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Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) artwork

Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) review

"Near the end of Metal Gear Solid, Liquid Snake, the terrorist leader who's (deep breath now) using a captured secret nuclear-armed prototype mech to blackmail the U.S. government into, among other things, sending over the remains of his father (AKA "Big Boss") to be used to repair the DNA of his army of clones and achieve his father's dream of an impregnable fortress from which to begin world domination (whew!), describes his plot to retrieve his father's remains as an example of the "sel..."

Near the end of Metal Gear Solid, Liquid Snake, the terrorist leader who's (deep breath now) using a captured secret nuclear-armed prototype mech to blackmail the U.S. government into, among other things, sending over the remains of his father (AKA "Big Boss") to be used to repair the DNA of his army of clones and achieve his father's dream of an impregnable fortress from which to begin world domination (whew!), describes his plot to retrieve his father's remains as an example of the "selfish gene" theory. It's an over-literal misapplication of the ideas in Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene (similar to what the Social Darwinists did to On the Origin of Species). And if by that point you're not absolutely convinced that Metal Gear Solid is a fistful of stupid, it's probably because you were convinced when you noticed that Liquid Snake has a Davy Crockett blonde mullet and an Aussie accent similar to Steve Irwin's, but without the lingual subtlety.

Wait! Don't hurt me yet!

For the benefit of anyone who's been in a coma since 1998, Metal Gear Solid is about one Solid Snake (voiced by David "Not Clint Eastwood, but a remarkable simulation" Hayter), a top-secret black-ops dude who's forcibly unretired and sent on a one-man mission to the Shadow Moses nuclear disposal facility. There, Solid Snake's old Fox-Hound unit, led by Liquid Snake, is threatening to launch a nuke unless the U.S. gives in to their demands. You'll start the game in the Shadow Moses dock, where some Genome Soldiers (like regular soldiers, but "different") are on patrol, showing as blips on your radar. Gamers everywhere remember their first few seconds playing this game, as they advanced towards one of those blips, fists at the ready, preparing to lay the smackdown, and then...were promptly shot dead.


Much like Silent Hill, the primary feeling for most of the game is vulnerability - although "genome" is synonymous with "moron" in this game, a frontal assault on one Genome Soldiers tends to lead to being swarmed by several Genome Soldiers, and a quick end. Since they respawn in most areas of the game, and the ammo and rations they provide when killed are plentiful elsewhere, the overwhelming incentive is to simply sneak around them. Should you be spotted, the soldiers will conveniently forget all about you if you manage to hide for a minute or two.

Like the original Metal Gear, you'll progressively gain new weapons, handy-dandy trinkets like thermal imaging goggles, and expanded access to the Shadow Moses area by acquiring ever-higher security keycards. Although the game will sometimes disable or render useless your weapons for no little or no good reason (did you know that a plasma sword can deflect every single bullet from a machine gun if you spin it around fast enough? It's in a video game - it must be true!), it still leaves more toys to play with than the usual game. Genome Soldiers spawning at the foot of a staircase you're trying to ascend? Well, you could just shoot them, or you could plant a mine and cackle as they mindlessly run into it, or trigger a load of C4 if you're feeling lucky, or grab one and throw him into his partner and run for it, or, hey, maybe those stun grenades will do the trick. And then there are the boss encounters with the Fox-Hound gang, each requiring a completely different skill set than the last. In one fight, you're trying to draw a bead on Ocelot as he hides behind a booby-trapped mass of C4 and fires his shots so that they hit you on the rebound. In another, you're up against a guy who telekinetically attacks you with household furnishings, just after the most wacked audience-participation gimmick since The Tingler. In another, a sniper's duel. In another, a demented game of hide-and-seek in a warehouse with a very large man and his very large gatling gun. And the climactic battle, where you attempt to bring down a house-sized mech with some Stingers and chaff grenades. If this was the complete package (read: no cutscenes) Solid would be entertaining but not particularly memorable, like an old-school NES game, or the VR missions included with the game as a bonus. But with the cutscenes...well, those will be covered shortly.

Also like the original, you can call your comrades remotely for advice. (Although I wish there was a more...immersive way of working the description of your controls into their conversations. You'll frequently hear your CO whisper things like "Snake, use the X button to climb up the ladder." You'd think that a mission to save America from nuclear blackmail would involve someone who doesn't need instructions on ladder climbing. But anyway.)

