Metal Gear Solid – A Look Back

When a property reaches its twentieth anniversary, it reminds you…of how old you are…

But more importantly, it allows you to look back on what made that original title so special.  Metal Gear Solid should be viewed as one of the primary reasons for Sony’s success in the 90’s.  It was a showcase for the system, featuring detailed graphics, in-depth gameplay, memorable boss fights, solid voice acting, and a batshit crazy story.  While it wasn’t the first title in the stealth-action genre, it should be attributed as the title that pushed the genre into the mainstream.  It was a massive hit and was successfully able to create an entire series that included a number of spin-offs, including one that played out like a card game.

Metal Gear Solid was a truly cinematic affair, from its opening moments to its end credits.  It was oozing with style and it had the substance to match it.  Yes, it was corny and a lot of it was melodramatic, but this is what separated MGS from all other titles at the time.  Most action titles were straight-forward and their narratives were generally the same.  This was a title that dared to be different, it wasn’t afraid to lighten the mood with a strange occurrence or two.  Playing MGS meant you had to embrace the weird and zany.  You wouldn’t enjoy this series if you took it too seriously.  I mean, you can literally approach enemies in a cardboard box.

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This was one of the first action titles that I can remember that emphasized the freedom of choice.  You could go through the entire game without killing an enemy and this was vastly different from other titles at the time.  As the series progressed throughout the years, it become an achievement to go through an entire playthrough without killing anyone, even the bosses.  This was incredibly hard to do because you get some really awesome weapons and gadgets at your disposal.  Players had to adapt to enemy placement and there were so many hidden passages within each level, it really felt like a non-linear affair.

What was interesting is that as you made your way through Shadow Moses, the most reliable weapon you had at your disposal was your silenced pistol.  Other weapons were useful in clearing rooms and there were a multitude of explosive and ballistic weapons, but that pistol could be used to damn near kill every enemy in the game.  The exception of course being the eponymous Metal Gear, a walking, bi-pedal tank, that required something a bit more explosive.  For the most part, my later playthroughs in the game were practically pistol only, it did an incredible amount of damage and was useful when all other weapons failed.

One of the biggest selling points of the original MGS was the boss encounters.  From Sniper Wolf to Revolver Ocelot, every encounter was different and intense.  Players would have to change up tactics to ensure their survival and it always felt like the game was intentionally throwing in different wrinkles to make these encounters that much more memorable.  While everyone will point toward the encounter with Psycho Mantis, which was a mind-fuck for its time,  my personal favorite was against the Cyborg Ninja.  You first get to see him cut down a hallway full of enemies, then you’re forced to fight him while he’s cloaked.   Every time you injure him, he asks to be punished more, all the while Otacon is pissing himself in a locker.  I told you…this game had character.

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Speaking of characters, I would be remiss if I didn’t speak about Solid Snake himself.  He’s an icon in gaming and this is primarily because of the immense success of MGS.  He was the perfect representation of how cool this game was.  Gruff and determined, Snake was always able to successfully dispatch enemies while looking badass at the time.  He had a weird obsession with guns, one that would persevere throughout the series and he had this weird obsession with saying “Metal Gear” often, but regardless, Snake stands as one of the best characters in all of gaming.

Metal Gear Solid is one of those titles that deserves to be on a pedestal.  Twenty years ago, it revolutionized stealth mechanics that are still in use today.  Enemy AI has advanced since its release, but nothing beats seeing the exclamation point appear above an enemy as they catch you sneaking about.  There was no greater feeling than ghosting through a particularly difficult section because it was so damn hard to do so.  While the cardboard box is still a goofy item to use in a stealth game, I can’t imagine a Metal Gear Solid game without one.  Remember folks, no matter what anyone says, Metal Gear Solid was the house that Hideo Kojima built.

And we are all lucky to have been guests in that house.