Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid (メタルギアソリッド) - PlayStation, Windows (1998)


This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series Metal Gear

The success of a creative work is more often than not fickle, capitalizing on some trend, some theme, some demand that’s could never have been predicted but seems obvious in retrospect. Pac-Man is a very good video game, made by talented people, but it also benefited from video games exploding out of university mainframes and into bars, malls, and movie theaters, where there were waiting quarters in eager hands.

The same could be said of Metal Gear Solid. It rode a wave of excitement that descended upon the industry with the technological advancements of the 1990s. Consoles rallied forward with exciting new innovations – CD storage! Polygonal rendering! Rumble & analog sticks! – and games like Resident Evil and Final Fantasy VII showed that the industry was striking at Hollywood, integrating strong narrative, memorable characters, and fantastic presentation into more striking video games.

But it wasn’t just luck, not for those titles and certainly not for Metal Gear Solid. The game is full of an undeniable creativity, powered by massive leaps in technology and informed by the unique perspective and skills of its creators.

In 1996, Konami started to consolidated their game development divisions into one subsidiary, Konami Computer Entertainment Japan, or KCEJ. While a new Metal Gear game was being planned, it couldn’t find the right system for it, shifting to Sony’s new console after its initial target, the 3DO, failed in the market. Working with a small team within this new subsidiary, Hideo Kojima sought to redefine the series he created in 3D. While Metal Gear Solid doesn’t stray far from the two MSX entries, it is rendered using polygons and the team wanted to use this extra depth to make the world more believable. Legos were employed to help visualize the spaces and understand camera placement. Designer Yoji Shinikawa turned his visions of the characters and the game’s titular mech into clay models to help others render them in the game. Details were fussed over, right down to the shape of rooms and the placement of desks, sometimes based on the technological limitations of the PS1. For combat, the developers spent time with military and police personal, participating in real exercises and getting demonstrations of equipment and vehicles to help better inform their work in the game. This emphasis helped Metal Gear Solid stand out from its peers. Holding down the Triangle button pulls the camera down from above and into a first person perspective, letting people examine these details directly. It’s a small thing now, but it left a huge impression at the time. Compared to the prerendered environments of its cinematic peers on the PS1, Metal Gear Solid felt more “real” with just the simple press of a button.

Six years after the events of Metal Gear 2, Metal Gear Solid picks up with Solid Snake enjoying retirement and dog sledding in Alaska. However, terrorists splintered off from his former unit, FOXHOUND, have taken hostages at a secret government facility on Shadow Moses Island. With a genetically enhanced army of genome soldiers, the terrorists demand that the US government hand over the remains of Big Boss and $1 billion dollars in 24 hours or they will use the nuclear equipped Metal Gear REX hidden at the facility to lethal ends. Snake’s mission is to neutralize the terrorist threat, save the hostages, and prevent nuclear destruction. Along the way, he’s supported via Codec, an advanced military communication device implanted in his ear.

Characters

Solid Snake

Having saved the world twice from the menace of Metal Gear, Solid Snake retired to Alaska only for his past to catch up to him. He is a clone of the world’s greatest soldier, Big Boss. He really loves smoking, going so far as to smuggle cigarettes in his stomach for the mission.

Colonel Campbell

The commanding officer for the mission, the Colonel provides support for Snake in the game, much the same as he did in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. He and Meryl are family, making this mission a bit more personal for the gruff old man.

Mei Ling

This sharp data analysis specialist invented the Codec radio and the Soliton radar system that Snake uses during his mission. She is also the primary means of saving the game. She’s always got a proverb ready to enlighten Snake each time he calls to report.

Naomi Hunter

This good doctor has a background in genetics and nanomachines. As the doctor on staff for the mission, she performed Snake’s check up, giving him his shots too. She is a restrained person, cloaked in mystery.

McDonald “Master” Miller 

Master Miller offers Snake advice in how to survive the intense, harsh conditions of Alaska. He is one of the soldier’s trusted mentors. Initially appearing in Metal Gear 2, his character ends up being an important one later on in the series, albeit with a bit of a retcon as far as his name.

Nastasha Romanenko

Nastasha is the Ukrainian expert bought into to aid Snake on information about nuclear weapons. Her passion for disarmament shines through as she’s asked about these deadly world ending weapons.

Meryl Silverburgh

A rookie soldier, Meryl refused to participate with FOXHOUND’s terrorist plot and is locked up. She admires Snake, after hearing many stories from Colonel Campbell about the unit’s early days. She was originally a character in Policenauts, an adventure game previously directed by Kojima but re-used since Kojima liked her. However, since the Metal Gear and Policenauts universes are not connected, they are not technically the same character.

Donald Anderson

The DARPA chief is among the kidnapped officials that Snake is supposed to rescue in his mission. He informs Snake that FOXHOUND already has the codes to launch Metal Gear REX’s nukes, and tells him how they can be stopped.

Kenneth Baker

The president of ArmsTech, a weapons manufacture with lucrative military contracts, was overseeing the progress on Metal Gear REX when he was kidnapped. After being tortured by Ocelot, he is strung up in the most convoluted way to justify a boss fight.

