While some Xbox owners (notably the younger generation) don’t like to admit it, gaming history didn’t start with Halo in 2001. Nor did it begin in 1998 with the release of Metal Gear Solid, granted, although it was Hideo Kojima’s Hollywood-style PlayStation debut that truly showed the Western world video games could be suitable for more than adolescent visitors to the arcade and computer software developers.
The game centres on Solid Snake, an elite mercenary secret agent type who infiltrates a research facility on an island called ‘Shadow Moses’. This is to prevent an elite Special Forces unit (bit of a theme emerging here) from launching a nuclear strike if their demands are not met. I’d try to explain what their demands are, but that would involve delving into a winding back-story that would take another 2000 words worth of your time and cover at least three other games in the series (so far), only to conclude that it makes more sense in-game anyway, so it’s probably best not to spoil it.
So the main premise of the story is reasonably clichéd, but you soon realise that what sets Metal Gear Solid apart is the unexpected plot twists that are fed through the narrative with alarming regularity. At the time, it was one of the few games that could surprise you not only while you played, but also while you watched, leading some to prematurely label it the ‘greatest game ever made’.
Although the game is heavy in cut scenes and exposition, it is not a lengthy experience; you can comfortably complete it in a weekend of play. This is partly due to the enthusiastic vigour with which its actors spew their lines. Bad acting is something commonly associated with even the most fondly remembered classics of the gaming industry (hello Resident Evil), but Metal Gear Solid did, to its credit, provide more believable voice acting than anything else on the market.
It also provided the most quirky game play innovations found in its generation. The best example of Kojima’s creative prompts to his players can be found during the boss battle with Psycho Mantis, a character with the ability to read every action you make, meaning he’s impossible to catch or hit. How do you beat him? Move your controller into port 2, confusing him in the process and giving you time to fight back. Few games since have displayed such originality, and the Mantis fight remains one of the most memorable boss battles in the industry.
Admittedly, not all aspects have aged well, and in comparison with most modern day epics it’s hard not to find the interactions between blurry-eyed Snake and his companions a little humorous. On first play-through, I couldn’t understand why the characters didn’t seem to have eyes, and the equal lack of a mouth (oh, you could see something was there, but it was too pixellated to decipher) meant the developers had to link their words with head movements to visualise conversation. Little did my nine year old self know, that this was due to the limited hardware and software available to developers at that time. One must take this into consideration when wondering what all the hype was about; after all, an expansive plot, decent voice acting and incredibly detailed environments were once hard to come by in gaming land.
It arguably doesn’t stand the test of time very well, but those very same games we’re judging it against may not have existed if it wasn’t for Kojima’s first real masterpiece. It didn’t just resemble Hollywood; in most aspects it outdid Hollywood. It did cinema better than most films did cinema. This is why it remains an essential part of every video game collection, despite our prevailing memories of dots for eyes and jittering heads while the characters traversed at breakneck speed.
10 / 10