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Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) artwork

Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) review


"I have to wonder why the makers of Metal Gear Solid didn’t just make a movie. Here’s a game where the gameplay is never the focus, where interactivity is just a vehicle to get to the next cutscene, where the controller spends more time in your lap than it does in your hands. The best games use interactivity to tell their stories—it is, after all, what separates games from movies. Metal Gear Solid goes in exactly the opposite direction, keeping story and gameplay on opposite sides of a brick wall..."



I have to wonder why the makers of Metal Gear Solid didn’t just make a movie. Here’s a game where the gameplay is never the focus, where interactivity is just a vehicle to get to the next cutscene, where the controller spends more time in your lap than it does in your hands. The best games use interactivity to tell their stories--it is, after all, what separates games from movies. Metal Gear Solid goes in exactly the opposite direction, keeping story and gameplay on opposite sides of a brick wall at all times. Not only does the player feel like their actions are irrelevant to the game, but it’s also colossally boring to watch--see, that’s the word. Watch. You don’t play Metal Gear Solid. It plays itself.

The plot is laughable. Take a Tom Clancy novel, mix it with a Japanese cartoon, and you’ve got MGS. From that description, you know the writing’s not going to be subtle, but the ham-fistedness of MGS is almost jaw-dropping at times. Things start off with grizzled badass Snake (quite an original name there) invading a terrorist hideout in Alaska. Why? Because the terrorists have stolen a new Metal Gear, a giant robot which looks like a leftover Zord from Power Rangers. They’re going to launch a nuke in 24 hours, so Snake has to get in there and kill every one of them. The bad guys look, sound, and act like G.I. Joe villains. One of them is a levitating psychic who wears a gasmask and black jumpsuit, speaking in a raspy snarl like Voldemort from the Harry Potter movies. Another one is giant Inuit shaman who carries a gatling gun and, uhh, has a symbiotic bond with birds. The leader of the bunch is--ready for this?--Snake’s evil British twin.

MGS is not a farce; it just plays out like one. I could forgive the ridiculous premise and characters if it was a comedy. Unfortunately, MGS is dead friggin’ serious from the word go. Characters give endless speeches on the horrors of war, why nukes are bad, why genes don’t matter, and why Hideo Kojima’s dong is bigger than yours. No character, good or bad, can die without gasping out a five-minute sermon teaching an important moral to Snake--the fifth time this happened, I burst out laughing. The villains’ motivations change so many times that by the end, their actions at the beginning make no sense. Apparently Kojima was making things up as he went along. The game is set in present-day America, but at the same time there are cyborg ninjas, armies of cloned supersoldiers, keycards that bond with the salts in a human hand (this is the actual explanation the game gives), radios that vibrate inner-ear bones to produce sound, and the whole nuke-launching Zord thing--by the way, it uses magnets to fire its missiles, because then, uhh, it’s cooler. The ending has one of those content disclaimers, like you see on TV dramas, assuring us that these are fictional events (I’m not kidding.)

I hate it when video games patronize me, and MGS may be the most patronizing game I have ever played. Watched. Whatever. The first time you approach a ladder, your CO will radio you to say “Press the Action Button to climb up that ladder!” What am I, five years old? Shut the hell up. The game is full of moments like these; at least that cutscene is brief. Otherwise, Kojima never says anything in one line that he could say in ten. Any English teacher will tell you that, in writing, showing is better than telling. Kojima only tells. Example: one character talks about his father, a nuclear physicist, while old nuke stock footage plays. He mentions that his father was born on August 6, 1945. Not only does Snake point out that this is the same day Hiroshima was bombed, for anyone who didn’t take fifth-grade history, but he also observes that this is highly ironic, because, I mean, who would ever, like, expect a nuclear physicist to be born on the same day a nuke was dropped, you know? Like, that is soooooo meta!

Oh wait, I’ve only barely mentioned the codec so far. It’s this ultra high-tech radio that your support team uses to talk to you. A lot. Every time they scratch their nose, the gameplay is interrupted and you watch two green heads go through the same canned animations over and over again while they spew out a condescending speech on the state of the human condition. Wouldn’t it have been cool if you could just cut them off and flip them the bird? Well yes, it would have, but that’s Kojima for you. You can of course skip all of these scenes, but then there is no context to the sparse gameplay. It’s the worst of both worlds: the game prides itself on its cinematic presentation, but half of the cutscenes are just cartoon faces talking. Much of the dialogue in these parts takes the form of Snake repeating the last two words in the form of a question (“Snake, Bob’s hiding out in the basement.” “The basement?” | “Snake, watch out for the sniper.” “The sniper?” etc.) It gets annoying in the first five minutes.

And the voice acting. I’ve seen people say the acting of MGS is better than cinema. I wonder if these people have ever watched a movie. Snake sounds like a twentysomething desperately trying to sound 45. He inserts awkward growls at the ends of his sentences, like he’s got an itch in his throat. Your support team includes two women with unbelievably bad British and Chinese accents. I actually cringed at a few points. The script is full of oddly-inflected dialogue that sounds like the developers used the first take of every line-reading. Characters don’t sound like they’re talking to each other; it’s like two schizophrenics conversing with themselves, coincidentally being relevant to what the other is saying. It sounds weird at best and abysmal at worst.

It’s obvious the developers cared way more about their idiotic story than the gameplay, so I’ve reviewed the game as such. Nonetheless, there are some occasional interactive parts in MGS, and they’re awful. This series has one of the most unintuitive control schemes I have ever used. Nothing feels right. You’ll crouch when you want to shoot, you’ll shoot when you want to punch, you’ll sidle against walls when you want to go around them, you’ll go into the weapons menu when you wanted items and vice versa. Even by the end of MGS3 I was still wrestling with the controls.

For a game pretentious enough to call itself “Tactical Espionage Action”, there sure isn’t much tactics here. You sneak around the base, carefully avoiding the sight of the omnipresent guards--in theory. In practice: you run in a straight line and shoot everything that moves until you reach the next cutscene (not more than two minutes away at any point.) The camera is terrible. It’s stuck permanently in a top-down view, meaning you can’t see more than five feet in front of you at any point. Therefore, you will spend about 90% of the gameplay looking at the radar instead. The game gives all sorts of options for a stealthy player; you can knock on walls or throw down dirty magazines to create a distraction, if you wish. But what’s the point? The guards quickly give up the chase whenever you’re spotted. Duck behind a crate for ten seconds and they forget you exist. It’s way faster and way easier to take the Rambo route. The gameplay of MGS added up to less than three hours for me. It took me over eight to beat the game. Don’t expect any interesting levels here; “generic gray military building” sums it up. On that note, the whole game has a dull, drab look to it. If that was the developers’ intention, they succeeded all too well.

MGS would have been a lot better as an Austin Powers game. Then, the plot would have a reason to be stupid, and the preachy dialogue would’ve been ironic instead of stone-faced. As it is, the game is junk. Someone tell Kojima that movies will always be better than games at being movies. Taking control away from the player as much as possible isn’t impressive; it’s the easy way out. It’s an excellent tool for making cobwebs grow on your controller, but MGS is an exceptionally boring, self-indulgent, semi-interactive B-movie otherwise. It’s passive when it should be thrilling, it’s smug when it should be profound, and it’s clunky when it should have, you know, a non-crap control scheme. I hated this game.

Rating: 2/10

phediuk's avatar
Community review by phediuk (November 05, 2008)

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