Thursday, 27 January 2011

Looking back: Metal Gear Solid

So, somebody on a forum linked me to this tune:
The nostalgia! It’s like a time warp back to the 90’s. It’s bringing tears to my eyes right now.

I was 16 and the year was 1998, that’s right, the epic gaming year of ’98. Half-Life, Resident Evil 2, Starcraft, Tekken 3, Gran Turismo, Rainbow Six, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Thief and Unreal and that’s just mentioning some of the games released! The best gaming year in the history of mankind.

Hideo Kojima’s game Metal Gear Solid was to become a masterpiece in gaming history and a huge selling success exceeding six million sold. It was a new leap and direction in the Metal Gear series from the old MSX and NES days and changed how I looked on games forever. It shortened the gap between gaming and movies with a mile. No other game told a story so well until then and no other game had voice acting in this league before it.

My first encounter with the game was through a demo that came along an issue of the fantastic UK edition of the Official PlayStation Magazine. I remember sitting down and playing through the demo. I was first met by the haunting melody behind the Konami logo I linked to at the top here and one hour later I was literally screaming at the “To be continued” screen asking for more. I don’t think a demo ever sold me as much as that one did.

The technical side of MGS looks dated today, and the controls clumsy by new standards, but it’s one of the absolute finest PS1 games you’ll find. The true power of MGS though, lied in the story and presentation. Everything from the brilliant voice overs, especially David Hayter’s voice as Solid Snake and the cinematic way the game presented dialogue and sequences all using the ingame engine, without switching between FMV and gameplay like other games at the time and keeping a perfect flow. This impressed a lot considering the hardware limitations of the time, in fact it was amazing the way they weighed out the polygons to a point of detail that was just enough to make both the characters and the environments great. Hell there weren’t even proper faces on the characters, but still I remember them so well!

Speaking of the characters, the sheer variety in them, their interesting personalities and all powered along by a heavy plot with many underlying meanings. The way the story had several twists and the fact that they brought political issues into the mix and blending it into a situation that could have been reality was unheard of in gaming before MGS. It felt real, it touched something inside you with its clever plot and it kept it to a scale that wasn’t going to far, yet showing a large scale of a terror attack on a US military base.

The atmosphere in the environments just has to be mentioned as well. The way you sneak in and climb out of the water and especially when you reach the top of the base and lean against a container while the snow and wind blows past you and no one knows you are there, is intense. You feel alone and you feel you are on a stealth mission. Scenes throughout the game touches you, from the psychotic encounter with Psycho Mantis (he “reads” your mind and fucked with your vibration in your DualShock controller!), to the flirting and love interest between Snake and Meryl, to the really sad death of Sniper Wolf and the brutal brother to brother fight at the end. The sheer variation in the story, characters and of course the gameplay set MGS far beyond its competitors.

MGS 2 and 3 went on from here to a new platform and generation, these also have fantastic stories to tell and characters to meet, and while maybe taking things a little too far they are also games that truly are some of the best I’ve played. MGS1 however, will always stand out as the winner, it truly perfected the formula from the get go.

God I miss the nineties.

(This article was first published on Thursday, January 13, 2011 on my original IGN blog.)

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