The Interesting Case of Metal Gear Solid, or Groundbreaking Gaming

For those of you who don’t know, I recently participated in a Game Swap with Kim from Later Levels, during which we each played one of the other’s favorite games. I played through Fable  on the Xbox360, and I subjected Kim to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. After watching her playthrough, I was attacked by nostalgia, and so decided to pop in the original Metal Gear Solid and play through it for the first time in about a decade, if you can believe that.

what

I also decided to stream it, so it was my first time playing the game on the Playstation 3 as part of the Legacy collection of Metal Gear games. I was interested to see how they pulled off some of the more gimmicky mechanics of the game that were so unique and – to my knowledge – have not been implemented in any subsequent games, and to a veteran player, I was not disappointed. If I had to compare the two, I’d say a first-time player would probably enjoy the gimmicks more on the original Playstation (or playing the original game on Playstation 2), but this was a good alternative if those options were not available.

But I digress.

Enter Shadow Moses

Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998, the same year such games as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Baldur’s Gate, and Half-Life were released, so it was a year full of narrative-heavy games. But none were as heavy as Metal Gear Solid (MGS).

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I didn’t play MGS the year it was released, being too busy with Ocarina of Time and my fabulous Nintendo 64. But a few years later, after acquiring my very own PSOne, I inherited a few old games from my brother as he upgraded to the PS2. In the pile of games was the game with the white cover and red lettering. Right from the menu, I knew this was a game that was probably beyond what someone like me was used to playing.

But I was a pre-teen, and had already been duped into playing Grand Theft Auto III after being told it was “Just like Crazy Taxi, but….” So I was ready.

After fuddling around in the menu because I kept forgetting that the O button was to select, and X was to go back, I started the game and was treated to a cutscene full of super-spy info dump.

I was instantly hooked.

 

After playing through the first section and successfully being able to make it to the elevator with minimal death on the part of the guards, my brother said that the object was to not have anyone see you. So I decided I had to restart and do it over, obviously.

Then, I saw on the menu that there were tapes you could watch. Tapes of interviews conducted by Campbell of Solid Snake after he was, ahem, kidnapped and brought in for this mission. I don’t know how many tapes I watched (all of them), but each one drew me further and further into the story, with interesting characters and government intrigue spinning in my head afterward.

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Something that I’ve seen brought up online is that the people who love Metal Gear, love Metal Gear, and the people who don’t, really don’t. And I can see that. Sometimes the game feels like Hideo Kojima was too in love with his story for his own good. After all, I’ve written almost 400 words about this game so far and not actually talked about the game part.

Metal Gear Solid, and the Metal Gear series in general, is one that takes players for a meandering, complex ride through government intrigue, questions of identity and loyalty, and zany antics and characters that sometimes come across as the lovechildren of comic books and B spy movies. It’s a series that you have to go into without taking it, or its antics, too seriously, otherwise it will quite possibly drive you crazy at best, and frustrate you with its superfluousness at worst.

Again, I digress.

Finding Solid Snake

Part of the magic of Metal Gear Solid, though, is that there was nothing like it on the market when it came out. It had the most complex storyline out of any game I had ever experienced, and the cutscenes were positively cinematic in scope. It dealt with serious, heavy themes, and broke the fourth wall in unexpected and unrelated ways while doing so.

One of the drawbacks of streaming it was that, as someone who has played through the game multiple times in the past, I was aware of story beats and mechanical quirks and little secrets of gameplay that seemed too far-fetched to intuitively understand from just playing through the game. A viewer even asked, when I explained a mechanic that was not intuitive at all, how a gamer is supposed to pick that up from what was happening in the game.

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The answer was, as a first-time player, I didn’t. I failed over and over again until one of the supporting characters called Snake on the codec and gave him a hint. The first time that happened, my mind was blown, and from there on out, I called all of my support people, all the time, in every situation, and for anything I was concerned about, because I knew that somewhere in all the conversations was some hint that I could use.

