When asked to write a review of my favourite game of all time it came down to Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, it could have gone either way but I choose Metal Gear Solid because of the impact it had on me, and gaming itself, back in those days. I may never have become a gamer if it weren’t for that title and, as a result, may never have played Metal Gear Solid 3 so I cannot overstate how influential this game was to me. The very first time I saw MGS (this already sounds like a cheesy love letter) was a gameplay video that came on a demo disc for the PSX which I watched at my neighbours house because I didn’t have any gaming devices back then.
The video showed a robot looking dude with a sword, an old guy with a revolver and then a bunch of gameplay of a dude with a bandana placing C4s everywhere and detonating them in rapid succession. Then the name appeared on the screen “Metal Gear Solid”, I remember thinking that the explosions looked fun and that the name was stupid and then I forgot about it. Some time after that I was gifted a PSX and some time after that I got a demo disc from a gaming magazine. This time there was a playable demo of Metal Gear Solid so I gave it a go, this was the only time I have ever been hooked on a demo, I played it over and over, expecting a standard shooter and ending up with much more. The demo went as far as the part where you rescue the DARPA Chief and the following cutscene. I obviously needed more than that and it turned out that one of my friends had a copy of the game and he let me borrow it, I didn’t want to give it back and gladly gave up most of my library (including Dino Crisis, Gta, Tomb Raider: The Last Revelations and LoK: Soul Reaver) in exchange for it.
The Actual Review
Metal Gear Solid is a third-person stealth action adventure originally released on the original PlayStation back in 1998 (a PC version would release 2 years later) and created by Hideo Kojima of Konami. It is a sequel to the MSX titles Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, in it, players control Solid Snake (the protagonist of the previous 2 titles) as he aims to rescue hostages from a terrorist organisation and stop them on their threat of launching a nuclear weapon. That short description of the plot is something I have always found to be very misleading and really undersells the game, just reading that I was given the impression of a standard Steven Seagal-esque adventure but nothing could be further from the truth. Anyway…
The game takes place in 2005 on the fictional, wintery, Shadow Moses island (part of the Fox archipelago I’ll have you know) just off Alaska, it is on this island that a nuclear weapon disposal facility is located and it is here that the terrorist organisation known as FOXHOUND (an outfit that Solid Snake was formerly part of) have led an armed uprising and taken complete control. FOXHOUND are demanding the remains of the legendary soldier “Big Boss” in 24 hours or else they’ll carry out their threat of launching a nuclear attack with their secret weapon.
Stealth is the name of the game here in a 3D game that feels 2Dish at times thanks to it’s overhead camera view (which does change contextually), and stealth it does well, with MGS often since being cited as reviving the stealth genre. The player starts out with very little, a box of cigarettes that deplete your health when smoked, binoculars to scope out your surroundings, a soliton radar which allows players to see where their enemies are and their ‘cone of vision’, however the radar is very easy to disrupt and being spotted by the enemy or losing signal will have you relying on Snake’s own two eyes. The player also has access to the ‘Codec’, a small device implanted into Snake’s ear, it allows him to silently communicate with his support team. Just about everything else (guns, items, equipment, cardboard boxes) will have to be found by the player throughout the game.
The idea is that you are heavily encouraged to sneak past your enemies rather than engage, Snake can crawl into tight spaces, flatten himself against walls and knock on the same walls to lure guards. Snake also has a few hand to hand moves that can make all the difference, you can silently choke an enemy until they pass out, snap their necks or drag them to a quiet spot. You also have a three hit combo and a throw that can put some much needed distance between you and your enemies when things get hairy. Combining an area with patrolling guards, surveillance cameras, hidden mines and/or search lights can make for some of the tensest stealth experiences going and successfully navigating Snake without detection and using your wits is extremely satisfying. Of course, it’s not all stealth…
There are times when you’ll need to pull out the guns because everyone sees and hears the iconic “!” sooner or later and these moments can sometimes feel frustrating as pointing your gun and shooting your gun are controlled by the same button, the only difference being how hard you push it, (the MGS series has always been one of the few to utilise the Dualshock controllers pressure sensitivity) so it may take a little practice to aim your gun rather than shoot at the nearest wall. This further emphasises that it’s a good idea to run and hide rather than engage in combat, staying out of sight and lowering the alert stages (of which there are three) down to nothing is the best option as guards can easily overwhelm you. Getting spotted isn’t the only time you’ll be doing more action than stealth as the game offers plenty of memorable and challenging boss fights that would still make top 10 lists today. From throwing grenades into a deadly tank, to a sniper duel on a snowfield, to fighting your twin brother in hand to hand combat on top of a giant, fallen, mech and who could forget the first time they fought the fourth-wall-shattering Psycho Mantis? No one, that’s who.
