20 years is a long time.
Sony just entered the video game console wars with their Sony PlayStation and it made itself a big-time player with hits like Final Fantasy VII, Resident Evil and Tekken. Konami was still a huge name in the gaming world, releasing games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Silent Hill. And a little known game producer named Hideo Kojima, who had gave us modest hits like Snatcher and Policenauts, was releasing a new game on the PlayStation. It was a sequel to a cult classic on the MSX and the NES.
That game was Metal Gear Solid. And it blew everyone’s mind.
While it would be easy to just regurgitate the impact Metal Gear Solid made in the entire world of gaming as well as simply mention all of the accolades the game had received since then and how it launched Hideo Kojima into the mainstream video game consciousness, I’d rather not. There are so many other sites out there that have already done this, even before Metal Gear Solid’s 20th anniversary, which was a couple of days ago. Instead, I’m going to talk about the experience I had playing the game for the first time 20 years ago.
In all honesty, Metal Gear Solid wasn’t even on my radar when it was going to be released. Heck, I didn’t even know about it! I may have gotten a glimpse of what the game looked like in a magazine or two, but I didn’t think much of it, I guess. Such is the life of someone during the time when the Internet was just in its infantile stages and you had to rely on printed media and word of mouth to get your gaming news. Dark times, indeed.
But it was through really good word of mouth that I learned about how great Metal Gear Solid was. He had played it and, when I did ask him how it’s like, he couldn’t really give me a clear description. It sounded like he was spouting gibberish, like this guy who has psychic powers and can read minds and there was a robot ninja who chopped off the hand of one of the bad guys and it was like playing a movie instead of a game.
In retrospect, it must’ve been really difficult to describe something as “big” as Metal Gear Solid at the time. It was different from most of the other games that have come before it. And the only way you could experience its grandness was to play it. And play it I did! But not after some weird disappointment because of information overload.
To describe the feeling I felt when I first booted Metal Gear Solid up, I will say, I was overwhelmed. Not because of how great the gameplay was, but because of all of the talking! The first thing I did when I started was not jump into playing the (really awesome) game. Like an idiot, I picked the Briefing option in the title menu because, well, I want to know as much about Metal Gear Solid as possible before I actually start a new game. Sure, the voice acting was great; David Hayter’s gravely performance of Solid Snake was perfect. But it was just a whole lot of talking and, like an idiot, I watched the entire thing and, all the while, got more and more confused about the plot. Gene therapy? FOXHOUND? Big Boss? What have I gotten myself into? Looking back, it turns out I didn’t have to sit through all of that since you do get all that information while playing the game and you finally get control of Solid Snake.
It took me some time to get to the gameplay of Metal Gear Solid. Before, most games relied on making the hero some gung-ho super soldier who can mow down hordes of enemies. Not in Metal Gear Solid! You couldn’t just run into the battlefield blindly and try to take out everyone head on. You can try (which I did) but you’ll eventually get overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the enemy soldiers (which I was, each and every time I tried). The main strategy was to avoid as many encounters as possible, which doesn’t seem all that unique nowadays with so many games inserting stealth levels nowadays. But then, this was a very novel idea. And it was something I liked.
It certainly helped that there were so many ways to navigate around the island of Shadow Moses. Going through air ducts and crawling under tables were great ways to go through an area without being detected. Even so, I really had more of a blast trying to take out all the soldiers in a level by sneaking up from behind and choking them out. You don’t have to kill them but where was the fun in that?
One thing that really struck me about Metal Gear Solid was its overall look and presentation. The PlayStation was a good machine but didn’t pump out realistic graphics like the video game consoles of today, leading to most 3D games coming out all blocky. While Metal Gear Solid did have the same “blocky” aesthetic, there was something like a filter that made it look different from other games. It kind of gave the entire look a bluish hue, which matched the snowly and cold location. The faces do look pretty lame because all the features were just lines drawn out to give some definition to them. This is especially true when compared to the later Metal Gear Solid games that have come out since then. But, 20 years ago, that was cutting edge tech!
The graphics were already top-notch then. But the voice acting, oh man! It was something else! You have to realize that voice acting in video games were generally crappy and game companies would just get talentless hacks to do the voice acting. To be fair, they may be trying their best, but the producers didn’t care to put too much effort in drawing out the best performance. That all changed with Metal Gear Solid.
