Dedicated To Metal Gear Solid

For the last week I’ve been doing a play through of the Metal Gear Solid series (all the ones that were released on the Playstation platforms anyway, I’m not including the original Metal Gears and the PSP stuff). This is a series that I am an unashamed fanboy of. It has many flaws, but for the most part I can ignore them because there’s something in these games which just resonates with me, something I can’t quite articulate that blinds me to the flaws of the franchise and just leaves me lapping up every self indulgent moment of them. So this post is dedicated to the Metal Gear Solid series, to Solid, Liquid and Solidus Snake, Big Boss and their supporting cast. Grudgingly, it’s also dedicated to Raiden.

For the uninitiated, Metal Gear Solid is a series that spun out of the Metal Games on the NES and MSX2. The Solid suffix refers to all the games that were released after these two, all of them exclusive on Sony platforms. For the sake of simplicity though, I’m going to be referring to the Metal Gear Solid series as Metal Gear from here on out, just to avoid confusion. The first was simply titled ‘Metal Gear Solid: Tactical Espionage Action’, and was released on the PS1 many years ago in 1998. It’s a scary thought to think that I was still in primary school when this game came out. I lapped up every moment of it back then, and I drove my parents up the wall because I never shut up about it (More on that later).

To be fair though, it was unlike anything I’d played before. The degree of freedom and interactive gameplay was astounding, I used to spend ages on the codec, listening to what everyone had to say about anything and everything. I was absorbed into the game’s world, plot and characters and along with Command and Conquer: Red Alert and Tiberian Sun, it’s easily one of the games that defined my childhood, as well as my love of videogames in general.

Every Metal Gear game has had that effect on me, and while (as we will get to soon enough) they are far from perfect, there’s a passion and flare to them that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other videogame. It’s that previously mentioned intangible something that just hits keys I didn’t know I had.

The plot of the series is hopelessly complicated. Explaining it is, to say the least, time consuming- so I’m not going to do it here. Besides it’s got such a weaving narrative that any explanation invariably ends up needing spoilers, as the series references, retcons and rebuilds on itself so much as it progresses it’s almost unreal. Characters are usually working with at least two sides, and one character in particular (Revolver Ocelot) is probably best described as a quadruple agent.

The themes of the series though are far more direct- often the point of being rammed down your throat with all the subtlety of Bill Clinton’s dick- it’s anti war, anti nuclear weapons, and (sort of) anti genetic engineering. There’s also a healthy dose of cynicism in there with regard to nationalism, especially in the later games. When I say it’s anti war, I don’t mean it’s got a couple of people going “OMFG WAR IS BAD!” at the end, there’s some real emotional weight to the messages it conveys, and the ideas run deep in the characters and narrative.

The ending of Metal Gear Solid 3 in particular has me almost in tears each time I watch it- without giving away too much in the way of spoilers, one of the characters is basically abused, stitched up, stabbed in the back and in the front, and hung out to dry with their memory forever tainted as a traitor and murderer, all for things this character was essentially ordered to do, and all in the name of a political pro quo. The worst part? The character knew what was going on, but did it anyway out of loyalty. It’s that personal touch which makes the game so emotive. Themes of loyalty and betrayal, and specifically the abuse of loyalty are very personal to me, and so this scene and this character’s fate, always chime with me.

If Metal Gear is infamous for one thing, it’s the cutscenes. Hideo Kojima (the daddy and developer of the series) loves his cut scenes. They go on FOREVER. A friend of mine once suggested that no one will ever make a movie out of Metal Gear because they’d need to make a video game first. He has a point- some of these cut scenes last for over half an hour. You can watch a complete episode of the Simpsons in the time it takes you to sit through some of these. The worst part is though that the editing on them is just horrible. And this brings me to my first criticism of Metal Gear- the writing is often horrible. It’s common for characters to repeat the same thing several times in a conversation, and frequently, Snake and Raiden’s reply to a statement by another character is to repeat a word or two back at them, requesting clarification. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a perfectly natural way to speak, but it happens ALL. THE. TIME. It really irks me, especially when the cut scenes can start to get annoying after a while and you just want to get back into the game. Yes! I know how the guns work! You’ve told me twice already! I know how they work! Let me go and use them on someone!

