Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Metal Gear Solid Review

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There were so many excellent games that came out on the original Playstation that certain paramount titles could pass you by.  The reasoning is actually two-fold because you may not have missed them – I was acutely aware of the presence of Metal Gear Solid when it released and even played a little of it – but it was back in a time where if a game didn’t click with you, typically you would shrug it off and move on to the myriad of other titles out there.  That was my experience when I first played Metal Gear Solid.  I remember having a heck of a time sneaking to the elevator in the beginning, even harder time getting into the vents outside Shadow Moses, and by the time I find the D.A.R.P.A. Chief only to discover most people got there in 20 minutes I was so frustrated I just quit.  It would appear I not only passed on one of the best games on one of the best consoles of all time, but that I was abandoning a series that stands quite high in my top game franchises of all time.  That’s the thing, though, when you look back on Metal Gear Solid.  It broke so much ground and basically invented the stealth mechanic (after two earlier attempts I might add) that it’s easy to appreciate it but there are a heck of a lot of caveats if you’re going to revisit it today or play it for the first time.  It has much more historical value than replay value, although I did have a smile on my face most of the time.

mgs_1You play as the ultimate spy when you start out in Metal Gear Solid, which is a bit odd for those of us in the West because our earlier experience of Solid Snake either came from the so-so port on NES or the fake sequel that Kojima had no part of.  Had we embraced the MSX Microcomputer in the US or even in the UK (where as we know microcomputers tended to rule the gaming front for the larger part of the 80s and early 90s), perhaps Metal Gear would be more of a gaming household name.  As it stood Western audiences are, for the most part, being introduced to this impressive character they are supposed to portray and the clumsiness of first learning to utilize Snake doesn’t quite fit the description.  Whether you sneak into Shadow Moses as a master cat burglar, never seen by anyone, or charge through like a bull in a china shop announcing your presence and setting off alarms everywhere you go, there is no denying that the cutscenes and movie-like intro had you feeling like a star.  The storyline that followed was so rich with spot-on voice acting, branching plotlines, bosses chock full of personality, and a seemingly alive terrorist organization that you can’t help but get sucked in.  Metal Gear Solid is as quirky as it is Japanese, and yet I was noticing that no one in the West seemed to care.  We laughed at the poop jokes, thought it was okay that Snake hit on anything, and took to these incredibly odd antagonists without question.  I think the biggest reason was that the title was a fusion of American pop culture from the late 80s and early 90s to the point that we recognized voice actors from Saturday morning cartoons and a large number of even teenage players were familiar with Snake Plissken (from Escape from New York and L.A. at this point).  Many of these voice actors would also go on to long lasting careers in game voices like David Hayter (who until the latest installment voiced Snake exclusively in the West) and Jennifer Hale (she’s fem Shep from Mass Effect).  The whole espionage thriller probably makes for a better movie these days (and there are several YouTubers out there who have assembled the cutscenes into a Metal Gear Solid movie if you’re interested), which says a lot for the plot but leaves the gameplay somewhat in a rut.

mgs_3Don’t get me wrong, the stealth in the franchise hasn’t changed all that much since this initial outing, so despite my criticisms they pretty much hold for the series as a whole.  Snake is an awkward sort to move, whether it’s hugging a wall waiting for the angle to change, trying to figure out if you’re standing or kneeling, and let’s not forget the fact that his first person periphery seems to be absent, making him almost blind.  In order to succeed in this game you will have to utilize different methodologies than you’re used to in video games, which include avoiding combat when you can and taking things at a very slow pace.  This is counterproductive at times because when a sudden boss battle is thrown at you the avoidance with combat makes you ill equipped to take the various guns, techniques, and visual modes into account as you try to out maneuver an enemy who moves much better than you.  Aside from the fourth wall breaking Psycho Mantis fight every other boss battle for me was a trial and error barrage of deaths until I got lucky enough to succeed, but by the time I encountered my first real boss, Vulcan Raven, I was so embedded in the story the only choice was to continue forward.  If you are just getting started with this title, I highly recommend checking out the secrets and walkthrough we have on the profile page.  If you go into the game confident and with enough information to overcome the obstacles, Metal Gear Solid can be a doable and epic adventure from a time where everyone was boxy and had mittens for hands.

mgs_2With such a drastic jump in graphics and gameplay between the first and second game, I have to say that while Metal Gear Solid is a pertinent part of the generation it was born into, these days it may not be the best starting point.  Those of us familiar with the game from our youth or re-visiting the title for the 3rd or even 10th time over the last 17 years of its existence can still jump in and have a blast overcoming Shadow Moses and putting our skills to the test against FOXHOUND.  If you are just getting started perhaps jumping in with a more modern title would be advisable, but it really comes down to the type of player you are.  I’m not going to slam Metal Gear Solid like I have some more beloved titles from the past, but I can’t justify giving it a perfect score either.  It’s a fun product of its time that, for the most part, holds up today, but will be a bit of a rough and tumble introduction to the series for today’s gamers.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 (review policy)

Want more information on the game’s ports, value, or secrets?  Check out our profile page!

Written by Fred Rojas

August 18, 2015 at 11:00 am

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