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Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) artwork

Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) review

"This alleged PSX "classic" has been ravaged by the years, made totally irrelevant in less than a decade. Even when Metal Gear Solid first hit, consensus was it was "too easy" and contained "too little gameplay"; even though either of those things could kill your garden-variety stealth adventure, most of the overwhelming praise was directed towards its storytelling, rather than actual content. Leave it to rock star game designer Hideo Kojima to make the first interactive spy/romance..."

This alleged PSX "classic" has been ravaged by the years, made totally irrelevant in less than a decade. Even when Metal Gear Solid first hit, consensus was it was "too easy" and contained "too little gameplay"; even though either of those things could kill your garden-variety stealth adventure, most of the overwhelming praise was directed towards its storytelling, rather than actual content. Leave it to rock star game designer Hideo Kojima to make the first interactive spy/romance novel and sell it as "Tactical Espionage Action". If Snatcher was his version of Blade Runner, this is like an idiotic conglomeration of all of Tom Clancy's novels mixed with a healthy dose of LSD. Ironically, Tom Clancy and Ubisoft would completely bury the Metal Gear series in a very short time.

Solid is a direct sequel to the two Metal Gear games released in 1987 and 1990 for the MSX computer system in Japan. The first title was given horrid treatment Stateside on the NES and the sequel wasn't even localized at all. Helpfully there is a brief summary of Solid Snake's previous ridiculous adventures, which Kojima treats as if they were passages from the Good Book (which he penned). Analysis of these two scenarios reveals that he enjoys creating games that start off normally but become shittier as more and more outrageous plot twists are arbitrarily thrown out until everything congeals in an epically improbable fist fight. Metal Gear is also the name of a bipedal nuclear strike platform (also known as a "mech") meant for use by the US military but always stolen by terrorists, a series mainstay. That and special unit FOX-HOUND, which uses tax dollars to assign cute animal code names to special forces operatives with skills too outrageous for the CIA or Delta Force. Some FOX-HOUND operatives have taken over a military base and Snake's the only man who can take 'em down. Snake has previously destroyed two incarnations of Metal Gear along with committing fratricide and blowing up fellow op Grey Fox in a minefield, so he's got the experience necessary.

What does a walking battle tank have to do with cute animals seizing control of an Alaskan nuclear weapons facility? Obviously everything. Snake doesn't know about this when Colonel Trautman Campbell lures him out of retirement, pumps his veins full of nanotechnology, and loads him in a torpedo tube without so much as a friendly slap on the ass. Something's up, but someone as "legendary" as Snake is all too willing to be sent practically naked into this occupied military installation by a group of people with questionable motives. Well, it wouldn't be the first time he's been duped and forced into epic fist fights. Something is motivating him... possibly love. It certainly motivates everyone else he comes across in this bizarre odyssey.

The romance angle isn't subtext here, it's right out in the freaking open. But you wouldn't know starting out. After an actual opening credits sequence with some lovely Gaelic singing (?!) Snake surfaces and breaks for land in his SCUBA suit, crouching behind the first of many metal crates you will come across. Two guards patrolling the port, which is practically a maze around metal shipping containers, a cargo elevator at the end. Simple for this legendary stealth expert -- but no, the first thing he does is hop on the Codec (a multiple-frequency radio somehow hidden in his ear canal) and ask Campbell to hold his hand through this tricky situation. That he does, also demolishing the fourth wall in the very first conversation of the game. "Press X to crawl!" as if getting caught behind that first waist-high pipe would frustrate someone enough to quit playing.

This is the same reasoning behind including this newfangled high-tech "Soliton Radar System" which lets you know exactly where your enemies are and which way they're looking, represented by a blue cone in front of a dot. Apparently these super-advanced Genome Soldiers guarding the place in their snow camo can only see six feet in front of their faces with no peripheral vision to speak of. No long-term memory either. When they even suspect a foreign presence they'll grunt "HUH?" and slowly plod over to check out the area. Put one in a chokehold, drop him and hide behind your metal crate or behind a convenient forklift right next to the elevator doors. He and his comrade will abandon their search after losing sight of you for a minute, during which your radar becomes unusable. That's fine because you can scan the area in first person, only if you're stationary and only to look -- it took another three years of evolution for Snake to shoot in first person, justifying the GameCube remake The Twin Snakes.

