Metal Gear Solid is one of gaming’s greatest landmarks. Although Kojima’s stealth action series originated back in the MSX era, it was Solid Snake’s PlayStation debut that would ultimately propel Konami’s flagship into the hall of fame. Combining tactical third person gameplay with a ground-breaking approach to narrative and character-building, it’s just as eye-opening now as it was back in 1999.
Its success among both Japanese and western audiences would secure a string of sequels and spin-offs, including this year’s prologue to Metal Gear Solid V, Ground Zeroes. In that time, the series has definitely come a long way, having ushered in countless refinements and adapting constantly to industry-wide shifts and trends.
Still, take away all those flashy Fox Engine effects, open-world mechanics, and hollywood voice actors, and you’ll see that, at its core, Metal Gear Solid hasn’t really changed at all.
As with any Kojima game, my personal highlight is all the minor details. Having been ten or so when I first played Metal Gear Solid, there was so much I missed as I erratically blitzed between story beats. However, a few years later, I was finally able to appreciate the game’s subtle ingenuity.
One moment that characterises this is the boss fight against Psycho Mantis. Like the rest of Liquid Snake’s ragtag band of operatives he possesses super-human capabilities, being able to control the minds of his enemies. You see, despite the overall militaristic theme of the game, Kojima succeeds in adding undertones of both horror and the supernatural, both of which compliment the action flawlessly.
Upon encountering Mantis, players find themselves in a cramped albeit flashy office, watching as he uses Merryl as a gun-wielding puppet. Now, as with any of the other boss fights, my immediate reaction was to shoot off a few rounds but, as many of you will know, this simply doesn’t work. After spending a solid clip of bullets I changed things up, keeping myself in cover whilst anticipating Mantis’ movements and shooting just where he was about to appear. Again, no luck.
Then it dawned on me: duh, this is Psycho Mantis, he can read your mind. Despite this revelation, however, I was still a loss as to how to defeat him, trying just about everything the game would let me. Eventually, like any exhausted gamer, I took my search online where glimpsed a solution, and laughed to myself. Surely, this couldn’t work? Then I tried it, unplugging my DualShock and reinserting it into port two. For a moment it seemed like an act of sheer folly until my bullets started to connect with Mantis. I couldn’t believe it.
Instead of giving players a pattern to follow or forcing them to endure a drawn-out gunfight, Kojima thought outside of the box and the result was glorious. Of course, this wasn’t the only example in Metal Gear Solid with players previously having to inset a Codec number found on the back of the actual game cover. It was moments like these that really set the game apart for me and is something sorely missing in today’s impressive albeit unimaginative gaming line-up.
Finding anything negative to say about Metal Gear Solid is tough. In fact, if I was asked the same question fifteen years ago I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to. Of course, thanks to the privilege of hindsight, we can point out the game’s simple alert system, unwieldy gunplay, and blocky graphics, but these are all equally moot points.
For a game released in 1999, Metal Gear Solid was spot-on perfect for those who could grasp its core concepts. The only reason we might look back and complain about these things is because Kojima and his team of developers have gone on to refine them in later instalments. Just look at how much of a leap there was between MGS and Sons of Liberty, then from that to Guns of the Patriots, and even now to Ground Zeroes.
If you’ve yet to immerse yourself in the Metal Gear Solid gear universe, then do yourself a favour and download the original via the PlayStation Store. Either that or pick up a rare copy of Twin Snakes for the Nintendo GameCube. There really is no other optimal point of entry. Though Ground Zeroes and Guns of the Patriots are far more accessible, part of the Metal Gear experience is just witnessing how the series has changed.