The Metal Gear series also brought about revolutions in gameplay. The original NES and MSX2 games pioneered the idea of stealth gameplay (Even if by all accounts MG1 on the NES did it very, VERY badly), and Metal Gear Solid One enshrined it, setting up many of the principles and mechanics that created the stealth genre. The idea was a simple one- rather than trying to kill everything between you and the goal, try sneaking past undetected. A simple notion that resulted in an (at the time) unique gameplay experience. Oh there had been stealth segments in other games, but they were typically simple things like ‘walk past the palace guard when he’s facing the other way’- little mini segments. Metal Gear of course carries this idea at its core, but in order to make a whole game out of it new elements and ideas were added, such as the noise you make while moving, dealing with security cameras, distracting guards and using the terrain to your advantage. Later games expanded on the idea even further, introducing concepts such as camouflage, and enemies who worked in groups. Throw in some action set pieces, and a big collection of guns to fight your way out of trouble if you’re spotted, and it’s a powerful, unique mixture that rewards intelligent gameplay more than twitch reflexes or brute force practise. Games like Splinter Cell and Tenchu owe a huge amount gratitude to the Metal Gear series- without it they may never have existed.

I’d like to round off this little love letter with a look at the four core games now that I’ve just played them all in turn. I’m going to talk about them in release order, as it’s interesting to see how the games evolved and changed over time, even though I played them in cannon chronological order. If I post all of these at once though, this post will be huge, so the other four will be uploaded over the next few days.

Metal Gear Solid: Tactical Espionage Action (Playstation one):
Ten years is a long time. It had been ten, long years since I played this game. I finished secondary school, I joined university, dropped out, got a job, re joined and lost my job in that time. I moved out of my parent’s house. I’ve lived in four different places since I last played this game. Popping this toy into my PS3 was like revisiting my childhood all over again. Three hours (and four bottles of booze) in, I was sitting on my beanbag, back in my folk’s house on a Saturday morning, ploughing my way through the game so I could talk about it with my friends on Monday.

Halfway through my playthough, I met my folks for lunch (I still live in the area), and mentioned I was playing through it again, the game having particular importance in my memory as I begged my mother to buy it for me after seeing a demo in the videogame shop (even that short piece, and at that age resonated with me). Sure enough, she remembered my begging, and remembered hearing about nothing from me but Metal Gear for six months. She even remembered the name of the game (a feat I don’t think she has ever accomplished with another title).

Why share this story? Because for one thing it shows the power that videogames, and the media in general have. Some people revisit their childhood by watching old cartoons. Some walk around the place they grew up. For me, Metal Gear is a game I shall always treasure as that sort of link to a simpler time in my past, and why I shall always defend it, despite its flaws.

Plus, it carries less chance of getting arrested than hanging around my old schools.

But even I have to admit that Metal Gear Solid One is showing its age. Badly. The graphics look like utter shit, but to be fair, for the PSOne they were stellar- full 3D environments, and cut scenes made using the in game engine- the first game I played to do so in a realistic way. The gameplay is still pretty solid, but compared with stealth games today, it’s insultingly basic. The genome army can’t see more than about twelve feet in front of their faces, their VR training means that they get confused and wonder off if you rush past and throw them, and their aim? Well, it’s got a lot in common with some other faceless grunts with a penchant for white.

If I had to pick a real problem with Metal Gear Solid though, it would be the fact that the hardware was not yet good enough to meet Kojima’s vision. Again, at the time, the cinematic techniques, the various shots he used and so forth were impressive, but these days a dramatic close up of man’s deformed, scarred face just looks like a set of lines on a spheroid of flesh coloured pixels- not really that different from any other character in the game. However, I fondly remember recoiling at the sight of psycho mantis’ ugly mug as the camera dramatically panned towards it.

You can grab Metal Gear Solid One on the PSN Store (although at the time of writing I can’t recommend giving them your credit card information), and if you want to be a part of this special series, then I strongly recommend you start here.

For its time, Metal Gear Solid One was a fantastic title in every respect, and the only element that really fails today are the graphics. The sound, plot and to be fair to it, even the gameplay still holds up well. Like I said, it’s showing its age, but it’s still in the competition. Take that with a pinch of salt though, after all these are the words of a Fanboy ;)

2 Response to "Dedicated To Metal Gear Solid"

  1. An interesting and fairly even-handed assessment, for all the self-described fanboyism.

    MGS, Red Alert and Tib Sun? God damn you make me feel old. The games which bring me back to my own youth are Sonic the Hedgehog, Civilisation (yes, the original Civ), The Secret of Monkey Island and Tetris...

    RE: Popularising stealth, I gotta give a shoutout to Thief: The Dark Project, which was released less than two months later. Kojima just managed to get in there first, but together, MGS and Thief set a whole new gaming dynamic.

    A year late, but:

    The visuals do look utterly dire now, but I think the gameplay, once you get over the comparatively basic nature of it, is still a lot of fun.

    Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't give a 'popularising stealth' golf clap to Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, which I believe came out fractionally before MGS. It didn't popularise stealth to nearly the same extent, but it had its own cult following (me).

Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger