Metal Gear Solid is an award-winning tactical espionage action game focusing on stealth gameplay and it was first released by Konami in 1998. It was directed, produced and written by Hideo Koijima and follows on from the MSX games Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.
You play as codename “Solid Snake“, a legendary American soldier who infiltrates a nuclear weapons facility in order to neutralise a terrorist threat who are threatening a nuclear strike on The White House. Snake must sneak around, liberate hostages and stop the terrorists from launching the strike, all the while avoiding enemy contact as much as possible and gathering information about the situation.
The game is played from an overhead perspective, with the viewpoint changing depending on context and player controls. Snake takes just one item into the facility with him – a pack of cigarettes – but can make use of any items and gadgets he finds as he explores, such as infra-red goggles, guns, grenades, mine detectors, and disguises. He has an on-screen radar at his disposal and a communication device called “Codec”, both of which are surgically built into his head as nanotechnology. And both of which can be jammed by the enemy in areas where they have high electromagnetic interference (how handy for them).
The general idea in Metal Gear Solid is to avoid enemy contact as much as possible, so the control system is fine-tuned for hiding, crawling, sneaking, and hugging walls to avoid detection. If Snake is detected by an enemy he can either shoot them, punch and kick them, or he can run away and hide and wait for the alert system to count down and eventually return to normal. Fights against more than one enemy will usually result in Snake’s death, so the game encourages you to take the stealthy route to solving puzzles, if at all possible. That said: one of Snake’s stock moves is to sneak up behind an enemy and strangle them, eventually breaking their neck, so the game could certainly not be described as “non-violent”.
Throughout the game the story is interspersed with fully-voiced cut scenes and Codec radio conversations, and you can make calls using the Codec by pressing Select and tuning into certain frequencies (that you have to note down as you’re told them). In fact: saving the game is done by calling frequency 140.96, which is a nice touch. Metal Gear Solid actually has a number of nice touches, like enemies commenting about (your) footprints in the snow, or locations changing as you progress, or your cigarette smoke showing up hidden lasers.
At certain points in the story you’ll also have to engage in a number of boss fights and these can be quite challenging. The idea is that you must discover a boss’s weakness and defeat them that way, and at times it can become frustrating. But boss fights do tend to be like that. Thank God for quicksaves, that’s all I can say… 🙂
In my opinion the gameplay in Metal Gear Solid is frustrating in general – especially when the control system gets confused between hugging a wall and facing a switch to activate it, or running. I lost count of the number of times I tries to leg it ’round a corner only for Snake to press up against a wall. Also: the frequent deaths are a huge pain in the butt. I can see that Metal Gear Solid is a decent game, and I do enjoy playing it to some degree, but I can’t help feeling that it’s all a little overrated. Also: I’m not a big fan of Koijima‘s story-telling. Everything’s so far-fetched that I can’t decide if it’s meant to be satirical or is just plain pretentious. Plus: a lot of the nuclear danger stuff in Metal Gear Solid is just factually incorrect and basically plays on fears of myths and Hollywood nonsense about nuclear technology. Firing bullets inside a warehouse containing nuclear weapons is not going to set them off. Plus: the enemy have no compunctions about firing their machine guns at you in said warehouse either. Metal Gear Solid is confused about its own story-telling rules! Which further contributes to my feeling that this game is overrated.
That said: many gamers obviously don’t care about any of that because Metal Gear Solid sold more then seven million copies worldwide and is regarded as “one of the best and most important video games of all-time” (according to Wikipedia). I have to say, though, that I’m not one of those people. While I appreciate the game’s positive aspects, I don’t agree that it’s one of the best games of all-time. I just think that it’s merely a good stealth game. I think, when it comes to games like this, far too many people believe the marketing hype and disappear up their own backsides… But that’s modern gaming for you.
An expanded version of Metal Gear Solid was later released for the PlayStation and Windows PCs, which I haven’t played (but maybe I should – I might like it more than the original version). Metal Gear Solid also led to numerous sequels, comics, radio dramas and novels – such is the popularity of the franchise. Most of which have passed me by, because I’ve never been that big on the series. I did buy The Twin Snakes on the GameCube, which is an enhanced version of this game, and thought it was pretty good. But again: I’ve never been that impressed by Solid Snake’s adventures to warrant much investment in the franchise.