has either (not even Hideo’s own advancements have compared with later titles in the MGS series).
The story for the game, at first glance is rather simple. Playing retired covert agent for a Special Forces team known as Foxhound, Solid Snake, you are tasked with travelling to the fortified nuclear weapons facility Shadow Moses, captured by rogue Foxhound members. You are then tasked with rescuing two hostages, the DARPA chief and the president of a major arms manufacturer ArmsTech, as well as preventing the rogue agents from releasing a nuclear strike.
As the story unravels the player bears witness to political intrigue and cover-ups, betrayals and double-crosses, is introduced to characters who, while trying to deal with the terrorist activities also have their own dark secrets and personal turmoil they have to overcome as the game progresses. One prime example of this is Hal Emmerich (who goes under the pseudonym Otacon, plays a vital role in the series as a whole, and is introduced to the player in the most painfully funny way imaginable), who was one of the developers of the titular Metal Gear, codenamed REX, a bipedal walking battle tank capable of launching a nuclear warhead from any point, who was conned into believing that he was designing a nuclear deterrent, unbeknown to him that he was creating the very thing he was trying to stop, haunted by the actions of his grandfather in conjunction with the Manhattan Project. The character suffers further turmoil as the game progresses due to a doomed love for the fatal Sniper Wolf. Such emotional depth to a computer game character before Metal Gear Solid had arguably never been seen.
The game features a wild cast of characters, from cyborg ninjas with a past somehow connected to Solid Snake, to psychotic psychics and clones, all feeling strangely routed in reality and are unbelievably believable, each fully developed, morally ambiguous and adding to the story in breathtakingly vital ways.
Another element employed to add to the immersion of the game was the way characters would break the fourth wall, talking directly to the player. For instance when Snake has to contact Meryl Silverburgh, you’re directly ordered by Colonel Campbell to check the back of the games box. How this is played so matter-of-factly is beautiful, he’s blunt, Snake doesn’t go blank-faced and wonder what he’s talking about, and the player doesn’t even blink, and fits into the MGS world wonderfully.
Equally this happens when talking to your team advisor Mei Ling, who saves your game status and provides philosophical quotes, who talks directly to the player. It all adds together to make the game completely in a world of its own and adds to the unique humour it possesses.
The game is, if you go with the official subtitle, a ‘tactical espionage action’ game. What this basically equates to is a third-person shooter employing an almost top-down camera angle reminiscent of its two prequels on the NES and countless other old-school games. The unique elements of the game however are the stealth parts. Almost unheard of in 1998 and quickly ‘emulated’ by countless games after its release, Metal Gear Solid employs the idea that instead of running and gunning the player should make a concentrated effort to sneak where possible and avoid senseless killing (an early attempt by Hideo Kojima to educate that violence may not always be the answer, further illustrated in future titles in the series with the inclusion of the tranquilliser gun and playing a more prominent role in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, set during the Cold War and seeing the player assume the role of Naked Snake, the future Big Boss and villain in the first two Metal Gears, and featuring a strong anti-war message), with cover and crawling taking large roles, particularly sneaking through air vents which changed the camera to first-person, seeing through the eyes of Snake.
Due to the focus on stealth gameplay not seen before MGS, it provided the player with an experience unlike any other, a breath of fresh air for the games industry. It introduced new concepts to the player, such as the ability to take enemies hostage, and eliminate them silently, which has later been adapted into countless games such as the Splinter Cell and Hitman series’, and even games such as Gears of War. Additionally, so many sneaking elements were introduced and over time integrated into a great many games that, after over ten years since MGS was released, has become the norm.
Whilst the game features, for its time, rather complex controls (as it was one of the first games to use analogue sticks, it took a fair amount if adjusting for the player more accustomed to the classic d-pad) it thankfully accommodates the player with a special tutorial known as the VR training simulator. This allowed the player to practice with a number of predesigned scenarios to hone their skills to the best of their ability.
In many ways MGS added unique elements to the game to engross the player further and bring a whole new way of gaming. It was one of the first games to fully utilise the dual shock to full extent such as during the infamous torture sequence, vibrating violently as player tries not to submit, and generally being able to so smoothly play the game with the analogue sticks. At the same time the way Kojima uses even the memory cards as plot devises, with Psycho Mantis reading what Konami games the player had played as well as how many saves the player has made in the game, deciding that multiple saves makes the player prudent. Lastly the game has interesting and unique ways of dealing with bosses, such as getting the player to stick the p1 control into p2 slot to throw Psycho Mantis off his game and allow you to get the upper hand on beating him.
While back in the days of the Playstation the ability to render true 3D graphics were difficult and came out blocky and unrealistic, Hideo Kojima did the best he could to create the best looking game of its time. Each character looked detailed and unique, each setting beautiful. Look at the immense sniper battle between Solid Snake and Sniper Wolf, the snowy courtyard, every detail incredibly depicted, every footstep left in the snow (yet another innovation, if guards see Snake’s footsteps it raises their awareness and they become suspicious, incredible AI for a game in this era), and then you have the nuclear warhead storage bunker, eerily silent and ominous, allowing the player to stop and see the ramifications of what could happen if they were to fail their mission. Every aspect of the game was carefully planned and thought out, every detail intentional and meaningful.
The soundtrack to the game is equally as meaningful. Each character had their own theme that fits the personality perfectly, every moment captured and scored and able to tug at the heart-strings of the player where necessary. And then just listen to the games theme tune, a dramatic work of audio art, capturing the overall mood and themes of the game just right.
Without this game, quite frankly, it’s hard to see the games industry as it is today. It took a lot of risks, and every one of them paid off to push the industry to where it is.
It features an accomplished, mature, complex and compelling storyline, unparalleled gameplay that even to this days stands up to the test of time, and is simply put a masterpiece in every way. Some people may criticise the series for all the lengthy cut-scenes, but they’re perfectly acceptable with such an interesting plot.
In so many ways, Metal Gear Solid raised the bar for developers and helped video games gain the respect they truly deserve.
Reset Rating: 10/10
Review brought to you by TheMercurialMan.