This is a testament to both Hideo Kojima and David Hayter’s talent and tenacity to put out the best product possible. Kojima didn’t just want to put out a one-of-the-mill game. He wanted something to stand out and he wanted the voice acting to be exceptional. Thankfully, he got what he wanted. And, for the longest time, David Hayter would be the unmistakable voice of Solid Snake and the other people who would share the “Snake” codename. Not to downplay Kiefer Sutherland’s performance in Metal Gear Solid 5, but I still think it’s a travesty that they didn’t bring back David Hayter back one more time, which was actually the last Konami/Kojima produced official Metal Gear Solid game.
Like most fans, I was shocked about how much Metal Gear Solid broke the fourth wall. I was taken off guard when I rescued the ArmsTech president Kenneth Baker and he said that, in order to contact Meryl, you need to get the frequency from the back of the CD case. For the longest time, I thought that there was a way to flip over the optical disc Baker gave Solid Snake. You know, the disc inside the game. Or maybe I missed an item while I was traversing through Shadow Moses. How was I supposed to know that it was the real
This, of course, wasn’t the only instance of fourth wall breaking in Metal Gear Solid. There was Psycho Mantis reading your mind (actually checking your PlayStation memory cards for other Konami games). The other stuff, such as moving the controller using telekinesis (just causing the DualShock to vibrate violently) and even giving you a massage (once again, using the controller’s built-in vibration function) I didn’t get to experience my first time around since I didn’t have a DualShock controller when I first played Metal Gear Solid. You can bet that I popped the game in the instant I got myself a new-fangled controller, though! Even if I knew what was going to happen, it still blew my mind at how creative the game was with using new technology!
While all of those things that I mentioned were fantastic, the thing that stood out to me while I was playing Metal Gear Solid was how complex the story was and how deep the characters were. I’ve played games where the threat of nuclear war loomed overhead and drove the hero to do heroic acts to prevent this. But Metal Gear Solid painted a more grim and “adult” picture about the horrors of war. Even as I beat the bosses and finished the game, the feeling that I prevented a nuclear war and acted like a hero wasn’t there. There wasn’t a joyous ending nor a parade in my honor. It felt like I just delayed the inevitable nuclear holocaust that was going to eventually happen.
It made the story feel more real and I appreciated what Metal Gear Solid and Hideo Kojima was trying to tell. The subject matter didn’t talk down to the player and took itself much more seriously than any other game that came before it. What’s more is how Kojima managed to tell the story itself. Metal Gear Solid wasn’t the first game with a good story nor was it the first to use cinematic cutscenes to tell it.
But it did it with so much panache that it made it stand out among the rest. If there ever was a game that wanted to be a movie, it was Metal Gear Solid. And you can tell that by the camera angles used and how the music score punctuated what was happening on the screen at the time. The story and cinematics were so good, I really wished there was an option in the game to just view them after finishing the game so I could re-live and re-watch those moments over and over again. You can do that today with the magic of YouTube, though.
But honestly, my favorite thing about Metal Gear Solid was the cast of characters. In the past, video game characters didn’t have much nuance to them. The bad guys were bad guys and the good guys were good guys. Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach and Mario always set out to rescue her. Dracula would come back to life and someone from the Belmont clan would vanquish him. The only ones that came close would probably be JRPGs like the Final Fantasy series.
But even then, some of them felt like stereotypes without much personality. You couldn’t say the same thing about the characters in Metal Gear Solid. I was actually impressed with how much backstory the bosses had. Psycho Mantis was experimented on. Sniper Wolf joined FOXHOUND because she was rescued by Big Boss. Even sub-characters like Naomi Hunter had some long history behind her, which surprised me! She was just a voice on the CODEC for the longest time and it turns out she had some connection with Grey Fox? I did not see that coming!
Ever since Metal Gear Solid came out, I have become a huge fan of the series. I bought Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty when it came out, even though I didn’t own a PlayStation 2 at the time! I got both versions of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the original and Subsistence upgrade that included the original Metal Gear Solid games. I was only too happy to buy the Metal Gear Solid HD collection so I could finally play Peace Walker because it only came out on the PSP originally. To say that Metal Gear Solid left a mark on me is an understatement.
20 years have passed since then and a lot has changed. Sony is probably going to reveal the PlayStation 5 or whatever they’re going to call it in a year or so. Konami isn’t the gaming juggernaut it was and Hideo Kojima has left the company to work exclusively with Sony. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that I still hold the Metal Gear Solid games to high esteem. It’s been 20 years since I first played Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation and I can safely say it’s still one of the best video game series today.
20 years is a long time but I’m still a huge Metal Gear Solid fan.
Did you play Metal Gear Solid on the original PlayStation when it came out two decades ago? What was your experience with the game? Let me know in the comments section below!