Saturday, 22 December 2012

Metal Gear Solid (PSX)

Super Adventures at Christmas 2012 - Game 4:

Metal Gear Solid Title Screen playstation
At last, I'm playing a Metal Gear game people might actually care about! This was the third in the main franchise, released eight years after Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, but the first to really get mainstream attention, at least in the West.

Along Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and Thief: The Dark Project, this was a big part of the '98 stealth game revolution that helped establish the genre and inspire countless other games. Therefore it is DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE for all those shitty forced stealth levels that started to pop up halfway through otherwise decent action games, in the same way that Shenmue can be blamed for the curse of QTE. You opened up Pandora's box Snake!

Metal Gear Solid briefing tape
Whoa, Snake's gone blonde since the last game! Plus he's upgraded to a full action-mullet.

This is from one of the (entirely optional) briefing tapes available to watch from the menu. There's only the bare minimum of animation, so it's more like a radio play than a video, but seeing as there's 11 clips here going into detail about every aspect of the mission, I can forgive them.

But the intro gave me all the info I need to know, so I'll skip straight to the story. Actually fuck the story, I'm skipping right to the VR missions.

Metal Gear Solid VR training mission 1
Okay, the game seems to be classic Metal Gear at its core, with basically the same top-down view and stealth mechanics. I play as special forces sneaking specialist Solid Snake (not his real name), who generally has to make his way across each room without being seen by the patrols. I need to watch what the enemy does, wait for my chance to move, then make sure I stay out of their line of sight as I walk around.

This VR mode is new to the franchise though, it's a set of virtual reality tutorial missions apparently taking place in the same world as Tron. Stripped of the series' famously weird storylines, endless Codec conversations, cinematic cutscenes, and realistic setting, the basic gameplay stands up pretty well on its own. In fact I think the abstract design suits it.
But yeah I should probably start playing that other part of the game, with all the talking and the boss fights.

And then the actual game looks like this. Compared to VR training's deliberately basic graphics, these visuals haven't aged so great. Still, it looks pretty awesome for a full 3D PlayStation game. No pre-rendered backgrounds here.

Okay I've been sent to Alaska's Fox Archipelago (which is a real place!) to a secret nuclear weapons disposal facility on Shadow Moses island (which isn't) to rescue a number of hostages and prevent a nuclear strike on the US. No one mentioned blowing up any Metal Gears, but I don't think we can rule it out just yet.

I infiltrated the facility by sneaking in underwater (just like in Metal Gear 1 on the MSX) and now I need to make my way across this dock to the elevator without being seen.

Damn, I managed like three steps before alerting a guard. I think he might have heard me splashing around in that puddle. It's a very nice puddle though; I'm surprised to see actual reflection in a PlayStation game. Snake himself isn't reflected but I'm sure you could blame that on nanomachines or whatever.

Okay, my options now are to either knock the guard down, choke him to death, or run away and get shot in the back. In fact I think it's likely that whatever I do here I'm going to get shot, because these guards do not fuck around.

Fortunately these enemies can't see all that good, so if I can stay out of the vision cones marked on the radar, I should be alright.

If the alarm is triggered the enemies all run at me, guns blazing, and I need to get my ass hidden in a hurry. Which is made more difficult because the radar disappears. If I keep my head down long enough alert mode turns to evasion mode (still no radar), and then eventually back to normal. 

Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (Game Cube)
The game got a full remake released exclusively for the Game Cube (just to piss off all the people who'd been buying the games for their PlayStation or PC I guess) and it does look noticeably more advanced. It has a higher resolution, sharper textures, better lighting, and most importantly the characters are actually reflected in the puddles.

But I think it's lost a lot of the style in the process. I'm standing in the same place in both screenshots and you can see they kept the same layout, this just isn't what MGS would look like in higher definition. They've reimagined it, and I'm sorry but I can't support any adaptation of the game which does not have shiny boxes.

Also I think these soldiers have been training in the meantime, as they're now disturbingly competent and can apparently see more than a few meters in front of them. Playing both games back to back, I had way more trouble getting out of this room in this one. Plus sadly neither game will let me use the exit lift in alert mode.

