Genre(s): Action, Stealth
Director: Hideo Kojima
Rated: M for Mature
There are some games that simply define not only their consoles, but their console generations as well. One of those games is Hideo Kojima’s master work, Metal Gear Solid, for the Playstation. The story follows a special agent code-named “Solid Snake,” assigned to infiltrate a military facility off the coast of Alaska that has been taken over by terrorists. The group in control of the island is made up of rogue members of FOXHOUND, Snake’s former unit. They include soldiers appropriately code-named Decoy Octopus, Liquid Snake, Revolver Ocelot, Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf, and Vulcan Raven. In this one-man mission, Snake must meet up with hostages who can help him complete his mission, all while eliminating the members of FOXHOUND and deactivating the nuclear mech Metal Gear that the terrorists have hijacked in the base. Sound confusing? Welcome to the mind of Hideo Kojima.
The entire game is 3D (not as much of a given as it sounds back then) and is played from a top-down perspective. There’s a reason MGS has a subtitle of “Tactical Espionage Action”; the game is played by moving Snake carefully so that he is not caught by the multitude of guards and security cameras looking to discover his position. He can use a lot of different abilities, including hand-to-hand combat, shooting a variety of guns, throwing grenades (frag, stun, or chaff, which disrupts cameras), snapping necks, and planting bombs.
The question for many modern gamers has been, “Why is this game so popular?” While there are many reasons, the most important one is pretty clear: characters. Solid Snake is, by far, one of the coolest and most memorable heroes video games have ever seen. Experienced, collected, and witty, this special agent is so much fun to watch and listen to (voice: David Hayter) that he has become an icon for video games. As if that wasn’t enough, Snake meets characters like the anime fan Otacon (yes, named after that Otakon), the gruff Colonel Campbell, and the Engrish-speaking information specialist Mei-Ling. Finally, Snake’s enemies include the giant Native American shaman Raven, the crazy Russian psychic Mantis, and the evil gun-slinging Ocelot. Nothing aids these characterizations more than the great cast of voice actors present in MGS
There are some great moments in this game’s plot, all of which are supported by wonderfully-directed, cinema-esque cutscenes and stylized animated art in the scenes when Snake talks over his “Codec” communicator. Whether it’s a ridiculous thing like Mei-Ling pointing out that “If you were my boyfriend, you’d never be able to cheat on me,” or Psycho Mantis recalling his dark and surprisingly intriguing past, you’ll be enjoying every moment of this clearly anime-like story.
While some modern gamers will find fault with Metal Gear Solid‘s dated graphics, it really is incredible what Konami has done with such a simple architecture. Each area is distinct and memorable, and there is a palpable sense of style that permeates everything from the character and level designs to the menu system. Even better, the inspired direction of the cinematic scenes turns unmoving, badly-rendered faces and other vague details into short films that will manage to captivate even the most hardcore graphics maniac.
Metal Gear Solid has a reputation for featuring some truly great sneaking gameplay, and it is indeed a reputation well-earned. Snake uses his radar to find enemies and their fields of view, but when he is caught, his radar becomes unusable until he gets out of sight. One of the great mechanics of this game is the ability to press Snake against a wall, at which point the camera changes so that he can see down the adjacent hallway. This simple use of the camera is one of many ways that the game makes sneaking feel natural. The only thing truly missing from the controls is the ability to shoot from the first person. You can shoot and you can go into first-person mode, but there is a conspicuous absence of the two together in Metal Gear Solid.
The puzzles in the game are also really fun. Puzzles you ask? Well, you see, the game isn’t all about killing terrorists. Sometimes you will have to figure out a way into a room or (as is most often the case) a method of killing a boss. At this point, the game reaches its most fun point. Nearly every boss requires the player to think in unique ways. Not just out of the box, but out of the game as well. For one boss, the player must actually backtrack through the previous levels in mid-fight in order to find a weapon, and in another, the fight can only be won by switching the controller to the second slot. That, my friends, is what we call creativity.
With the recent release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots on the Playstation 3, people should also be looking back on the past of Hideo Kojima and Konami’s iconic franchise. The original Metal Gear Solid has remained surprisingly fresh and relevant a full decade after its release. If you haven’t already played this game, start up your Playstation 2 (or backwards-compatible PS3 if you’re lucky) and pop in an old copy of Metal Gear Solid. Believe me, Solid Snake will be glad to relive his glory days — as any old soldier should be.