Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for me to make a single criticism of Metal Gear Solid. This kind of nostalgia is hardly unique to this game but to be fair, Metal Gear Solid is more than a nostalgia trip. It’s a legitimately great game that’s a classic in every sense of the word. It single-handedly popularized the stealth genre and was one the first video games to achieve the cinematic pedigree of a feature film. It spawned a massive franchise consisting of several games an millions of copies sold worldwide. The video game industry wasn’t the same after Metal Gear Solid. It’s influence is so far reaching that chances are that if you played a video in the last year, it was probably influenced by this game in some way.
Metal Gear Solid is the third game in the Metal Gear series, a sequel to Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (which were released for the MSX and MSX2 home computers in Japan). The original two games were created by Hideo Kojima and were the early pioneers of the stealth genre. In an interviewwith Gamer Today, Kojima said that his decision to create a stealth-focused video game was inspired by the movie The Great Escape, which gave him the idea of from running away from your enemies and delivering a cinematic experience in a video game.
After experimenting with video games on home computers, Kojima began developing games on disc based consoles, he inevitably discovered Sony’s disc-based Playstation console, which released in Japan in late 1994 and was scheduled to release in North America in 1995. Kojima decided to revisit his stealth series with the more powerful hardware at his disposal and began development on a third Metal Gear game originally titled Metal Gear 3 in mid-1995.
The title was later changed to Metal Gear Solid given the obscurity of the previous games. The name also has a triple-meaning. According to Kojima, the “Solid” suffix refers to the use of solid polygons, to the main character Solid Snake, who himself was named after the lead character in the movie Escape from New York and finally the suffix pokes fun at Final Fantasy developer Square for naming their company after a two-dimensional shape.
The upgrade to three dimensions and the inclusion of voice actors allowed Kojima to deliver a cinematic experience he’d been attempting since Metal Gear. Kojima was involved in just about every asepct of development for this game. He approved the sound design, planned the enemy patrol routes and co-wrote the script on top of directing and producing the game.
Kojima’s love of movies is evident in Metal Gear Solid and there are several scenes heavily inspired by specific movies such as Full Metal Jacket, The Fury and Halloween. According to an article by Gamespot, the development team at Konami Computer Entertainment Japan, which consisted of 35 people, also visited a SWAT team for consulting. In 1998, Metal Gear Solid was released worldwide to both commercial and critical success.
Metal Gear Solid stars Solid Snake (the protagonist of the two previous Metal Gear games), a retired soldier living in Alaska and former member of a special forces team called FOXHOUND. Snake is pulled out of retirement by his former Commanding Officer Roy Campbell in order to resolve a terrorist uprising at a Nuclear Weapons Disposal Facility on an Alaskan island called Shadow Moses. The terrorist have threatened to launch a nuclear missile unless the White House meets a list of demands.
The uprising is led by members of FOXHOUND, who are now under the command of a man named Liquid Snake. With the help of genetically modified soldiers, FOXHOUND has seized the facility and taken the DARPA Chief and the President of a private defense contractor company hostage. Snake’s objective is to infiltrate the facility,rescue both hostages and stop the terrorists from launching the nuke.
Snake eventually discovers the development of a nuclear-equipped bipedal tank called Metal Gear Rex, uncovers a political and corporate conspiracy and learns a secret about his past. The narrative is compelling, thrilling and intense. There are several plot twists, Snake’s objectives shift multiple times and the stakes get higher as the story progresses and continually evolves. This culminates in one of the most well-executed climaxes in video game history.
The plot is also filled with heavy themes of nuclear proliferation and genetic fate. These themes are at times, as subtle as a sledgehammer but for a game to even attempt to be about something topical and relevant was unprecedented at the time. Video games in 1998 had barely advanced beyond simply trying to get to the end of a level and wrapping the most basic story around this concept. Even if it’s shoving the themes down your throat, Metal Gear Solid tries so hard to be about something important that it’s difficult to criticize it given the amount of effort.
On top of a theme-filled plot, Snake also goes on personal journey. He slowly changes from a tired and discontented soldier into an optimistic man. Snake is joined by several side characters. Most notable are Meryl Silverburgh, a rookie soldier who is also Roy Campbell’s niece and Hal Emmerich, a wimpy scientist who designed Metal Gear Rex. Both of these characters interact with Snake in different ways and undergo their own development.