Metal Gear Solid Hind D
I eventually managed to get to the lift at the back of the room and rode it up to a rocky cliff top (just like where Metal Gear 2 started), where I was rudely interrupted by another cutscene and a long Codec conversation.

Oh by the way, Snake's finally dropped that old brick of a radio he was dragging around in the first two games, and has upgraded to a stylish modern Codec device that directly stimulates the small bones of his ear.

Though that still doesn't explain how he can see the person he's talking to...

Anyway Snake is introduced to the rest of his support team hanging out back at base, as they try to figure out a way he can get inside the facility. They also run through the basics of his new Soliton Radar device, which is apparently "made from currently existing technology." Which is good, because I'd hate to be out in the field relying on a device based on tech that doesn't exist.

Here's a first person view of the heliport I have to get across. That enemy on the right was actually looking straight at me as he walked up, but he's been totally ignoring me. Either I'm still out of his vision range, or he just wants to get through the night without getting his teeth kicked out by a man voted best soldier on Earth six years running.

Sadly I can't move, attack, or do a damn thing in first person view. Snake's only comfortable sneaking around when he's staring at his feet.

Though I can get a better view by latching onto cover. The poor level designers must have set all these extra camera angles up by hand. Right now this particular camera angle is pointing towards the back of a truck, and if there's one thing I've learned from playing the earlier Metal Gears, it's to check all the trucks.

Inside I found a HK MK23 SOCOM pistol, which in any other game I'd be pretty happy about, but honestly I doubt I'll get much use out of it in this. Shooting enemies just alerts other enemies, killing enemies just summons extra enemies, and they've all got better guns than me.

I eventually made it inside the base via a vent (just like in Metal Gear 2, actually), where I was rudely interrupted yet again by another Codec call. This time it's my old buddy Master Miller (who was apparently also in Metal Gear 2 though I never spoke to him) phoning up to tell me he can give me info on Alaskan flora and fauna. Which I'm sure will be really helpful as I sneak down the metal corridors of this weapons disposal facility.

Agh, crap, don't latch onto that wall Snake, there's a bloody surveillance camera directly opposite and it's turning this way! Fortunately I managed to pull him away just in time before it set off the alarm. I wonder what the first 3D action game to include security cameras was. I feel like getting hold of a copy and punching it.

Anyway, at least I've learned that they actually label the doors in this place. In the other games I had to switch through my stack of keycards at every locked door, trying to find the one that opened it, because there was no way of knowing.

Hey the first room in the base is a tank hangar (just like in Metal Gear 1 actually... and Metal Gear 2 now that I think about it.) Seems pretty simple to get through, I just need to walk around the outer walkway, take the stairs down, and the elevator's over there on the right.

Fortunately I (eventually) learned how to open elevator doors back in Metal Gear 2, so I didn't end up embarrassing myself this time. Hey, this is the first time I've made it across a room without being seen so far; maybe I'm getting better.

I think Snake's been hiding away in the wilderness too long.

Anyway, I'm reasonably sure this isn't DARPA Chief Donald Anderson or President of ArmsTech Kenneth Baker, so unfortunately she's not on my 'hostages to rescue' list. I know one of them is down here though, I overhead a guard saying the DARPA Chief had been moved to one of these cells in the 1st floor basement. They even mentioned I could get in through this air vent, which was nice of them.

DARPA Chief Donald Anderson, I presume.

Wait... Metal Gear?!?! There's another bloody Metal Gear mech on this base? Poor Snake, he just can't escape the things. Every single mission he's ever sent on eventually ends up with him facing off against a Metal Gear.

These cutscenes are actually surprisingly decent for a PlayStation game, considering how dated the 3D is. They can't even move their tiny pixel mouths, yet the voice acting and direction brings it alive and makes it work. The game is dumping a lot of info on the player here, and seems eager to make sure they stay awake through it.

Anyway, DARPA Chief Donald Anderson just keeled over and died mid cutscene (presumably from old age considering how long it was dragging on), and now I'm trapped here in his cell because the vent I crawled in from is too high to reach. Snake really should have put more thought into this jailbreak.

Still, this isn't the first time I've had to break out of a cell in a Metal Gear game. Time to start punching the walls I guess.

Fortunately I was soon released by a mysterious soldier in an enemy uniform. The legendary Solid Snake managed to get himself caught off guard because he didn't think to look before running outside, and now he's in a stand off.

