Metal Gear Solid was one of the opening salvos for cinematic gaming as a whole and remains one of Konami’s gaming high points.
We have entered the PlayStation era of Kojima and Konami’s loyalty now, which still persists to this day, and what a lot of people consider a turning point in gaming. Not only was 3D brought into a full spotlight thanks in part to Super Mario, but Sony placed an emphasis on discs and cinematic story telling as the future of gaming. With spoilers incoming, we enter into one of their prime examples of success with…
Metal Gear Solid (1997 PS)
This entry really does feel like the following analogy: System Shock 2 is to Bioshock as Metal Gear Solid is to both previous games, especially the second. The opening scenes of Solid Snake are pretty accurately recreated in this 3D environment that doesn’t exactly look terrific these days, but the design beneath the textures still holds an all-time core. Hideo Kojima must have felt somewhere in the vein as Ken Levine did with a solid concept mixed with some inspiration from past titles with both ending up with what a lot of people consider a must play for any generation of gamer.
With that said, what this title accomplishes, and maintains, in cinematic glory is both bolstered and hindered by some gameplay aspects. Going back to this well means going back to a one-of-a-kind isometric view that moves and does its best to keep up with Snake’s targets and laser sight, which the game might be unplayable without, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Aiming is loose within a wedge at your front then slows as you turn your body with genome soldiers or wolves tearing away at your ration stash, and the fight with Ocelot just feels like catch a kid running around a table. If you’re one of the few that played Twin Snakes on Gamecube, you’ve felt the night and day difference that perspective seems to make.
On the positive side, sneaking, crawling, hiding and switching items still has the edge of control and swiftness that the Metal Gear Solid series basically trademarked. That isometric view doesn’t affect aiming as much as it could as most alert phases can be avoided completely without any bloodshed, some forced fights aside. Duck walking is the norm on the shores of Shadow Moses island, Snake’s speed making this a tolerable gameplay aspect while most of the off-the-wall puzzles from previous Metal Gears are now solvable without the internet – mostly.
The story here was the first step for a lot of fans into the world of espionage and twists, and most seemed to enjoy this chapter. Snake is brought out of retirement to take out members of his old FOXHOUND unit who have confiscated a nuke and REX: the first named Metal Gear in the series. Psycho Mantis, Revolver Ocelot and Liquid Snake all make their debuts in style here with ties to the over-arcing lore throughout, even if Mantis’ boss encounter isn’t the best in the series as a lot of people claim. Or second best. Or even third best.
As the first Metal Gear Solid game, this one begins a new chapter in the series, thus will probably relate to The Phantom Pain in a different light. Whereas Big Boss is all over the original two games, his body is the ultimate prize here, which is a detail worth holding onto in hindsight. It’s not actually revealed in the series until Guns of the Patriots that Liquid wants to use Big Boss’ remains to overthrow The Patriots, leaving this curious thread dangling for about a decade. Instead, the threat of nuclear war in the hands of a terrorist organization is treated as the ultimate swerve-to-avoid scenario as Kojima wasn’t quite ready to lift the curtain on the actual series enemy quite yet.
Metal Gear Solid places the spotlight squarely on Solid vs. Liquid as the running war that rages in much closer proximity than what Big Boss vs. Cypher has felt like so far. These two of the three Les Enfants Terrible brothers come to blows many times with their genes and personalities clashing, Solid Snake with the quiet and cool of his father’s DNA and Liquid Snake with the charisma and global aspirations. Going through this entry with most of the backstory in mind really places a lot of events, actions and motivations into context that seemed so easily brushed by on first play-throughs. The government would never, ever, ever give up Big Boss’ remains – even if they had access to them – because The Patriots would never allow Liquid that kind of trophy or access to that kind of power. Meanwhile, Liquid and Ocelot’s relationship was full of secrets and double-crosses even before their eventual melding of minds in Sons of Liberty with Revolver’s ultimate loyalty always to Boss and Big Boss.
On its own, Metal Gear Solid feels properly aged with plenty of changes and challenges in gameplay that have you paying attention…or else (do not die during the torture scene!). Whether this is your favorite entry or not, you can thank this game for pretty much every scene of pure storytelling through fights or other choreography seen since. While Twin Snakes still feels superior, this version still rises above the original Metal Gear duet thanks to the variety of challenges, new story building from old soil and the insertion of more than one iconic character into the video game zeitgeist.
Come back next week as we check in on the first PlayStation 2 Gear title and see how that relates to the rest of the Metal Gear timeline and to The Phantom Pain itself.