Metal Gear Solid: Retrospective

Metal Gear Solid was the first game I ever completed. Released in the UK in February 1999, I was just nine years old and not yet interested nor committed enough to play most games through to the end. I dabbled with titles on the Mega Drive such as Sonic 1 & 2, before moving onto Crash Bandicoot on the PS1, and I relied on the generosity of my other brother to experience the majority of games at the time. Thanks to his chipped PS1, I experienced many titles I wouldn’t have done otherwise. But it was Metal Gear Solid (which was a purchased PAL copy, I might add) that really kickstarted my love for gaming.

Playing Metal Gear Solid for the first time, much of the plot was lost on me – so much so that I skipped a lot of the Codec conversations and some of the more bloated cutscenes – but I was utterly captivated by the stealth gameplay and varied boss battles to persevere to the end credits. Thus, an obsession with the game and subsequent series had started. I replayed Metal Gear Solid multiple times, soaking in more and more plot details during each play through until I knew every character, every secret Codec code, every nook and cranny of Shadow Moses.

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This is an obsession that has stayed with me to this day – Metal Gear is my favourite game series of all time. Hideo Kojima and his team have created a universe rich with incredible characters, memorable moments and clever gameplay design. And for the record, the series is now done. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain brought the story full circle (albeit with some missing elements), and any title released here on out by Konami simply won’t fit into the canonical timeline as far as I’m concerned.

If you’re unfamiliar with Kojima’s first entry in the ‘Solid‘ series (where have you been?!), the plot follows protagonist Solid Snake as he infiltrates a nuclear weapons disposal facility at Shadow Moses Island to eliminate Foxhound, a terrorist group threatening to launch a nuke against Washington if they do not receive the body of legendary mercenary ‘Big Boss’. What follows is a story that, in 1999, felt years ahead of its peers as it weaves around multiple plot threads and interesting backstories. Every character in the game has his or her own history, some of which are tragic enough to bring a tear to the eyes of gamers everywhere.

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The gameplay at the time was pioneering – stealth had been done before, most notably in Kojima’s previous entries in the Metal Gear franchise, but thanks to the introduction of simple and effective gameplay mechanics such as knocking on walls to distract guards, it paved the way for the stealth genre to be a formidable force in the gaming industry. It directly influenced other franchises from Splinter Cell all the way up to Uncharted 4.

It’s in the multiple boss battles where Metal Gear Solid truly shines. These bosses are not simple bullet sponges for you to empty your clips into – each one requires specific tactics to bring down. There’s the tank, a hulking behemoth which is only beatable if you hurl a grenade into the hatch, and a stealth ninja whom you can only harm using hand-to-hand combat.

But the boss that sticks in everyone’s mind is Psycho Mantis, Foxhounds’ resident psychic. Mantis broke the fourth wall in his encounter, boasting of his mind reading abilities and kinetic power before proceeding to comment on your recent gaming history and ‘moving’ your controller. This was done by reading the saves on the PS1 memory card and taking advantage of the newly released Dualshock Rumble feature in the PS1 controllers, but in the moment (particularly for a nine year old boy), it was utterly remarkable that a game could manipulate physical objects in the real world. It’s a moment that has stuck with me to this day.

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Metal Gear Solid introduced me to characters that I have cherished dearly in all the years since. Hal ‘Otacon’ Emmerich, the brilliant, sensitive Metal Gear engineer who aids Snake throughout his mission was oddly endearing and became a true friend to Snake. It was a joy to see him return in Metal Gear Solid 2, and later in Metal Gear Solid 4.

Foxhound member Revolver Ocelot became arguably one of the most important characters in the entire franchise, driving the overarching plot forward and appearing in every core Metal Gear game apart from Peace Walker. His cocky swagger and lust for torture made him a formidable foe, and the survival of ally Meryl Silverburgh is entirely dependent on your ability to endure his torture session.

Finally, Solid Snake himself has become an icon in gaming, the figurehead of all stealth and action titles. His indifference to those around him is reminiscent of classic 007 Bond films, but he is loyal to those dear to him to the very end. I must admit, I’d say that Big Boss is my all time favourite Metal Gear character, but since Solid Snake is a direct clone of Big Boss, he comes pretty damn close.

Metal Gear Solid is a game that will be played and studied for decades as one of the defining games of a generation. Its story and voice acting still hold up today, and its pioneering stealth gameplay – without which we wouldn’t have half the franchises we do today – will continue to influence many more games to come. It holds so many memories for me, and without it, I probably wouldn’t be into games at all. Metal Gear Solid proved that after years of over-the-top childish titles, games could be something more, showing maturity and cinematic flair that raised the bar for all developers going forward.

 

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