Which, admittedly, wouldn’t really fly today in most AAA games, would it?

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But the information was there. The whole game suddenly felt like a puzzle that I had to solve, and I ate it up.

Replaying After a Decade

One aspect of the game that still rings true, so many years later, are the sheer amount of ways you can go about solving a problem in the game. Since I streamed the game, a few people that I didn’t know – MGS fans all – stopped by, and we chatted about the game. It was fascinating to hear how they worked through certain problems, only to then see them comment on how they didn’t know the way I had done something was an option. Just to get into the main building at the start of the game, there are (if I remember right) four entrances, each with their own challenges, and each putting Snake in a different area inside the building, some with more tactical advantages than others. It’s up to the player to decide their best course of action, and then puzzle their way through the building from there. After that, the game is off and running.

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The controls are standard fare if you are familiar with MGS, which means that you need to be aware of what you have equipped at all times, and certain things need to be equipped and unequipped in order to pass through certain areas. Staying aware of your inventory is also important, as not-so-nice things can get snuck into your belongings when you’re not looking. Yep. That’s a thing in this game.

Speaking of controls, I liked how the PS3 Legacy version implemented the disc change and controller tricks that were present in the first game, although there is one part of the game during which you need to refer to something on the jewel case, which is not present on the Legacy collection. I’m not sure how a new player is to figure this out, without looking it up online, but I passed by the part without thinking, so excited was I to talk to the character that would be on the other end of the call.

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The camera angle is fixed, which didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Interestingly, it bothered me more when I went back to complete the game, after finishing MGS2, so perhaps to someone playing MGS for the first time now, the camera angle would take some getting used to. Having gotten too used to being able to rotate the camera to a position most comfortable for me, instead of having to adjust the play style to what the camera is doing, is a skill that has been left behind in previous game generations. But fixed cameras were part of the era the game came out of, so that is hardly a demerit specific to MGS.

The plot is complex, and at times confusingly so, as information pertinent to the actual plot can be buried under explanations of history, both in-game and real, and detailed descriptions of governmental antics that are tangentially related to the game, and incredibly related to the morals Kojima tries to slap into the player’s face.

That’s possibly the biggest detracting factor for the game (and series). While it would be easy to say that Kojima has a passing knowledge of basic science and biology, and the woman in his games whiplash from being strong, masculine badasses to beautiful women who become super soldiers due to their PTSD (yes, that’s a thing in this series), to  being half-naked snipers who breathe through their skin…

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…for me, the hardest gate to get through is that the Point with a capital “P” that Kojima tries to make in his games often feels ham-handed, going so far as to have cutscenes at the end of the game to explain exactly the moral of the story, lest anyone not interpret the masterful meaning behind the 60-80 hour narrative.

Don’t get me wrong: the game makes VERY good points, and as someone who read codices in Dragon Age: Origins for fun, this didn’t really bother me, but it is something that I do believe is a rather inelegant part of the experience overall. The story of a game should, in general, be able to stand on what the gameplay, or the gameplay plus reasonable cutscenes, show the player.

But, like I said, long cutscenes and moralizing is a staple of the Metal Gear Solid series at this point, so longtime fans are gonna fan, as the song goes. It’s something to be aware of going in, however, and another quirk of the games that a player will have to either accept at face value, or risk frustration.

Bottom Line

Like so many other older games, Metal Gear Solid is a game of its times, but at the time, there was nothing like it available. It pushes the boundaries between games and cinema, and tackles some deep, serious subjects without really taking itself too seriously. It plays like an action spy movie, and even if the player completely disregards the details of the story, it’s satisfying to puzzle through and engrossing to play, with its zany elements and flexibility for finding solutions to problems.

I spoke before that the existence of some games provided the foundation for subsequent games, and I believe that Metal Gear Solid is one of those games. No, the gaming industry didn’t adopt the long, cinematic cutscenes with as widely open arms as subsequent Metal Gear games did (looking at you, MGS4), but the way it allows players to experiment and think outside the box when solving in-game problems is something that many gamers still applaud, and the boss battles in the series are, in my opinion, more unique – and memorable – than a majority of games’ contemporaries.

