Happy birthday, Metal Gear! How did you hold up the past 30 years?


July 13, 1987

Welcome to July 13. Exactly 30 years ago today, the original Metal Gear was released on the MSX2 in Japan. With Metal Gear Survive in development, it remains one of the longest-running active video game franchises in the world, longer than Final Fantasy by about five months. 

Having played all the major games in the series within the past four years (excluding Twin Snakes and the Acid games), I figured I'd celebrate by giving my experience and short impressions with the series and if they have stood the test of time. 

First experiences with the series

The very first time I ever touched a Metal Gear game was Metal Gear Solid back in 199X on some PS1 demo disc I probably got from a cereal box or pizza delivery. It was demo of the first infiltration at the beginning of the game. As a kid, I just couldn't get used to the controls and died a few times, turning it off without much thought other than "why is this so popular?" Then I went back to playing Spice World instead, a real man's game.

Later in the early 2000s, a friend who was a pretty rebellious troublemaker had Metal Gear Solid 2 and thought Snake was cool, partly because he smoked. We played the beginning tanker part a bit before moving on. I never saw or touched a Metal Gear again until 2013.

Metal Gear, Metal Gear 2

I finally decided to sit down and play this darn series to see what all the fuss was about. While I was ready to just start with Metal Gear Solid, I figured it wouldn't be too much trouble to play the first two games. They are old and likely short, after all. Guess again, 2013 Cory. 

While I was able to see how they would be revolutionary in their time, I just could not enjoy myself with how frustrating and difficult the games were. I ended up just watching them on YouTube. Call me a casual, but I'm long past the point where I'll force myself to play something I don't enjoy. The stories were surprisingly interesting despite a political nature that I figured would be as intriguing as a Call of Duty plot. I was eager to go into Metal Gear Solid. Sorry old-schoolers.

Metal Gear Solid

Why did I never give this a second chance when I was younger? I was absolutely blown away by this game. Not only was the writing and acting superb, delivering powerful moment after powerful moment with equally powerful score to further drive your emotions, but the gameplay was incredibly tight. 

There are various concepts or popular phrases that are ideologically similar: Chekhov's Gun says not to put in anything that won't be used, "brevity is the soul of wit" is to keep things to the point and no wasteful remarks or components (or as Mr. Plinkett says, "don't waste my time"), and "omit needless words" is a commandment from William Strunk Jr. to make writers stay concise. There are no wasted moments or components in this masterpiece. Every gameplay mechanic, every item, and every room has a purpose (take notes, Zelda: Breath of the Wild).

Having always seen and heard the popular names like Snake, Ocelot, Otacon, and Liquid Snake but never knowing anything about them, I felt relieved to finally know who everyone is talking about. I didn't expect the story to be so convoluted, but then I played Metal Gear Solid 2.

Also, watching those pre-mission briefings before starting the game got me incredibly hyped to start my mission. The build-up and anticipation just gets that blood pumping in your veins, hearing about how serious a mission it is, your objectives, being told not to get caught. It felt like a real mission briefing and I wish this sort of thing was in games more. Shame on you if you skipped it.

Metal Gear Solid 2

"Hey, that isn't Snake's voice. Why are they calling him Snake? I just heard him a minute ago, did they change voice actors? Oh, Raiden? Guess I'm going to play as him a bit then go back to Snake." Wrong. I can't say I was as shocked as people may have been when it first released, since I had heard and seen enough of Raiden to know he is a thing. But it was just a little jarring. 

I did not mind playing as Raiden, and I didn't mind Rose as much as others did either. Relatively fewer codec conversations and less people to talk to was a bit disappointing. The Big Shell at first glance also did not seem to be a fun setting, but in the end I enjoyed it thoroughly. Of course, I started pulling my hair out at the end which I won't spoil, but BOY that was something. Loved the game, but didn't like it as much as the first.

Metal Gear Solid 3

Like with Big Shell and Raiden, there were several things that worried me at the beginning. The jungle setting, going back in time rather than continuing after the cliffhanger at the end of MGS2, still-frame images in the codec, and the new camera angle. Turns out all those worries were unfounded. 

The codec conversations were the best in the entire series. Before even making any progress I sat there and listened to hours of hilarious codec conversations between Naked Snake, Sigint, Paramedic, and Major Zero. David Hayter's performance was masterful, making Naked Snake one of my all-time favorite characters, especially when he eats "Mmmhh."

Every time I entered a new area I would call them all up again to hear about new animals or get their reactions to new things like wearing certain silly hats. 

The story is overall the best in the series with a very moving ending and wonderful final boss that you just have to experience. I enjoyed the jungle gameplay, hunting animals, and even thought the first-aid system was cool. Overall a step up from MGS2, but slightly better or slightly worse than MGS1 depending on what day you ask me.

Also, this game is responsible for me eating more Calorie Mate than I should.