Anyway, if you're not a total idiot you've managed to get into the elevator without getting seen. As a reward you now get to watch Snake stripping with several loving closeups of his abs and the weird straps over his buttocks. It is here when the Metal Gear Solid logo pops up (along with a loving vibration from your Dual Shock) that we start to see Kojima-san's obvious aspirations and creepy attachment to Solid Snake. He wants to be a filmmaker first and a game designer (a distant) second, and the PlayStation's 3D renderings and in-game cutscenes have made it possible for him to put in as many flashy camera moves and Hollywood editing tricks to totally blow your mind. Even if it means holding a character's face in close-up (to make the graphical limitations painfully apparent) so we see the lack of lip movement or eyes or expressions. For the most part, things look better the further away you are from them which is why he situates his camera so high above Snake for most of the actual gameplay.

In the first expansive outdoor area, the heliport, things are a little trickier. Now there are four guards instead of two -- a 100% increase in manpower! Medical fox Naomi Hunter advises him it's all well and good to stay outside, he's been shot full of all sorts of shit even though his health bar is about the size of the nail on his pinky finger. Chinese jailbait techie Mei Ling teaches him how to sneak around cameras and save his game. Good thing Snake's got a couple extra slots open on his memory card! Snake, of course, hits on both of them before revealing that he smuggled a pack of cigarettes "in his stomach", meaning he either puked it up after landing or successfully passed it through his ascending colon. Popping a handy self-lighting cig in his mouth not only makes laser beams visible, it chews away at Snake's health. Five minutes is enough to finish a real-life cigarette, and enough to kill the legendary Solid Snake in MGS, prematurely sending you to the overdramatic GAME OVER screen. "Snake? Oh, God, Snake! Snake?? SNAAAAAAAKKE???!!!!" Campbell practically starts bawling when his pet goes unresponsive for more than two minutes.

Use one of your infinite continues to start over at the heliport. This time both routes are made perfectly obvious as Snake whips out his binoculars for you and tells Campbell exactly what he's gonna do. Either follow rugged outdoorsman Master Miller's advice and pursue the delicious rats as they scurry through the predictably man-sized air ducts, or climb up the stairs past a huge and slow pivoting camera and into a predictably man-sized air duct. Well, there's no bones about what Snake's gonna end up slithering through. The guards on the right side patrol past their metal shipping crates but in what Kojima claims to be "brilliant AI", they'll notice any footprints you leave behind in the snow. And they'll make sure you notice that they notice. "HUH? WHOSE FOOTPRINTS ARE THESE??" The Genome Soldier (allegedly a superintelligent clone of Big Boss, Snake's dad) plods over, follows the prints for a bit, all the while staring directly at the ground, before deciding there's no viable threat. The AI is as mechanical as clockwork. Their responses are very similar if you knock against a wall. 10 seconds to eliminate any possibilities of an intruder's presence.

This makes things even easier for Snake despite his alleged skill. While crawling through the ducts, he eavesdrops on two guards loudly conversing about moving the captured DARPA Chief to his cell. He also passes humble Genome Johnny Sasaki who has eaten too much Jack in the Box and acquired severe diarrhea, somehow mistaking it for a common cold and blaming it on the harsh climate of Alaska. The one genuinely funny moment in a game reeking with forced pathos and painful attempts at "humor". After the first of several mysterious heart attacks claims the life of the token black character, the DARPA Chief, we are supposed to be intrigued, especially after the Chief utters several vague sentence fragments before perishing. But it's forced and is merely the first plot convolution.