There’s a great sense of progression when the game ends, though there are times when characters will slip into a random monologue regarding some meaningful past life event or meander through a philosophical rant on how they see the world. For every touching moment in Metal Gear Solid there’s a heavy handed one complete with sappy music that tells you how you’re supposed to feel. All things considered, it’s worth sitting through the sappy moments because when Metal Gear Solid gets it right, it’s genuinely moving.
Snake also maintains contact with a support team via a miniature radio (known as a CODEC in-game). Each member of the support team has plenty of interesting optional dialogue and has a subtle character arc. There’s a chinese woman named Mei Ling who’s sole purpose is to save your progress yet her love of chinese proverbs is very charming. Her optional dialogue is also some of the best in the entire game. It’s rare for a video game to put so much effort into something that plenty of players won’t even see.
Metal Gear Solid fleshes out its side characters through optional dialogue which, believe it or not, it still something that most video games fail to get right. It’s impressive that when I played through this game (for the umpteenth time) for the purpose of this blog post, I discovered dialogue I’d never heard before in a game that is 16 years old.
The best part of Metal Gear Solid is the voice acting and soundtrack. The script has more pages than several feature films and is very heavy on dialogue. The presentation however is absolutely outstanding. The cutscenes achieve a sublime cinematic effect that had never been achieved by a video game up to that point. This is complemented by superb voice acting, in particular David Hayter’s performance as Snake is one of the most legendary performances in video game history. Metal Gear Solid turned Snake into an icon and after playing this game, it’s very easy to see why.
The gameplay in Metal Gear Solid holds up very well. The player controls Snake from a bird’s eye perspective, though the camera will swoop down to a ground level when Snake leans against a corner. The gameplay consists primarily of navigating through an area and avoiding all enemies in between the you and the exit. Just about every area is patrolled by enemy guards and each room is a sort of puzzle that can figuratively change shape at a moment’s notice.
The player is equipped with a radar that shows enemy locations and their field of vision. The player can distract guards, knock them out, snap their necks or avoid them altogether. If an enemy sees the player, the radar goes offline and the reinforcements are sent to the area. The player has to either leave the area or stay out of sight long enough for the guards to give up their search and return to their usual patrols.
A frontal assault is possible but not recommended. Guards can quickly surround the player and overwhelm them. The AI for the purposes of combat but can be easy to toy with, especially if they’re unaware of the player’s presence. It doesn’t help that they can only see a few feet in front of them. However the stealth is quite a lot of fun, even of easier difficulties. For a nail-biting experience, I recommend playing Metal Gear Solid on the hardest difficulty setting with the radar turned off.
Metal Gear Solid has a deceptively simple setup for gameplay. The player has many limitations, for instance the player can look around from a first-person perspective but it unable to attack from this viewpoint. In some areas certain types of material make noise when you walk on them, which can attract enemies, forcing you to silently crawl. The areas are designed specifically with these player’s limitations in mind. Getting through an area will require skill and Metal Gear Solid does well to avoid hand-holding.
The player starts out unarmed though their arsenal will grow quickly throughout the game. Unfortunately, if the player acquires a suppressor for the pistol, most areas become trivial. The boss fights on the other hand, are all very well designed. Every boss in Metal Gear Solid occurs at the perfect moment in terms of pacing. Most bosses revolve around a recently acquired weapon and they are a lot of fun to beat. Metal Gear Solid is full of awesome moments but probably the most memorable in the entire game, aside from the final boss fight, is Snake’s deadly encounter and subsequent boss fight with a gas-mask-wearing psychic who breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the player.
It’s no surprise that Metal Gear Solid spawned a massive franchise that is still going on to this day. It was a true watershed moment in video gaming and a classic piece of gaming history. Despite it’s very short length, it has so much to offer and is densely packed with an interesting plot, several narrative themes, a ton of character development and some of the most memorable boss fights in video game history. This is an important slice of gaming history and if somehow you haven’t already played this game, I recommend you head over to the PSN and pick up a digital copy, because if you don’t you’ll be missing out on one of the best video games ever made.
This article originally appeared on Aspie Gaming on 2.2.2014