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Ugh. The basic Metal Gear gameplay is recognizable, but it just didn't have a shred of personality like the previous games. I slogged about halfway through before dropping it to watch the rest on YouTube. Some interesting story bits, but there never seems to be clear indication if it's canon or not. I won't ever replay this one.

Metal Gear Solid 4

I'm in the Middle East, I'm taking cover, and there are modern soldiers walking about in a very serious themed war zone. And oh yeah, Snake is an old geezer now, bummer. This one tripped out of the gate so hard that by the time I reached the guy with the Coke-drinking, smoking monkey in a diaper it just felt like compensation for the seriousness up to that point.

There are ways to stealth through that opening chapter, but they seemed to really encourage open combat, and the first boss was those frog people that you pretty much just shoot, not at all fitting for a Metal Gear game. Later bosses played better and felt more like traditional Metal Gear-style bosses. However, the storytelling around them was awful.

The MGS1 bosses had some moving monologues after their defeat, but whereas they were speaking to Snake themselves in a cutscene with music and good writing, the BnB's of MGS4 had similar boring stories told by Drebin in static codec screen.

Chapter 3 of the game, tailing a guy through European streets, was a particular low point that made me take a break. The final two chapters were the best, but the whole game felt a little too depressing and the gameplay and charm felt missing. Weakest of the mainline games, but an enjoyable video game all around.

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker

OK. I get some people don't like all the tanks, armored vehicles, and helicopters. They do get repetitive in the Side Ops, but somehow (perhaps masochistically) the gameplay and rewards were good enough for me to not hate that grind.

Having slightly animated art instead of animated cut-scenes was a bit of a downer, but it grew on me and the excellent voice acting and storytelling was still there.

The Mother Base building and Side Ops were insanely fun. Side-Ops reminded me of the Shinra Missions in Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, but having the Monster Hunter stuff and silly dates was lots of fun. There was something about this game that I really got into a groove with; it clicked very well with me.

Also, most unexpected and craziest final boss ever.

Metal Gear Solid V

I finally caught up just before the release of The Phantom Pain. Prior to that I did Ground Zeroes, of course. First and foremost, David Hayter is Snake and Big Boss. Kiefer Sutherland is talented, but he should not be voicing Snake nor Big Boss.

I loved the music selection, controls, and core gameplay. I had doubts about the open world, but it turned out to be exactly what the series needed when 100%ing GZ. While the tone felt a little serious, I was intrigued by the topics helped by good writing. And even though the lack of codec was highly disappointing, overall, it was great demo. 

The Phantom Pain gave us the fully fleshed-out gameplay that we only got a piece of in GZ, with the return of Mother Base (this time actually being able to visit and upgrade it which was awesome) and tons of equipment and weapons to unlock and upgrade. One gameplay aspect fed into another, creating a positive cycle that the greatest games always have.

This final Kojima-led title features perhaps the best core gameplay of any action game to date. However, revisiting the same locations in Afghanistan and Africa over and over got tiring after a bit, especially with little to discover between the major bases.

Also, while it is a decent idea to replace codec with tapes so you can listen while you do anything, it didn't work in practice. Many actions would interrupt the tape or at least make it difficult to hear or pay attention to it, so often you just ended up sitting still or even listening in the menu. May as well have used the codec at that point, but it's not like there was much interesting to listen to.

Listening to Code Talker in particular made me want to die with how boring and repetitive it was hearing him talk about vocal cord parasites and gender changing 87 times with the same speed as that doctor in D4.

It goes without saying the game was unfinished and was badly in need of a third chapter, third area, and to tie up many loose ends. We didn't get the sendoff to Big Boss that we wanted. Even the story we did get felt gutted and basic. There were very few cutscenes and all the characters lacked personality.

Big Boss, Kaz, and Ocelot were completely different from past depictions and Quiet in particular was a horrible character. Not just because her lack of talking, but the whole story around her was uninteresting and I was so unmoved by the game ending regarding her that I wished I had just shot her early on. It's very hard to look back on MGSV with its unmatched gameplay, but lackluster story.

With a seemingly infinite number of games and series on my insurmountable backlog, I'm glad I decided to run through this iconic series. It was a wild roller coaster that I wish I got to experience as they came out, theorizing with everyone about the story in each game, watching the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo over and over, and seeing the Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain trailers and discussion before it was officially revealed.

The core gameplay of Metal Gear Solid V is one of the best in any action game, and Survive could be fun despite all the obvious issues with its existence, but it really just doesn't feel like Metal Gear without you-know-who behind the helm. If you haven't played through this series and it's sitting on your backlog, make it a priority!

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Cory Arnold
Cory Arnold   gamer profile

Pretty cool dude in Japan. 6/9/68 more + disclosures



Filed under... #Anniversary #Destructoid Originals #features #Hideo Kojima #Konami #Metal Gear Solid #PlayStation #PS2 #PS3 #PS4 #Top Stories



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