Unlike the original game, Metal Gear Solid is polygonal - press the triangle button, and you'll switch from the standard bird's eye view to a first-person view. Graphics are on the grainy side, but chances are you'll be too busy in-game to notice. There's also the hug-the-wall-by-pressing-up-against-it mechanic from Crack Down. It seems cool in the beginning, when there's nothing attacking you. But in combat, especially in tight quarters, it results in Snake randomly shifting from his "running like hell" mode to "let's crawl slowly along this wall so that I can be more easily caught" mode. It would've been nicer to dedicate a button to this action.

Then, there's the plot...

Uh-oh! Hideo's mouth have started to move!

Unlike Silent Hill's cutscenes, which never rose above a porno-level aesthetic, the staging, mocapping, framing, and cutting in Solid is spectacularly well done. You will notice, during the course of the game, many other things wrong...

ESRB Rating: B (Bathos)

If you're going to stop the action for five to ten minutes, you don't have to retread Hollywood cliches like "the black guy gets it first" and "the bad guys were just toying with you all along." And it's also not necessary for nearly every major character to have a Deep Dark Secret that only Tedious Exposition can reveal. Let's see: Snake's brooding over killing his father (AKA Big Boss), Meryl's trying to prove she's a real soldier, Otacon's bitter that his grandfather helped create The Bomb, and so on. The game plays out like a cross between a Tom Clancy novel and "All My Children", except that "All My Children" isn't nearly tacky enough to use footage of the Hiroshima bombing and the Persian Gulf War to prop up its bathos. Geesh, why not go the extra mile and use Nanking and Auschwitz footage?

ESRB Rating: P (Bruckheimer-class plot holes, contrivances, and absurdities)

There's no reason video games ought to be used as a dumping ground for plot points that would be laughed out of any movie not produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Video game "logic" (events are triggered only when you reach a certain point instead of proceeding of their own volition, it's impossible to be permanently maimed, eating rations can completely undo the damage caused by stepping on a land mine, drugs take effect immediately, inventory is stored in an encumbrance-free Bag of Holding) has been around from the very beginning, so I'll just mention Solid's unique contributions:

*The sheer amount of coincidence, cheating, and retconning needed for the big "we were just toying with you all along" plot twist. Liquid would have to have not only known that Snake was being sent on the mission, but his exact route at all times - otherwise Liquid's plan would have collapsed into a gibbering heap. And, oh yeah, if your plan hinges on someone doing all the work for you, you might not want to attack that person with Genome Soldiers, a tank, and a gunship, among other things. And, oh yeah, why does Liquid even need Solid in the first place? Meryl and Otacon turned out to have all the information Liquid needed, and they're being held prisoner. All they needed were a competent strip search of the former and some torture for the latter, not that we would have wanted either of those, of course.

*For that matter, how come every prisoner on this island has a key card on their person? If you're the game designer, why not just have them say "I hid the key card at location X"?

*Why would anyone living in a world with nuclear-armed submarines, aircraft, land vehicles, and backpacks wet their pants over a nuclear-armed vehicle with legs? ("This mech we've created can launch nuclear missiles and do the Humpty Dance. I am become death, destroyer of worlds.")

*Several characters (Otacon and The Ninja, for example) are able to follow Snake around the island, somehow evading the minefields, locked doors and Genome Soldiers without harm.

*Any reason for the Genome Soldiers to spray the air vents for rats, other than to give you a convenient entry point?

*Psycho Mantis has the ability to telekinetically detonate your explosives just after you plant them. Why doesn't he reduce you to Kibbles and Bits by simply detonating all your explosives simultaneously, given that he can use his powers on people who aren't even in the same building?

*Boy, this game would've been over a lot quicker if you could tell whether Metal Gear is activated or de-activated before you insert the key cards. And what about the control room scene where Ocelot tells Liquid that Metal Gear is armed and ready, when they both knew it wasn't?

*What is Ocelot's job description, anyway? I don't think a high-tech band of terrorists would have much of a use for a guy whose sole visible talents are twirling revolvers, timing bullet ricochets, pressing buttons, and rape.

*FoxDie has to be the most plot-convenient virus ever. Some characters die within five minutes of contact with a carrier, others get several hours of Exchanging Deep Thoughts and Savage Beatings before the deus ex machina arrives. And that conversation between Liquid and Ocelot about why certain characters weren't affected by the virus was the most egregious bit of out-of-our-assness in a game that doesn't really need any more of it. "Gee, maybe it was all of those tranquilizers she took." Riiiiiiiiight.

*The soldiers who surround Snake after the first Sniper Wolf fight materialize out of nowhere. And there's no way to avoid being taken prisoner by them, even though you've previously fended off tougher enemies.

*Why don't the four stealth soldiers on the elevator show up on infrared until Otacon announces their existence? And why doesn't Snake take their stealth suits after they're bumped off?

