A History of Metal Gear Solid – Part 1 Metal Gear Solid
It was 1998 and the PlayStation was in full swing and game designers were able to take full advantage of the relative power the console had both graphically and creatively with bigger, longer games with much richer storylines that included much higher quality dialogue.
Enter Metal Gear Solid, the sequel to Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake on the MSX that blew everyone away with an incredible a Hollywood style script, perfect musical score and a brilliant cast of voice actors including the now cult hero, David Hayter.
Metal Gear Solid was a “sneak ‘em up” where stealth was the key to finish the game, unlike most shooting games going head on and shooting would often get you killed, or at least slowed down so this was a massive game changer, not many people had ever heard of let alone play MG and MG2 so this was new experience to a lot of gamers.
Made by Japanese company Konami, this was one of their games that was involved with a remarkable run with other titles such as Pro Evolution Soccer, Zone of the Enders and survival horror masterpiece, Silent Hill. Konami and their creative department worked overdrive with totally original titles raising the bar in the overall quality of games at that time, something that is still current in 2013.
Metal Gear Solid was nothing short of phenomenal and garnered high 90’s and 100’s from gaming press and entertainment critics and with good reason, the game was revolutionary and near perfect, it was as gripping as a book or a film but you were the main character, Solid Snake.
Possibly MGS’s biggest strength was the plot. Right down from the opening scene the situation was clear – terrorists had taken over a remote Alaskan island called Fox Island. This island had nuclear warheads and the terrorists are FOXHOUND, highly skilled, weird and dangerous. The agent that is being sent in is Solid Snake, ex FOXHOUND and a recluse for years after incidents in MG2. He is highly trained, cold hearted and just cool.
The plot for the game is highly detailed; every character is fully explored and given the time for the players to get to know. From the supporting cast of Campbell, Mei Ling, Naomi Hunter, Nastasha Romenenko and Master Miller every single character has full back-story and plenty to say with all of them having a real personality and you could be fooled to think they were real people.
The terrorists are also well detailed and most of them are famous and gained somewhat cult status such as Revolver Ocelot’s gunplay, Sniper Wolf’s charm, Vulcan Raven’s nonsense metaphors and definitely everything about Psycho Mantis – who created one of the most memorable gaming moments of all time as he seemingly moved the dual shock controller with just the power of his mind, something to be seen to be believed.
The locations were superb as well and looked the part, a secret nuclear facility in a snowy island, perfect setting for the plot. Not only that but it was highly detailed and looked functional, it had a nuclear storage warehouse, a tech lab, heliport, submarine port everything it should have to look like it was meant to be there rather than forced there for no reason.
The story evolves and changes over time as more characters are introduced and always kept you guessing. It is just as tense at the start as it is in the middle and end thanks to regular developments and revelations. This is when the characters really come in to play and you start to really see some shine such as Solid Snake and his relationship with Meryl Silverburgh and the main antagonist Liquid Snake, who himself is a great character all by himself.
This blog would be too long if I was to dive into the story too much, but it is on a grand scale of deceit, intrigue, action, suspense and everything in between. The story will have you gripped and if you played MGS you will have played 2, 3 and 4 and so on because you will feel that you need to know what happened next. Hideo Kojima has woven an incredible story here that goes way beyond any other game, at least at the time. The only sad thing is that it could be a film, but you know they’d ruin it, ala Resident Evil.
It has a very James Bond feel to it at times as you sneak your way through the facility fighting bosses, crawling through vents and just trying to get by room by room undetected, really does keep the tension for the gamer and makes them feel they are James Bond but in a much cooler way, more akin to Mission: Impossible. The whole game goes by its own motto of “Tactical Espionage Action” which sums it up, really.
The plot really sucked you in and you were always left wondering what on earth is going on and if the people you spoke to in game really were who they say they were. There was a constant threat that someone out there is playing against you and it is now a theme for all MGS series games, a part that is a fan favourite and a major force on why Solid Snake is the person that he is.
Gameplay wise it was fantastic, the controls were simple and introduced a new style for games which was pressing against walls to be able look around a corner for patrolling guards, a feature most games always have these days, all thanks to MGS. The controls were simple enough and the interface was easy; one slot for item one slot for a gun and you had infinite carrying space.
To aid the gameplay there was a SOLITON radar system where you had the layout of the room, dots for people and you could see the guard’s field of vision to help sneak around. It did make things a lot easier, but without it would be almost impossible to be undetected on a first play through.
There are a lot of guns in the game, but they didn’t over do it. The most commonly used weapon was a silenced SOCOM, like any spy would use. You would only really use the rest if you had been caught or a boss fight. Some weapons were clever as well, you’d have your chaff grenade, C4, claymore mines and nikita if you wanted to be a bit creative, however, using those types of weapons would get you caught almost instantly.
The main core of the gameplay was moving from room to room undetected and avoiding the guards, the story points you in the right direction most of the time, there are the occasional puzzles (such as the infamous CD case puzzle) but nothing complicated. It can be monotonous for a second and above play through, but for the first time its fine as you are unaware of what’s going on.