Overall, if you’re looking to play a spy movie, with deep plots, intrigue, interesting characters, and just a touch of zaniness, it’s impossible for me to recommend Metal Gear Solid highly enough. While subsequent games improved on some of the unpolished bits of the game, it’s a solid (har har) experience for anyone willing to put a little time into it.

Plus, we can all get behind a hero secretly named…

You thought I was going to spoil it, didn’t you?

Have you played Metal Gear Solid? What about any of the other games in the series? Are you a fan, or are they best left to lore-crazy people like me? Let me know in the comments!

Also, who else remembers this sound?

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Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~Athena

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6 comments

  1. I played Metal Gear Solid a lot back when it came out and it remains one of my favourite games to this day, so reading your thoughts brought it all back. A brilliant game, one that had me hooked because I had never played any game quite like it. It stood out because (in my 11-year old mind at the time) it was trying to present itself like a film, and that was impressive at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s difficult to explain just how mind-blowing things like the Psycho Mantis memory card reading or something like having to call the Codec frequency that could only be found on the back of the game case. This is coming from someone who knew of the original MSG, but never played it until the Twin Snakes remake on the Gamecube.

    I always think of MSG games, or pretty much any Kojima game as being brilliant and thought-provoking while being utterly, over-the-top stupid near simultaneously.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yup, I remember that sound well!

    I played this when it came out, and ti blew me away how far ahead of the stuff I’d played in the 16-Bit era it was. Truth be told, I still think this was the last era of console that cosnistently blew me away with how far we’d come. A lot of the advancements now feel like aesthetic tweaks and tightenings of controls rather than presenting us something new.

    Anyway, I loved this game. I haven’t played it in a long, long time now, but I still remember bits and pieces from it. Bizarrely though, one of the things that really stuck with me was sitting there with a cup of tea in my hand and realising that ‘Tactical Espionage Action: Metal Gear Solid’ could be abbreviated to TEA MGS.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. For the longest time, the only link I had with the Metal Gear Solid series was in the Twin Snakes version of this game, which ramps up the action in the cutscenes to match how wild and hammer-handed the narrative is. It was a bit of shock to get to later games in the series, see the same tone there, but for some reason Snake’s not doing big dumb pointless acrobatics in the cutscenes anymore.

    Which ever version you take, Metal Gear Solid is a great game. I have a hard time taking the plot seriously, but I really enjoy it through a tongue-in-cheek filter. It did stealth right earlier than anyone else, and really changed the way games handled stealth going onwards.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Metal Gear Solid falls in a strange category of works that also includes stuff like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and The Deer Hunter in that I think they’re all great, yet I dislike the impact they had on the medium. Call of Duty 4 mapped out a blueprint for the creatively stagnant place the American AAA industry currently occupies whereas The Deer Hunter taught future auteurs all the wrong lessons about what kinds of standards they should strive for. Metal Gear Solid itself is likely responsible for game creators attempting to tell stories through cinematic cutscenes, which started off fine, but eventually hammered in the idea that games are inferior to films, which indirectly culminated in Naughty Dog’s increasingly obnoxious film-game approach to design (which itself blew up in their face earlier this year).

    What many of the people taking cues from Metal Gear Solid failed to pick up on is that there was that the game was good as a result of its innovative stealth-based gameplay and solid level design; the cutscenes were just a nice bonus. Granted, this is really only an observation that could be made in hindsight. Given that the problems with failing to sync your story and gameplay (a common result of telling stories through cutscenes) weren’t well-known in 1998, I can see why many thought it was the way of the future. Granted, Metal Gear Solid has problems independent from its impact, and I don’t think it’s as polished as its direct predecessor Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, but it is a good game that has its place in history.

    Liked by 1 person

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