Friday, March 15, 2013

Metal Gear Solid (Playstation, 1998)

Get ready, because 1998's game is one of the most iconic of all time. A year earlier, Final Fantasy VII steered the N64/Playstation war toward a Sony win. That game single-handedly drew the massive RPG fanbase - which Nintendo at one time had a lock on - away from the N64. Sony managed to keep them there by, you know, having RPGs (something the N64, for the most part, did not). Nintendo fired back with the awesome Ocarina of Time, but Sony was ready and countered its holiday release with Metal Gear Solid. Nintendo had finally met its match, it seemed.

This game follows in the footsteps of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake for the MSX, 80's classics that didn't get much attention in the West (save for a subpar NES port of the first game). The similarities are especially pronounced between this game and MG2.

MG2 is the inspiration for about 90% of the ideas in this game to the point where it is nearly a reimagining.. One gets the feeling that this is the first time that Hideo Kojima could fully realize his vision for a game, and the result is perhaps the most cinematic game ever released up to that point.

TUTORIAL TIME! Colonel Campbell nosily interrupts the gameplay several times to tell you how to move. Yep, it's obnoxious, but at least it's skippable dialogue. This guy gives you instructions throughout the game. Also chiming in with protips is Master Miller, Solid Snake's combat trainer and the one guy Snake seems to fully respect.

In other news... the screenshots for this particular post are likely going to be sub-par. I had to take a lot of them with a digital camera, and the graphics of this game haven't aged that well to begin with. Especially on an HDTV. The fact that they're extremely dark doesn't really help either.

Then again, in 1998 - and especially on the Playstation - these graphics were really good. The 3D era was in full swing at this point.

Here's the DARPA chief (or so we believe) who infamously has a heart attack in front of Solid Snake. You definitely wouldn't see this in a Nintendo game at the time.

Solid Snake is talking about Metal Gear, the titular bipedal walking nuclear tank that proliferates throughout the world in this series. In the early games, Metal Gear is more like a primitive SCUD launcher than anything else, but as they progress (especially in Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4, the last games chronologically) they become more like giant, shrieking Evangelion refugees.

One of the things I particularly like about this game: Meryl. It's pretty cool for Snake to have a female co-protagonist to get into trouble with. Metal Gear Solid 3 would try this with Eva, but since she was so untrustworthy, it never worked. Also, Metal Gear Solid 2 would try this with Raiden, but that didn't work either because Raiden is male. Admittedly, he's "Square-Enix male", but it still barely qualifies.

Snake doesn't realize at first that this random soldier is actually Meryl, yet he pays a lot of attention to her because he finds himself captivated by her butt.

Behold: Thermal Goggles. These things are pretty damn cool, and give you infrared vision. I still remember seeing this in 1998 and being wowed by it. There are also Night Vision Goggles that turn everything a shade of green. While the TGs are good for illuminating foes and useful throughout the game, the NVGs are good for seeing in the dark and only useful in a few key spots.

Besides that, the Thermal Goggles pretty much get the same job done; you can see in the dark pretty well with them.

One of the parts that got me stuck early on is this one. You use C4 to blow up a few walls and progress. Maybe my vision isn't up to par, but I've always had issues noticing the weak parts of the wall that you can bomb.

Snake: "I'm here to save you, girl! Come be in Shady's world!"

Oh boy, here's Revolver Ocelot. This guy is the main recurring villain in the MGS series. Hell, he's even in the prequel third game as a spry youth. Personally, I'm not a fan of Ocelot. He's boring and overplayed.

I think what bugs me most about this guy is that he's always a kind of a side-villain in these games without being one you directly fight. In this game he shows up as the first boss, then after that he never goes away. Just keeps popping up as the bad guy's assistant that you can't do anything about.

 In the second and third games, he continues showing up just to be irritating in long cutscenes where he and Snake have lots of "mutual respect staredowns" until he goes away. I guess all of this was building up to him being (SPOILER ALERT) the villain in the fourth game. He just isn't interesting or compelling compared to the other villains he continually finds himself being an assistant to.

