I recently received Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for the Playstation 2 as a gift. Barring a failed playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots in late 2011, I haven’t played a Metal Gear Solid in 10 years! Four games have come out in the main Metal Gear Solid series, starting out with Metal Gear Solid in 1998. It is a stealth based action game where you spend most of your time avoiding combat. Since this is a series that is so well known for being a confusing, cutscene ridden mess of plot and sneaking, I didn’t feel like it made sense to play through the fourth one having not played since 2002. Now that I have all of them, I’m going to play them through in a row. I started last weekend with the Playstation original, Metal Gear Solid.
In Metal Gear Solid, the player character is Solid Snake. He has to stop terrorists who are planning to launch an untrackable nuclear weapon from the island of Shadow Moses with naught but his sneaking suit and the box of cigarettes he smuggled onto the island his stomach. In the game’s world, he is a living legend who has already stopped the walking tank called Metal Gear once in Zanzibar, which is a part of Tanzania. That was the NES game Metal Gear, which came out in 1987. There was also a sequel released in 1990 called Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. I have not played either of those, although I can’t imagine that an 8 bit stealth game is anything but frustrating, so I won’t let that hold me back.
Hideo Kojima, the creator of Metal Gear and it’s sequels, brought the series into a 32-bit 3-d world on the PSX incredibly smoothly and used this game to install the boss fights, characters, and cutscenes as part of the Metal Gear Solid identity. Metal Gear Solid is definitely a great game in spite of it’s flaws, and I’ll illustrate that in this post. I can understand why everyone thought it was a revelation in 1998, but playing it through for the first time in 15 years was bumpy. Here are some thoughts:
The boss fights are still involved and intense, lengthy dialogue and all
Like this fight I had with a man called Vulcan Raven in a tank:
This fight is incredibly complex due to the amount of steps and number of weapons you need to complete it. This is refreshing since the art of the boss fight seem to have fallen by the wayside in recent years. Here is a list of the steps for this battle:
- Disarm the claymores the field before the fight starts
- Throw a chaff grenade to disarm the cannon so you can approach the tank
- Throw a stun grenade to disarm the machine gunner so you don’t lose health while you’re damaging the tank treads
- Use the claymores you collected before the fight to damage the tank treads and slow it down
- Throw regular grenades into the gunner’s turret to kill him
Phew! That’s way more steps than boss fights I’ve gone through recently, especially the Destroyer fight in Borderlands where I just sat behind a rock and waited for my ammo to regenerate for 15 minutes.
Sometimes when the player defeats a boss in Metal Gear, the game plays bizarre deathbed sequences where the boss tell you their life story, like this example from the character Psycho Mantis:
Oh good, so you were trying to kill me because your dad hated you. I thought it was because you didn’t like me. Fathers should have to watch that cutscene in the waiting room so that they understand what happens if they’re bad at their new job. You too could be the cause of your child psychokinetically burning your village to the ground.
The boss character designs are creative and well defined
Liquid Snake isn’t so creative, but he should be here since he’s the leader. He’s the terrorist mastermind and the twin brother of Solid Snake. Get it? Liquids and solids are opposites. He’s kind of milquetoast compared to all the other terrorists even if he is a terrible pain in the ass to fight at the end of the game. He just won’t die! You blow up Metal Gear with him in it, then you fight him in hand to hand combat on top of Metal Gear’s wreckage, then he chases you at the end of the game and you have to shoot him with a machine gun. Even then, he only meets his proper demise in a cutscene after all of your hard work.
Revolver Ocelot gets his shooting hand cut off almost right away and seems to be manipulating everyone to his advantage. Also, he’s a gaddang cowboy in Alaska. I assume he’ll be fleshed out more as I move through the series since he’s the only villain who survives the game and he has a mysterious phonecall with the President after the credits. His role in this particular criminal organization seems to be to agree with Liquid Snake.
Psycho Mantis is a master of telepathy and telekinesis. His manipulation of Meryl, a support character I’ll get to later, throughout his fight is incredible. In order to defeat him you actually have to use a controller that is plugged into the second port on the console because he evades everything you do from a controller plugged into the first port. In other words, you have to kill him using the controller for player 2 rather than player 1. Hilarious! Also, his buckles/gas mask/leather thing is real badass.
Sniper Wolf is a sniper. Her fights are frustrating because the sniping controls in this game are awful. Sniping, a practice associated with precision, does not lend itself to the sloppiness of the Playstation controller directional pad. This was before auto-aim was invented for the modern first person console shooter and modern players will definitely feel it. Also, boobs. She develops a sexual attraction to her targets before she kills them, marking them with a scratch and focusing solely on them until they are dead. I think I sense a “Ladies of Metal Gear” post in my future.
Vulcan Raven is a shaman and Alaskan native. He commands a horde of ravens that he never uses against you. I always thought that was a waste. He does hunt you down in a tank and with that huge gatling gun in the photo. His boss fights, particularly when he’s driving the tank, are probably the least predictable of the lot.
