It can’t be…
If there was ever an illustrious career in the world of gaming, it would be flagship auteur Hideo Kojima’s. This gentleman was among the first cinematic storytellers of our beloved medium, and he set the hitherto idle bar so damn high that even today, most games fail to capture the ingenious cinematic flare of beloved classic Metal Gear Solid (1998); although you might be shocked to find out that Kojima wasn’t always a gaming superstar, and that his life in the industry has such humble and experimental beginnings that perhaps no one back in the day one would have expected a game like MGS to come out of the same mind that created the 1987 original, Metal Gear.
Dumping All the Exposition at the Start: How It All Began
Of course, every major artistic force starts out with baby steps. Before garnering such high regard and this positive a reputation with the 1998 game and its many great sequels, Kojima was making games for the never-released-outside-of-Japan computer, the MSX2. He started out in 1986 in Konami, making some crappy penguin games or something and getting his ideas shut down by more experienced members of the Konami crew, until one day he was told to take over an action game project named Metal Gear as lead director.
Kojima was an inexperienced, but still decently innovative designer already by 1987; remember that one crappy penguin game I mentioned like a single paragraph ago? Well that game was called Penguin Adventure. It was actually the sequel to the much crappier Antarctic Adventure, and Kojima’s fresh ideas as assistant director were arguably the main source of the sequel’s less-crappiness, and he was allowed shortly after to put his creative flair to use with Metal Gear.
Even before he started this would-have-been isometric shooter, Kojima was frustrated by the MSX’s limited capabilities in regards to things like colour palette and memory. The latter frustration, in fact, meant that Kojima couldn’t fit as many enemies as he wanted onto the screen at once, so being the genius that he is, decided to create one of the first stealth games ever — and thus was born Metal Gear.
A perfect start to a Metal Gear game, don’t you think?
So Close, Yet So Far
If we were to list the main traits of the Metal Gear Solid games, they would be: Stealth, cool boss battles, political struggles, complex characters, flashy cinematics, open-ended gameplay, downright obsessive attention to detail and tonnes of expository dialogue.
Because of the extreme technical limitations of its time, Metal Gear only provides the first 2 traits out of the 8 I managed to come up with, and needless to say, it doesn’t feel incredibly familiar when it comes to writing and narrative design.
With that being said, many a Metal Gear Solid fan will feel right at home when it comes to the presentation and even some of the gameplay. We still play as the beloved Solid Snake, get ordered around by our commanding officer (in this case, the famed big bad of the series, Big Boss) who calls us through the frequency of 120.85, and have a support team of people out to help us in our mission, which involves sneaking around an enemy fortress (outer heaven) and destroying “Metal Gear, the final weapon!”
The door-opening keycards are still here (though they’re v ery annoying to use and weren’t designed very elegantly whatever won’t go into detail who cares), the cardboard box is still here, the rations and weapons are still here and for the most part, the level design is still there! Lovers of the franchise can now relive the joy of going somewhere because they felt like it and ending up randomly finding a crucial item like the gas mask or the pistol! They can hide behind containers and tanks, get close to guards while they aren’t looking and take them out with a few punches to the face! Add to that the inherent charm of a product as old and weary as an 8-bit computer game and you have yourself a highly enjoyable time waster!
What’s more, the boss battles are thematically quite close to the Solid games. I mean sure, there’s no organized evil gang of consistently-themed individuals with pasts, thoughts, hopes and dreams, but they still involve soldiers with specific gimmicks, heavily armoured vehicles which you defeat with explosive weapons and, of course, the Metal Gear and finally – gasp – Big Boss himself, who reveals himself as the guy behind this whole Outer Heaven business all along!
The disappointing thing about these boss fights is, although they’re pretty interesting – and some of them even innovative -, most of them can be cheezed through with a single supreme strategy, which more often than not involves standing in the same spot for the entire fight while chucking explosives at the boss (the homing missiles, mostly). Not to mention the fact that if you mess up the fight with the brilliantly named Coward Duck and kill one of the hostages that he hides behind, the game puts you in a position where you aren’t able to get the damage boost necessary to defeat Metal Gear. Seriously, right at the end, the game becomes unbeatable. I mean, sure, being severely penalized for killing a hostage is fine in a game involving espionage, but this penalty isn’t telegraphed in any way prior to the fight! A resistance member named Jennifer calls you up on the radio and tells you not to kill her brother, sure, but the consequences for killing a hostage in this fight are much more dire than what she says will happen (she says that she “won’t help you,” which is… whatever, man).
Love It or Hate It, Have to Respect It
Metal Gear may not even contain half the things we love about the series today, and it may not be the most brilliantly designed game to come out of the 8-bit era, but this game holds more historical and contextual value than perhaps any game out there. Metal Gear was the start of many things: Hideo Kojima’s excellent career, the popularization of the stealth genre and, most importantly, the series whose games would go on to revolutionize the world of gaming as we know it and touch the hearts and minds of millions upon millions of kids, teens and adults, sometimes even a beacon of hope and a reminding of what games can be and what they can do for people.
So… Uh… Let’s see how Metal Gear Survive plays out, eh? Oh boy…