This game is full of discussion about the real world... in particular, nuclear weapons and all of the problems they create.

One of the biggest problems with the two Metal Gear games on the MSX was the lack of consolidated card keys. The first game had something like seven card keys, and best of all, none of the doors in the game had any markings to tell you which key they required. So you'd spend a lot of time trying different keys at locked doors. The second game improved on this a little bit by giving you combination keys as the game went on - so you'd get level 1, 2, and 3 keys, then a red key that opened all level 1-3 doors. By the end of the game you'd have three keys, each of which opened three levels of doors. This game improves it the rest of the way by having every new key replace your old keys AND open their doors.

Solid Snake: "Now I have a machine gun. Ho, ho, ho."

Here we see our hero crawling across a minefield. This is a good way to get safely across and get some mines of your own in the process. The MSX games had quite a few areas like this; they were big on Claymore mines.

::insert Gandalf reference here::

This guy is Vulcan Raven, and the first time you fight him he pilots a tank. These visuals are quite impressive for a Playstation game in 1998.

Next boss. The Ninja is so badass that the fans created a whole mythology around this guy. This is probably why Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance exists today; people wanted to play as a katana-wielding cyborg ninja in a Metal Gear game.

The Ninja is Gray Fox from the first two MG games... or what's left of him.

Otacon: NERD

The one major failing of Metal Gear Solid that keeps me from ranking it above its follow-ups is the gameplay. The combat in this game is very difficult to control, and the usually-overhead camera doesn't work as well as it could. These problems are largely fixed in the later games in the series; in my view Metal Gear Solid 2 is clearly superior to this game. However, it was unfortunate enough to have a bait-and-switch of protagonists that garnered a decade of hate for the game. It's too bad.

The people back at HQ discuss the Ninja. He's a cyborg version of Gray Fox, Snake's old partner-turned-foe who was thought to be killed in Metal Gear 2. This storyline is borderline iconic, which is impressive for a game to achieve.

This is pretty dark stuff. This game drops you right down the rabbit-hole.

Reminds me of Peace Walker, where you spend a good portion of the game building a Metal Gear. The Rail Gun was particularly problematic to get for me. In other news, while playing this game I didn't get any shots from Master Miller, but I have to wonder if he's the same character as Kaz Miller in Peace Walker, Big Boss' right-hand man in that game. Looks like the same guy.

The Ninja leaves a trail of bodies everywhere he goes. Is he friend or foe? The answer is... both.

Solid Snake runs into Meryl again midway through the game. He's smitten right off the bat.

Unfortunately, Meryl is psychologically sterile. Or would that be "steryl"? ::canned laugh track is heard::

That tattoo is none other than the loading logo from the original Metal Gear. Nice little nod there. While I don't advocate playing those early games in the series (they're pretty tedious), I'm glad I did because this game is FULL of references to them. I'm surprised they didn't call it "Metal Gear 3". Calling it what they did was a stroke of genius.

"You either die a hero!" pants Snake. "Or you live long enough to go to prison!"

Meryl wants to Snake in her pants, mere minutes after meeting him. This might raise questions about her mental stability, but it turns out that she's under the control of...

...Marilyn Manson? What the fuck?

HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT? I...I never even told my parents about that!

What the hell? Back off, Marilyn Manson!

The screen blacks out. All you can hear are the screams.

The actual fight with Psycho Mantis is simple and easy, and this fight is hardly worthy of the praise it gets across the internet. It's pretty cool the first time, but after that it's a little bit tiring. The similar battle with Screaming Mantis in Metal Gear Solid 4 is a lot more intense and interesting than this one, but got a fraction of the attention. I'm really not sure why this game is so revered and the follow-ups are so resented. This is a great game, and the genesis of an incredible story, but the rest of the Solid games improve on it greatly in the gameplay department.

After the battle, Psycho Mantis slowly dies while Solid Snake feels remorseful. This is a common thread throughout the game; it does everything possible to make the player feel pity for their foes. In the land of black and white video game stories, this game broke new ground.