Great, now I'm wondering how this would have played out if I hadn't picked up the SOCOM. Would he have just pulled one from his ass? Oh fuck it, I'm going to reset the game and find out.

Hey, they made two versions of the cutscene! That's the kind of thing I like to see in a game. I'd rather play something short with optional content, alternate paths, and replay value than a long game that drags on past its welcome.

But then enemies barge in and ruin the moment. Now I've got no other option but to do the thing characters have been telling Snake not to do for three games: stand and fight.

First though I need to figure out how to aim this thing. Or fire it for that matter. I haven't had to use a gun yet!

Metal Gear Solid Game Over continue screen
SNAKE? SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!

Well, fuck. By the time I figured out what I was doing I was all out of health rations. Fortunately the game is merciful and restarted me in the cell, back before the soldiers arrived. Much better than reappearing back in the elevator like in the older games.


SOON.


After a nice stroll through a completely abandoned armory (all locked up for the most part I'm afraid), I reached my next opponent: Revolver Ocelot. He promises that he's going to show me why they call him "Revolver" but sadly the "Ocelot" part of his name is going to remain a mystery. At least until MGS3.

But how do you do a gunfight boss battle in a stealth game with a top down camera?

Oh, turns out I just chase him around the outside of this room, trying to get a few shots in before he turns the corner. Cutting across the middle doesn't seem like a good strategy, as there's a web of cables connected to C4 explosives, with President of ArmsTech Kenneth Baker caught in the middle.

Honestly, I think this fight's a bit crap, but at least it isn't a huge challenge. There's nothing worse that having to replay a level you didn't want to play in the first place.

Hey that's cool, I shot Ocelot enough times and his hand popped off.

Oh, turns out that a mysterious invisible cyborg ninja sliced it off with his sword. Sadly he didn't want to team up, instead he just whined a bit then ninja'd off somewhere else. But not before triggering the C4.

I'm just glad there wasn't a surprise cyber-ninja boss battle, like the one I got into while trying to rescue a hostage in Metal Gear 2.

And then President of ArmsTech Kenneth Baker goes and dies on me as well. I'm actually doing well in a game for once, and everything's still screwing up!

Well now I'm all out of people to rescue. I guess I'll go take this card key of his and see if there's anything new I can open. Hang on, I'm getting another call.

This is a bit of a despicable low-down dirty trick by the developers, making players search through every room they've unlocked for a CD case, just because they decided it'd be funny to break the fourth wall all of a sudden. Because honestly, who would think this refers to the actual game box?

Fortunately I live in the future, where everyone is taught about the MGS case Codec code about the same time that they learn how to tie their shoelaces. And there is it is, in one of the screenshots on the back, next to a couple of shots of Snake leaning against things.

Hang on, does that text on that back call this "METALGEAR SOLID"?

Then after sneaking back through around tank hangar I'm thrown straight into another boss battle, this time against a giant shaman in a tank. The game's relentless!

I'm pretty sure I'm doing this right, throwing grenades at the hatch, but I can't help but notice that it's not working. I can't be too hard on poor Snake though, it's hard to aim straight when you're being perforated by a mounted machine gun.

But the tank battle was merely a prelude for my despair. Just when I was about to point out that there hasn't actually been much stealth in this stealth game, I walked into the building where they keep all the deactivated nukes. My helpful support team decided this would be a fun time to shut off my ability to fire weapons, using the nanomachines they injected me with (which is actually a really terrifying ability for them to have). Plus if I'm spotted in here the enemy starts pumping in poisonous gas.

Unfortunately being seen is 50% of what I do in Metal Gear, so I've been having to repeat this room over and over, with no way to just shoot the bastards and run for the exit. It's making me nostalgic for those carefree days where all I had to worry about was an old man chasing me around a room with a revolver.

And after escaping that room I have to fly a remote controlled rocket through a series of rooms... while being poisoned by gas. Which is fine, okay, I love a bit of remote rocket control. But why can't the camera keep up with it? I mean look at how much space I have in front of this rocket to see what's coming up and react to it.

I've spent most of the game up to this point running around without being able to see where I'm going, that's what the radar's for. But the radar's absolutely no help here because it stays with Snake! Curse you Nikita rocket launcher, curse you!


