The year 1993 marked the debut of the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. The console featured graphical and audio capabilities far beyond anything that was available at the time. Hideo Kojima, the creator of Metal Gear and its sequel, expressed interest in continuing his series on this new console, believing the project would be completed in 1994. His plans were delayed once it became apparent that, for all of its remarkable advancements, the 3DO wasn’t a viable platform due to a combination of factors such as little third-party support and an exorbitant suggested retail price of $699 USD.
Development then later truly began in 1995, shifting to the PlayStation, the console that gave Sony their foothold in the market. Mr. Kojima’s ambition was to create the “best PlayStation game ever.” Originally conceived with the working title of Metal Gear 3, it was changed to Metal Gear Solid. The reason behind this decision was due to the original MSX installments being relatively obscure, especially outside of Japan. The “Solid” part of the title was a threefold reference to the protagonist’s codename, the leap to 3D graphics, and Konami’s rivalry with Squaresoft, the company famously behind the Final Fantasy franchise. Mr. Kojima and his team aimed for realism, even going so far as to hire a SWAT team to demonstrate their use of weapons, vehicles, and explosives. Metal Gear Solid was finally released in 1998, whereupon it sold more than six million copies and became a beloved classic of its generation.
Playing the Game
Metal Gear Solid marked the series’ first foray into 3D gaming, and while it is functionally similar to its 2D predecessors, there are plenty of significant advancements. Although most of the game is played from a third-person, top-down perspective, the camera is much more dynamic. When pressed against the edge of a wall, for example, it will position itself so you can see if any guards are patrolling the halls. Because the camera follows your character, areas are not divided by screens – at least not in the sense that reaching an arbitrary space in a room places your character in another part of the game that enemy soldiers are unable to see into even if they’re only a meter away. Instead, they’re divided by entire rooms or other borders that make much more sense from a practical standpoint.
Furthermore, your character can now move and shoot diagonally, making him formidable in a fight. Despite this, Metal Gear Solid has a very real emphasis on stealth, so it’s still more recommended to sneak past enemies than it is to proceed with the reckless abandon one would reserve for an action series such as Contra. Enemies may be noticeably weaker than the protagonist, but they make up for it in sheer numbers, and their bullets now travel as fast as you would expect in real life. In the event that they or a surveillance camera spot your character, the alarm will be sounded. At this point, your options are to kill all of the guards present or hide from them. If you opt for the latter and successfully lose the pursuers, you enter the evasion phase until the timer runs out. Once it does, the guards will return to their original positions and resume their normal patrol.
The radar first introduced in Metal Gear 2 makes a return as well. Your character is represented by a dot in the center of its screen while red dots signify the presence of an enemy. Unlike their 2D counterparts, their field of vision isn’t limited to a straight line in front of their face. It’s a bit more realistic in that the guards have peripheral vision, yet they cannot see to the end of a room on lower difficulty levels. Because how far they can see is no longer readily apparent, their vision is marked on the radar as a blue cone that turns red if they catch a glimpse of your character. As with Metal Gear 2, the enemy will jam the radar during alert and evasion phases and will only return to normal once the situation has been resolved.
You can have one item and one weapon equipped at any given time. Their respective menus are accessed by holding down the back shoulder buttons on the controller. Once you have selected an item, you can quickly deselect it without having to cycle through your inventory by pressing the matching front shoulder buttons. This comes in handy for items such as the binoculars or the rocket launcher that lock you into a first-person perspective where you can’t move.
Metal Gear Solid continues the trend of its direct predecessor by further improving the greatest ideas while casting aside the ones that didn’t quite work out. To start with, the most annoying aspect of the keycard system has been eliminated. Because you’re allowed to examine objects from a first-person perspective, you can tell the level of security clearance each door requires. Better yet, once you get a new card, it replaces the old one, granting you access to the level printed on it in addition to the previous ones. For example, the third card can open any door with a three or lower in front of it. This means you no longer have to fiddle around with multiple cards until you find the right one. It’s still strange how you have to take off your gas mask in order to use the card, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction nonetheless.
