Few experiences have been as profound as Metal Gear Solid when it comes to gaming. Metal Gear Solid was my absolute favorite game on the original Playstation. I invested playthrough after playthrough until my disc was usable no more. Even years later, the Metal Gear series remains to be one of the best experiences Sony has to offer. On Playstation 3, Metal Gear Solid 4 is my favorite game for the console, and I’m more than ready to get my hands on next year’s Metal Gear Rising. Yet, I can’t imagine with all the nostalgia I have for the original Solid game, any other Metal Gear can be as influential on me. Years later, I took the opportunity to play Metal Gear Solid again, and I couldn’t be more excited. Would the game be able to stand on its own legs as a still amazing game, or is the nostalgia not enough to carry this PS One classic?
For those of you who haven’t played or don’t remember, you take the role of Solid Snake in the year 2005 (you know….the future). On the island of Shadow Moses, a nuclear waste site, terrorists have threatened a nuclear attack if they aren’t given the remains of the legendary soldier, Big Boss. Snake is asked by Colonel Campbell to take them out. Things seem simple enough, but Snake is actually on a mission much more intriguing than he is led to believe. As the story goes on, things get fairly confusing and it can be difficult for many players to follow along.
What’s more confusing than the story itself is the back story. The game does all but assume the player that is familiar with all the Metal Gear games. With that being the case, it almost expects the seriousness of the situation to be fully appreciated when Snake is told that Metal Gear Rex – a giant mech capable of launching nuclear missiles – is on the island as well. For those who haven’t played the previous games, things get really tricky as the game tends to be overly referential. Not only are the plot points obscure should the player be new to the series (often times confusing to veterans as well), but the characters Snake meets know him a whole lot better than players may know them. All in all, sense can still be made of the story for many newcomers and connect fairly well by the end of the game. I suggest that those who are new to the series take some time to do research – whether it be before or during.
Overall, the story still hold its own as an impressively developed narrative. It’s a Western-like story of military proportions, but it’s told in a way that resembles Japanese story telling. This means that things go from fairly realistic to surreal in some very jaunting ways. The overall plot may be believable in certain contexts, but without blinking an eye things get absolute daffy; mind control, cyborg ninja, and some downright crazy antics. That’s not to say the plot is completely over the top in a way that’ll ruin some peoples’ experiences, but some more Western-narrative inclined folk may find the oddities to be disorienting. The story’s strong points come in the way the characters are developed and in how the plot thickens. Characters are often times melodramatic, but the voice acting generally does a great job at keeping them tangible and interesting. Every corner Snake turns he finds out something about someone or something that can make the audiences’ head spin.
Another selling point for this game is its atmosphere and presentation. Through amazing music and an expertly designed setting, players may feel as though they truly are Solid Snake: one man against the world. The mundane grays, depressing blankets of snow, and emptiness all around make for an immersed experience. From a technical perspective, the scenery isn’t entirely mind blowing, but it stills does what it is meant to do – make the player feel utterly hopeless and alone. Between the story and the setting, players may find themselves feeling just as much a part of this world as one could imagine feeling a part of a game like Red Dead Redemption.
Obviously the graphics don’t even nearly hold a candle to today’s games, but they certainly work. Some animations are still fairly impressive. While the 3D character models seem archaic with bobbing heads and lips that don’t move, the 2D animations over the codex look great. They have an anime aesthetic to them that many could appreciate. Even though the 3D models don’t look too amazing these days, they must have believed they did then as there is a ton of overt sexuality. Time and time again, players will be subjected to seeing some T ‘n’ A shots of Meryl, the Colonel’s hot red headed “niece”, and Sniper Wolf. Never has a woman looked so sexy with so few polygons.
As great as the story and atmosphere may be, Metal Gear Solid’s gameplay needs to hold up to be a withstanding classic. For the most part it does. Acclimating to the limited, and sometime clunky, gameplay mechanics can take some time. The gunplay can be pretty hard to pull off from a near top down perspective and is surprisingly even more difficult in first person. This isn’t too much of a bother when considering the bulk of the game relies on stealth. Though, stealthily taking someone out can be troublesome on its own. For example: to grab someone and silently choke them, the player must get right up behind them. Then the player must press square and mash it like crazy without being seen. It’s often too easy to be hesitant and not fully approach enemies. After failing a few times, players will likely compensate and push square while accidentally running. When this happens, the guard will be flipped over and all the lights are on Snake.
The stealth as a whole can be often be wonky. The player can run around and create a bunch of noise without attracting any guards – with the exception of some metal grated areas. While creating explosions and firing non-suppressed firearms make noticeable sound, the player can still run up right behind someone making plenty of noise, and they won’t notice. Most of the time, though, if the player is caught, it’s likely because of being seen. The line of sight is fairly limited, but it can be surprising how often one is found out by sight. With such archaic stealth mechanics, it’s easy not to take the game seriously enough and end up being seen. The game isn’t all too forgiving as older games generally are. All in all, the gameplay can present quite the learning curve with its clunkiness, but overcoming the curve is well worth it. Once the rules are understood, playing the game as it was meant to be played is extremely satisfying.
