The second part in an ongoing, drawn-out series of blogs as I replay all the Metal Gear games to date. You can check out part one here
Metal Gear Solid (1998)
This is the one, the big one. The one that got me hooked.
Oddly, I don’t remember there being a huge amount of hype for this. There was a demo for sure but not much else. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have the whitewash of media we do now, no twitter campaigns, only a few choice magazines to read. Either way, I remember being crazy amounts of excited for it after the demo. My friends brother had a chipped PS One at the time and got a copy early, it was indeed the best day.
CARPENTER, Rats and Shamans.
Loading up the disc (after doing that swapping the disc technique to bypass the piracy check…*cough*…) and you’re met with an amazing cinematic opening. No other set up than some mysterious sounding places, some odd names (‘Vulcan Raven: Giant and Shaman’ …you what mate?) and your goal: stop them. Economic storytelling at its best (which of course is something Kojima threw right out the window) and it really works. You’re instantly sold on the idea that Snake is a legendary badass, sent in to stop a Nuclear threat and you know one of them has the same code name as Snake, so he must too must be badass. It’s Saturday morning cartoon stuff, but presented in a very serious way. All this is delivered with a heavy nod to Escape From New York: a single man infiltrating a heavily guarded island, talking in a ludicrously gruff voice to his commanding officer. Snake Plissken by a thinly veiled other name.
At the time, there had been nothing like this game in terms of detail and cinematic settings (on consoles anyway). As soon as you arrive in the hangar, the camera moves over the environment showing you the layout with camera pans and sweeps that Peter Jackson would be envious of, all whilst the cast and crew names appear on screen. Kojima’s desire to bring film and games together is rarely hidden and this was a first strong showing, a combination of Manga style and Hollywood production. You see rats scurrying around under your feet, puddles of water that once walked through, leave footprints that the guards would actually spot and follow and little touches like visible breath from the characters, all adding up to a living world and a real sense of place. Shadow Moses has become just as much of a character as any of the colourful human cast despite only having ‘snowy outside‘ and ‘industrial looking bunkers‘ as its main settings. The whole thing is dripping with atmosphere which still holds out today despite the game looking a little rough graphically.
And it’s an environment you’ll get to know real well as the game has a loving tendency to send you miles back to collect an item needed to progress. At first it’s a sniper rifle to take down Sniper Wolf in the brilliant sniper fight with her, then later a massive trek across almost the whole game to change the temperature of a key to hot or cold. The first time you do this, it’s not so bad but now I’m playing through the game for the 750th (slight exaggeration) it grates a little and feels like some heavy handed padding.
Another thing that hasn’t aged gracefully is the camera angle. Viewed from a slightly isometric top down view, your vision around you is heavily limited to the point where I did most of my sneaking around via the mini map in the corner. You do have a first person view to snap to, but it leaves you stationary and unable to shoot. The boss fight against Ocelot sums all this up as you end up relying on a laser sight and the auto aim to have any chance of shooting him as he spends all his time off screen. Obviously, back when this was new I had no issues at all with the camera or the controls, but future iterations of the franchise and modern gaming as a whole has spoiled me. On the opposite side, the camera occasionally switches to a fixed perspective to give a more film-style look at something. The best one of these is upon entering a hanger and walking down a long corridor, the camera stays roughly waist level until you reach the end and you open into a room containing Metal Gear Rex. The camera has at this point panned down to ground level to show Rex dwarfing Snake…it’s a brilliant way of introducing this intimidating behemoth of a bi-pedal tank that you will eventually be fighting.
Snake is a legit piece of shit towards women.
He really is. From the second he’s introduced to any female character, he’s flirting heavily with them and it all seems fine at first, just Snake being playful right? But after a few times it starts to get a bit heavy. His conversations with Mei Ling just come across as weird and creepy. Take the very first thing he says to her:
‘Nothing…I just didn’t expect a world-class designer of military technology to be so…cute’
This is said while 5 other people are also in on the codec call, including his commanding officer…Snake, dude, show some restraint. You could cast this off as just being a little ‘James Bond-ness’, but then there’s the moment pictured above which is a really undermining thing to say, especially as Meryl is a trained soldier clearly capable of handling herself. It seems a little at odds with his character being an emotionless pawn when he clearly wants to jump onto any woman who talks to him.There’s certainly a larger debate to be had here, but thankfully this never fully sours the game as Snake is usually shot down like the fool he is by the characters he comes on to, but it makes me hate him a little.
Speaking of Snake, one thing that I did really like on going back into this was David Hayter’s voice acting. Despite the majority feeling towards him by the time you get to Guns of The Patriots, I think he does a decent job here. Snake seems a much warmer character, almost likeable despite his pathetic misogyny. It’s because the game is a little lighter than the other Metal Gears, a little more blockbuster that his performance stands, he’s never given more to do than gruffly repeat parts of conversation (‘FOXDIE….?!?’) back at people or deliver a monologue on his feelings on the politics of war. The voice suits who he is, a war torn action hero, bogged down after years of fighting.
There’s quite figuratively thousands of things I’ve not mentioned yet: The brilliantly stupid dialogue (‘Why are you calling me brother??’ ‘Ask the father that you killed!’), the ground and forth-wall breaking boss fights, wolf cubs peeing on you, the torture scene, the fist fight on top of Metal Gear Rex with Liquid the fight with Metal Gear Rex. But other people have said these things better than I could many, many times over. (one being Super Bunny Hop who’s videos you should totally watch) so I’ll leave you with this story:
Everyone knows about the ‘find the codec on the CD case’ thing, right? Its legendary.
As I mentioned, back when I first played it was on a filthy pirate copy that had no case (it’s ok, narc, I’ve since brought like…3 copies of this game in various forms). When Campbell told us to look at the cd case, my friend and myself figured it must be an item, so we checked the inventory: nothing. We must have missed something…two days of searching through every inch of the game so far, killing an knocking out every guard in a hope of finding this ‘cd case’. Nowt. It was at about 10pm one night that we figured it must be the actual game case he’s on about. We legged it to the nearest video rental store (Select Video *bumps fist on chest*) and low and behold, there it was…140.15, a number scarred in my memory. Minds blown all over the place, games had just smashed that fourth wall wide open and infiltrated the real world. Well done Kojima, well done.
SOON: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Will I talk about Raiden? You fucking know I will.
One last thing I think I should mention: I’ve never played the Gamecube remake of this, it looked awful. The cutscenes all redone to feature ‘hot-at-the-time-because-of-The-Matrix ‘Wire-fu’. I mean Snake literally backflips over a fucking bullet at one point…but then in the gameplay, you can’t even make him dive…it just doesn’t add up. So no mentions of that because I really don’t like those changes. It looks pretty though.