Metal Gear Solid tells a story unlike any other, when I first played this game I was not expecting a video game to tell me a story better than any other I had heard. With mature themes handled seriously, with plot twists that blew my mind and the way Metal Gear Solid handles the delicate issue of diarrhea is something I find admirable (alright, you got me, that last one was a joke, but the comic relief in MGS was appreciated). It wouldn’t have been half as good if it weren’t for the excellent voice acting of David Hayter, Paul Eiding, Jennifer Hale and the rest, these actors brought these faceless character models to life better than any graphical upgrade could.
As I already mentioned, the official story synopsis sells the story short, a super soldier sent in to rescue hostages and save the world blah blah blah but what they don’t tell you is that the hostages mysteriously die from what appears to be a heart attack, that there is another person infiltrating the same facility as Snake and racking up a substantial body count, that the leader of the terrorists shares the same codename as Snake and also bears a striking resemblance, about Meryl’s ass, that your support team are both hiding information from you and have ulterior motives, that Snake himself is not what he thinks he is, that not everything is as it seems and they definitely don’t mention that Snake would meet his best friend there, and that he would be the wimpiest person in existence.
But it’s not just the plot itself that I enjoyed, it’s how it was told, a lot of the story is told to you via codec calls but Metal Gear Solid came loaded with cinematic cutscenes, a first for gaming, that really made it feel different to the rest of the pack. Kojima created some powerful moments using cinematic scenes such as Sniper Wolf’s death and Grey Fox’s sacrifice. I remember a comparison saying that all the cutscenes roughly equaled the length of the movie Ben Hur, which back then wasn’t very common, imagine if we knew about MGS4…
Metal Gear Solid brought the Metal Gear series from 2D to 3D (hence partly why the “Solid” is in the title), this was quite a massive leap for the series and while we may look back at this game and consider the character models blocky, their faces hilariously lacking in detail and the textures blurry, we have to remember that this game released in 1998, that’s 16 years ago, and we’ve come quite a long way since then. I always found the game’s style overtook any of it’s graphical shortcomings, the snowy Shadow Moses mixed with Kojima’s futuristic vision of 2005 created an atmosphere and a feel that I instantly go back to in my mind when I remember Metal Gear Solid. Also you could change the background colour of the main menu by moving your analogue sticks around, this game has it all.
The Metal Gear Solid soundtrack is stellar, you’ll hear a mixture of futuristic sounding bleeps and bloops being played in conjunction with a choir of males humming loudly, it doesn’t seem like something that would work but it does. Of course you cannot forget the dramatic music that changes in tempo depending on how alert guards are to Snake’s presence, a really nice touch. Perhaps the most memorable song of Metal Gear Solid “The Best is Yet to Come” sticks out with me more than any other because of how surprised I was to hear the Irish lyrics (Hearing it again in MGS4 was the most nostalgia I’ve had in a game). The rest of the games sound design is also worth mentioning, the iconic sound that plays when an enemy has been alerted, gunfire, the wind howling outside, nothing felt lazy, everything sounded great for its time.
The gameplay, the story, the presentation and the sound were the four elements that Kojima finely crafted and combined together in such a way as to make the closest thing to a perfect game that I have ever played. I believe Metal Gear Solid was ground breaking and an extremely important title for gaming, one that will be looked back on for years to come as an evolutionary stage in the maturity of video games as a whole. I very much doubt that any other game will open my eyes in the way that Metal Gear Solid did, but I’ll keep playing in case it happens again.