Ninja

A man wearing a cybernetic suit that can go invisible, the Ninja shows up throughout the mission as an agent for neither side. He has a connection to Snake that becomes clearer as the game goes on (or pretty obvious if you’re familiar with the MSX entries.)

Hal ‘Otacon’ Emmerich

Otacon (yes, like the anime convention) is one of the engineers working on Metal Gear REX at the time of Liquid’s insurrection. As his nickname implies, he’s an otaku and working on a giant robot is just like one of his animes.

 

FOXHOUND

Liquid Snake

Liquid Snake leads the rogue members of FOXHOUND in the takeover of Shadow Moses. Like Solid Snake, he’s a genetic clone of Big Boss. His accent comes from being raised in the United Kingdom, where he served in the British military.

Revolver Ocelot

Revolver Ocelot is Liquid’s right hand man, an accomplished soldier, and a skilled torturer. He wears a stylish trench coat, and he really loves reloading his Colt 45 in the middle of battle.

Psycho Mantis

This gas masked man can read minds and floats around. His immense psychic powers had him turn on his family, and eventually humanity, the inane, selfish thoughts of his fellow humans filling him with disgust.

Sniper Wolf

A expert sharpshooter as her name implies, Sniper Wolf has immense endurance in taking down her targets, forgoing food, sleep, & zippers in her pursuit. She takes care of the wolves around the base. Otacon has a crush on her.

Vulcan Raven

The hulking man is FOXHOUND’s heavy weapons specialist. Born to Native American and Inuit parents, he was brought up as a shaman and is able to access a deep well of intuition & mysticism in his interactions with Snake.

Decoy Octopus

It’s not a story about a secret black ops, intelligence mission without a master of disguise like Decoy Octopus. His desire for authenticity is so great that he will inject himself with the blood of the people he mimics.

The story and its characters are shockingly refreshing, even today. Tensions remain high throughout the game. There’s the sense that Snake should trust nobody but despite that uncertainty, friendships develop. And it’s all set to the backdrop of nuclear proliferation, genetics, and the seeming inevitability of conflict. The game has some clear opinions about the topics it covers, and it ends up feeling personal and expressive, in ways that have in common with an indie title than a big budget game, even if it is clumsy and verbose in the ways it expresses them.

Sneaking is the name of the game in Metal Gear Solid. Much like the MSX entries, Snake starts with nothing but binoculars, cigarettes, and a radar, avoiding enemies and picking up more tools on site. Where the game expands on the originals is in the interactions in the environment. Players have to pay attention to their surroundings. Footprints in the snow will cause enemies to investigate. Walking across a puddle or a grate will catch undue attention. Using the environment, Snake can manipulate enemies’ behaviors. When leaning up against a wall, Snake can tap on it to break soldiers from their routes. He can crouch and crawl, giving him more options to avoid enemies’ sight. Getting caught means the radar gets jammed, and Snake has to fend off enemies and hide, in order for it to return. A set of VR training missions are available to bring players up to speed with the ‘Tactical Espionage Action’ the game features.

While stealth is important, tools and weapons come into play. There are an expected assortment of guns like the SOCOM, a lightweight pistol with an optional silencer, the FAMAS, an assault rifle, and a sniper rifle, the PSG1. C4 is used to demolish walls, the Stinger missile launcher is handy against an helicopter, and chaff grenades disrupt electronics, including Snake’s own radar. Other high tech gear is used; a shapeshifting key, a mine detector, and night vision goggles. The series’ staple, the cardboard box, is used to fool enemies and to fast travel around the facility, and a camera can be used to take and save pictures in the game, provided enough memory card space. There are two endings and each unlocks a unique cheat item; a bandana that granting infinite ammo, and the stealth kit, giving invisibility. In a nod to James Bond, Snake wears a tuxedo on a third successive playthrough. It doesn’t have any bonuses; it just looks stylish.

It’s the little touches that make Metal Gear Solid stand out. The game anticipates actions the player might try, even out of the bounds of the mission, sometimes. C4 can be strapped to soldiers’ backs, making them walking bombs. The hostage of a boss fight can be killed before entering the room. Sometimes these little details get a little creepy. The player has to figure out how to find Meryl at one point, based on a ‘clue’ that sexualizes her, and she can be caught with her pants down, literally, if the player is fast enough once she’s found.

Other times, the PlayStation – its actual hardware and accessories – is used to great effect. Characters in the game will note whether or not players are using Stereo or Mono sound settings during a certain boss fight. A character in the game reads your memory card for saves from other Konami games (different ones depending on the region, but they include Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Suikoden, and Tokimeki Memorial) and comments on your game choices. The second controller port can be used twice in the game, once for a boss fight, and another during the end game chase sequence, where it controls attacking soldiers.

