I’ve never played Metal Gear Solid.
A startling admission, I know. Especially coming from someone who is a fan of Sony consoles in general and Japanese games in particular. But I missed the boat on Metal Gear Solid for the PS1, having only played Metal Gear Solid 2 when it was a Greatest Hit on the PS2 and then wondering, “This is what all the fuss was about? Gamers have terrible taste!” Seriously. I looked down on MGS fans after that.
All I had ever heard about was how amazing the story of Metal Gear Solid is, how it is just like watching a movie. All the hype before the release of MGS 2 focused on the story, rather than gameplay, something I had not previously seen before. So I played it, liked it, but didn’t see all the fuss. Then MGS 3 came out and finally MGS 4. I skipped those as well, but something was nagging at the back of my mind. Despite my experience with MGS 2, I still felt like there was something I was missing out on. With the release of Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, I saw my opening and I struck. I would download and play the original MGS on the PSN and then play all the rest on the HD Collection.
So that’s what I did. I recently finished the MGS and had a blast with it. Even so many years after its release, the game still holds up well and its design and story had me pondering video games and the state of the medium to a degree that I haven’t in quite some time. So here are my thoughts on Metal Gear Solid.
First, it’s clear from the start that this is a game with a message. Other video games before MGS may have had a message the creators wanted to convey, but never as overtly as this. It wears its heart on its sleeve, for better or for worse and even playing it now for the first time, it’s strangely refreshing. This is art. Hideo Kojima isn’t trying to sell 5 million units on Day 1 or crush a rival company into oblivion. He is telling a story and delivering his message through that story, albeit with mixed results.
One minute there is a stark and disturbing discussion (more like a lecture) on nuclear proliferation and disposal and the very next minute is a candid and equally disturbing discussion about the curve of Meryl’s ass. Setting aside the similarities of a bombs and booties, it’s difficult to take the nuclear stuff seriously when the hardened killer that is Solid Snake is so easily distracted by DAT ASS. There are any number of dirty jokes that could be made about storing nuclear weapons and sexual activity (indeed, I made them all to myself while playing), but it seems so out of place with the serious story I thought I was being fed.
Until I realized something that some of you may have realized yourselves: Metal Gear Solid isn’t a movie in game form. It’s a comic book in game form. I mean, the crazy character names (Vulcan Raven? Seriously?), the plot twists that pile on top of each other so fast you literally wish you had a Venn diagram and the not-at-all-subtle ploys to deliver more exposition are all hallmarks of comic books. An example of this is the constant refrain of something being repeated back in the form of a question, such as, “Snake, there’s a Metal Gear at the base!” to which Snake responds, “Metal Gear?” which allows the person who originally spoke to deliver a long exposition filled speech. This sort of thing repeats itself ad-nauseum throughout the entire game (FOXDIE? Stealth suit?) and has become something of a meme, I think. At least it has for me and the GamerSushi guys. (GamerSushi?)
Now, this doesn’t diminish the impact or quality of the series at all. In fact, put in the proper perspective, thinking of the game in this context might actually help people appreciate it even more, as I think people tried to hold it to a higher standard than they should have. I have no doubt Kojima thinks the series should stand alongside the greatest movies of all time, but we should know better.
One of the things that made me laugh the most during the game (and there were plenty that did) was the battle with the Cyborg Ninja, later revealed to be Gray Fox. As you damage him, he will occasionally retreat and spout out an inane line of dialogue, my favorite being, “I’ve been waiting for this pain!!!” I almost died laughing. I actually had to pause the game for a moment to regain my composure (Composure?). My other favorite moment of unintentional comedy was during the boss fight with Metal Gear Rex. Liquid Snake, piloting Metal Gear Rex, has Gray Fox underneath the steel foot of Rex, about to crush Gray Fox. But Gray Fox somehow has enough time to deliver a long soliloquy to Snake that goes on long enough that I wondered if Liquid had fallen asleep, perhaps due to his recessive genes (Recessive genes?).
My final thought that I wanted to convey is about the pacing and storytelling. The story for MGS isn’t all that great, but the way the story is told is what lures you in, almost tricking you into thinking it is a great story. The pacing is top-notch. Kojima seems to always know when you need a break and deliver some quiet moments and when you need a boss fight to get your heart pumping again. I honestly could do without the backtracking, but even that is part of the pacing, giving you a chance to gather supplies before your next large-scale encounter. Even the dialogue, clunky at times and nearly always cheesy, draws you in, even as one side of your brain is saying, “Are we really going along with this?”
Regardless of the childish humor and SyFy channel plot, Metal Gear Solid captivated me. I had heard so much about this insane game with its dense mythology and kooky characters, but it was a pleasure to finally immerse myself in it and be rewarded with a great experience, even if it came from a game that looks like polygon puke to our modern eyes. I’m glad I took the plunge and I encourage anyone who hasn’t already to do as soon as possible. As Snake himself learns, you never know when your time is up and every gamer should experience Metal Gear Solid before their time runs out.