It’s more than just simply ironing out the flaws the series had until this point; the level design is good and has a lot of variety considering the entire game takes place in a single location of the world. Mr. Kojima’s intention was to trick players into believing that the world in his game was real. To this end, he made adjustments to every tiny detail, even going as far as designing each desk individually. Even though it has a grounded feel, this game is loaded with many memorable action sequences which add another layer of depth to the experience.
Many great things can be said about Metal Gear Solid. However, it is a bit difficult to replay after having experienced the sequels. The fault doesn’t lie with anyone; for its time, it was an excellent game, and the designers implemented these concepts as effectively as the technology they had to work with allowed. Having said that, it’s weird replaying Metal Gear Solid and destroying security cameras with stinger missiles because the launcher is one of the few weapons that can be aimed up. It’s also odd seeing just how incompetent the guards are compared to future installments (some of which take place chronologically before this one). You can get spotted by one and as long as you find a place to hide without them seeing, they’ll give up the search and forget anything ever happened.
A subtly grating aspect about this game involves its camera. To be fair, it is pretty good when one takes into account that the player does not have direct control over it. It doesn’t feel as though the camera leaves you in the dark during when you’re required to fight and the radar makes up for its shortcomings in other areas of the game. This doesn’t always work so well, though. I remember certain boss encounters being more difficult than they should have been because I had to aim at them when they weren’t onscreen. The only other option was to get to close to them and risk getting hit by their strongest attacks.
I would have to say my least favorite facet of this game is the anomalous amount of backtracking required to complete it. |There’s a particularly bad case of this around the halfway point when you’re about to leave the second building, but an enemy’s ambush requires you to go back to the first to procure a weapon from an armory. Once you’ve obtained the item needed to get past this attacker and fought them off, you get captured and are subsequently brought back to the first building. This means that you are forced to go through these areas four times to advance.| It’s true that the first two chapters in this saga necessitated players to backtrack between buildings, but those games measured progress by exploring and opening up new areas with the items they find. Meanwhile, Metal Gear Solid has a linear design and you’re given a clear goal at all times, so every time you do backtrack, it’s considerably more irritating.
Thankfully, most of these flaws can be mitigated if you remind yourself that Metal Gear Solid truly is a stealth game at heart. Therefore, it helps to think of it as an action-flavored puzzle game rather than a third-person shooter. Sure, the game steadily gives you an impressive arsenal of weapons, but it’s purposely difficult to avoid enemy gunfire, meaning that you’re just wasting resources every time you trigger the alarm. By picking your battles wisely, you can save them for when they’re really important, and cut down on the backtracking you have to do by a considerable margin.
Analyzing the Story
Six years have passed since the fall of Zanzibar Land, a heavily fortified state in Central Asia that once brought the world to its knees with its nuclear capabilities. Solid Snake, the man responsible for successfully suppressing the nation’s uprising, vanished from the public eye once more, taking up residence alone in an Alaskan wilderness retreat. It is now February of 2005, and the safety of the world is being threatened by an entirely new force. A training mission on Shadow Moses, a remote island which lies southwest mainland Alaska in the Bering Sea, has culminated in the special operations forces stationed there rebelling against the United States Government.
They have seized control of Metal Gear REX, a gigantic, bipedal tank capable of independently launching a nuclear warhead at any target on Earth. Under the threat of igniting a Third World War, the rebels’ demand one billion dollars and the remains of the legendary soldier turned charismatic mercenary leader, Big Boss, imposing a deadline of twenty-four hours. In response, the Secretary of Defense has requested Colonel Roy Campbell to summon Solid Snake out of retirement for one last solo covert operation. After being briefed on his mission, Snake learns that the terrorists are none other than members of FOXHOUND, his former unit. Now led by the enigmatic Liquid Snake, they intend to use Big Boss’s DNA to create an army of super soldiers through gene therapy. It is up to Solid Snake to infiltrate the disposal facility and stop FOXHOUND before their ambition plunges the world in chaos.The storytelling of Metal Gear Solid ups the ante in what was offered in the series thus far. Although Metal Gear 2 featured a complex plot for its time, it was very much a video game through and through. Consequently, while the game’s primary antagonist had a believable motive for his goals, Snake had to contend with poisonous hamsters and use chocolate bars to get past puddles of sulfuric acid, both of which are elements that seem wildly out of place even in a series as strange as this one (even if the latter does have some basis in reality).
