Personal attachment to franchises comes and goes with the times but some have the staying power to last (sorry Sonic). Metal Gear is one of those beloved series and for good reason: they’ve all been critically acclaimed by the press and fans. This is extremely evident when these crazed fans get together to discuss the “best” Metal Gear game. Was it the iconic first step done by Metal Gear Solid? Or how about Metal Gear Solid 2‘s wacky narrative and ground-breaking attention to detail? Who could get forget Naked Snake’s torture sequence in Metal Gear Solid 3? Microwave hallway, anyone? Rather than reviewing all of the ones I’ve played, I figured I’d give my personal thoughts and experiences with each of them and how they’ve affected me, if at all.
Now just because I’m writing doesn’t mean I’ve been there from the start. In 1998, I was only in second grade and the only games that I was mature enough to handle were Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. Tekken 3 was about as violent and mature as it got for me. Metal Gear Solid and I had just missed each other by a few years. It wasn’t until Metal Gear Solid 4 had been released that made me jump into the franchise. That’s right. On June 12, 2008, I must have been the only person walking into Best Buy buying the Metal Gear Solid Essential Collection, rather than the new PS3 blockbuster title. I blame the peer pressure on the Internet.
Might as well say this now: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Metal Gear Solid
As the above story demonstrates, I was late on the original Metal Gear Solid. Not a few months, but by a damn decade. The back of my mind kept screaming that games from this era age poorly and that I would have entirely missed the boat. Look at Goldeneye on the N64. Good luck playing that single-stick mess.
Anyway, I popped in the first disc and began my journey through the snow-covered island of Shadow Moses. A few hours later, I was amazed on how absorbed I had been. Even a whole ten years later, I was completely awe struck at some of the things this game was doing. I never really got over how the faces didn’t animate or how pixelated everything was, but the strength of the story telling was great, even in today’s increasingly cinematic world. Voice acting and the mature core plot kept me engaged like no other game from that time and showed me how much of an influence this game must have been. Despite the dated combat mechanics, the boss fights were whole set piece moments capable of being impressive today. Since games more than a few years old get spoiled randomly (hey guys, Aerith dies), I had already known about Psycho Mantis’ tricks, but it was still something that was neat and has not been emulated since. That was what I took away as a whole from this game. If I’m impressed now, this game must shaken the gaming world’s very core when it had been released.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Moving on to something more modern, I moved on the the next disc in the series. Metal Gear Solid 2 almost hit the same notes as its predecessor, albeit in a slightly different way.
I must have played the Tanker level for hours on end. A level such as this was so open and with the new mechanics, I never grew tired of grabbing a guard, snapping his neck, then dumping him in the ocean. The interactivity with the environments coupled with the striking attention to detail, guard AI, and tranquilizer gun made for a drastically different, yet familiar experience that I was almost overwhelmed with. To date, the Tanker is still one of the best levels out there.
Like the Psycho Mantis boss fight, I had already been aware of the “huge twist” that Raiden was the main character. Even then, I admired Kojima’s gigantic, trolling balls to do something like this. How big of a middle finger is it when you do this sort of bait and switch? A big one, but it must have been hilarious. Snake’s peripheral role also demonstrated a different side of him, showing him as more of a influential figure. Looking back, that was a smart move, trolling or not.
Regardless of the main character, the cinematic presentation had been stepped up and with the new, shiny PS2 visuals. Just watching the game was an accomplishment. All of these positives carried me to the ending without any sort of loss in momentum. Even though the ending didn’t really make sense (I’m not sure it even does to anyone outside of Kojima), the fact that he placed so much care into it was worthy of praise.
Upon completing Metal Gear Solid 2, I was in shock. I didn’t know games could be this good, let alone ones that were seven years old. I immediately started up a new game and rushed through it again. Even though my current opinion has since waned a bit, I find MGS2 to be pivotal in the series as a whole, as it set up many of the events that would come into play in MGS4.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
After a slight break, I headed back into this Metal Gear Solid-filled summer with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (it was actually Subsistence, but stop being pretentious!). A new setting, more systems at play, and a new cast of people looked to once again reinvent the Metal Gear series, rather than just pumping out a new, similar looking one.
Traversing through the jungle was something I wasn’t used to. The jungle actually felt alive with all the critters and the new focus on surviving was a fresh breath of air.
There was just one problem: I sucked at it. Since the enemy AI had been stepped up considerably, I had found it hard to adjust and kept getting caught over and over again. The countdown timer hovers around ninety seconds minimum and having to wait that out every single time broke the pacing a bit for me. I just wanted to move on, but my lack of skill and patience was my undoing.
CQC had also been vastly enhanced and I never really got a good grip on how it worked. I’d either immediately slam a guard down, accidentally kill him, or let him go without knowing why.
That’s not to say the experience was broken as a whole; I still had a blast. When things were working, they were working. Like both games before it, sneaking was familiar but felt a different enough to remain engaging. Boss fights topped anything I’d seen previously and the self-contained story was the most compelling. The relationships between Snake, EVA (BECAUSE WE ARE SHOUTING APPARENTLY), The Boss, and the antagonists were some of the strongest I had ever seen and made for dozens of moments that were truly unforgettable. I call BS on anyone who says they didn’t well up a little at the final scene at the gravestone or feel for Snake as he knocks on hell’s doorstep multiple times. I walked away a little unsatisfied, but still had fun.
