With the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain just around the corner, and likely the final Metal Gear game creator Hideo Kojima will be a part of, it is only right that we cover the first Metal Gear Solid game in today’s Retro Corner.
For most, Metal Gear Solid can be considered the first in the series, and it isn’t wrong to say that. While there was two other Metal Gear games prior to Solids release, their story isn’t really cannon anymore, but they did provide a solid base for what the series is known for today.
The original Metal Gear games, while good, didn’t get much of an audience. There are two reasons for this really: At their time of release, 1988 and 1990, gaming was just hitting its stride, and was a hobby mostly reserved for us “geeks”. Their platforms of choice didn’t help much either, with both games releasing on the MSX2 rather than a dedicated gaming machine. The first did later come out on the NES though, which definitely did help it get noticed some more, but the second game didn’t even see a release outside Japan, with only fan made translations made available to westerners, which is a shame because it is highly regarded as the better of the two. Both did however get a release again on the PS2 as an extra for Metal Gear Solid 3.
The lack of people who actually experienced the originals gave Kojima a lot of room to screw with our expectations for the game, using an already established IP and base story to work off of. And screw with us he did (something Kojima has become well known for in the industry).
Picking up this game on release, you go in practically knowing nothing. The cover gives no information outside the name in a flashy sci-fi-ish font. Flip it over and we have the basic premise, where you are this badass spy on a mission to fuck up some terrorists, which for the most part is true, and it has a lot of influence from action movies in the 80’s and 90’s, but that only goes skin deep. While the originals followed that type of setting to a T, you quickly realise that there is far more to this game. Even as early as you press start.
Straight away you are in this underwater cut-scene with a magnificent Gaelic orchestral score, as Snake swims sneakily into a highly guarded facility. This might not seem like much, but it does an amazing job in making you question why you’re playing this game, setting up for one of the most crazy and ambitious game stories ever.
The choice in song is actually rather important too. Not only does this score sound hella (feck sake LiS!) emotional thanks to our beautiful Irish language (your welcome world), but it can sorta be used to describe the series as a whole. Likely a reason they used it in the end credits too.
Here are the lyrics translated if you want to know:
Do you remember love
Love from a tormented heart
Not fleeting, as with music at night
But an eternal love
Go now and reclaim it
Go now and love
Recall the times
when you were happy.
Recall the times
when you laughed.
Life is wonderful
Do you have faith in it?
Turn your face to life,
To eternal joy.
What happened to those days?
What happened to those nights?
Do you remember
How you turned to grief? Do you remember
How you turned to sorrow?
Is the blame mine or ours?
Our feelings grew faint
What caused our grief and fighting?
Can there be beauty in life?
If you seek it out.
Can there be happiness in life?
Let’s seek it.
Thanks to Youtube user Armando Loaeza who put them in the comment section of that video. Probably wouldn’t have made the connection otherwise, because being Irish also means I can’t speak a lick of the language, even after 13 years learning it. I won’t explain it all because that would be a lot of effort and will make me drag on further than I already have done, but the lyrics really tie to the life of Big Boss and Solid Snake, especially the final two verses. Anyway, back to the game.
While gameplay isn’t perfect, as well as the writing being a bit spotty in places, it is highly thought provoking and entertaining, and what would you rather? Your basic, predictable action game? Or to be screaming at your TV, “What the hell just happened? Who the fuck is this? What the shit is that?” It knows it’s a stupid spy game, and doesn’t hide that fact, instead choosing to embrace it using that to its advantage, constantly breaking the forth wall and messing with you, the player.
Hell, one of the best bosses in the series, Psycho Mantis, exists purely to communicate directly to the player, using your memory card to screw with your head as he lists off the games you have been playing and forcing you to get up off the couch to swap controller ports because otherwise he can read your movements. Like seriously? For most this would be considered bad game and narrative design, but Kojima doesn’t give a damn about convention, and in-turn created one of the most engaging boss fights in gaming history.
