Metal Gear Awesome (MGS1)


Great Games

This game is the one that first showed me video games had the potential to be serious. Not serious in a gritty, grey and brown modern fps shooter sort of way, but serious in an artistic sense.  It showed me games could have messages, could tackle issues in ways film and literature can't, it showed me games could be art worth engaging with. The first 'serious' game I ever played was Metal Gear Solid. 


Pixelated Perfection
From the moment this game starts it screams quality. An orchestral sounding choir sing in quiet sombre tones as we observe a character - series protagonist 'Solid Snake' - swimming underwater in advanced diving gear. The screen fades to black, with text telling us this is a Konami game, then 'A Hideo Kojima Game'. This was the first time I had encountered the notion of 'directing' a game. The comparison to film holds up, as if pressed to define Metal Gear Solid in a single word, 'cinematic' would be at the top of my list, along with 'awesome' and similar adjectives.
 

Kojima is one of the few people in the gaming industry who truly knows how to use camera angles/movement effectively. The sweeping camera movements draw you in as we hear a voice-over giving Snake - and the player - his/her briefing. Back in when I first played it - before my eyes had grown used to modern graphics - playing this game really was like watching movie, and a good movie at that. 

These days however, the graphics look very, very dated. Characters look pointy, and squarish. Each cut scene is rendered using the games engine (something I almost always favor in games as the cut scenes feel more integrated with gameplay which is great in a cut scene heavy game like this). The downside of this means those squarish character models are put under even more scrutiny with one huge negative being the lack of animated facial features - characters move their heads and gesture whilst they speak but their lips remain static. 

Liquid Snake(foreground) and Solid Snake (background),
indulging in some sort of weird torture fetish scenario.

However, the game defiantly has its own definitive artistic style. For instance, the character models, as you may have noticed, have barely distinguishable eyes, replaced instead with heavy shadows, giving each character a sinister/mysterious appearance. The game also utilities a very washed out looking color pallet, the blue and silver hues complimenting the games setting and tone. 

One standout aspect of the visual design are the games 'codec' conversations - Snakes way of communicating with HQ - which basically serve as secondary cut scenes as players press select to call various support characters for advice/information mid game. Each codec cut scene features a portrait of Snake and one of his team as they converse, this time drawn with semi-moving features. The images of Snake and others used here are much more detailed than in the game itself, and still look good more than 10 years later. 

As if by some miracle Snake has gained eyes!
...Shifty eyes. -_-





Plot

In terms of plot, the Metal Gear series is renowned for being dense, vague and occasionally nonsensical, and with a series containing 8-10 games (depending on how you count) set across several decades it would be impressive for them not to be a little convoluted. However, back in 1998 with only 3 games in the series the plot was a lot more straight forward.

Prior to the events of Metal Gear Solid protagonist Snake fought against his former commander - the legendarily soldier Big Boss, who secretly founded the fortified mercenary nation 'Outer Heaven' with the aim of using the new weapon 'Metal Gear' (a bipedal tank capable of launching stealth nukes from anywhere on the planet) to make it the words newest, strongest superpower. Snake infiltrates Outer Heaven, and with the help of its creator, manages to defeat Metal Gear and kill Big Boss in the process. 

Mercenaries, Metal Gear, and Big Boss:
proof that trench coats are cool.
 A few years later and a mysterious figure founds the micro-nation of Zanzibar Land and rumors of a new model of Metal Gear begin to surface once more. Snake is called into action, infiltrating Zanzibar Land and once again finds Metal Gear and Big Boss - who survived an explosion, because he's just that bad ass. Again with a little help from his friends Snake destroys Metal Gear and kills Big Boss (for real this time). However, before his death Big Boss reveals he and Snake are father and son. Tired of war Snake heads into the Alaskan wilderness and lives there alone for many years.  

That is until events of Metal Gear Solid, wherein Snake's former spec ops unit 'FOXHOUND', now lead by a man codenamed Liquid Snake (who looks suspiciously similar to our Snake, hint hint), go rogue and seize an Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility. Unbeknown to the world, the disposal facility was actually a front for the U.S government's own Metal Gear project. The Members of FOXHOUND are using this new Metal Gear to hold the world hostage, their demands: They launch a nuclear strike on the U.S in 24 hours unless they are given the remains of Big Boss, a seemingly insignificant demand. However, what the terrorists want is Big Boss's genomic information. As the perfect soldier, his genes would allow them to perfect the  gene therapy already used to create the genetically enhanced 'Genome Army', now serving under the FOXHOUND operatives. Snake's mission is to ascertain their nuclear capabilities and preventing a strike by any means necessary.

Gameplay

Metal Gear Solid's gameplay is not about running in and shooting terrorists Die Hard style. In fact, when you start the game you have no weapons at all. All equipment is OSP (on site procurement the game's subtitles tell us). Instead of shooting his way through a room Snake has to sneak his way through, utilizing his nanomachine radar that shows nearby guard patrols and their field of vision, and tricks such as crawling on his belly to make less sound, or banging on walls to draw guards to certain areas. All these elements work well and the AI still feels fairly sharp and responsive to your actions. 

Where the gameplay does fall a bit flat is the shooting. When you're  inevitably spotted by the enemy they go into 'alert mode' and you have to either run and hide - which works nicely, or stay and fight - which doesn't. The top down view doesn't lend itself well to shooting, especially when you have multiple enemies often off screen. It's not a terrible mechanic - it's simple enough and gets the job done, but in a game with so few flaws it stands out, a weak link in the chain. 

The shooting may be weak, but it doesn't matter.
Snake can take on metal gear using rations.

Despite the weak shooting, the boss fights still manage to be absolutely fantastic. This is in part down to the fact that the bosses themselves are such terrific  characters. Each one feels like a well fleshed out individual with their own motives and needs beyond "must stop the hero". Standouts include Revolver Ocelot, a western enthusiast who loves the thrill of "slamming a long silver bullet into a well greased chamber" in the heat of battle (hint hint), and Psycho Mantis, whose boss fight is undoubtedly one of the best in the history of gaming. Oh, and there's a cyborg ninja who can turn invisible. Every single one of the - oh, wait a second, just to reiterate - there's a cyborg ninja who can turn invisible, and yes, that is every bit as awesome as it sounds. Anyway, pretty much every single one of the boss fights is engaging, compelling and memorable and really, what more could you want?


The members of FOXHOUND. The one on the far
right is definitely compensating for something.





Conclusion

I said in my introduction this was the first 'serious' game I've ever played, and why? Well this game was about something. In fact it was about lots of things, important things. Perhaps the most central theme is the futility of war, nuclear war in particular. That's right, this is an anti-war video game. Snake, the reluctant solider, fights because of personal investment rather than ideological reasons and remarks on the pointlessness of war. One character, an arms dealer remarks rather sadly but openly that he's "always looking forward to the next good war".

Tonally the game hits the exact perfect note. Serious, tragic, with the occasional heartwarming moment. The game has a great plot, has some brilliantly fleshed out characters and I haven't even mentioned the fantastic musical score which is one of my all-time favorites. On the downside whist the graphics have style they now look severely dated, shooting can let it down and it's a little too short. If you know exactly where to go and when to go there you could easily complete the game in 3-4 hours which is far to little time to spend with this great game.
All that said, provided you can look past the graphics this is still a gaming classic and an absolute must play. Metal Gear Solid is available on the playstation network for £7.99, playable on the PS3 or PSP and is a solid purchase. (Pun not intended for once.)

Labels