At least the character designers achieve a small triumph with friendly hostage Meryl, notable only for having the first animated 3D ass wiggle. She meets Snake after making Johnny Sasaki do a Goatse impression, then they kill a whole bunch of guards together, which is where the gunplay first rears its overlarge and lopsided head. Aiming is only possible by holding the fire button, and should you want to fire quickly Snake won't have enough time to aim and he'll waste bullets. God forbid you ever need to run while shooting because that involves such unnatural controls, one is inclined to assume Konami wanted to discourage people from doing it. Anyway, headshots are impossible; Snake only aims for the chest like he's in a John Woo movie, only he's unable to move or perform dodges. Not only is combat awkward to be in, it looks even more fucking awkward. Snake's .45 is as powerful as a BB gun, and enemies must be shot 3 to 4 times before falling and disappearing. Looting or hiding corpses is not even a possibility.

Meryl, being a girl and conveniently related to Campbell, becomes the crux of your mission, and also loves to talk about her feelings over the Codec. Yes, this is a terrorist incident with the fate of the free world at stake, but we can put things on hold for a bit so Snake can make more snipes about your lack of battlefield experience. Kojima obviously watched a lot of 80s espionage thrillers as "research", and bought hundreds of LEGO sets in order to construct the painfully drab and prosaic indoor levels. It seems every other room is a maze through metal packing crates, or hallways surrounding perfectly square-shaped rooms. Of course like any secret military installation, there are trap doors in some hallways falling into bottomless pits. Your tax dollars at work! The first FOX-HOUND boss, Revolver Ocelot, has another hostage, the president of Arms-Tech, tied to a girder on top of several pounds of pure plastique. Cross any of the tripwires and it's game over. This boss fight is classic; Ocelot plugs away at you with his six-shooter while running around the hostage. His bullets ricochet and yours don't, so everything comes down to timing and whose trigger finger is fastest.

Naturally, after being shot eight times in the back, Ocelot is "just getting warmed up", but out comes a cyborg ninja to steal your thunder in a most hilarious way, earning the game's M-rating in the process. The ninja doesn't even want to try Snake yet, blinking out after eyeing you up and down once. Another heart attack later, Snake jumps on the Codec demanding to know just what in tarnation is going on! You can't know yet, not until Disc 2, but in no way does it involve duplicity on behalf of the US Government. Knowing full well the plot has already derailed like Amtrak Snake is sent to fetch another hostage, Hal Emmerich, the designer of Metal Gear himself, a nerd who has a PlayStation in his lab and is obsessed with Kojima's Policenauts and the Manhattan Project. Who else would design something so evil?

By this point you've mastered how to harness the idiotic "AI" to your advantage and blown up a tank for good measure. You're introduced to the half-naked Raven, a walking reference to Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, who knows of Snake's exploits and longs to be alone with him on the battlefield, just for five minutes, that's all he asks. "He fights like a demon!!" Raven says as if speaking of Kratos from God of War. All Snake did was throw a few grenades down the open hatch, but the lonely Inuit is obviously smitten and longing for contact outside of his flock of birds. His machine gun is predictably huge and he spends lots of time maintaining it in his freezing underground hideout. Alone. Until he cries himself to sleep with freezing tears encrusted on his cheeks, dreaming of Snake...

Moving on, Snake comes across a hallway full of vivisectioned Genome Soldiers, blood literally soaking the walls. It could only be... yes, it is! Our friend the cyborg ninja! In a mysterious and more-or-less "badass" fashion, he heads into Emmerich's lab, silently beckoning Snake to follow. Well, you have no choice as the linear path does not branch off at any point, all the way through to the final set piece in Metal Gear's lair. Here begins the most homoerotic boss battle seen since Ai Choaniki. The ninja rules "slappers only" and you must beat him around as he cartwheels through panes of glass and into computer mainframes. "That's good, Snake!" he chides, but obviously not good enough. Now random teleportation is thrown into his patterns. "Hurt me MORE!!" he demands. A few haymakers later and now this ninja means business. "More! MORE!!" Now he's sending invisible shockwaves into the air, flinging you backwards should you get too close. But he is inexorably drawn to Snake until a final flurry of punches causes him to shoot off streaming loads of electricity, his energy concentrating to a point until he vanishes after a final, prolonged full-body battlefield orgasm.