This was the game that mostly excised the, for the lack of a better term, campiest aspects of the series and paved the way for a gritty, somewhat realistic tone. Mr. Kojima was always interested in using the medium of video games to tell a story as demonstrated by his earlier efforts, Snatcher and Policenauts, but this was his opportunity to apply his newfound knowledge to his oldest series. For the most part, I think he was successful in his endeavors.
While the first two Metal Gear installments reveled in classic action movie tropes, Metal Gear Solid sought to deconstruct them. Nowhere is this more obvious than with its cast of characters. Solid Snake’s status as a silent protagonist officially ceased as of Metal Gear 2, but this game clearly shows what would happen to someone if they were called upon to save the world from destruction not once, but twice. That is, his trials have left him a despondent wreck with nothing but contempt for those around him. Considering that his last mission saw him kill his best friend and his own father, it’s difficult to fault him for having such a sour outlook. Moreover, the members of FOXHOUND aren’t generic bad guys who want to take over the world because they were bored. They each have their own backstory, which you learn about when fighting them. Even the individual members of mission control have their own motivations for helping you succeed. For instance, one of them survived the Chernobyl disaster and became strongly opposed to nuclear power as a result.
What helps bring these characters to life are the acting performances. They’re not exactly superb by today’s standards, but when one keeps in mind the voice acting of a typical PlayStation-era title, they were undoubtedly ahead of the pack. This game also helped pioneer cinematic cutscenes in video gaming. Although I maintain it isn’t the most effective method of conveying a plot in an interactive medium, I think a lasting benefit Metal Gear Solid left in its wake was that it helped convince the mainstream of the incredible potential video games have for storytelling.
Starting with this title, every installment in the Metal Gear series centers around a theme. As one may have gathered from Liquid Snake’s motivation, genetics is the theme which permeates throughout this work. Certain developments, especially late in the game, tie heavily into the famous scientific debate of nature versus nurture. |By the end, it makes a case that you’re not a slave to your genes, and that the choices you make are ultimately more important than the hand you were dealt at birth.| Even if the execution of these sound ideas takes a silly turn every now and again, it can still make for an interesting conversation piece if you give it the time of day. All in all, there is a lot of ambition to be found in this game, yet it’s not to the point where it utterly bogs down the narrative, and the complexity enhances the experience rather than hindering it.
Drawing a Conclusion
The 3D revolution of the mid-nineties proved to be one of the medium’s most significant turning points. Nearly every big-name franchise attempted to make the leap lest they risk irrelevancy in the face of this new development. Some titles, such as Super Mario 64, proved that a series could flawlessly add an extra dimension without sacrificing anything that made the experience memorable and fun. Then there were cases such as Sonic R, which demonstrated that, for one reason or another, some games just did not translate well to the third dimension. Many once-lucrative series found themselves losing their credibility or, in extreme cases, coming to an unceremonious end. Metal Gear is a fascinating example of a franchise that predates the 3D leap which not only successfully made the conversion, but was subsequently enhanced in every possible way because of it.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with the series, you should start with this game as it will provide you with the context required to fully enjoy the future installments. It is somewhat debated between hardcore fans whether the PlayStation original or the 2004 Nintendo GameCube remake, dubbed The Twin Snakes, provides the superior experience. As someone who has played both, I honestly don’t think one is an objectively better pick than the other, and you can’t go wrong with either. While the visuals of the PlayStation obviously have an outdated feel to them, I felt it wasn’t to the point where they actively ruined immersion. The enhanced graphics and gameplay in the GameCube version are nice, but the thought process that went into the level design clearly had the PlayStation platform in mind. In any event, although I don’t think Metal Gear Solid is the series’ zenith, it’s still a highly recommended experience for any video game fan.
Final Score: 7/10