My first experience playing as Solid Snake was with Metal Gear Solid (MGS) on the PS1 back in 1998. Relatively new to gaming, all I had on my trusty grey console was a copy of Driver and Mission: Impossible (who didn’t want to recreate dodging lasers in the CIA server room heist?). I visited a friends house, and he was one of those kids that had a EVERY game off the store shelf. I certainly need to learn the trick of how he talked his parents around every time. That life regret aside, he fired up a copy of MGS, and let me watch him play the opening levels (nice kid, too). I went home unimpressed. It must have been a few weeks later when I managed to scavenge sofa debris and trouser pockets for some loose change, so I could top up my pocket money and buy a demo disc magazine. Behold, there was a demo of Metal Gear Solid on it and I realised my friend did not know how to play this game at all. It was more than just taking a terrorist hostage, strangling him by tapping square and doing a cool diving roll after. This was a change in video gaming, it was shift from being a mindless game of Pong or a shoot ’em up. This was a shift in the art form of story telling and it was presented in a totally different medium.
The sheer scale of MGS was unprecedented; this was a hollywood action movie in the form of a video game. There was no quick 30 second cutscene render bookending the game to tick the ‘story’ box. Hideo Kojima thought like a film director, and filled the void with gameplay. The team at Konami replicated the movement of a film camera, throwing static angles out of the window and replacing it with pans and shaky-cams to heighten the pace. It was the first time I saw real-time cutscene rendering; so rather than a heavily rendered movie file, the cutscene were recorded in the real-time game engine, which had a seamless effect. So much effort went into the “script”. Yes, it’s B-movie dialogue with a rogue’s gallery more outlandish than that of a 007 villain (even crossing over into the supernatural realm). However, the stakes were high and the plot just kept escalating. For example, in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty, what you thought was the main story on the tanker actually turned out to be just the prologue. The story and plot are in fact unbelievably engrossing which blurs the line between classifying it a game or a film. Hell, it even has James Newton Howard (of Batman Begins/The Dark Knight fame) on composing duties! This is the James Bond of video games.
Solid Snake himself is a classic war-torn and expendable action hero who sacrifices everything for his country, and isn’t bothered about the zero recognition after. He’s a pastiche of Hollywood characters such as Snake Plissken (Escape From New York), Kyle Reece (The Terminator) and Rambo (First Blood). The man’s home is the battlefield and (unfortunately) doesn’t know how to live any other way. It’s the tragic nature of the character that makes the player feel the tension that much more during the action sequences. Because the player cares. The supporting characters are great too (well, Raiden is 50/50) and have 3D emotions. Who doesn’t always root for Hal’s happiness as well?! The thing that I don’t like with current AAA titles is the stereotypical and plain characters. Take the Assassin’s Creed franchise; the historian of Desmond’s crew is British and the tech-guru is a skater/cyberpunk who always wears headphone cans (WHEREVER they go). It’s like Jessica Biel’s character in Blade III with the iPod playlists/shamefully obvious product placement.
The “tactical espionage action” has remained consistent throughout, perfectly balancing the stealth and rewarding players with big action sections. There’s a tonne of equipment and weapons to source from lockers, boxes or enemy NPCs, creating a multitude of attack options. Similar to Hitman, there’s the option to go noisy 90% of the time. However, once discovered by enemy patrols, you have to remain hidden until the alarm levels decrease. These are big, mysterious and remote industrial facilities that you are infiltrating, and it’s quite satisfying when it all goes to plan! There are games out there that are probably better at action and stealth respectively, but none that can blend the two so perfectly.
For me, the Metal Gear series goes from strength to strength and I’m very excited about Ground Zeroes (whether it’s released in 2013 or 14, who knows). I’ve not really followed the spin-off titles such as MGS Portable Ops, but they appear to have been very successful. Each title ends on one epic note after the next, but somehow Hideo Kojima manages to still surprise. The only downside is that I lose a weekend every time that they’re released!