The Game Jar Files: Metal Gear Solid turns Fifteen

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 03/09/2013

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A long, long time ago, I was standing in Our Price Records in Enfield Town, looking at their small selection of PlayStation games. I had that itch to play something new, but didn’t really know what I wanted, so there I was, standing in a music shop, staring at the games. One game caught my eye, partly because it was a double disc case, but mainly because it had such a strange name – Metal Gear Solid. Wondering what on earth this game could be, I picked up the box for a closer look. “Tactical Espionage Action” said the tag line. What the hell did that mean? Still bewildered by the title, I put the case down and left the shop. I can’t remember why I went back, maybe it the a lack of something better to do, I don’t know. What I can tell you is that I never, ever regretted turning around and buying Metal Gear Solid.

First published in Japan on September 3rd 1998, Metal Gear Solid was a stealth-action game, directed by Hideo Kojima. Although considered by many to be the start of the Metal Gear series of games, it is in fact a sequel, the eponymous Solid Snake having already started his sneaky career on the long forgotten MSX2. But whilst those early games certainly laid the gameplay foundations, it was until this game’s transition to 3D that the franchise we know and love was truly born. It was highly successful – shipping more than six million copies, and critically acclaimed, with many gamers citing it as one of the stand-out titles of all time. To my mind, it’s the game that did most to popularize the stealth genre, and it will forever stand out as one of the benchmark titles on the Sony PlayStation.

Set Six years after the events of the previous game, Solid Snake has been forced out of retirement and is sent to a remote island in Alaska, code-named Shadow Moses. A group of terrorists has seized a secret facility located on the island, along with the Metal Gear weapon being developed there, and is threatening the US government with a nuclear strike if their demands are not met. Snake’s mission is to infiltrate the facility and neutralise the terrorist threat. He is also tasked with locating two high value hostages held captive somewhere within. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that all is not as expected. A hostage dies in mysterious circumstances, and Snake soon begins to suspect that someone isn’t being entirely truthful with him.

Players must make their way through various areas of the facility, avoiding the attention of the enemy NPC’s by observing and exploiting such factors as patrol patterns, or fields of vision. A multitude of hiding spots are available, such as under vehicles, or in cardboard boxes, and the game actively encourages exploration of the environment for alternative paths of progression. Plot exposition takes the form of CODEC conversations and cutscenes that punctuate your journey through Shadow Moses, and these often lead to boss battles with a selection of larger-than-life characters. In keeping with the rest of the game, these battles often require the player to take a more thoughtful approach to the encounter. Understanding the various weapons at your disposal, and formulating tactics accordingly is present throughout the game.

Given the various gameplay mechanics, Metal Gear Solid’s style could have felt too clinical or demanding if not assembled correctly. Luckily for us, the developers knew what they were doing, because they produced a game that was both fun and rewarding to play. Clearing an area without alerting your enemies felt so good, restarting at a checkpoint never felt like a chore. Taking extra time to explore the environment for cool weapons or hidden paths always felt like a viable use of time. I’ve played many stealth games since MGS, and none of them have ever really managed to replicate the “challenging whilst remaining fun” dynamic. In far too many games, failure equals frustration, and that was something Metal Gear Solid’s creators managed to avoid. In a console generation without achievements, Metal Gear Solid was a game you replayed again and again because you wanted to. You wanted to find every weapon, and explore every corner.

Today, it’s easy to understand what a Metal Gear Solid game is all about. The concept of  sneaking around avoiding combat is familiar to us now, and more games than ever have some sort of stealth element to them, and as a result it’s easy to forget how important this game was, or how different it was to everything else on the shelf. Metal Gear Solid was ground breaking. It wasn’t afraid to immerse players in a complicated plot, or to use lengthy movie-like cutscenes to explain it. It positively encouraging non-lethal forms of combat, and actively dissuaded the more direct approach. And it was perfectly fine with players spending a large part of the game crawling around on their bellies. At a time when mindless shooting was about as sophisticated as action games got, Metal Gear Solid demanded a more cerebral approach.

I’ll finish off this birthday tribute by going back to my opening paragraph. On the face of it, my little tale of a younger me buying a game might not seem that remarkable to you, until you consider how many times I’ve done it. I’ve bought hundreds of games in many different shops over the years, but very few of them are so indelibly etched upon my memory. I couldn’t tell you, for example, when or where I bought Final Fantasy VII. I recall nothing about the day I picked up Gran Turismo for the first time. But Metal Gear Solid? I can close my eyes right now and picture that very moment, such was the impact that this game had upon me. Too often these days, games are labelled as “one of the best games ever made”, but on its fifteenth birthday I can’t think of a better candidate than Metal Gear Solid.

Metal Gear Solid themed PS Vita wallpapers Pt.1

A pictorial post today, and more PS Vita wallpapers. These two Metal Gear Solid themed ones are part one of two, and hopefully I’ll find some inspiration for the next two soon. When I do they’ll be posted up here, enjoy.

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