Perhaps most unique, an important Codec frequency is found on the back of the game case, the characters in the game literally telling Snake, who is also a character in the same game, where to find it. It is not found in the game itself. The long forgotten rental shops of the 1990’s had to print the frequency on their generic covers, lest people complain that they couldn’t make progress. The realism that the designers pursued wasn’t just how well modeled the guns are or if the textures look just right, but extended into making the experience of playing the game feel palpable.

All players had seen of Metal Gear was on 8-bit platforms, if they had heard of the series at all. So Metal Gear Solid is an immense glow up, even compared to other series’ transitions to the third dimension. Characters animate convincingly, even if the lack of visible lips means that they convey speaking by bobbing their heads. The environment is full of effects like snow fall, the glittering sparks when detonating a chaff grenade, or the reflections on puddles & mirrors. It performs fluidly too, maintaining a solid framerate throughout the game. Music was done in house at Konami, involving some of the folks who worked on the MSX Metal Gear games. The now infamous “Metal Gear Solid Main Theme,” composed by Tappi Iwase or TAPPY as credited, is a rousing sweeping tune, and the OST in general aims to be tense, matching the stealth action. The end theme, “The Best Is Yet To Come,” written by Rika Muranaka and performed by Irish singer Aoife Ni Fhearraigh, provides a contrast. It is gentile and mysterious, its lyrics a poem of yearning for a quiet, simple life.

The game dropped first in Japan, in September 1998, followed by a release in North American territories in October the same year. Despite just a month’s difference, the NA version included extra difficulties and additional unlockables. The English localization was top notch, helmed by Jeremy Blaustein, who had also worked on the Sega CD version of Snatcher. At a time when games were still likely to have folks around the office brought into the recording booth to read poorly translated lines, the English dub matches the stellar Japanese original with a fantastic script and an amazing cast of voice actors, including David Hayter as Solid Snake. Special care was taken to adapt the different parts of the story, the biggest example of which is Mei Ling’s proverbs during saving the game. They were Chinese sayings, explained in Japanese, in the original release. The English script, not wanting to repeat essentially the same thing twice, leaned on Western sayings for the character to impart.

This localization focus extended to the European release in February 1999, which added French, Spanish, German, and Italian voice acting as well. Both Europe and Japan got special editions that featuring extras like a t-shirt, dog tags, memory card stickers, production notes, and music. The most unique rendition of the story ended up on the PSP in summer 2006, Metal Gear Solid Digital Comic. It is based on the official comic book adaptation of the game, written by Kris Oprisko and illustrated by Ashley Wood, lightly animated like a Marvel motion comic. It allows players to scan around panels looking for memories, and then maps those memories together in a 3D space, giving some expanded information and back story.

In Japan, about a year after its original release, the game was repackaged as Metal Gear Solid Integral, including the content from the Western releases, using the English dub instead of the Japanese one, and slapping a third disc in there as well. The team at Konami added a first person mode, unlocked after finishing the game once, allowing players to turn the game into a janky FPS of sorts. The extra disc included an expanded set of VR missions, totaling to 300 in all. While there are the expected tests of sneaking and combat ability, other missions are more creative and silly, such as solving murder mysteries, exploiting the game’s physics to complete a puzzle, defending Meryl from kaiju-sized genome soldiers, or playing as the Ninja. The developers also created a mini-game for the PocketStation, Sony’s VMU-like memory card, involving Naomi available after completing the game once, and added a photo session mode with Mei Ling, where the higher the rank you achieve in the main story, the closer you can take pictures of her. Integral even included developer commentary, years before that was common. Pinging a specific Codec frequency at different points in the game brings up insights written by the staff. Granted, it’s inaccessible to all but Japanese speakers, but it was still a cool thing in 1999 and even rudimentary machine translation of them can provide some unique insights.

The extra disc was given a separate release in Western territories. In North America, it was a standalone title called Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions, while Europe got it as an add on disc that required the original game, as Metal Gear Solid: Special Missions. Due to localization needs in the territory, a copy of the original game was required to load the necessary language track. The Integral version was also the basis of the 2000 PC port. This port brought most of the game with it, including the VR Missions, but alterations and cuts were made, such as removing anything involve a memory card & vibration, and substituting the keyboard, instead of controller port switching, during a certain boss fight. However, it runs at a higher resolution and smoother framerate than its PlayStation original. Metal Gear Solid was also one of the few games to receive support through bleem! on the Dreamcast, allowing players to use their original PlayStation discs to play the game on Sega’s system, also featuring higher resolution graphics.

Metal Gear Solid was a revelation at its release, with its slick presentation, polished gameplay and gripping story. Once upon a time, there weren’t games like it, and now many games – single player, live service, indie, or otherwise – engage in the same techniques and practices it did all those years ago. Gatcha star Genshin Impact paints its colorful characters using motion capture performances & high quality voice acting in many languages, and even indie games like Disco Elysium weaves intricate tales in detailed worlds with unique gameplay mechanics. The universe was bright for all involved. The success of the game propelled Kojima and his team into the spotlight and Konami were happy to have a best selling & critically acclaimed game ripe for development into a whole franchise. The best, as they say, was yet to come.

Series Navigation<< Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainMetal Gear Rising: Revengeance >>




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