The greatest hook for Metal Gear’s playthrough comes from its nuances and innovations. At many points in the game, the player is given more than a few options for working themselves out of a jam. One of the coolest parts in the game is when Snake is caught and thrown in a cell. The scene starts with a torture minigame (yes, torture can be fun!) where the player must mash O like crazy hoping not to die. If the player fails, the game is simply over. Though, they are welcome to give up and be shown mercy. After being thrown in the cell, there are a few ways to get out. One could beat the guard and escape by knocking on the wall until he gets upset and comes in, throw a slew of air punches until he gets upset and do the same, or even take some ketchup and stage Snake’s death. Staging Snake’s death is by far the most satisfying. Even then, Otacon can come to Snake’s rescue after some failed attempts if need be.
There are plenty more nuances and Easter eggs, but it’s hard to believe that many can be come upon intuitively. Some of them are quirky while others are a bit more…interesting. There is a point where Snake partners up with Meryl, and they walk through a field of wolves. The wolves will attack Snake unless the player pulls off something clever and hardly obvious. There is a wolf pup that follows Meryl around and if the player was to punch her in the back of the head (I know, right?) she will sick the dog on Snake. From there, if the player was to toss on a cardboard box quickly enough, the pup will pee on Snake and wolves will be peaceful. A lot of the other Easter eggs have a different and less practical motivations behind them. For example: at a certain point, Snake must get Meryl’s attention while she is incognito as a guard – found out by her strutting her stuff. Simply hit her in the back of the head (Yup….) and she runs off to the bathroom to change. Arrive two steps behind her and there is that blocky behind again.
*DISCLAIMER: For those who haven’t played Metal Gear Solid and plan to, the next two paragraphs contain spoilers*
Out of all the innovations, the most exciting part for many players way back in 1998 was fighting Psycho Mantis. Nothing at the time held a candle to this amazing boss battle. In my original playthrough, Psycho Mantis introduced himself as a mind reader, and just as I started to doubt him he dropped a bomb on me. “I see you’ve been playing Castlevania!” The first time I heard this I nearly crapped myself. It was so eerie that I couldn’t even take the time to figure out how he knew. After I regained my composure, I realized that he was simply reading my save files. That may seem dull now when you see what games like Mass Effect are doing with save files, but back then it was a jaw dropper.
In that initial playthrough, I engaged in combat with Psycho, and he read my mind (controller input). Every time I tried to get a shot in edge wise, he knew exactly how to react. It was a daunting task taking him on as he took control of Meryl. In desperation I made some codec calls for help, and they gave me a gem of information by telling me to explode his busts with masks on them. After that, he could no longer read my mind. There was yet an even cooler way of breaking his ability. As soon as the fight starts an odd screen comes on reading ‘Hideo’, the name of the game’s creator, and if you know to do so, you can move the controller to port number 2 and play. This was another mind blower. It was amazing for the time, but coming back to this boss now wasn’t nearly as exciting. I kind of wish I hadn’t played it over again, but I still respect what they did when they did it. There was reward enough in his after speech. His ideals and motivations are intriguing as he compares himself to Snake saying that he felt like his only motivation was that of others’ agenda.
For those returning to the game, the story often comes rushing back at memorable moments. Sometimes, it can be easy to feel as though the player is missing something, but that’s mostly the game’s narrative being confusing. Some parts of the game may take a while with the limited and clunky game play, this is to be expected. When the story comes to fruition, it may be a bit too easy for the player to tune out as the novelty wears off. Also, the second half seem to not be as strong. There are so many memorable moments in the first half, but the second half seems like a race to the finish. It certainly doesn’t help that many of the villains are laughable. They had too many Saturday morning cartoon moments where they’d give away important information when they felt as though they had the upper hand or were dying. Granted, the story still holds surprises for the player, but the delivery at some points prove to be the greatest downfall.
All in all, revisiting this Metal Gear Solid shows to be just as satisfying years later. Playing my favorite PS1 classic was both an eye opener and a reaffirmation of my love. While some of the parts weren’t as great as I remembered, there is still a lot to fawn over. If nothing else, the game is worth plenty of respect. Metal Gear Solid did amazing things at the time, and it’s even more amazing when it remains to be compelling to this day. I believe that many fans of the series can have a great experience revisiting this fantastic game. Even then, for anyone who hasn’t played it, I severly recommend that they do. Finding an original Playstation disc can be tricky, but there is a remake on the GameCube called Twin Snakes. Also, the original can be found on the PSN for a mere 10 dollars – also available on the PC (getting drivers to work is a pain).