But the fact that you are being screwed with doesn’t even become apparent until about an hour into the game. Up until then it is your fairly bog standard spy story. Sneak through the base, get to the informant, save the girl, blah blah blah. It even uses well known military acronyms and keeps with a pretty serious, militaristic tone. You feel like you have a grasp as to what this game will throw at you and what the characters are like. Your starting to feel comfortable in that thought. Then this guy appears and disappears right in front of you.
Watch, as all those preconceived ideas of how this game works go flying out the window. The pages of your thoughts scattering to the wind… It’s kinda beautiful.
That’s your first encounter with anything that could be deemed supernatural. They don’t bother trying to explain it to you either, just telling you that this guy is Phycho Mantis, and he mind-probed his way into your head, leaving a mental hologram of himself floating around like it was nothing. And that’s it really. It happened and you get on with the mission, knowing less than when you started it. But while that may be a bad thing for most games, it isn’t in this case.
Majority of us don’t really care why a character has these powers, just that they do and we probably need to kill them at some point. But for those of us that do want to know, we are left wondering, and just explaining it away removes that sense of intrigue about them, which is one of the most alluring things about the series.
The game starts taking hard turns mixing reality and fantasy. You are also introduced to some other supernaturalish characters like a Cyborg Ninja known as Grey Fox and a Shaman called Vulcan Raven who has the power over… ughh… crows… As well as ones that carry a lot of baggage like Sniper Wolf, who has the pretty memorable line:
“I was born on a battlefield. Raised on a battlefield. Gunfire, sirens and screams… They were my lullabies…”
The game also gives off an ambiance that one would usually find in survival horror, which can be really unsettling, and makes those forth wall breaks even more creepy. It also adds to how insane the characters sound as they ask you to save your game, and to push the select button, all the while staying as serious as ever.
Metal Gear also did something few games of its time did. Hell, even today not many do it. It goes on about how war and killing are bad, and how your bad for being a part of it. Liquid, who never really understood the purpose of a shirt, goes on to ask why you are here, why do you continue on the mission despite already knowing that you were manipulated and betrayed? And the reason? Because Snake, and you, enjoy the killing.
It wasn’t the most graceful way of doing it, and there are games since then that have done the whole player condemnation thing better, like Spec Op’s: The Line (seriously, play that). But it is definitely something that left the player thinking.
It can get really confusing, and if that is a turn off of the series for you then that’s perfectly fine. Not everyone enjoys being confused. Hell, I didn’t really start understanding stuff until I looked into it further after Metal Gear Solid 3…. Then again I was 6 when I played MGS 1 back in 1999 ( you feeling old?), so it makes sense why I didn’t understand much.
Some have suggested that Konami (ughhhh) should remake Metal Gear Solid 1, but I disagree. Remaking MGS will require more than jamming new into the old. The entire game will need to be re-imagined for modern day systems and graphics, and that is a whole lot of effort for a game such as this. Unless Kojima himself is confident in a complete remake, then it is best left as it is. Remaking for the sake of nostalgia rarely works, because it is inevitable that things will change, and for a game as outdated as MGS 1 then that means there will be a lot of them, which as always will piss off a shit-ton of gamers (and Konami would be better off not angering us further).
The gameplay hasn’t aged well, and that is helped on by the fact that it wasn’t great for the time either. In fact the gameplay isn’t all that different from the original 1988 game, just in 3D, but that was never the main draw to Metal Gear Solid. The reason why we play it over and over again is because of the schizophrenic story within it, and I feel that part got better over time, making the game just as fun to replay, despite its janky controls and old as hell graphics.
The MGS series is a major part of why I love gaming so much today and want to be in the industry, providing two of my favourite games ever made on the PS1 and PS2, being this and MGS3. With Metal Gear Solid V out in only a few days, I have been doing a lot of reflecting over the last few weeks on the series, and this week will be replaying some of these games I hold to such a high regard. Games that I have spent hundreds of hours playing over and over again, each time being as amazing as the first, and it all began here, in this Kojima Productions game!