It took me a long time to love Metal Gear Solid. Back when I purchased my first Sony PlayStation I couldn’t really appreciate the slower-paced stealthy gameplay and found the whole thing to be much too difficult for my impatient younger self. And so I brushed it aside as “it’s not for me”, and it wouldn’t be until the release of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater that I would experience a game in this series again. In 2011 I decided to give the original Metal Gear Solid game another go and this time with an older head (on older shoulders) I could finally appreciate this classic masterpiece of a videogame, and in fact it was one of the best games I played that year!! I’m usually not one for retro-games, I find that the archaic graphics, clunky controls, and out-of-date gameplay are often best left within the rose-tinted nostalgia of memories. Still, because I hadn’t properly played this game before, in 2011 I could look at it with fresh eyes and I was surprised at how well it held up.
However, when you first load up the original Metal Gear Solid you will no doubt feel a slight sense of revulsion over the old PlayStation graphics; the textures are blocky, murky and don't line up properly, character models are clunky and polygons tear at the seams all over the place! This was the slightly-ropey early days of 3D videogames, and after being spoilt on modern games for so long it's something you’ll have to acknowledge and accept going in. Fear not though, within the space of an hour you will have forgotten about this (sole) shortcoming and will be utterly engrossed in the story and experience of playing this game. Despite running on old technology, Metal Gear Solid was very much a game ahead of its time, and still very idiosyncratic even today. For a fair chunk of the game you will be staring at two talking heads, called the ‘CODEC’, which fills in much of the story and informs you as to what you’ll need to do next to advance the narrative.
For a game made in 1998, the voice acting and music are *great*, especially the rendition of protagonist Solid Snake by David Hayter, who would go on to be the voice of Snake in all other games right up to Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. The cinematic eye of Hideo Kojima really draws you into the story and builds up the characters and their complicated relationships with each other. There are some wonderful cutscenes, and Metal Gear Solid does an excellent job in imitating a 90’s espionage action movie, like The Rock. There are twists and turns and multiple levels of intrigue heaped upon each other until your head is exploding with plots-within-plots, but it is all told so masterfully that it is never anything less that utterly gripping. Some of the most memorable characters in gaming history, primarily the titular Solid Snake take shape here and by the end of the game, you will be itching for more.
Gameplay-wise, Metal Gear Solid rewrote the rule book and lay the foundations for a lot of what later came to encapsulate the modern video game, such as sandbox-elements and different ways to tackle situations using whatever weapons or gadgets were at your disposal. There are even things that this game was doing back then that put modern games to shame! The boss fights for example are some of the best EVER MADE!! Seriously, you will never ever forget the time that you face off against 'Psycho Mantis' or 'Sniper Wolf', two particularly memorable opponents that break the fourth wall and play with expectations regarding the boundaries of videogame and player. Rather than "shoot the weak spot", Hideo Kojima makes each encounter utterly unique and requires some ingenious thinking from the player to overcome. The game is relatively difficult, but not overly hard, it just requires patience, concentration and most importantly brain cells – something I was obviously lacking when I was younger.
Metal Gear Solid has an excellent, but vey outlandish plot, involving huge mecha (the eponymous ‘Metal Gear’ – bipedal weaponised robots), human cloning and genetic engineering, and government corruption conspiracies. This could all require too much suspension of disbelief, but through the ‘CODEC’ conversations, well-scripted cutscenes, and general creative flair Hideo Kojima does an excellent job of making it all seem plausible. It is worth mentioning that a graphically superior remake of this game was released on the Nintendo GameCube, titled Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes, which jiggered some of the crucial scenes around and is generally considered inferior in terms of the storytelling to Kojima’s original. Still, I’ve not played that version of the game and would very much like to, if it was ever rereleased on virtual console; I actually wished they had done a 3D remaster for the Nintendo 3DS rather than another reissue of Snake Eater. Available for download from the PlayStation store for PS3 and Vita, the original Metal Gear Solid remains a fantastic game to play, and one of the most important and influential videogames of all time.