It was the dark horse to me within the series until I revisited it and finally found the gold in had inside of it. Gaining an understanding for the systems, I went back and kicked some ass, Big Boss-style. While the game is no cake walk, I began to swim through the depths of the mechanics and came out exponentially more satisfied than the few previous games. Currently, out of these three games, I feel like this one has aged the best and is the most playable today. I just finished it about a week ago on the Vita and I still could not get enough of it. This is a telltale sign of a true classic and the golden standard for creating valuable characters and memorable moments within a game.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Finally! My hard work had led to this. Metal Gear Solid 4‘s hype had already came and went by the time I had actually gotten to it, but it allowed for a fresher take uninfluenced by the passengers on the hype train.
I had heard that the controls had been changed which startled me at first. I had been accustomed to the franchise’s different control scheme for a couple months now and change wasn’t a thing that I had in mind. It took me about an hour to realize that they were even different because of how natural and current they were. Pressing L1 to aim and R1 to shoot just felt right.
Pushing these controls into a new generation meant less awkwardness and left more moves to Snake’s disposal. Sticking to walls only happened voluntarily along with crawling and a few other moves. Some feared (and still do) that these differences would force the stealthy nature out of MGS in favor of action, but it only made each pillar better. Sneaking had been given more depth, but it didn’t ostracize players who just wanted to run around and act like an ass.
Controls aside, everything else in MGS4 astonished the hell out of me. While it may have since been dethroned, MGS4 was the best looking game I had seen at the time with little to stand by it besides the original Uncharted. The staggering, unbridled attention to detail, the lip-synced dialogue, explosive moments, and just sheer fidelity of the visuals made this game a tasty everlasting treat for the eyes. The many, many brilliantly done cutscenes sure showed that off with techniques that should make any game developer out there jealous.
All of this was wrapped into a package that had the incredibly daunting task of tying up the many, sometimes convoluted loose ends the series had been churning out for the past decade. Most developers would fold at such a feat. Look at BioWare. Even though they are a top notch studio, Mass Effect 3‘s ending wasn’t what players were looking for. Somehow Kojima did it and did it in a way that went beyond fan service and stepped into the realm of great story telling. Everyone’s fate had been sealed by the credits and done so in a way that was surprisingly not cheap.
While revisiting Shadow Moses sent shivers up my spine and was easily one of the best moments in my gaming history, the final act is probably the reason of why I push this out as my favorite game in the series. The utter hopelessness that draws near of seeing Liquid succeed mixed in with Snake’s many sacrifices made for something that glued me to the couch until I had seen all of it. Witnessing Snake nearly getting burned alive and crawling his way to hell was something that made me feel for a character almost unlike anything I had ever seen.
Every moment kept getting topped by the last and this was kept up to the last boss fight. Each of the fights in this game ranked within the best in the franchise, but this one went above that. The way the nostalgia flooded in, from the HUD to the music to the dynamic mannerisms of Liquid, blending the cinematic presentation of the fight and actual playable parts phenomenally well. The “final” scene showing Snake finishing his goal and finally earning his due rest lifted weight off my shoulders and I, along with Snake, could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I was incredibly hot, a little sweaty, and completely emotionally drained by this whole series of events that had preceded the credits.
Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
While every other game on here has had unrelenting praise thrown around like confetti, this one may not have the same fate. I had spent months tracking down this game with no success. Just on the cusp of giving up, I found a used copy at a faraway Gamestop and snagged it while I had the chance. It was the same Metal Gear based in the MGS3 universe, but with a portable twist. Missions were more bite sized and collecting soldiers became a better way to pass the time than actually playing it most of the time.
Yep, you read that right. The game wasn’t bad, but the controls were abysmal because of some of the smaller, limiting environments. I sunk many hours into this game but could never shake the feeling that I was playing with my feet. Glimpses of a cool game showed, but it was severely limited by the PSP’s hardware and suffered for it. I recall having good moments peppered throughout my playtime with it, but the main takeaway I always returned to was the crappy controls.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
My PSP had been pretty barren as of late and a Metal Gear would be a fitting game to end my drought. I had no disdain from the last outing and I had been pretty stoked for a new MGS game regardless of what hardware it was on. I was there on day one, downloading every precious megabyte off the PSN store.
I was blown away from the visuals and the presentation as a whole. Not only did it look great, but it didn’t control like I was wearing mittens. It wasn’t perfect, but it was designed around its shortcomings and made for a good stealth game on the go with some of the advancements that MGS4 had made. The RPG elements of collecting a squad and upgrading your equipment ensured that I spent many hours playing. And I did. To date, I’ve sunk eighty hours into it and would love to go back to the many, many missions available. The PSP had some great games, but this was easily the best of the bunch and is worthy of the Metal Gear Solid name.
I have fond memories of the franchise and hope to create more, even if the franchise is at an odd crossroads. There hasn’t been a main game in the series in four years and, besides Metal Gear Rising: Revengence, nothing has even been announced. Revengence looks flashy and I hope it actually turns out great, but I’m clamoring for a new, more traditional Metal Gear. Standards are high as games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Batman: Arkham City have raised the bar for the stealth genre and I hope Kojima can keep up with today’s market. Although, to be honest, he’s proven his brilliance multiple times and has even said they might be an inspiration for MGS5.
Here’s to more Metal Gear in the coming years!