Metal Gear Solid
Hype has always been a dual-bladed sword for the entertainment industry. It always creates interest in the product, but when there is too much hype peoples’ expectations are raised to extreme proportions. Then, the inevitable backlash occurs and the said product becomes critically lambasted. In 1998, Metal Gear Solid was the most hyped up gaming event of the year. Expectations were raised to incredible heights, but something happened with this game that rarely happens to heavily anticipated videogames or products in other mediums; it totally delivered on all the hype. And now this game has finally reached PC.
You play the role of Solid Snake, a former special agent who just been forcibly pulled out of retirement to help stop a nuclear bombing. Snake is the only man that can infiltrate the terrorist’s Alaskan base and hopefully put an end to their plans. This plot has been done countless times before in numerous amounts of films and television programs, but the strong lead character and equally interesting supporting characters makes the story work. Solid Snake is a mixture of James Bond’s womanizing and Snake Plisskin’s cold demeanor. He only speaks when he has to and can come across as cruel and insensitive, which makes him all the more engaging.
Since this is a videogame and not a movie, the plot can get away with some things that would otherwise be deemed ridiculous. First of all, there is a cyborg ninja sneaking round the base killing people. Then there is a muscular shaman with a huge birthmark of a raven on his forehead. All of this sounds silly, but it is handled maturely in the storyline. There are numerous references to the past Metal Gear games on the NES. For those who have not played those two, you can read the plot summaries at the main title screen so you will not get confused or lost in the plot.
As the game progresses, the storyline becomes deeper and more complicated. The only downside to plot is the overabundance of plot twists near the end of the game. One after one they beat me down into submission until the story became a convoluted mess. This is the only blemish to an otherwise enthralling plot. It is even possible to overlook this since it only occurs during a small portion of the game and the rest of the plot is so strong.
Most of the story is advanced through lengthy Codec transmissions, while the rest is told through equally long cutscenes, both of which can be skipped at will. The Codec is essentially just a radio, but you can see who you are speaking with on it. People are constantly calling to give you hints on what to do or brief you on the latest happenings in the outside world. Sometimes you can even listen to someone say something totally irrelevant, yet often hilarious, if you call them at the right moment. It’s just one of the humorous touches in the game.
MGS starts off with Solid Snake infiltrating the Alaskan base via an underground waterway. When he finally reaches the docks, the gamer comes to the realization that Snake is totally unarmed. You see, Metal Gear Solid is a game about stealth and the fewer enemies you encounter, the better. Stealth can be achieved in variety of ways. First of all, you have radar that displays where all the enemies are and what their line of vision is. Using the radar effectively is the key to avoiding enemies. You have to find the right places to temporarily hide as an enemy walks by, but occasionally it takes methods little less conventional than that.
The most novel mode of sneaking is by using the box. Yes, an ordinary box. Simply equip the box and move around at your own will, but if an enemy sees the box located in an odd location they might go check it out. Sometimes the best thing to do is create a simple distraction, like tapping on a wall and running away. If all else fails, you can simply sneak up on the guard and snap his neck like a twig.
Even the best gamers are bound to get spotted occasionally, and that is when the tension unfolds. When an enemy spots you the radar screen turns into a timer, and once it gets down to 0 you’re in the clear. Escaping is fun, but all you have to do is exit the area and everyone will stop chasing you. It’s only a minor qualm, but it makes escaping a whole lot easier than it should be.
Sometimes stealth just isn’t enough and Solid Snake just has to fight. There is such a variety of unique weapons that the game made me feel like a child playing with toys. Just finding all the ways to kill the guards should please even the most violent sadist. There are plenty of the unadventurous weapons we have seen in games before, like sniper rifles and assault rifles. Then there is the Nikita, a rocket in which you manually control the rocket. Just imagine the fun to be had of blasting an enemy while you hide behind a wall nearly a hundred feet away. For the more bold gamers, planted a C4 explosive on the back of an enemy and then detonating it is a good way to get a chuckle or two. Using a hapless guard as a human shield never gets old, either. The sheer amount of ways to dispose an enemy is impressive and finding all the different ways is a rewarding experience.
Throughout the game we are told that all the guards in the base are genetically altered, but you couldn’t tell that just by looking at them. They can only see about 3 feet in front of themselves and they can’t even tell what happened after you punch them out. All you have to do is give one a few swift kicks, he falls down and then you run away and he gets up like nothing happened. While the AI is laughable, it does make the game a lot more playable. If the guards had 20/20 vision it would be nearly impossible to sneak around. With all the recent games sacrificing fun for realism, MGS stands out as being a great reminder that unrealistic games can be just as enjoyable as the realistic ones.
