After the innovative stealth games Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 for the MSX, the franchise somewhat smoothly transitioned into the 3D era with Metal Gear Solid, created by Hideo Kojima and developed and published by Konami.
Taking stealth fans by storm when it first launched for the original PlayStation back in 1998, the game was critically acclaimed and is often recognized as one of the key titles involved in popularizing the stealth game genre; in this Retro Review, I’m going to analyze what made it the classic that it is considered today, whilst keeping it spoiler free for those who have yet to experience it!
Metal Gear Solid is a direct sequel to Metal Gear 2; given this, one would naturally expect that from such a big generation jump, that the franchise would naturally restart anew, but it seems that Mr. Kojima had other plans in mind. As such the game assumes you have played the past titles and thus are familiar with a lot of its lore, which can leave you scratching your head at times. That, however, doesn’t subtract too much from the experience, as Metal Gear Solid focuses much more heavily on story than the previous installments in the franchise – Despite this, however, still I consider the sudden lore dumps and logical leaps needed a valid criticism; if Kingdom Hearts 2 can be criticized for it, why can’t Metal Gear Solid?
So taking place after it’s conversely light on story predecessor, MGS had us play, once again, in the role of Solid Snake, after his mission in Zanzibar and the defeat of Big Boss; Snake has to infiltrate Shadow Moses Island where a nuclear weapons facility is located. The game has a heavy emphasis on presentation, and gives off old Hollywood action flick vibes, with long, in-engine, cut scenes, which was a rare treat for the time – It manages to provide some cinematic flair to its story through this, which was extremely uncommon for games at this time. In natural Metal Gear Solid fashion, each of these cutscenes were of course heavily convoluted and absolutely ridiculous in a loveable way. Filled with extravagant technologies, paranormal beings and trying to juggle between them and actual realistic scenarios is what makes MGS so unique. Coming in expecting an espionage story grounded in realism will leave a bad taste in your mouth, so be sure to have an open mind and just enjoy the ride.
Expect to meet a large cast of colourful characters, allies and villains whose encounters will remain unforgettable. Every character in MGS tries to stand out, either through their quirks, their backstory, their looks or the mind games they play with you. They help make this story interesting and are for sure one of this game’s strongest suits. You’ll also see returning characters from the past Metal Gear titles. The aforementioned characters are often accompanied by plot twists related to their person, which unfortunately lose their gravitas if you haven’t played the previous games.
You start off within the Shadow Moses facility unarmed and have to fend for yourself, where sweet, sweet stealth ensues. Each level is carefully designed so that you can pass unnoticed by enemy guards and they will show no mercy if you are seen, so get your cardboard box ready. Yeah, the famous “hide under the cardboard box” mechanic is no joke (Well…Maybe to an extent, but you get the point)! On that note, you can use many of Snake’s abilities and gadgets to stay unnoticed or distract the enemy. Making noise so you can give a false position, crawling under objects and using various gadgets to get through the area will become your priority. You can also acquire various weapons too, but the game’s emphasis on stealth and Snake’s frail nature will make you prefer a less violent form of gameplay.
One of my favourite parts of this game, in which you’ll have to use your weapons, is the boss battles. Each boss has their own strengths and weaknesses, the later which you’ll have to exploit. This will make you go through your whole weapon roster, ranging from your trusty handgun to assault rifles to rocket launchers to grenades, etc. Most encounters come down to having to use certain weapons to achieve victory, just like in the previous Metal Gear games. By today’s standards it may seem restrictive, but I think having to find the correct “tool” for the situation at hand can be a fun puzzle and helps to make those encounters that more memorable.
At the time the rectangular faces seen throughout this review were considered state of the art graphics, believe it or not! Any game that tried to pursue realistic like visuals back then obviously can’t hold up to today’s standards, however. Those of you who can’t stand the dated graphics may have a hard time playing it. Still, there is a lot to see here for those who have nostalgia for the PSX era look, or want to appreciate some of the intricate designs within the characters, environments or situations.
As far as music is concerned, in my opinion, is absolutely superb. Most stealth sections are accompanied by ambient noises which add to the tension but once you are spotted and the OST kicks in, you get pumped. Also you’ll be sure to notice the various charming sound effects, such as the ever popular ‘Alarm!’ sound, a staple of the series. The voice acting, as cheesy as it can get, also never fails to be entertaining and is quite fitting for this kind of story.
Metal Gear Solid is an excellent game that although doesn’t stand the test of time in all aspects, remains an absolute joy to play.