Despite being a big fan of the rest of the Metal Gear Solid series, I’ve never finished the original game. Yeah, it’s pretty sacrilegious, I know. I never even touched a game in the series until getting a copy of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty about two years ago, after which I immediately played Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots, the latter of which is still very engrossing, even without firsthand experience as Solid Snake, but that’s another BabyGamer for another time.
The gameplay has more than a few elements that don’t hold up nowadays (that were almost completely fixed in subsequent games), and it’s not an exceptionally good-looking game, but its story and excellent use of cutscenes still hold up well.
Metal Gear Solid focuses around Solid Snake, a special agent for the US government sent into an Alaskan nuclear research facility to prevent a group of terrorists from taking control of a “Metal Gear”, a walking tank capable of using nuclear weaponry. And the group of terrorists after the walking tank consist of an ex-KGB psychic in bondage gear, a Russian expatriate who really loves revolvers, and Solid Snake’s clone-brother who is somehow British.
The MGS games have always been pretty dumb if you look at them that way, but Metal Gear Solid 1 gave me more of that impression than the other installments in the franchise; whether that’s because I haven’t played an MGS game in a while or because this game is really out to emphasize the strangeness, being the first game in what became the main part of the Metal Gear franchise.
Then again, I don’t recall batting an eyelash at nude Raiden in Sons of Liberty, so it might just be that I was inured to strange stuff previously.
Despite the strange elements that contrast with the rather realistic plot set-ups, the MGS games have always told brilliant stories with brilliant characters, and MGS1 is no different. Even the strangest characters (Psycho Mantis, especially) have great backstories and understandable motivations. I honestly teared up a bit during Mantis’ final monologue; it was so well done.
Speaking of which, one of the things that sets MGS1 apart from so many other games of its time period is its use of cutscenes. This is a hallmark of the series (just wait until I discuss MGS4‘s cutscenes), and MGS1 started it in full force. The game makes use of many cinematographic techniques that, at the time, hadn’t really been used in games previously. Panning camera shots, close-ups (which didn’t work extremely well at the time but you got the idea), etc. all served to enhance the cutscenes, creating an experience much more effective than one only using two heads talking to each other on a black screen. (Though the game is also known for that.)
Unfortunately, the cutscenes don’t work as well as they could due to the game’s graphics, which are good for a 3D PS1 game but not good enough to make a lot of the cutscene direction truly effective. Honestly, it makes me wish that this game got a true HD remake on the MGS HD Collection. It deserves more than a simple upscale job on the PSN re-release. It’s an excellent game with excellent cinematography, and it’s something that I’m sure many people would be interested in experiencing if it weren’t for the issues that the graphics create.
The gameplay could also use an update; it doesn’t hold up very well. The camera is fixed, and you don’t move around especially well. The fixed camera is okay for most of the game (since it’s designed around it), but it makes some parts extremely frustrating, mostly in combat. Sure, you can avoid it most of the time (which makes the poor combat controls excusable because you’re generally not going to be using them if you’re playing the game correctly), but at the times where you have to fight, most notably when running up the comm tower, it becomes a chore. This could easily be fixed in a remake if they use the MGS3: Subsistence controls, but right now it’s horribly inconvenient.
If you’re looking to start the MGS series, I still think it’d be best for you to start here. Despite issues with gameplay and graphics, the story is still excellent, and the issues aren’t major enough to make the game completely unplayable for most people nowadays. It’s hard for me to measure any MGS game (outside of MGS3) on its own, since the overarching story is so important to me, but 1 feels like it sits in the lower half of the quartet in terms of quality. That just means it’s slightly less good than some of the other greatest games of all time, so it’s not that big of a deal.
The MGS series, no matter where you start, is brilliant, and I can’t recommend it enough. Tune in next week for some discussion of Sons of Liberty. I’ll try to shift the focus away from the skateboarding.