In any list of profound titles from our medium’s past, Metal Gear Solid is likely a collective favorite. Gracing the PS1 with a fresh and exciting introspective narrative and compelling gameplay, this is a title that shows an unprecedented amount of love and detail from its creator. It’s also a title I missed back in the day, and thought would make an important work to look at in a modern context. Does it still have something to say to us in our modern world? Is it still playable?
These questions and more raced through my mind when the Metal Gear Solid Legacy Collection arrived in my arms. Here was a series that many love, and it’s conceivably possible that nostalgia and then current-gen wow factor influence a lot of fans’ opinions on this one. After all, that does account for something when looking back at games from way back when that we remember fondly. Sometimes what we love just isn’t that great anymore, and that’s fine, because our medium constantly grows, evolves, and changes.
Now that’s partially what I expected. What I found was that this felt like one of the least old-feeling old games I’ve ever played. Well, am still playing. Didn’t finish it in time, so the only thing to do is to make this one a multi-week breakdown of why Metal Gear Solid is so great, even to the completely uninitiated.
It started with a slow crawl out of the water. A mission for a man I only knew thanks to a fairly consistent relationship with video games as a whole. Of course, this is a game starring Solid Snake, voiced by David Hayter (or at least used to be voiced by him), it takes place on Shadow Moses Island and it involves sneaking around or something. That was about the breadth of knowledge I had walking into the first area.
Spotted, I run for cover and hide under a metal tank. I’m fast and they’re outpaced. About a minute goes by and they assume I’m gone. Up I rise, just to be immediately found and shot. This happens twice, and it took this many goes to finally figure out that this game would require a bit more than just a little map reading. Check their patterns and memorize their boundaries. After some slow but necessary observation I would learn all I need to know and I could find the correct course of action.
Actual observation. That’s not something I’m used to in today’s video games. Sure, some stealth certainly exists today, and I recall having to take similar action in the recent Dishonored and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. But that was always my choice. At any point, I could pull out silly amounts of power and decimate the field. In those games, I was toying with the enemy, and their continued existence hinged on my will. In Metal Gear, it’s clear that the world is toying with me, and I’m at the mercy of its confines.
And yet, that’s more in line with actual espionage work, I’m sure. In no situation is getting up in the enemy’s face and gunning your way through men a preferable path to sneaking and waiting. And in the quest to satiate the legions of players with short to no attention spans, we’ve clearly lost something since this game. Here, you actually have to sit, wait, watch, and learn. It’s incredibly clever and entirely fresh, and I was not expecting to find such enthralling 3D gameplay in a game so old.
But what of the narrative? That seems to be what most people remember first about this game, and the storytelling of Hideo Kojima is legendarily convoluted and self-referential (but in a good way). Thus far, while Metal Gear Solid has perhaps the over the top delivery of any old soap opera, I can sense the tell-tale sign of great game writing. I know that there are deeper connotations to the events taking place. Nothing is as it seems and everything I see is profoundly deliberate, making me feel like there are bigger, darker, and meaner forces at work behind the scenes.
That’s a very good sign. It’s what I sensed in the background of games like Ico and Knights of the Old Republic. It’s what makes Bioshock such a profound piece of world building and why Silent Hill 2 is so scary. It’s world and the forces behind it are bigger than you and bigger than what you stand for.
So by that alone, I’ve come to realize that in the short time playing this week’s Retrospective title that I’m standing in the presence of brilliance, still pulsating and alive even after all of these years. Yes it can feel campy and silly. Yes it has mechanical shortcomings that would have been fixed in today’s age. But it has its way of making you, the player feel like you’re in Kojima’s very mind, interacting with his processes and crazed brilliance.
Of nearly all the games I’ve covered in this segment, this is one that I’ve wanted to continue playing the most, and I will. Next week you’ll get a finalized overview of my thoughts once this game is complete. Perhaps my thoughts will change. Most likely, they won’t and this will prove to be a worthwhile visit into the past. So far, no lack of nostalgic connection is preventing me from enjoying it, and no shortcoming on the part of the controls and visuals (although it is a bit jarring to watch cutscenes without any sort of lipsyncing, but a sign of how spoiled we are these days I suppose) seems to get in its way.