Gray Fox is introduced as Cyborg Ninja. He was Solid Snake’s friend, but now he’s trying to kill him for reasons that I don’t have the want to summarize here. He was supposedly killed by Snake in the first game, but has come back here in a metal exoskeleton to exact his revenge. His boss fight is a tremendous pain in the ass, due to the fact that it’s all hand to hand combat and he is much stronger than you, but his dialogue throughout is epic and intense, so that makes up for it. Here’s a taste of what I mean:
I could look at the concept art for the Metal Gear Solid series all day
Yoji Shinkawa is the man. I love the smoky appearance of all of the art in this game, some of which can be seen in the boss photos above. It gives you an idea of what the characters look like, but doesn’t keep you from imagining details either.
The graphics are really good!
It’s a common problem in PSX games to be unable to tell what you character is supposed to be pantomiming, especially since we’re so spoiled with modern graphics. However, indeterminate pantomiming is not a terrible issue in this game! Player actions are well animated and the characters contrast well enough with the scenery to be able to see what they’re doing. The enemy animations are detailed enough that, in an unfortunate sequence, you can tell who Meryl is when she’s in disguise because her butt moves more than the other soldiers. I especially like how the developers handled the faces…they didn’t try to put a ton of detail or definition on them because the PSX just couldn’t handle that sort of realism. You can see what I mean in the clips throughout this post.
The controls are awful
We’re lucky this game came along because it laid the foundation for all of the cool stealth and cover based shooters we have today, but it controls just terribly by modern standards. Jeepers cats. My thumb hurts from using the silly directional pad for the last week. These are the games blisters are made of. Snake is just a little too slow to do what you want him to sometimes. I remember being good enough to get through this game with a Big Boss ranking (Extreme difficulty, less than 3 hours, no deaths, 1 or 0 rations used, less than 25 kills) when I was in 8th grade, so it must have been proficient at the time. I have no patience for it now though.
The combat is particularly frustrating whether it’s hand to hand or with firearms. The hitboxes* and aiming feel really sloshy and you get punished harshly if you miss, so boss fights, for as cool as their gimmicks and characters might be, are usually an exercise in frustration as the enemies take large chunks of your health away every time you miss with a punch.
The role of women in this game is schizophrenic at best
There are 5 women in this game and they are all some combination of
useless, sexualized, and evil. I’m only briefly going to talk about Meryl (the girl in the center of the photo), but I could write at length about all of the female characters. I want to observe how the women’s roles evolve as the series progress before I say too much about it as a whole. That “Ladies of Metal Gear Solid” post is definitely happening.
It is ALWAYS COLD wherever Meryl is.
I just want to address two of the issues with Meryl here. The first is that there are two instances in the game where the player can go to great pains to see her without her pants on. That is to say, in her underthings. These are special “Easter Eggs“, or secret, so they’re not readily visible and you have to work for them. Back in 1998, we didn’t understand that 32-bit polygon ladies are not attractive. Also, I was in 8th grade, so I have an excuse. Here’s the second instance and what you have to do to trigger it:
You can see the first instance here. Her overt sexualization, especially for the time, leads me to the second issue with her.
This is actually something Meryl says after Snake hits on her. Ugh.
The second thing I want to look at regarding Meryl is that she is Snake’s damsel in distress. Midway through the game, Meryl gets shot and it’s all very tragic and sad:
She’s not dead though! The player has an option to go through a torture sequence as Snake later in the game and if they do, Meryl will be ok at the end. Ocelot tortures Snake to find out how to arm the nuclear weapons for Metal Gear, and he says that Snake can surrender, but then Meryl will take his place. This sounds acceptable, but the torture sequence takes six minutes of constant button tapping to keep Snake’s health high enough to survive. Alternatively, your other option is to push select and skip the torture scene altogether and let Meryl die.
This is a game that grades the player at the end with several metrics, one of which is how long it takes you to get through the campaign. The best rank is achieved by finishing the game in under three hours. In those terms, six minutes is an extremely long time. Anyone looking to earn the best grade at the end of the game will skip this torture sequence, avoid terrible thumb pain and kill Meryl. Even though the dialogue for the rest of the game has Snake being sad that Meryl died, the rules of the game encourage the player to let Meryl die! I understand that this could be a commentary on doing the right thing even if it’s not the easiest thing, but no player who’s pushing for the best rank wants to make life harder for themselves. It appears Meryl exists in this game to have, in Solid Snake’s words, a “cute butt” and then get killed.
In short, the game is good! It only takes around 3 hours if you know what you’re doing and it got me excited to play through the rest of the series. I’m hoping that the controls will get better and the characters will get a little more fleshed out. This series is known for it’s well-written if confusing plot, but that was not apparent from the first game.
*Hitboxes are the areas on a character model that can be damaged by attacks from other characters. See here for an explanation of them with respect to Street Fighter 2. It’s the same idea here.