What makes MGS so excellent are all the unforgettable sequences through out the game. The one that stands out most is Snake’s ascent up a 30 story building while an infinite amount of guys chase after him. The scene reminds me of something out of an excellent action movie, but I was the one in control of the action. Once you reach the top of the tower, you have to shimmy your way down on a rope all while a helicopter is shooting at you. The tension is almost unbearable, but the game is totally engrossing. A few others great parts include the clever escape out of a jail cell and every single one of the ten boss battles. Each boss battles feel unique, whether it is a sniper battle during a blizzard or a hand-to-hand fight atop a giant mech.
While the stealth-oriented gameplay is unique and fun for the most part, there really is not enough gameplay. Once you take away all the cutscenes and Codec transmissions you are left with a game that can be beaten in around four hours. The multiple difficulty settings and two different endings add some replay value, but the killer app is the free inclusion of VR Missions.
VR Missions was released as a separate game on the Playstation and it contains hours of MGS with no storyline to get in the way of the gameplay. The VR Missions consist of hundreds of relatively short levels with often varied objectives. They are broken down into four different categories, the first being “sneaking.” The sneaking levels are exactly as they sound, you have to move to a certain spot on the map without being spotted once. You can do this with or without a timer. Some of the timed levels really test the skills of a MGS veteran, so they are ideal for the gamer who thinks they can do anything.
The next two categories of levels, weapons and advanced, are similar with the exception of the targets you’re shooting/exploding. In weapons mode you just pick one of the many weapons in the game, and then do 5 levels of destroying inanimate targets with the chosen weapon. In advanced mode you are going after actual people, not lifeless targets. These missions are a bit on the dull side, mainly because the joy of Metal Gear Solid is sneaking around and finding unique ways to kill or avoid people, not randomly blasting everything in sight.
The real joy of VR Missions is the levels in the “special” category. The levels range from controlling a ninja, shooting an alien saucer and even engaging in some Clue-like mysteries. If that isn’t enough, then you can go up against the 200 feet tall soldiers. It’s obvious the developers had a great making these madcap missions and it is definitely a pleasure to play through them.
VR Missions are an excellent complement to the regular Metal Gear Solid game. For the PC version, all of the added bonuses have been unlocked, such as the photography mode and all the different levels. This may enforce the stereotype that PC gamers are lazy, but it sure beats having to work to unlock everything.
The Alaskan base that Snake must infiltrate is dark and gloomy with the exception of a few outdoor areas. This effectively creates a mood, but all is not well with the graphics. The character models lack any sort of details on their faces. None of the characters even have any eyes. When a character is talking their head jerks uncontrollably for some reason. It is not only a distraction but it also cheapens the cutscenes.
That isn’t to say that the game cannot be graphically impressive at times. The graphics support a resolution of up to1024 X 768. This is leaps and bounds over the original Playstation version. All the pixelization is gone and a couple fancy graphical effects have been added. Simply put, many of the bosses look phenomenal. The helicopter and 40 foot tall mech is just a couple of the things that stand out. VR Missions’ graphics are identical to MGS except that almost all the levels take place in cybernetic setting reminiscent of the old Disney movie, TRON.
MGS is probably one of the first games with Hollywood-style sound productions. During the opening credits as Solid Snake makes his entrance into the Alaskan docks, a beautiful operatic song sung in Irish Gaelic accompanies the scene. This track is just a hint of things to come sound wise. The rest of the tracks successfully create a sense of tension and occasionally desperation. Even the “sad” theme that seems to be present in almost every story-driven game is actually heartrending and moving in MGS.
The voice acting is even more impressive than the music. There is not a single scene where the voice acting lessens the gaming experience. David Hayter(who was also one of the writer of the X-men movies!) plays Solid Snake perfectly. He sounds gruff, experienced which is exactly as we’d expect Snake to sound. All the other voice acting adds a lot to the characters in the game. On a side note, there are subtitles for the hearing impaired.
Metal Gear Solid for the PC is not only a game, but it is also a unique experience. Using stealth is a fresh new element that is incredibly entertaining and occasionally challenging. The stealth approach may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly deserves to be tried at least once. To sweeten the deal, VR Missions is included for free. That in conjunction with the much-improved graphics makes the PC version of MGS the definitive version. There are a couple minor faults, but everything in this games comes together to create an unforgettable experience. Excuse the horribly overdone pun, but this is a very “solid” game.
Ten out of ten