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Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid, box art, reviewLaunching in 1998 and developed by Konami, Metal Gear Solid is one of the best selling PlayStation titles on the system. While not the first in the series, with both Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake preceding it, Metal Gear Solid was somewhat revolutionary. It married cinematic storytelling with gameplay to a level not yet seen on the system, and offered a unique and innovative experience for players to enjoy. With Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes coming out in March, we’re going to take a look through the Metal Gear Solid series.  

Starring irregular series protagonist and iconic hero, Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid starts by introducing the cast–including the title’s entire cast of villains. A secret military facility has been overtaken by Snake’s previous military unit, FOXHOUND, and he has been brought back out of retirement to ensure rescue two hostages and ensure the terrorists do not have nuclear launch capabilities. In contrast to the silly, over-the-top style that the series is now renown for, the original Metal Gear Solid was introduced as–and presented like–a serious action movie.  Solid Snake is portrayed by David Hayter as a cold, gruff and rather stoic anti-hero.

Players start the game unarmed and surrounded by enemy sentries, forced to avoid detection until the elevator that would soon result in their very first daring escape would arrive. It’s here that core elements of the game are established, with enemies reacting to the sound of the player running through puddles, discovering the player’s wet foot prints, being manipulated by the player knocking on walls, and often eventually discovering a new player and initiating the alert. It’s a well crafted chamber for player experimentation, and this introductory area is not alone.

As the player progresses, they acquire new tools to further their campaign, be it thermal goggles, night vision goggles, identification cards for further access to additional chambers, or new weapons. The combat is relatively clunky, but that was generally the standard of that era. There are some odd design decisions, such as requiring the player to hold down two buttons in order to both shoot and move at the same time. Aiming is generally automatic, but twirling Snake around the spot would allow for some additional control for the player.

With each new stage, the player is introduced to new additional mechanics. Infrared sensors that may be revealed through the smoke of Snake’s cigarettes, remote controlled missiles that can target switchboards to disable electrified floors, trap doors leading to an instant game over, and more. Each area is rich with new obstacles to challenge the player’s ability to adapt in a dangerous environment in which any mistake could well be the player’s last. The game isn’t without its mercy, and players are rewarded for adapting after triggering an alert. A quick thinking or experienced player will be able to take advantage of the environment to hide until the area’s guards are no longer on alert.  Additionally, hidden secrets are dotted around the game, or interesting and more subtle techniques can be used to gain advantage by the player. Landmines can be detected by using the thermal goggles, wolves can be tricked into giving Snake their scent, and rooms hidden behind destructible walls can be accessed by using remote explosives. Metal Gear Solid is intricate in design and offers gameplay with more depth than any other action title on offer at its time. It was unparalleled.

Through-out the game, Solid Snake’s progress is challenged by the boss characters that were briefly introduced during the title’s opening cinematic. Each member of FOXHOUND requires their own unique tactics to be overcome, often testing the player’s skills with their latest acquisition. Many of the series’ most memorable moments come from these encounters, and in fact many of the medium’s most memorable bosses are contained on the title’s two discs. Particularly of note is the Psycho Mantis battle in which the game breaks the fourth wall multiple times. Bleeding into reality, this resulted in an absolutely engaging and rather quirky battle that establishes the silliness that the series is now famous for.

Overall, the title is presented rather ostensibly as a serious game; however, be it the results of hardware limitations or the odd eccentricities of series creator Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid has humorous, weird elements permeating through-out. This may often be the result of attempting to portray a dramatic storyline without being able to even see the player character’s face. In addition to the juxtaposition of the supernatural agents within the plot, these quirks add a layer of charm to the rather innovative game to a degree like a B-Movie that is quite lacking in subsequent titles. It’s the strange marriage of dark tones, a mature theme, paranormal elements, and clunky execution of the plot that makes the title’s story something special even by today’s standards. Back in 1998, this was even more impressive, as the persistent, high quality voice acting and lengthy cinematic cutscenes were rare at best.

Metal Gear Solid often treats itself as a movie. While players can enjoy the very strong gameplay, they’re treated to a relatively sophisticated story that would only really be featured in a role-playing game. These cutscenes are an entirely separate entity to the gameplay, with both elements segregated. During cutscenes, credits would often be displayed when a new character is introduced, and the opening cinematic contains opening credits like those expected in film. Additionally, aspect ratio changes to a letter box-esque appearance slightly raised to provide room for subtitles below. The camera work was also far more dynamic than what most game cutscenes would have, often simulating direction in film. Audio quality in the title was strong, featuring a powerful soundtrack and including a theme with lyrics. Every scene was voice acted, as were all possible communications with other characters through the title’s helpful codec feature.

Whether in 1998 or in the present, the original Metal Gear Solid still contains an intricate gameplay experience and a pretty fantastic story. The title innovated the action genre, and introduced stealth elements in a three dimensional environment to a sophisticated degree that few action games still match. Additionally, before Metal Gear Solid, enemies rarely, if ever, recognised changes in their environment or actively interacted with it. It’s safe to say that the original title was a groundbreaking experience and its impact can still be seen in some games today.

Videogame reviewer and student videogame developer, located in Scotland. Founder of the Gaming Advance blog.

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