I played this on the PS3 via a PSN download, and I handled switching controller ports by doing that in the usual PS3 method. As for the stuff about those other Konami games, it read my PS3's emulated memory card. And...well, three out of the four PSN downloaded games I have are from Konami. What are the odds of that? There's Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Metal Gear Solid, Suikoden. What's the fourth? Breath of Fire 4 by Capcom.

Cave wolves... in infrared. It's weird to see snow falling in 3D in a PS1 game. Vagrant Story does this quite a bit and it looks unusual there too.

It's the "Aerith Moment" of the game, as Meryl gets shot. However, it's possible to save her. I didn't know this the first time I played, and she died anticlimactically.

Sniper Wolf may be a trained killer, but she's yet another sympathetic foe... and she has the biggest boobs in the series.

She doesn't like torture, so she leaves as the bad guys torture Snake. Yeah, I'm skipping over some decent-sized parts of the game here, in the interest of getting through it in this post.

This is actually a staple of the series: the torture minigame. In every Solid game, our hero finds himself getting tortured by the bad guys, and you need to blast different buttons as fast as possible to keep from succumbing to their electric shocks. Snake getting tortured is as much a staple of the MGS franchise as Kratos having three-ways is a staple of the God of War franchise. One of those guys got the better end of the deal.

One of the most memorable battles in this game is Snake Vs. the Hind-D chopper. This is probably the second most difficult fight in the game, and that's because of the controls more than anything else.

When Snake has a rematch with Sniper Wolf, he finishes her off. What follows is another heartbreaking sequence where Snake talks to his fallen opponent not as an enemy but as a fellow soldier.

Otacon and Snake bond over this entire mess, and that's it for Disc 1. Yep, this is a two disc game, a rarity for a non-RPG.

The next area is what appears to be a smelting plant. It looks straight out of the finale of Terminator 2. At this point in the game you have hot and cold themed areas, which figures into the story when you need to hang out in both areas to transform your temperature-controlled keycard. Not my favorite part of the game since it involves backtracking, but I do like the visuals in these areas.

Speaking of terminators, here's Vulcan Raven. He's built like a terminator and he lugs around quite the damn minigun.

His ravens are parked nearby, waiting for the battle to start. Chilling stuff here.

This battle is a good one. He stalks Snake throughout the frozen warehouse, and if he catches up to you you're no match for him. You have to mount an offense without getting anywhere near him, and this involves using the environment to set up traps. It reminds me of the Mr. Freeze battle in Arkham City for the PS3, one of my favorite parts of that incredible game. Mr. Freeze is an indestructible terminator who stalks you around an area, and the only way to stop him is set traps in the environment.

The shadowy Liquid Snake lays out his evil plans, while second-in-command Revolver Ocelot lurks in the background and steals his thunder.

"I shall break him" says Liquid in an Ivan Drago voice.

Time for a revelation via codec. Behold! Master Miller... actually Liquid Snake!

Indeed, Liquid Snake killed Solid Snake's teacher and impersonated him during this operation. And with that revelation, here's Metal Gear Rex, the penultimate battle of the game... and BY FAR the most difficult boss. While I breezed through most of the game, this fight probably took me close to ten tries.

Look at that 32-bit 3D explosion! You can taste the pixels!

After that difficult battle (which is as difficult as it is because of the poor controls, but I'm a broken record about that now), Solid Snake is face to face with Liquid Snake for the final battle. Liquid is angry because soldiers aren't as needed as they used to be. Just wait a few years, Liquid.

Liquid Snake talks about the 1991 Gulf War and the U.S. Government being shady, and then the final battle commences.

Speaking of the U.S. government, they're on the way with a nuclear airstrike to level this place, Solid Snake and all. Can he escape in time, or will the rest of the series be Nothing But Raiden?

Liquid Snake is a fearsome character, and I really wish he were around for some of the later games in the series. Would have been a much better villain in 4 than Ocelot.

Meryl the feisty redhead is unconscious nearby during the battle. Not sure what the point of this is, but at least she isn't dead this time around like she was the first time I played the game.

