For Nostalgia's Sake: Metal Gear Solid

With the unveiling of the new Metal Gear Solid Rising comes the opportunity to reflect back on the perfection Hideo Kojima and the Konami folks achieved in 1999 with Metal Gear Solid. Even more opportune, is that I started running through the game just two days ago, to show Patricia just why it was superior in every way to Twin Snakes, and what exactly makes it such a beautifully crafted, well executed game.

MGS was groundbreaking for its time. Not just with the movie-like cinematic the player was witnessing, but also with the codec conversations and the impeccable voice acting. The voice acting would be a benchmark in it’s own right, nothing measured up for years. The idea of sneaking around was born here, too, and soon other (less worthy) copy cats were created–including the not-so-awesome Sam Fischer. Sneaking and stealth infiltration had won gamers worldwide over and a new gaming fetish was born.

First we have to go over the package itself. The white colour of the “artwork,” donning only a Metal Gear Solid logo. It left it up to the imagination, just what IS contained inside this dual-cd case? Flipping onto the back of the game, we have a  cool, stylish, and neat rendition of Snake in the left corner. Not all too much is said about the game on the back, which leaves further to the imagination what a “Tactical Espionage Action” game is.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

The instruction booklet is one of the most beautifully crafted manuels, ever. In full colour. With the rich back story of both Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, and right away you are plastered with an art style you cannot compare anything else to. The instruction manual is not only educational but factual, and doesn’t spend all that much time telling you “to move forward, press the up button,” like so many games’ instruction booklets dumb down to today. Most importantly? Character profiles! For all the characters in the game, good and evil. Everything about this packaging screams “legendarily awesome without having to stand the test of time.” And it did stand the test of time when compared to the sucky, flimsy, and cheap packaging so many games come with.

Next we can talk about control. The original MGS was designed to work with the “naked” PS1 controller, the ones without analog sticks. With that challenge came a genius solution to all the problems that were presented for a new kind of game. As a result it was completely alien, nobody had ever played anything this complex– you could even use the shoulder buttons to swap out weapons and items. I’m not gonna lie, there was a learning curve. It wasn’t a short one either. Control in MGS was groundbreaking for these reasons. The addition of tiny details like foot prints in the snow or making noise to create a diversion drew attention to the control setup even more.

For a game that emphasized the importance of sneaking around rather than killing, the control setup could not have been better and was even designed to encourage sneaking. It would later be replicated in the MGS sequels, to the point where it was easier to use the D-pad than the newfangled analog sticks. Snake did not move smoothly in all directions, only in the cardinal ones. Running “diagonally” wasn’t really necessary or something you did frequently. Once you got a hang of it and finished your first playthrough, you wanted to play it again. No doubts about it. Soon enough you’re wondering how few kills you can get, instead of how many.

Like all great games it inevitably gets ported, re-ported, re-ported again in the far far future, and has numerous cash-in spinoffs that make fans like me angry. The most prominent of which is the one most people refer to: Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes.

Open wide and say “M9”

MGS: TS was created with the purpose of simply re-making the game to update the visuals. To accompany that, Konami also included new control ideas from MGS2, such as first-person shooting, or hanging from rails. Like an angry fan shouting “you ruined the integrity of the franchise!” I pumped my fists in anger, and I decried the new ported version. It broke my heart! Evasion was replaced with shooting someone in the face in first person,  something which was not possible in the original MGS for the Playstation 1. In fact, everything is solved by going into first person and shooting just any ol’ genome soldier in the head with a tranq dart.

The original MGS was a piece of art, a challenging game that encouraged sneaking. In contrast, MGS:TS, like MGS2 before it, is just an alright game that encourages shooting soldiers in the face with tranq darts as a means of “avoiding” them. Very, very, very minimal level design changes in TS also had me cursing and screaming at the screen as I died, surrounded by several enemies after unsuccessfully employing the same tactics I had memorized through so many playthroughs of the original. In MGS, being found is a terrible occurence that can only be solved by all of your ammo, quick thinking, some serious skills, and luck. In TS and MGS2, being found is an annoyance that occurs regularly and is solved by hiding in a locker for awhile, then proceeding down hallways with your M9.

For all intents and purposes, TS is a completely different game. If you want to experience the game as an incredible piece of art as it was originally made, pick up a copy of the PS1 version. If you’re really gung-ho to find the differences, you can then rent TS and play through that. The one thing they got mostly right? The voice acting. Most of the original cast returned, but as the Wikipedia article states, Mei Ling’s and Naomi’s accents were “dumbed down,” which makes little sense. The accents of all the characters of the game were part of what made it so charming and gave a somewhat realistic feeling to the story and dialogue. At any rate, it is the tiniest of changes such as these which kill the buzz of the slick visuals of TS and, when comparing the two, reduce TS to being tossed into the “books and games to burn” pile.

At the end of the day though, Metal Gear Solid launched a highly successful and awesome franchise. As with all successful and awesome franchises, the first game in the series is the most compelling and the most awesome, a near-perfect game born from fresh ideas and ingenuity. In the case of Metal Gear Solid, it was an old franchise re-imagined in a 3D birds-eye-view that truly brought the series into the hearts of millions of gamers. It remains one of my most favourite franchises, and MGS in particular, remains one of my most favourite games of all time.