*At one point Snake needs to apply heat to an object. Instead of backtracking for what seems like several miles, why not use whatever item lights his cigarettes?

*No explanations for Liquid's injury-free escapes from certain death. Liquid specifically says that falling a certain distance is fatal, Liquid falls down that distance, and then shows up a few minutes later driving a Jeep and wielding a machine gun? Um, whatever.

ESRB Rating: I (Ace-and-Gary-level innuendo, not there's anything wrong with that)

Important note: the following section should not be consumed by the humor-impaired. Go eat some prunes or something.

Metal Gear Solid has to be the most successful example of stealth homoerotica since Maverick, Iceman, and Goose explored their manhood in Top Gun. ("He's on my tail! Coming hard!") At some points, it threatens to become an Ace & Gary adventure. But don't take my word for it...

*The crotch-enhancing uniforms worn by Solid Snake and The Ninja, which look like they were designed by the freaks from Batman and Robin. (By the way, per Snake, the technical term for his uniform is "sneaking suit".)

*Snake: What's the insertion method?

*Snake calls his trainer "Master" in casual conversation. ("Master, what course of action would best please you?") You know you're in need of professional help when "Master" is listed on your speed-dial.

*And hey, how about the rather unnatural position of that brig guard after Meryl stripped him? Nothing to see here, folks, let's just move along!

*Ocelot: There's nothing like the feeling of slamming a long silver bullet into a well-greased chamber.

*Anonymous Caller: Just call me...Deep Throat.

Snake [dead serious]: Deep Throat? The informant from the Watergate scandal?

Anonymous Caller: Um, that'll work, too, I guess.

*Snake [to The Ninja, re Otacon]: I need that man - keep your hands off of him. (Said before Snake identifies Otacon, natch.)

*The Ninja: "Make me feel it! Make me feel alive again!" And "Yes, Snake! Hurt me more!" (OK, you sicko.)

*The S&M gear worn by Psycho Mantis, complete with gas mask.

*Snake: It's true, we're all for sale at one price or another...

*Snake [to Vulcan Raven]: You want me to pull your ears?

Ocelot [to Snake, while Snake is shackled spread-eagled and topless in a torture bed]: Finally, just the two of us. How are you feeling?

Snake: Not bad. I caught a nice nap on this revolving bed of yours. Too bad I was sleeping alone.

Ocelot: ...This is some bed all right...I'm about to show you some of its nicer features...

Otacon's "Have you ever...loved someone?" bit, AKA the He Didn't Just Say That, Did He? scene.

*Solid Snake and Liquid face off against each other, mano a mano, topless, scarred, and sweaty, while the female love interest is incapacitated. How conveeeeeeenient.

*Hmmm, the game has two endings, each with Meryl and Otacon having completely interchangeable roles with Snake. Nothing implied, of course, let's just move along!

*Otacon [sitting in a snowmobile, his crotch wedged directly behind Snake's ass]: I feel like a new man!

Let's not even get into the scientific, military, and political concepts that get mangled in the course of this game - the final conversation between Liquid and Solid must set an all-time record for how many scientific concepts are garbled or simply pulled out of the designers' asses. (Asymmetry theory? Super Baby Method? Is that something you can buy at Super Baby Depot here in Jersey?)

Few games in history have begged to be taken seriously as Metal Gear Solid, with all its name-dropping and its anti-nuke, anti-war pleading; and yet the execution is as adolescent and incoherent as it can get. War Is Bad For Children And Other Living Things - but gosh, isn't this sniper rifle just so cool? You Can Die At Any Time On The Battlefield - good thing everybody gets a deathbed speech! And, if anything, the problems here only got worse in the sequel, what with the shameless is-he-Grey-Fox-or-isn't-he tease; to the frothing over the Illuminati - er, I mean, the Patriots; to the "everybody is the father/mother/son/daughter/role model/legal guardian of everybody else" plot twists; to Kojima's forgetting that someone already made The Matrix; to the mind-bogglingly insane "The White House was our primordial soup" sequence, which shattered the Camp barrier as we know it.

Thematically, the difference between a run-of-the-mill game and Metal Gear Solid is the difference between getting a paper cut and having one of your fingers cut off. One is unpleasant but forgettable; the other is unforgettable, but not in a pleasant way. Somebody, somewhere will release a game that deals with war, politics, family, sex, and (optionally) undead homoerotic cyberninjas that ranks with the world's greatest masterpieces.

Based on the evidence, one thing is certain: that person is absolutely, positively not going to be Hideo Kojima.

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Community review by deadtrees (May 18, 2005)

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