Developers: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
Plot: A terrorist cell gets its hands on a devastating weapon. The government send a lone man, Solid Snake, to infiltrate their mountain fortress base.
Metal Gear Solid is one of the most iconic games out there. The main reason for this is the fact it looked at the gaming industry as a whole, thought outside of the box, and wondered how it could improve certain things and do things differently. Hideo Kojima is one of the more iconic faces in the gaming industry, because without him, we could argue that we wouldn’t be where we are today with games. We could also argue a lot of these progressive elements to gaming started here. Metal Gear Solid, in a simple terms, is gaming history.
But first, let’s discuss the game for its mechanics. Metal Gear Solid, even without the more progressive gaming elements, is different from the norm, mainly because it focuses on stealth, rather than combat. The main goal of the game is to get to the other side, without being caught or spotted. It is possible to get through the whole game with only engaging and killing the boss fights, and leaving the filler guards untouched, or at the very least, unconscious. Of course, this is very difficult, but in completing a perfect stealth run-through, you do feel like the spy Solid Snake was intended to be. The game consists of several rooms, filled with patrolling guards. The trick is embracing patience and patterns, spending a few moments pausing in the entrance of the latest area, and watching the guards pace around. Where do they pause for a cigarette? When do two guards meet up on their patrols, narrowing down their combined field of vision to one location? It is tricky stuff, and perhaps more hazardously to the sales, something that could quickly become dull. It is very hard for the younger gamer to wait on the side-lines rather than charging in with the minimal ammunition and shooting the place up. Hell, sometimes you have to fight the simple urge to make a wild dash for it and hope that you don’t bump into a patrol on the other side. After a while though, you learn how the game wants you to play it. You begin spotting the areas where the laser trip-wires are hidden (light up a cigarette and the resulting smoke reveals where they are), or which corridors are likely equipped with CCTV. Your patience is awarded with the boss fights. There are quite a few of them, and when you have figured out the stealth bit to the point where you can zip through it in a short space of time, the boss fights take up around 50% of the actual gameplay. It is here with Konami apologises for the slow-burning nature of the game and gives you some iconic fight scenes. Sniper Wolf’s two sequences are a tactical dream, as the pair of you lie in wait with long range weapons on either side of an expansive map, and pick each other off with your keen senses and faultless accuracy. Taking on the mini-gun wielding Vulcan Raven in a labyrinth is also a great slice of fun, suddenly embracing the more explosive side of the spy genre. And who doesn’t remember with vivid detail the horrific introduction of Ninja, walking through that bloody corridor to take on one of the trickier boss fights in the game?
But let’s move away from the success of the actual structure of the game and talk about the progressive elements I was referring to earlier. The first one seems quite simple, but story. Games never really embraced a narrative too tightly until Metal Gear Solid. Stories were something that was required to make the action make mandatory sense, but Kojima saw it as the perfect means to make his story more compelling. Before the game has even begun, we are treated to a thorough back story to each and every character. Solid Snake has become such a prominent hero in the gaming industry, because right from the initial game, he had a rich history. A genetically modified super-soldier, a tool of the government and a man who knows very little outside of killing. The supporting cast are equally interesting. A few of them suffer from the clichéd writing of the times, but you can access them and care for them. Snake has the ability to pause the action at any time and strike up a conversation with any of this team back home. Naomi is an interesting person to get to know and the others, like Mei Ling, who you contact to save your progress at any time, is adorable enough that she acts as a nice breather from Metal Gear Solid, if you fancy a chat. The story is also in-depth, focusing on political and social context. It asks questions and engages the gamer. Outside of the story, there are also little details that need to be brought up in this review. They seem like small things, but considering the timing of this game’s release, they deserve an appropriate amount of applause. One torture scene introduces the world to button-mashing. The faster you tap the buttons, the more resistant Snake is to torture. This is the part of a long sequence, where if you didn’t break out fast enough ,you had to restart the button-mashing process, each time getting a little harder. It really got across the tension of the moment and was a great way of accessing the possibilities of a Playstation controller. Another fantastic moment where the controller was used in a way no one had thought of before is in a battle with Psycho Mantis. Mantis has studied your moves and memorises your fighting style throughout the game. It is a massive shock to the gamer, their own tactics being used against them. Even smarter? Invert the controls and Mantis cannot read what you are going to do. It was a purposeful addition by Kojima and such a brilliant piece of post-modern gaming.
Sadly, as with any of these progressive trends, there are quite a few moments where they don’t quite work. Kojima is very passionate about his story, but he overworks it a lot of the time. It is often frustrating to break up the gameplay for cut-scenes that will go on for ten minutes. This isn’t a reviewer’s exaggeration. Sometimes, the talking scenes drag on for longer than ten minutes. It is all very and good wanting to provide the gamer with an intricate idea of the story they are shooting their way through, but it is a common feeling in Metal Gear Solid to want to pull your hair out. Sometimes, it is the perfect way to send off a scene, the defeat of Sniper Wolf, surprisingly touching. Other times, we are forced to discuss philosophy with Liquid Snake’s melodramatic antagonist. The introduction and ending are the worst examples of it. Getting the story started is a painfully slow experience, as we spend far too long discussing genomes, a topic we are only slightly bothered about. We kind of want to dive right into the spy genre. The ending is just as painful, embracing melodrama and cliché, like the go-to narrative for any story. As Solid Snake decides it is time he embraced love and freedom (go, Team ‘Merica!), it kills the poignancy of the moment with pure cheesiness. I can see what you are trying to do here, Kojima, and Metal Gear Solid will always have a vital place in gaming history, but I am glad people took your ideas on board, but watered them down first.
Final Verdict: Metal Gear Solid changes the way developers approached making a game. Even if certain ideas suffer teething problems, it is still a historic piece of gaming.