The very first Metal Gear was originally released in 1987 by Konami for the MSX2. It was Hideo Koijima‘s first fully-developed game and went on to spawn a successful series across many platforms. The hero, Solid Snake, has since gone on to become a video game icon.
The aim of the game is to infiltrate the enemy’s base, while avoiding confrontation with the patrolling guards. If Snake is spotted the game goes into ‘alert mode’ and guards who’ve seen you spawn an exclamation mark over their heads (usually accompanied with a sound effect, which later became a common feature of the series; this was copied by many other game developers afterwards). If two exclamation marks appear over enemies, or surveillance cameras, then reinforcements arrive from off-screen. If that happens Snake can only escape by eliminating all alerted enemies; by going outdoors (if indoors); entering an elevator; or entering a boss battle.
One strange side effect of the ‘line of sight’ detection system is that Snake can sometimes hug a wall and avoid detection by guards that are stood right next to him – as long as he’s not in their direct line of sight. Which is funny. It’s also quite welcomed as playing the game without this slight oversight would make avoiding detection near impossible.
Snake starts off unarmed but can punch enemies with his fists, and can also use guns and explosives as he finds them. This first Metal Gear game establishes the transceiver conversations, made between Snake and his team, which convey the story in the form of simple dialogue cut scenes.
The action is overhead/isometric in style and movement from one screen to the next is done by walking in the direction off-screen that you want to go and the screen will then flip to the next location. While the gameplay is pretty basic it is at least challenging and tense, and does set the style of play for the entire series. Some of the things seen in Metal Gear Solid, for example, are also seen in this game (like the directional rocket launcher, for example). That said: Snake’s cigarettes do not help detect laser traps in this game, and he also cannot crawl, so getting through a field of lasers requires trial and error (or instructions on how to do it). Luckily you can save your game by pressing F1 then F5 (if you’re playing on an MSX). If you’re playing in an emulator then you can use quicksaves to your advantage.
One of the main goals of Metal Gear is to rescue POWs. For every five you rescue your star rating will go up, which will increase your health, and the amount of equipment and ammo that you can carry. If you accidentally kill a POW your star rating will go down by one.
Metal Gear has received a number of English fan translations over recent years, and there’s also an official translation of the MSX version available on GOG.com, which is good as it’s still a game worth playing today. In some respects I prefer the early Metal Gear games to the later releases in the series, as they’re not quite so pretentious.
Oh, and I can’t not mention the NES version of Metal Gear, which is seen as being inferior to the original MSX release on a number of fronts, although it did sell over a million units and was a big success. Metal Gear aficionados tend to see the NES release as a bastardised conversion of the game and although it does retain the general look and feel of Metal Gear on the MSX it is considerably different in a number of ways.