It was over ten years ago that I was first introduced to Solid Snake. A brooding, melancholy protagonist who was the given the task to single-handedly stop a small army of terrorists. He was a man whose strength was his ability to kill, and he resented himself for it. He was far from perfect, and yet that was what made him so likeable.
Fast forward to today, and Solid Snake has become a legend in the world of gaming. Ever since the first Metal Gear Solid launched on the PlayStation in 1998, developer Hideo Kojima has been revolutionizing gaming with each entry into the series. So many elements in games that we take for granted would not have been there had not they been fine tuned and perfected by the Metal Gear series. These include cinematic style of story-telling using cut-scenes, challenging and creative boss fights and of course, the signature stealth action gameplay.
The original Metal Gear Solid is perhaps the game primarily responsible for defining the stealth genre. When players first picked up the game, they would suddenly realize that engaging every enemy was a very bad idea and would only result in them seeing the ‘Game Over’ screen over and over again. Instead, players would have to learn new tricks to not being seen at all. Of course, once you get the more powerful weapons you pretty much shoot your way through, but the real beauty lies in finishing the game without really killing anyone you don’t need to. In fact, in the later sequels, it is possible to go through the games without killing anyone at all; possible, but difficult. It’s a true test of skill and morality and a testament to the flexibility of the game.
As I’ve already mentioned, boss fights are a major part of every Metal Gear Solid game. The boss fights are always challenging, innovative and some are downright epic! Every fan has their favorites. Some will choose Psycho Mantis, a psychic who can read your mind making him impossible to defeat. That is, of course, unless you plug your controller to the second port, after which he cannot read your controller input (perhaps the most awesome breaking-the-fourth-wall-moment in a video game). Some will opt for the battles with the Metal Gears themselves, which are basically giant walking tanks. My personal favorite was a sniper battle in the middle of a jungle with an old man known simply as The End. And like so many things in the game, the player has a number of options when dealing with him. I opted to outplay him at his own game, by camouflaging myself in the jungle and using my directional microphone to uncover his location by listening for his breathing. It is equally possible to create a loud noise to draw his fire and then close in on his location, or even quit the game and come back a week later to find he has died of old age!
Every great series should not be shy to reinvent itself and such is the case with Metal Gear. Each game is known for pushing technical boundaries what was thought was possible at the time. The first two games required using your radar to watch out for enemy movements in order to slip past them unnoticed. Metal Gear Solid 3 however introduced larger jungle environments and a camouflage system, which encouraged crawling through the grass over running around like an idiot, kind of like how real stealth works actually. Metal Gear Solid 4 chose to streamline the entire process to keep it in line with modern shooters while still retaining the core elements of the game. Unlike other recurring franchises such as Halo and Legend of Zelda in which producers seem to be far too content with sticking to the same formula, Metal Gear knows when it needs to adapt and is not afraid to do so.
The most redeeming features of the series, however, are the story and the characters. Many have complained that the cutscenes are far too long. While it is true that the cut-scenes are quite long, these stand not to distract from the gameplay, but rather immerse the player into the story and to familiarize them with the characters. I remember sitting through a 20 minute long cut-scene; by the end of it I was actually hoping it would last longer. The conclusion of each game left me feeling genuinely connected with Snake, Raiden, Big Boss, Otacon, Meryll and the rest of the excellent cast. And every great tale needs an explosive ending, and without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that the series gave us just that.
In conclusion, Metal Gear Solid is an amazing series of video games. It is not something everyone can appreciate but those who are willing to enjoy slower, methodical stealth gameplay with an incredibly deep story-line are in for a treat. I know a new Metal Gear is in the works, but to be honest, I would rather appreciate it if there weren’t another game in the making. The story has ended on the highest of highs and that is how I would like to remember it.