Gray Fox: "Snake. We're not tools of the government, or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing... the only thing I was good at. But... at least I always fought for what I believed in."
Metal Gear Solid is the game that has had gamers of all ages running to the store for over 5 years. The question is, does Metal Gear Solid (MGS) live up to the years of build up? I think so but it depends on your perspective.
MGS is THE stealth action game. Forget about running into rooms with your gun blazing, and leaving nothing alive but an occasional rat... Here, living by the gun readily equates into dying by the gun. Why bother fighting when you can just sneak around behind their backs, crawl along walls just out of the sight range of surveillance cameras, and hide under boxes?
Metal Gear Solid really knows how to tell a story. Solid Snake, super-sneaky agent, must infiltrate a base that has been overrun by terrorists. These terrorists, however, are members of your old unit, "a top secret organization known as Fox Hound". The "hounds" are sitting on a super-secret new weapon and not to mention, enough nuclear warheads to blow everyone away. Your mission is to infiltrate the base "carrying nothing but a pair of binoculars and a pack of smokes"; check up on a couple of hostages; find out if Fox Hound even has the ability to carry out its apocalyptic threats, and stop it. The storyline unfolds in a seemingly never-ending collection of cut scenes, which are extremely well rendered using the game engine. The game doesn't need full motion video (FMV) to clog up the process. Although, it does use video in a few isolated cases and uses it reasonably well. When you first start playing the game, you feel like you truly are constantly in danger. There are so many ways that guards can be alerted to your presence. The most dangerous, of course, is sight. Enter the line of sight of a guard (or a camera) and you've got a fight on your hands. Luckily, their lines of sight are represented by big cones on your radar. Simply stay away from the cones and you'll never get spotted. If you either stomp through a puddle, cross a metal catwalk, fire off a weapon, or knock on a wall then nearby guards will hear the noise and say, "Huh, what was that noise?" They'll even follow footprints in the snow. If you're spotted, a swarm of guards come charging out of nowhere and begin to bring "pin the tail on the donkey" to a whole new and deadly level with Snake as the target. This encounter also starts a two-part timer. The first part of the timer is the danger timer. During this time, guards are extremely alert, and they scurry around, hoping to find you. If you can stay out of sight, the second timer starts. After "half-time" the guards don't look for you quite as much. If you can stay hidden during the second timer, the guards stupidly assume that you must have run away, and simply return to their posts. They just forget they ever saw Snake and continue to wander aimlessly. While it's understandable that this had to be done for gameplay purposes, it comes across as more than just a little silly. All of these guards are also in ridiculous need of some corrective eyewear; they can only see about 20 feet or so in front of them. You can even shoot a guard in the back of the head, and he'll only just look around and not see anyone, then go back to standing there like an imbecile. When you're not running behind the backs of the foolish guards, you're encountering various puzzles and "bosses". The puzzle aspect is mostly ruined by your radio, which allows you to check in with different people throughout the game. They'll also frequently call you, sometimes to advance the story, and they'll always tell you exactly what to do next. Your colonel frequently drops you a line to lay heavy concepts on you; for instance, "Snake, push the action button to climb down the ladder". Also, after most major encounters, your buddy, the colonel, checks in and basically recaps what you were just told. Usually it takes the form of "Didn't (party x) just tell you that (item y) is kept in (location z)? Hurry, Snake! We're almost out of time!" It needlessly interrupts the game and makes you feel as if you're an eight-year-old with attention deficit disorder instead of a trained killer.
The difficulty settings weren't in the Japanese game, and they really have a "thrown in at the last minute" feel to them. The game's easy setting is equivalent to the Japanese version. Normal difficulty changes the game a little bit, but not enough to really make a difference. Hard then steps up the amount of damage you'll take as well as disabling your radar. Extreme difficulty is locked until you beat the game once, and it uses sonar radar as well. Now, the trouble with this is that the gameplay was really designed around using the radar system effectively. Without it, the only way to see guards is to use the first-person view or to peer around corners. Unfortunately, you can't move while in the first-person view. The time you take to stop and look for guards may be the time that one of them turns around and sees you. Meanwhile, you're in a viewpoint where you can't even hide, let alone fire a weapon. This wouldn't be so bad if the view was pulled back a bit, but most of the guards you shoot or avoid won't ever be on the screen. If they make it onto the screen, chances are they're already shooting at you. While the game surely has its share of problems, it must be said that the game presents itself extremely well and actually is fun to play. The control over the character is extremely well conceived, and inventory selection is especially elegant. But don't even think of playing Metal Gear Solid without the Dual Shock controller. This game is probably the first to really make perfect use of the vibration functions, and really goes out of their way in order to maintain the suspension of belief in both its timing and its subtlety.
Once in the world of MGS, you genuinely do feel like the star of a spy-styled thriller. Whether you're silently breaking the necks of guards or merely pounding the circle button in order to stay alive while strapped into a torture device; you really do feel like the fate of the world hangs in the balance. It's a great expedition and a reasonably captivating story; which, considering you spend more time watching the story unfold than actually playing the game (it's been said that the game has ten times as much dialogue as the average movie), really helps the game. The storytelling is not perfect though; about halfway through the game, the storyline takes a dramatic turn. Then the rest of the dialogue is basically one big anti-nuke, anti-war message, heavily peppered with "How could I have involved myself in such an evil scheme?" speeches. If I wanted to be preached to in such a way, I'd go to a rally. Still, there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep it interesting in spite of its obvious and annoying anti-nuclear agenda. From an audio/visual standpoint, Metal Gear Solid is truly incredible. While the game's textures may be on the bulky side compared to the PS3 and the Xbox 360, the detail with which everything is rendered is nothing short of amazing. No 2D trickery here - everything is rendered in 3D, right down to the most seemingly insignificant details; such as items residing on desks and maggots festering on rotting corpses. Everything looks real and acts in an extremely realistic way. The animations are very well done and run at a nice, smooth rate.
I would say that the length of this game is remarkable, and I’m not alone in that particular boat… I have played every MGS game there is and I still crave for more. But if Hideo Kojima, the game's producer, was so fixated on this type of cinematic experience, he should really be making movies instead of games. While Metal Gear Solid currently stands alone, there are some copycats of the original MGS from 1987 way before Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. MGS is its own type of game and is not for all to play, but it's definitely worth purchasing. Don't be surprised though if you suddenly get extremely angry when you finish the game the day after you brought it home.
Developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
First published by Konami in 1998 for the PlayStation video game console.