The final battle... is a fistfight. All of the weapons you've spent the game collecting are stripped from you for this battle, which was an interesting choice. Makes it even more memorable.

What follows is an escape sequence where Meryl drives and Snake fires at the pursuing Liquid Snake to slow him down. Eventually, outside of the base, he succumbs to his wounds. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Actually, he succumbed to a virus that I didn't really go into in this post, not his wounds.)

This, like Vulcan Raven, reminds me a bit of Terminator. This is the second time I've ever played this game; first was in 1999. Of course, back then I failed to save Meryl, and was pretty shocked when she actually died. At this point, I believe Otacon was driving the jeep. It wasn't until a bit later that I found out it was possible to save Meryl... fast forward 14 years, and here I am finally seeing it. Good stuff, and I like when games give you a reason to revisit them.

The finale of the game lets us know that we really need to do something about all those nukes.

...and then there's the big reveal that Ocelot was working for the President all along. Dun dun DUNNNNN!

Well, this is where I usually give some final thoughts about the game. In this case, I think I said most of what I had to say about it over the course of the post. Great game, exceeded by its sequels, worshipped above them regardless. While Final Fantasy VII brought a lot of fans over to the Sony camp, this game kept them there. At this point the Sega Saturn was all but defeated and the Nintendo 64 was no longer the killer app that it was in 1996, now relegated to second place behind the Sony Playstation. And for the duration of that particular console generation, this would be the case.

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  1. I've only made it as far as the first Vulcan Raven fight myself, but thanks to everyone in the world playing this game, I've seen just about all of this.

    ...why didn't I make it farther? ...I had trouble with the controls.

    1. The controls improve a lot in the later games. One thing this game lacked and really needed was a way to aim weapons in first person.

  2. "Also, Metal Gear Solid 2 would try this with Raiden, but that didn't work either because Raiden is male. Admittedly, he's 'Square-Enix male', but it still barely qualifies."

    To be fair, actions speak louder than words -- and considering that he ends up slicing and dicing his way through a battle with a pumped-up president in a tentacle-laden suit, I'd say the pretty boy's doing well for himself.

    In any case, thanks for this little retrospective. I've found that I'm pretty terrible at MGS games (things always end with me tackling foes unconscious and stabbing them to death), so it's good to be able to enjoy the story without panicking and cowering.

    Side note: DEM PS1 GRAFFECS. Those shoulders look like they could tear through a tank!

    1. Raiden also got an entire game to himself where he was reinvented as a badass cybernetic ninja who goes all Devil May Cry on his enemies. Not too shabby. Kinda makes up for him being "Square-Enix male" in his debut.

  3. Ehhh, it's pretty obvious Master Miller is also Kazuhira Miller. They're the same guy and if you notice, they even sound alike. Not only that, but at the end of Peace Walker, during the credits there is a line that says, Miller was found dead in his home in 2005. 2005, same year of Shadow Moses incident.

    MGS1 controls are fine, really. Just a little complicated, but once you know how everything works, you should be able to do any action with your eyes closed.

    Liquid didn't succumb to his wounds. He was alive, fine and would've lived were it not for the Foxdie virus kicking in when it did...

    I wrote my own reviews of Metal Gear 1 and Metal Gear 2, the MSX games:

  4. Re-reading my comment, I get the feeling that the tone of my was a little dickish. Didn't mean to come across as rude... I liked your post and read through all of it.

    1. Naw, it wasn't dickish. Thanks for the comment. Good to have Kaz clarified.

  5. I played a demo, stopped because the controls frustrated me, never bought the game. It's a great story, though, and the most impressive thing is they originated this plot during the 90s of all times.

    It's obvious to me that the first Solid would be the most revered. That's because it was so unique and such a category-breaker, and it had a plot the likes of which hadn't been seen yet in top-tier gaming. That was the one that was a huge leap. Like there are RPGs better than FF7, but FF7 was the one that blew people's minds. (And a big reason for that is that it, like MGS, was much darker and grittier than what had preceded it.) A boss that reads your memory card? A boss you have to unplug the controller to defeat? That kind of outside-the-box-thinking hadn't been done before.