This week on "Stephen Pastic's Rewind", we stop avoiding the inevitable and cast our rear-view mirrors onto the original Playstation classic, Metal Gear Solid. Released in 1998 to massive critical acclaim, Hideo Kojima and Konami suddenly found themselves with an IP which would go on to become one of the most beloved gaming series' of all time, as well as an early proponent for gaming as a legitimate story telling device to rival traditional media. So what was all the fuss about?
Players assume the role of Solid Snake - a lone soldier sent behind enemy lines to neutralise a nuclear terrorist threat. Whilst this framing device seems rather simplistic and ultra cliche, it wasn't very long before players discovered there was far more to this game than first meets the eye. Featuring a fully voiced (and quite verbose) script, Metal Gear Solid could almost have been considered as much an interactive movie as a game. Gameplay was frequently interrupted by exposition, and the plot manages to weave in aspects of social commentary and philosophy (primarily regarding the notions of nuclear proliferation and genetics) over the course of the game. Narratively, the story of MGS is a strange beast as it freely and frequently alternates between intelligent, and outright wacky and bizarre.
Gameplay of MGS is primarily viewed from a 3/4 overhead perspective, and as an early era stealth title, players are well advised to avoid confrontations wherever possible. Aside from avoiding enemies - or cleverly luring a patrol away by knocking on a nearby wall - Snake can also find items to assist in remaining undetected ranging from chaff grenades (to temporarily disable electronics) to even a simple cardboard box to hide in. In the event the player is discovered and reinforcements are called, Snake can also go toe to toe via either his fists or various firearms found within the enemy base. Whilst the gameplay was serviceable at the time of release, it has aged somewhat - players experiencing MGS for the first time nowadays are likely to find the controls somewhat frustrating and unwieldy.
By far the most compelling aspect of MGS is its characters and ultra complex (for it's time) story. Setting the bar early for what good voice acting can do for a game, players would be hard pressed to get through an hour of the game without wanting to know more. Themes such as love, betrayal, vengeance and fate are rife throughout, and save for a few pokey lines and plot points it is tough to think of a game from this era which had the same ability to cause the player to sit back and actively consider what it presents. By the time the credits roll (and even beyond), plot twists and double crosses will have left players taking nothing for granted with respect to the narrative - and surprisingly, it still seems to fit well. I myself discovered the title via a demo disc, and was almost instantaneously compelled to buy, finish and absorb anything about the game that i could. Whilst it is tempting to give a basic plot summary, on the off chance you may be one of the few people who is unfamiliar with the big twists and turns contained within, it will be far more satisfying to go in unmolested by any kind of spoilers - trust me, you can thank me later on.
As the first title in the "Solid" Metal Gear series, MGS also established many of the franchise's unique conventions - from fourth wall breaking segments of the game, to the ability to call supporting characters for advice, to one of the most creative methods of handling a boss fight in gaming history, much of what is featured within MGS went on to become staples of the series. Whilst some of these elements have been adopted by other titles since, MGS definitely put it's unique stamp on many different gaming tropes long before anyone else had so much as attempted them.
Unfortunately, while the major antagonists of MGS are defintely interesting characters, with one or two exceptions the villains in this title are not as thought provoking as some characters who would rear their heads in later MGS titles (i.e. Solidus, The Boss). However, the events of MGS do serve to give several identities central to the series a terrific introduction to a series of games which chronologically spans from the Cold War era right through to the near future.
If this series has managed to completely slip you by, and you don't mind a heavy cutscene to gameplay ratio for the purpose of a ludicrously engaging plot - do yourself a favour and check it out. Assuming you can handle the dated gameplay mechanics and find yourself wrapped up in the narrative, you have another three stellar MGS titles ahead of you as well as one of the most satisfying conclusions to a series i have ever witnessed.