SEVERAL FUCK UPS LATER.


Well I've finally finished with the rocket launcher and found a gas mask, but in true Metal Gear tradition I have to take it off to unlock doors. Still at least they've fixed the key cards this time around. Now I can open level 1 or 2 doors with a level 3 card, so I don't have to shuffle through my keys until I find the right one. It's fantastic.

When I first glanced at this door I thought it that it had an warning scrawled on it in blood, an ominous sign of the horrors that await me on the other side. But nope, it's just a message spray painted on by one of the scientists saying "HAL's Lab. keep out!"

Oh shit. I guess I was half right the first time. Obviously someone in this base is having a lot more fun than I am, and I'm going to go put a stop to it.

Though don't think I'm not grateful. Imagine if I had to sneak past six enemies in this corridor. Somehow I don't expect it would have worked out.

Metal Gear Solid Cyborg Ninja I've been waiting for you, Snake
Oh it's just you. The mysterious Cyborg Ninja, gone from taking on an elite soldier and cutting off him arm off to making a geeky scientist piss himself.

He's obviously not one of the terrorists, the scientist doesn't recognise him, and he's not on my team, so how did this guy even get here? Did he swim all the way to the island? Does he have his own Cyborg Ninja jet plane?

Metal Gear Solid Otacon ...It's like one of my Japanese animes...
Oh shut up Hal, don't make me regret saving your life. Though now I'm curious which one it reminds him of, because special forces vs cyber ninjas sounds like it could be worth a watch.

Anyway, the Cyborg Ninja has been marching through the base slaughtering people because... he wants to fight me. So yep it's another boss fight! By my rough calculations, that's about 1 boss for every 5 enemies I've had to sneak past.

Hey is that a Sega Saturn?

The fight against the Cyborg Ninja went a lot better than you might expect, considering he's got a sword, over twice as much health as me, can go invisible, and has just murdered six armed guards effortlessly. He can deflect bullets, but he's not so bothered about deflecting punches, so I've been trying to pick the right moment to get close and fight back.

Eventually we each had a fraction of a health bar left and he had started to use his invisibility to mock me. It could go either way, and my next move would decide the battle. Then I managed to blow myself up on my own claymore mine. GAME OVER.


I think playing the earlier games has given me a new appreciation for how good Metal Gear Solid really is, or at least how much less annoying it can be. The new 3D engine seems to have added more to the presentation than it has the gameplay, as it's still got that classic 2D sneaking at its core, but the presentation is part of what makes the game so special. It feels like a cross between an action movie, a video game and an audio drama, wrapped up in a fantastic atmospheric soundtrack. It's a flashy rollercoaster ride of plot twists and gameplay events, telling an impressively ridiculous story with a combination of self-awareness and conviction that makes it easy to get pulled along. At the same time it's more than happy to slow things down and fill in the details if you're interested, going as far as explaining little things like how the bloody card keys work. I seem to have spent as much time watching cutscenes or listening to people talk as I've spent sneaking around, and that's without even going out of my way to find extra Codec dialogue or getting the Colonel and Master Miller on the line whenever I pick up a cardboard box.

To be honest I'm not generally a fan of stealth and boss fights are my sworn arch-enemy, so I'm predisposed to despise this from the start. But somehow I just don't. Okay given the choice I'd probably rather watch someone else play it than finish it off myself, but I still love the game.

Got anything you'd like to say about Metal Gear Solid, the page full of screenshots you just scrolled through, this site you're visiting, or something else halfway relevant? You're welcome to leave a comment.

6 comments:

  1. one of the best games ever /o/

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  2. I'd have preferred it if there was more -game- to the game. But they made Special Missions and everything was okay with the world once more.

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  3. I just recently played MGS3 and MGS: Peace Walker, the first games in the chronology of the series. Going to play MG1, MG2, MGS, MGS2, and MGS4 next year. The only one I really have extensive prior experience with is MGS2. We'll see how I like them.

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  4. you forgot portable ops, it's story is in between MGS3 and Peace Walker.

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  5. You'd better review Thief: The Dark Project (I dare you!)

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    1. I probably won't be playing Thief. Though I may play Thief II...

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