This gay ninja isn't the only character obsessed with finding love on the battlefield. Emmerich (who insists you call him Otacon after the Otaku Convention) has a crush on Kurdish lass Sniper Wolf, even going so far as to feed her flock of wolves. After monologuing for about 20 minutes (seriously) you ditch this fool and take out telepath Psycho Mantis, a specialist in mindfuckery and gamefuckery. His boss fight would be seriously awesome if you didn't have to switch controller inputs in order to land an attack. But it is probably the highlight of the game next to the final Metal Gear battle; inside an executive suite, he uses telekinesis to hurl pictures, busts and office furniture at you, all the while teleporting randomly and making "hoo, hoo, hah, hah" noises like a medicine man pulling chicken guts out of a gullible patient. All the shit around the office gets damaged as you plug away at Mantis, if only at chest level. But, predictably, he dies and has a soliloquy for you and Meryl, telling his entire life story and then helping you advance towards the confrontation with Sniper Wolf. Then there's another Codec conversation with the ground crew telling them everything that just fucking happened.

If it is not apparent by now, there's a lot of talking in this game. More talking than killing by a wide margin. Also transparent ploys to extend gameplay time by forcing backtracking, like when you have to go back nearly to the very beginning of the damn game just to get a sniper rifle to fight back against Wolf. After a brief bit of action there's some more cutscenes, Snake's captured like a chump, there's some homoerotic torture, there's a lot of talking about feelings and guilt over the trusty old Codec. This is the masterful storytelling that won so many gamers' hearts and minds during the dark late-90s period of PlayStation rule over the console wars. The boss battles are the only times when the game picks up; there are usually multiple ways to defeat any boss, even though the only "reward" for doing so is to listen to a Shakespearean-in-magnitude death monologue. As if Wolf would be able to talk after soaking up 10 direct hits from heat-seeking Stinger missiles. As if Otacon would emerge from the aether just in time to watch Snake dramatically pick up his .45 for the mercy kill shot, then look away bawling as the report rings louder than a 60mm flak cannon. Give me a break. There are at least ten gallons of tears shed for every gallon of blood in MGS.

As for the (competently told) travesty of a tale Kojima spins like a regular Rumpelstiltskin, guess what dramatic revelations are behind the identity of terrorist leader Liquid Snake? You already know even if you're one of the few who haven't played this. The final confrontation involves a plot twist that basically concedes that the terrorists were bluffing the whole time and their efforts to kill Snake would have screwed them over should they have succeeded. Meaning that they had to pretend to be trying to kill him while secretly helping him if this makes any sense whatsoever. Metal Gear Rex looks pretty badass even today, even though Kojima's storytelling is at its poorest when Super Big Brother Ninja appears out of the aether and tries to bring down the mech with his fucking sword, before ending up pinned against the wall. Snake's got a clear shot at Liquid in the pilot's seat through the viewfinder of the Stinger launcher, but "It's no good! I can't do it!!" So you must listen to the whole unskippable stupid conversation they have before Liquid deigns to end it. The tale of the ninja ends, the ludicrous endgame is just beginning.

Liquid is blonde, British and defiantly homosexual -- everything Snake is not. After soaking up ten Stinger missiles to the chest, he's still just fine, and to prove it he strips his shirt off for your pleasure, and demands you have a pure, man-to-man fist fight atop Metal Gear's corpse! Liquid's toplessness highlights the blockiness of the character models but the super-serious tone and camera tricks and music are combining in force, trying their damndest to convince you that this isn't the most ridiculous thing you've ever witnessed.

Several homoerotic boss confrontations, hours upon hours of self-important speech, stock footage and preachy messages about disarming nukes, in service of a story about a man killing his gay twin brother with a fucking virus. If you lasted through the torture you at least get Meryl at the end, even though Snake does not say one affectionate thing to her other than "you've got a great butt!" leaving Snake's sexual identity up in the air. Unless you gave up during the torture in which case you definitely lose your manhood and ride off into the sunset with Otacon clinging to your bulging chest, never letting go.

Somehow, Kojima would top himself several times over with the sequel.

johnny_cairo's avatar
Community review by johnny_cairo (July 06, 2007)

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