GBAtemp Recommends: Metal Gear Solid

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Video games release at such a constant rate that it’s a certainty that everyone reading this has a gaming backlog they just can’t get through. For me, there’s a particular franchise I’ve been meaning to get around to for a long, long time, now. It’s a series that really needs no introduction, given the legacy and impact it had on gaming history. That game--A Hideo Kojima Game, to be precise--is none other than Metal Gear Solid.

1998, the year Metal Gear Solid released, was one of the most jam-packed, hard-hitting, instant-classic years ever. It is downright mind-blowing to consider the lasting legacy of that single year in gaming, which brought us some of the greatest games of all time. A mere sampling of what launched that year includes Resident Evil 2, Half-Life, Sonic Adventure, Spyro the Dragon, Banjo-Kazooie, Baldur’s Gate, and of course, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. You’d have to be one heck of a video game to stand up next to those legends, and Metal Gear Solid is commonly held to that same prestige.

However, for me, the late '90s was also an awkward time for games. The transition to 3D wasn’t always graceful, and a lot of developers had growing pains adjusting to this brand new way of creating games. I grew up with a Sega Genesis and later upgraded directly to a PlayStation 2, so not only was the jump in power astronomical, but kid-me also skipped over the formative years of 3D gaming, right into the early 2000s, where the dust had already settled and lessons had already been learned by most AAA studios. In terms of personal taste, I find a lot of games on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 1 to be severely dated, clunky, and hard to play. I'm sure a lot of others feel that sentiment, too, given how many remakes we see of games from that era. Yet, not every legendary title gets that treatment. There are many essential but intimidating experiences that are daunting to go back to, when you don't know how they'll look through modern eyes. So when I began Metal Gear Solid, I was concerned as to whether or not the game would still hold up, especially since it's already received a rather contentious remake in the past.

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Luckily, it does. It does in so many ways. Not everything has aged well, of course, but MGS has stood the test of time wonderfully. In fact, it stands out as having made the most of its technical limitations, working as an insightful guide on how to do so much with so little. For example, none of the characters have detailed faces; Snake, as well as the entire cast, are sharp, rough mishmashes of polygons with arms that occasionally detach from their bodies, and lack both mouth movements and even eyes. Snake’s face is just a heavily pixelated blur, with slight dark shading under his headband serving as the only indication that he is an actual human and not some eye-less alien.

And yet, somehow, this method works beautifully. Since there’s not much definition to any of the characters, their jerky animations feel less uncanny valley and more like a Saturday morning cartoon acted out with action figures, where you’d shake the toy as they speak for effect, because their mouth physically cannot move. It’s charming, and gives the game some extra style. It’s minimalistic, but there's just enough to the point of where your brain will fill in all the gaps that the PlayStation 1 leaves behind. It's leagues better than its graphically superior remake, because it knows its limits and how to perfectly work around them.

Gameplay-wise, MGS has aged equally well. You begin the game with nothing but your bare fists, though it’s beyond me why a highly-trained soldier neglected to bring a single weapon on his mission. Eventually, much like a Metroidvania, you’ll find upgrades and new weapons littered all over the place, equipping you with everything you need, from a silenced SOCOM pistol to an anti-aircraft missile launcher. Finding new weapons or even upgrades to existing ones is immensely satisfying each and every time, especially near the start of the game, where you’re frail and can barely take any damage. You’re actively discouraged from getting into any fights early on, because even once you find your first gun, ammo is scarce. It’s punishing, but never dramatically so, adding just enough tension and an almost survivor-horror Resident Evil 1-esque vibe as you infiltrate the first part of the facility. The camera angles are also very deliberate, giving you a zoomed-in isometric view, cleverly forcing you to rely on your radar to keep an eye on enemies. It's all very well put together as a whole.

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Things go beyond being just well thought out, though, to the point of certain elements having an almost maniacal attention to detail put into them. There are so many hidden secrets that most players would never think to pull off. There’s a point early on when your progress is blocked by security lasers, and you need to backtrack and find infrared goggles in order to see and avoid them. However, if you pull out one of Snake's cigarettes, you can use the smoke to highlight the lasers and sneak by, skipping the goggle hunt entirely. Or how there are fast travel points in the game, but I never knew they existed until I read a guide, because it requires you to use one of the random boxes you'll find around Shadow Moses, and then sit in the back of a parked truck. Because the boxes have flavor text on them, saying "take to hangar" or such, the guards will take notice and will transport that "cargo" to where it needs to go.

The most standout instance of all was when I didn't want to hurt the wolves guarding FOXHOUND's Sniper Wolf. Not only did I feel awful for hurting innocent animals, but the wolves were some of the toughest enemies in the game at that point. So, in looking up if there were any tricks to get by without killing them, I found the most obtuse, out of the way, stupidly obscure, yet downright amazing hidden secret ever: if you punch your companion, Meryl, at the very end of the wolf area, she'll call on the wolves to attack you, because why in the world would you do that, Snake? But, if you hop into a box before the wolves approach you, instead of ripping you to shreds, one will pee on the box. Since the box has been marked by one of their own, if you wear it, they'll never attack you again. Who would even think to do that, let alone, who would think to add that to a video game? It's stupid, it's genius.

