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Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) artwork

Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) review


"Stealth games – all the fun of sitting still, being quiet and generally trying to be as anti-social as possible. Metal Gear Solid’s token good guy, Solid Snake, certainly won’t be invited to any parties after infiltrating someone’s house, silently shooting everyone and stealing their plans for world domination (don’t deny it, everyone has them). But, if anyone can make a half-decent game from a genre which demands the player spend long periods of time doing very little, our anti-social he..."



Stealth games – all the fun of sitting still, being quiet and generally trying to be as anti-social as possible. Metal Gear Solid’s token good guy, Solid Snake, certainly won’t be invited to any parties after infiltrating someone’s house, silently shooting everyone and stealing their plans for world domination (don’t deny it, everyone has them). But, if anyone can make a half-decent game from a genre which demands the player spend long periods of time doing very little, our anti-social hero will be glad to know that pretty much anything is possible. Metal Gear Solid, however, is not that game.

Metal Gear Solid was released by Konami on the Playstation around 1999 as a three-dimensional sequel to Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series, which followed the adventures of Solid Snake, a covert operative from the special forces unit FOXHOUND. These games were little more than simple games of hide and sneak, but MGS promised an extra degree of sophistication and a cinematic story of epic proportions. In MGS, Snake is ordered to an Alaskan naval base where former operatives of the FOXHOUND unit have seized control of a nuclear tank named Metal Gear Rex. It’s easy to guess what his orders are.

Initially, things are quite promising. The game’s cinematic flair makes itself apparent very early on with the game displaying majestic panning cutscenes to show off the Playstation’s finest visuals as ostentatiously as possible. The action is viewed from a third-person top-down viewpoint, reminiscent of the original Metal Gear series. It gives the player a reasonably wide view of the action, making sneaking around unnoticed (with the help of a handy radar that shows the position of enemy soldiers and cameras) quite easy. The camera only has one angle though, and is sometimes too zoomed in on Snake, making it slightly claustrophobic and awkward in certain situations. It also means that the player will spend quite a lot of time staring at the rather unimpressive and small radar in the corner of the screen.

This isn’t to say that Metal Gear Solid doesn’t have any impressive aspects. The amount of detail in the game is outstanding. Graphically, it's gorgeous, but the gameplay detail is also something to be admired. Should Solid Snake step outside into the harsh cold of Alaska, his rations (the game’s equivalent of health pick-ups) will freeze, and Snake will have to equip and keep them close to his body for them to thaw out. This is but an example of the magnificent detail in this game, and quite refreshing considering some of the unambitious and unrealistic gameplay elements in most games, past and present. If only one could be impressed by the rest of the game.

The first of the game’s many flaws becomes apparent should you walk into the line of sight of an enemy soldier. They are all so incredibly short-sighted that you would have to stray a few yards in front of them for them to notice you. Even then, the A.I. excels itself in its lack of competence. Should you be spotted or set off an alarm, guards will spawn from nowhere, and once you’ve lost them, they’ll return to pacing up and down corridors as if you were never even there. It’s pretty embarrassing to think that a group of soldiers could take control of a naval base without giving their minions basic eye and memory tests. Sophisticated, this isn’t, and gone is the usual sense of satisfaction and superiority earned from successfully sneaking past enemies unnoticed. In fact, it makes the stealth aspect of the game almost pointless, and thus makes large portions of the game incredibly boring.

The game’s storyline is developed through cutscenes and codec conversations (the codec is a radio between Snake and his associates). While the cutscenes are eloquently cinematic, the codec conversations are made up of page after page of text dialogue and voice-overs displayed on a dull green background. These codec conversations are long-winded, uninteresting, mostly unnecessary and a clear attempt at prolonging the game’s otherwise feeble lifespan. They are very unimpressive and an absolute chore to read through. It wouldn’t be so bad except these conversations are about 10 minutes long (each) and there seems to be about 5 minutes gameplay in between each conversation.

For some reason though, the game has been idolised as a beacon of creativity by its admirers, by developing a storyline that deals with issues such as politics, war, sexuality and much that involves morality. It tries, at least. Hideo Kojima’s game seems to be the mish-mash creation of an uncertain mind – full of contradictions, naivety and some appalling clichés. The game’s philosophy on war seems unbelievable simple yet strangely hypocritical (war is bad, but there usually seems to be a quick and violent solution to most problems). Sexuality is dealt with in long drawn-out cutscenes between Snake and Meryl – a girl Snake meets in the naval base who, surprise surprise, falls in love with him. The clichéd dialogue grates horribly with some awful melodrama, making their relationship seem forced more than anything.

It’s odd to think that Metal Gear Solid is a game that was intended to deal with real-life issues, because as the game goes on, the storyline becomes more and more far-fetched. It’s hard to take its ideas on world politics seriously when it reaches such incredibly levels of absurdity as nuclear tanks, genetic viruses and other such nonsense. One can understand the need for plot twists to make the game captivating and constantly fresh, but once the plot becomes incomprehensible and the innumerable plot-holes kick in, you might as well mute your television and just watch the impressive cinematography. Except, of course, the majority of the story progresses through tedious codec conversations. Even then, Metal Gear Solid’s poor attempts at post-modernism effects that clutter the game (characters addressing the player by telling you not to use autofire, a psychic supposedly taking control of your controller or Snake simply looking knowingly towards the screen in the middle of cutscenes) manage to break any mood that was previously created. Creative, maybe, but still crap.

Metal Gear Solid also seems to want to deal with the extremities of cinematic creation – something that is ironically reflected in the dire voice-acting. While Solid Snake’s rough, edgy voice is almost robotic in its lack of emotion, almost every other character seems content to be ridiculously melodramatic with cringing overacting. Solid Snake’s only credible expression seems to be the whining of a soldier that’s sick of war – something quite hypocritical given the game’s readiness to throw new weapons and boss battles at the player. It could well have been delivered in a way that was thought-provoking and creative, but the terrible voice-acting rarely allows for anything other than the farcical to develop. Coupled with some clichéd and grating dialogue, the game’s melodrama and general cheesiness is virtually unbearable. Oh, and the less said about the game’s homoerotic vibe the better.

Hideo Kojima’s creation is a prime example of why a few new ideas and a handful of scriptive clichés aren’t enough to make a good game. The game is based on a storyline that’s absurd, unsubtle, naive in its political simplicity and more hypocritical than the pacifist who fights the soldier. Unfortunately, the game is so dependent on its plot (you’ll find yourself wading through page after page of dull codec conversations more than anything else) that Metal Gear Solid is little more than a B-movie with some interactive bits in between. The stealth engine is flawed with poor A.I., so stealth sections hold little enjoyment. If it weren’t for some of the refreshing attention to detail gameplay-wise, the game would be horribly appalling. As it is, Metal Gear Solid is only slightly horribly appalling.

Rating: 3.0/10

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Community review by ceredig (July 15, 2005)

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