Retrospective – Metal Gear Solid
I’ve always been a pseudo-fan of the Metal Gear series in the sense that I play them a little, read Wikipedia for story gaps, and thoroughly enjoy the portable entries. When Metal Gear Solid came out back in 1998 I was ten years old, hardly old enough to play and enjoy a tactical espionage game riddled with cutscenes and adult themes.
So, while I paid little attention to MGS at the time, I did grow up knowing a bit about Metal Gear. I was introduced to the terrible NES port of the original game at my grandmother’s house. She had picked up the system and a few cartridges to keep me and my brother entertained while we visited her house on Sundays with our father. This version was poorly ported from the fantastic MSX2 version to the NES without the involvement of Hideo Kojima, and the result was a clunky game that sported the worst translation this side of Double Dragon 3. Despite this, it still holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers due to its innovative stealth gameplay and uniquely adult story.
When Metal Gear Solid 2 came out and took the gaming world by storm I thought it was high time to check out the original. What I found was a lot of talking, weird controls, and deep philosophical values being spouted off by green character portraits. When you’re thirteen, that’s not exactly the most exciting thing you can find to do with your time. So, I moved on, bought some more games, and forgot about Metal Gear Solid for a few more years. By the time Metal Gear Solid 3 came out I suppose I was at the perfect age, because I was finally hooked.
The story was removed just enough that I felt like I could follow it pretty competently, and a lot of control issues I had in the previous entries were ironed out. My logical progression to Metal Gear Solid 4 in the last few years was also a very fun outing, but I’ve decided to go back where it all started and play the original Metal Gear Solid in preparation for the MGS: HD Collection coming to the Vita in the next couple of weeks.
Luckily, my slim PS3 can still play PS1 game, despite having its PS2 functionality pulled out. As with most 3D games from this era, I expected to get a few minutes into MGS and find myself looking with confusion on a mess of polygons and blurry textures. To my surprise, MGS has held up well. It doesn’t look great by any means, but it’s very playable. The simple fact that the cutscenes and gameplay use the same engine makes it feel much more fluid than something like Final Fantasy VII, which helps you accept the block-headed characters. In addition to that, you spend most of your time watching your radar to see cones of vision and enemy locations, so the visuals end up playing second fiddle to the fantastic sound in the game.
It’s truly astounding that Konami was able to add voice acting to all the dialogue in the entire game, including the lengthy codec conversations. Kojima has always had a love for film, and it really shows here as all the characters are introduced with their voice actor’s name below their own. The dialogue never feels cheesy, and the inflection and emphasis are always spot on. I’ve played games that came out this year that can’t even hold a candle to this game, and it’s going on fifteen years old. The music is on the same level with some really intense scores and iconic riffs that have become commonplace in the memory of most gamers.
The mechanics in the game take some getting used to, and I found myself firing entire clips at some enemies and missing because the fixed camera angle made it hard to tell exactly where to aim. Fortunately, ammo is abundant, but it can still get discouraging to see an enemy and not be able to take them down immediately. Melee combat is also a little slow, and can be frustrating when you need to break out of it quickly. But the game is also quite forgiving, allowing you to continue from your most recent entry into an area if you die.
Now, I’m not a Metal Gear master by any means, so death is pretty constant for me. At times it almost feels like an old PC adventure game as you flip through your inventory and talk to your roster of helpful NPCs to find out what gear to use. It never feels as obscure as an old adventure game however, and using the right gear at the right time can be really satisfying. The characters themselves are another area where Kojima is able to flex his impressive creativity. While the story and character names themselves feel like something ripped right out of G.I. Joe, they are convincing as well as interesting. Each one has his or her own motivations and quirks that eventually come out, and they make the often goofy story much easier to swallow.
Overall this makes for a great package, but what makes the game so memorable is its fourth wall breaking moments. Famous moments like the boss fight with Psycho Mantis that requires you plug your controller into the second port so that he can’t read your mind to Naomi rumbling your controller to alleviate the pain in your arm all lift the entire experience up to something I’ll remember for a very long time. This also allows for some snarky comments that keep a steady stream of comedy rolling in what is otherwise a very serious story.
I’ve been on several adventures with Snake, but seeing his first foray into 3D has proven to be one hell of a good time. This game compromises nothing when it comes to telling its story, and while I do have some qualms with the controls I don’t know that I would have it any other way. I’m fully prepared to slip back into my sneaking suit with the Vita HD collection after this, and I’m happy I was able to experience Metal Gear Solid in its original form. If you haven’t given the original PS1 title a whirl, I highly recommend it if you’re looking to brush up on your CQC before tearing into the collection, it’s worth the ride.