Furthering that kind of Metroidvania style is how important each and every item in your arsenal is. There’s never a point where any of your weapons feel like they’ve been outclassed by something newer and shinier--the little SOCOM pistol I found in the first 10 minutes of the game was still useful up until the last 10 minutes of the game; you have a ton of weapons to play around with, each of which gives you a lot of room to improvise and strategize. Or, if you’re too impatient, you can just stun-and-gun your way through areas with grenades and the FAMAS machine-gun. There was a point where I couldn’t figure out how to get through a gauntlet of enemies blocking my path up a staircase, until I decided to chuck every stun grenade I had in my inventory, blitzing my way through 27 flights of stairs, laughing wildly all the way up. It was insanely satisfying, and equally fun. Every area offers you a problem to solve, and in most cases, it gives you a lot of freedom to do so.

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That's not to say Metal Gear Solid is flawless, however. There are many occasions where you're made painfully aware of how old the game is, mostly due in part to its gameplay mechanics, which were great for the time, but have been much-refined throughout the industry in the two decades since this game came out. Everything takes place in a third-person view, but you lack the ability to aim your guns beyond just holding the control stick in a direction and hoping for the best. You can also only use one item at a time, and have to pause the game, cycle through your inventory, swap to it, and then do what the game requires of said item. This gets cumbersome in situations where you need to use a gas mask but there's a locked door that needs a card key. To get by, you need to take the gas mask off, switch to the card key, walk through the door, and then switch back to the gas mask. It turns into a lot of unnecessary inventory juggling, especially by the end of the game.

Now, it wouldn’t be A Hideo Kojima Game if there weren’t hours of cutscenes on top of hours of wordy dialogue, would it? The story is overwhelmingly inspired by popular action movies of the era, to the point that Metal Gear Solid sometimes feels like a video game adaptation of Die Hard. Saying that would be a disservice to Kojima’s story-telling capabilities, though, because while it may be full of '90s-typical tropes, MGS has some interesting things to say about war, government, and nuclear weapons. Albeit, at times, those things are obscured by hammy voice acting and clumsy exposition. And while it is influenced heavily by action movies, it also has enough plot and diatribes full of weird technical terms being thrown around that it's enough to feel like you're sitting through a full series of movies, back-to-back. You'll sneak into an area only to have to set the controller down and buckle in, because you'll be listening to a 45-minute Codec call that goes into immense detail on Nanomachines, which are so nonsensical that they pretty much boil down to being plot magic. Or one of the characters will yammer on for ages about a DARPA chief, Chinese proverbs, Outer Heaven, or who-knows-what, leaving you to do nothing more but nod your head and pretend you know what's going on.

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At the very least, the general idea is still very basic and understandable: you're a cool soldier, go sneak and kill until you stop evil terrorists. Even though explanations get long-winded, they also mostly take place at points after you've beaten a boss, or gotten through a lengthy section of the game, making them feel decently paced. You're rewarded with story and downtime after making a large amount of progress, with both aspects actually turning out to be pretty well balanced.

It helps that all of the scenes are fully voice acted, with over-the-top line delivery from each and every one of the cast serving to keep you heavily amused. Part of me is still laughing at the horrifyingly dated Asian stereotype of Mei Ling, how Campbell will say "press the Select button" randomly in a game trying so hard to take itself seriously, Revolver Ocelot's Russian accent that fades in and out, or Snake's tendency to repeat everything said to him as a question. Best of all, in what may possibly be the hammiest, most self-indulgent piece of voice acting in the history of the world, Psycho Mantis casually slaughters the fourth wall, "reading your mind" and memory card, exuberantly declaring, "Sooooo, you like SUIKODEN?" Even though voice acting from video games in the '90s tends to be less than stellar, Metal Gear Solid's performances are never bad, just ridiculous and endlessly entertaining.

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If you've never given Metal Gear Solid a shot, but you've wanted to see what all the fuss is about, the game stands up to the test of time, still sitting proudly as one of the best titles on the PlayStation 1, deserving of its place of glory next to other revered titles from 1998. Don't let the slightly aged mechanics put you off from experiencing such a classic game, because hidden under all of the crazy plot and occasionally wonky controls is an unforgettably fun experience.


I hope you enjoyed this edition of GBAtemp Recommends. If you'd like to see more, leave your feedback in the thread below or check out our previous articles.

 
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I've beaten them all even the MSX games which are great but I had to use an emulator and save states because they're damn hard. I also 100%'d Phantom Pain, took me only 255 hours. Longest I've spent on a single player game.
 

lokomelo

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Loved the first game and progressively started to like less. I blame the excessive long cut scenes for the later versions.

You may argue that they were great or whatever, but for me, without dominating the language was kinda boring.
 

sonicvssilver22

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Love the MGS series, my personal favorites being 2 and 4. Rising is also definitely worth checking out, though I may be biased since I really like Raiden. Take everyone else’s advice though and don’t even look at Metal Gear Survive.
 
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Snake Eater is the best because you can capture monkeys. That's the extent of my knowledge on the series.
 

mattyxarope

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I've always wanted to try and play this game but I never know where to start.

It was released on PS1, but it had several releases on the console - lots of different versions with differing content...

Not only that but it was released on different platforms as well.

Should I just play Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes which is just the remake?
 

Chary

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I've always wanted to try and play this game but I never know where to start.

It was released on PS1, but it had several releases on the console - lots of different versions with differing content...

Not only that but it was released on different platforms as well.

Should I just play Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes which is just the remake?
I was wondering whether to play the original or Twin Snakes and now that I have I would 100% recommend the original (the GOG PC release is good) because it has a lot better atmosphere, music, and tone IMO.
 

BraveDragonWolf

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Metal Gear Rising was my first Metal Gear game, (Because of Gray Fox and Raiden) which lead me to playing Twin Snakes. From there it was Guns of the Patriots, then played the rest of the Metal Gear games.
 
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