Playing Metal Gear Solid For The First Time
Playing Metal Gear Solid For The First Time
Recently I embarked on a quest to play most of the Metal Gear Solid franchise after being mightily impressed with how good Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain looked. However, as someone who enjoys a good story I felt the need to give the series its due and play through the main titles in the series first. Going in I only knew that the series was mainly about stealth and that the story was pretty convoluted. I started by playing Metal Gear Solid on Playstation and the HD collection of 2, 3 and Peace Walker on Xbox 360. Unfortunately I don’t own a PS3 so I couldn’t play Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots but I did manage to watch a play-through. You can expect my thoughts on Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain at a later date. But for now here’s my thought on the first 3D installment of Metal Gear.
This article will spoil much of Metal Gear Solid if you have yet to play it….
Snaking My Way Through
After a dramatic introductory cut scene I took my first steps onto Shadow Moses Island, a remote location off the coast of Alaska housing a nuclear weapon disposal facility. Solid Snake’s mission was to take down the renegade members of FOXHOUND and discover the terrorists’s nuclear capabilities. The plot sounded like your average spy flick and the ejection from a submarine gave me thoughts of James Bond, a clear inspiration on Kojima. Upon entering the facility it was clear this was a game I would need to learn to be successful. The top down view of the game coupled with the first person option threw me for a loop after so many years away from the original Playstation. Consequently (and rather embarrassingly) I was discovered a few times in the ‘easy’ beginning areas at which point I promptly allowed myself to be killed and restarted from the entry of the area. This tactic came in useful throughout the game and was a much simpler option than fighting off guards and hiding, although I did my fair share of this too.
It was clear that Metal Gear Solid contained a learning curve. Failure to remain undetected in an area gave you a better idea of enemy’s locations and therefore an increased chance of success next time. Utilizing the codec offered you pieces of information often relating to your area or surroundings as well as key plot points and I quickly found myself turning to it for advice. This mechanic was of course used throughout the titles and is one of my favourite features of the games. It’s method of delivering you story is surprisingly effective and many of the game’s dramatic moments are delivered in this way rather than cut scenes.
After completing numerous objectives and encountering Meryl for the first time, I came to my first boss battle with Revolver Ocelot. After a relatively short interaction and easy boss fight I disregarded Ocelot as a quick challenge to ease you into the game but little did I know the importance of this character to the entire series. The mission was becoming more complicated for Snake and what seemed like a relatively simple task was clearly heading towards a conspiracy.
A Story That Stands The Test of Time
I began playing Metal Gear Solid for the story so it is only right that I address this here. I have played many games with fantastic plot and storytelling from Mass Effect and Red Dead Redemption to Assassin’s Creed 2. However, there is something quite unique about Metal Gear Solid, particularly this first installment. Credit for that and the series at large must go to Hideo Kojima and his teams over the years. Looking at my time with the game it is easy to see why this game is so revered and is considered groundbreaking to this day.
The story of Metal Gear Solid is good because of its complex plot full of twists and turns and its collection of sometimes goofy but often serious characters. The writers clearly didn’t feel the need to dumb anything down for players and therefore Metal Gear Solid is quite an uncompromising title. Once the credits rolled I felt the need to digest what I’d witnessed before I jumped into the next title and I think that’s a testament to the quality of the game. Another outlet I enjoy is film and I can’t help feeling that today’s Hollywood would have sliced this masterpiece into several films, such is its complicated crisscrossing of narratives. Having said all that, I wouldn’t call the game hard to follow, unlike many games nowadays it simply requires your attention and the result is very rewarding.
There were many oddball characters in the game from the cyborg ninja who turns out to be Gray Fox, Sniper Wolf, Ocelot, Liquid Snake and Vulcan Raven to name a few. Your allies were often just as strange from Mei Ling with her Chinese proverbs and pretty stereotypical depiction to Naomi Hunter who had much more depth and motive to her character. I could write a whole article about the depiction of women in the series but overall I will say the following. Each title contains strong female characters with depth, motive and unique personalities which should be commended because it’s a feat most games fail to manage. However, these moments are detracted from somewhat with crude remarks, childish flirtation and sometimes casual sexism. The tone of Metal Gear is often juvenile and its depiction of women also follows suit. Take Meryl for example, a strong female presence in the game with a real progression to her character. She wants to be a soldier but isn’t sure she has the mindset or the capability for it and her struggle is a focus of the game. However, the player is distracted from this struggle by comments from Snake about ‘the way she walks’ and how she looks from behind. Although these moments were often cringe worthy and I personally didn’t care for them, they are part and parcel of the occasionally immature nature of the series and perhaps should be recognised as such.
Intriguing characters coupled with a fascinating plot created some cinematic moments that despite their age have certainly stood up well. Metal Gear Solid does a good job of showing you cartoonish villains that later have more depth than you realise and who usually say something poignant upon their death. I was impressed by how later games such as Metal Gear Solid 4 made call backs to the original in smart, intuitive ways. The series emphasises that these characters have rich back stories and their own individuality and motives. I never felt bad for defeating these terrorists but I did understand them more. This is excellent work because it means players will latch onto their favourite characters for their unique personalities. My personal favourite villains from the game were Psycho Mantis and Sniper Wolf.
Finally, there is Snake himself. His true characterization perhaps comes later in the series but this is an important part of his history just as the first two Metal Gear games were. A man of few words, when he does speak people tend to listen. Despite his preference for grumbling he is pretty quotable with lines such as “I’m just a man who’s good at what he does. Killing.” He’s certainly a fun character to play as and he does feel like a powerful individual despite his tendency to be used as a tool for the government.
A Perfect Storm?
Metal Gear Solid is certainly one of the best games I have ever played but perhaps no game is perfect. The controls often bothered me partly due to their age but more so because of their design. It does not help that the series struggles to maintain any consistency in that area. The game is challenging and there is a certain sense of accomplishment when ghosting through a room undetected. Nevertheless, I found some points too difficult and it just wasn’t clear where to go or what weapon I needed to progress. Backtracking through areas I’d already navigated successfully was a little frustrating but thankfully this was a trick they only used a few times.
Maybe its my ability but I found boss battles tough. As any seasoned gamer knows there’s often a knack or technique you need to master to defeat a boss battle and the codec was useful in this regard but often the game was quite unclear and I found myself resorting to a walkthrough or guide on several occasions. For some this may be where some of the charm of the game lies but personally I didn’t enjoy these parts quite so much. On the other hand, there were occasions when I appreciated the games quirks such as the Psycho Mantis boss battle which requires you to switch controller ports (a pretty hilarious decision that I can’t believe made it into the game) and for the most part I found other boss battles in the series tougher.
I was also unaware that the game would contain a pretty significant choice that results in Meryl living or dying. In my time with the game, Meryl didn’t make it as I was mere seconds away from resisting the torture scene. However, the game never signposted this as a critical moment that would decide her fate and the arbitrary button-mashing mechanic seemed a little at odds with the death of a main character. This somewhat annoyed me even though in canon she lives.
Of course, these are fairly minor issues and don’t truly detract from a quite magnificent game.
When I look back on my time with Metal Gear Solid it will be filled with memorable moments from boss battles against the likes of Psycho Mantis, Sniper Wolf or Liquid Snake to the feeling of relief when you remain undetected. The complex plot and storyline of conspiracy, betrayal and nuclear weapons drew me in quickly and maintained a hold on me throughout. Having played through other titles in the series, this one certainly remains near the top of the list in terms of favourites.
Have you played Metal Gear Solid? What do you think of the game? Do you agree with any of my points?
Let me know by commenting below.