The occasional boss battle while moving through the facility were all incredibly fun and memorable without anything as simple as run and shoot, you had to think and be strategic. Some of them have become legendary such as the ninja battle and definitely Psycho Mantis, the process of defeating Mantis is a cult legend and surprised everyone who fought him the first time round. The boss battles added something special as the scenes before and after usually involved something spectacular and always progressed the story immensely either by opening a new door or revealing a secret.
Some nice and intelligent features were the guard’s behaviour, if you made noises near them they would go and investigate, it could be footprints in the snow, running over a puddle or knocking on a wall. In the context that this was 1998, these features were mind blowingly realistic and further added to the realism of the role you played and the situation you were in. Also gave another dimension to a guard that they can think and didn’t just follow one route and that was it.
Overall the gameplay was superb, they say a lot these days that games just luck gameplay and go for graphics and action but this game had it all in abundance. It was a gamer’s game with everything that a game needs to become a classic. Some of the gameplay aspects of MGS are still more than relevant, and even if you went back to it now you would overlook the graphics because the game itself is immortal.
All the talk about how good the gameplay is usually meant it was visually lacking, but MGS was definitely not that. If anything it led the pack at the time it was released, it was entirely it’s own engine and there was no CGI, which was quite rare at the time as most games used CGI for any big scenes, but MGS graphics engine was good enough to have all of its scene in its native graphics, and they were very, very good.
The graphics were impressive as everything was detailed, down from the furniture to the characters themselves, they may not have had eyes or moving mouths but at that time not many games did, if any. The games best detail for me were the textures, the wood looked woody and the metal metallic, the shadows were done very well and everything looked pretty realistic, and if you think about the context MGS was realistic for the time.
Cut scenes were a major part of the game and there were plenty, Hideo Kojima made expert use of good research where every conversation was backed up with logical and in a lot of cases real word examples, for example the START treaty and MUF when it comes to nuclear proliferation. Kojima also used a lot of videos to back up conversations and used a lot of effects to show flashbacks to great effect all of these features created a movie like feel to the game, so when people started talking you could put your controller down and enjoy.
To conclude, the graphics were groundbreaking at the time and did show off the power of the PlayStation in its later years before the PS2 came on the scene. Even now, if you played MGS it still doesn’t look too bad, certainly not as bad if you went down memory lane with other PS1 titles such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill, it’s fair to say MGS looked good at the time and has ages well.
Metal Gear Solid’s sound was another part that was outstanding, it had a full score of music for every situation, be it an action sequence, drama, revelation or a just sneaking around and to top it off the game had it’s own theme “the best is yet to come” which is a beautiful song that really sets the mood when you hear it. It also had its own sub theme which later did become the theme of the series.
The music in the background was usually just percussion and a repetitive beat that didn’t distract you when you were sneaking, and it did make the situation a bit tense at times, however if you ever got spotted it would switch to a higher temp track seamlessly before going back to the original without a pause, this made everything all streamlined rather than clunky and stop start.
Music aside, the part of MGS that was really done mesmerizing well is the voice actors. Every characters voice actor was perfect especially David Hayter who played Solid Snake who stole the show. The script itself was already brilliant and then the people who read them out were even better, it was as good if not better than any film. The tension and conversations sucked you in because they sounded so real, when there was terror you could feel it or when there needed to be an emotion you could hear it in their voice as if it really was happening right in front of your eyes.
There is an awful lot of talking in the game, but there would be wouldn’t there? If that was a real situation I don’t think I would say one sentence or one word answers when so much is going on like that… so my point is that I think it was realistic that so much was said, and without the constraint of a 1 hour 30 minute Hollywood film I don’t there was anything wrong with it, in fact I enjoyed it more and have done for the rest of the games in the series, it explains a lot more and makes it more towards an experience than a game.
The impact of the game was immense, even before release people knew this was big. It was on the cover of magazines for months and months and getting a hold of a demo disk was a big deal. On it’s release it instantly gathered high 90’s and 100’s praising pretty much everything about the game from Solid Snake, the vibration scene, the theme tune and even how good the VR training mode. It was an instant hit worldwide and still remains one of the best games of all time. It changed a lot of things on how action games are meant to be like
It has spawned several sequels all of which are good. It is one of the rare games where the sequels get better and better, particularly MGS3 and 4 where they really did push boundaries. The story lines continued and expanded to the point where characters from the past had a major role to play. Who the next character will be is always on fans mind along with whom the enemy will be or which era is it set in. The story line may have gone a little farfetched but it is still gripping and keeps you guessing.
Metal Gear Solid had a major role to play in adding stealth to games, if you play a game these days where you are hiding behind a wall then you can thank Hideo Kojima, MGS showed hiding from the action can be just as exciting as being in the action, if not more. MGS also showed the world what a little bit of dramatic storytelling can do to a game and change it from a standard one to an epic one, MGS was certainly the latter.
To conclude, Metal Gear Solid was a game way before its time and an eternal classic which has created some of the most memorable gaming moments ever, as well as characters that people genuinely love and want to know what’s happening next. It had everything in it from start to finish and then some. It was hailed as the perfect game and it is no surprise that a lot of people still think that, it put a lot of games in the shadow and raised the bar incredibly high for the future.