Over on Twitch I am going through a personal mission to beat every mainline Metal Gear game on stream. It is something I tried to do five years ago in the lead up to The Phantom Pain but due to a few issues (capture card dying, personal life was super good etc) I was never able to do it. This year I am confident that I will do it, mainly because I have decided to make sub goals that extend my time limit. LIFE HACK. I’ll also be reviewing every game I play – even the side games that I may only play a couple of hours of – and obviously we gotta start where it all began. That’s right we’re reviewing Hideo Kojima’s baby years! Wait, I’m just being handed a note here – apparently we do not have time to witness Kojima’s entire life for this review so I’m just going to have to begin with the original Metal Gear instead. Oh well…
Metal Gear made its debut in 1987 for MSX computers in Japan and Europe. It would get a port – with some changes – to the NES later that year and released in 1988 in the US. We’ll be looking at the NES port another day. Metal Gear is an overhead action stealth game where the focus is on trying to avoid combat where necessary while infiltrating a military based called Outer Heaven. You are Solid Snake, a rookie within covert group FOXHOUND. You are supported over the radio by a team including your commanding officer Big Boss, members of the Outer Heaven resistance Schneider, Diane and Jennifer. You have two goals – the first is to rescue Grey Fox, a FOXHOUND member who has been captured. After that your true goal is revealed – to destroy Metal Gear.
Metal Gear is a bipedal walking nuclear tank, the idea that it’s bipedal ability will allow it to launch a nuke from just about anywhere. Outer Heaven is a military state, completely autonomous from any one country in the world but situated near Galzburg, South Africa. Outer Heaven is led by a legendary mercenary that you only learn the true identity of at the end of the game, who could be? (it’s obviously Diane)
As Solid Snake you must infiltrate your way through the militaristic environments that Outer Heaven has to offer. You’ll see a bunch of patrolling guards and you can either avoid their gaze or fight them. You will eventually be given a fair arsenal of weapons to tackle your enemies with but your most powerful weapon will be your fists. Fisting guards to death is a silent way to take them out whereas your weapons are loud as heck. These weapons include a remote control missile, grenade launcher, plastic explosive, pistol, submachine gun and of course, your fists.
If you are caught by a guard you will enter an alert phase which is this game’s way of saying you’re about to have a whole squad of guards coming to get your ass. Or, at least, as many guards as the MSX can handle. Which is, like, four. But they’ll respawn a few guards if you decide to take them down before your mass murder thins them out enough to cancel the alert phase. You can also just run – alerts carry through some rooms but there are ‘safe’ rooms where guards will never follow you, such as prisoner rooms.
Ah yes, prisoners. Throughout the game you will bump into tied up prisoners of war, these people resisted the Outer Heaven uprising and are now paying the price by having to wait in a room until Solid Snake comes to rescue them. It is important that you rescue these people too as they affect your Rank. You start off at one star but for every five people you rescue you gain a rank. Each rank allows you to carry more items and ammunition – this is important. The maximum is rank four and you cannot beat the game if you drop below rank four. You can lose rank if you kill a POW which isn’t likely except for the Coward/Dirty Duck fight who hides behind POWs to bait you into accidentally shooting them.
There is a door that can only be unlocked by talking to Jennifer who only talks to you if you are rank four but also you cannot destroy Metal Gear as it requires 16 plastic explosives to defeat it. If you are rank three you can only carry a maximum of 15. Hence the issue. Also the Metal Gear boss fight is one of the dumbest fights in the entire series as you have to memorise an order of where you have to place the C4 on either MG’s right or left legs. Then you have to guess which leg gets the final explosive. Luckily you can either write down the combo or just look it up online but if I was a child in the pre-internet days and I didn’t have a pen or paper handy I’d be in trouble because my memory is terrible and that’s why Sonic Adventure is a good game wait what was I talking about again?
The bosses in Metal Gear cover a fair range but a lot of fights can be beaten in one of two ways. If you have enough rations – a healing item that automatically activates when you die – you can just brute force your way through their attacks to shoot them dead, most are pretty easy to drop. The fights against vehicles are a little different though as they can cause a ton of damage all at once. Luckily for some fights like the Hind D fight you can find yourself a little corner where it can’t attack you as you pepper it with lovely spice grenades.
So you destroy Metal Gear, defeat the secret leader of Outer Heaven (Diane, as discussed previously) and hightail it out of there before Outer Heaven self destructs. You get an ominous message from SOMEBODY warning Snake that they’re not dead yet as the game ends.
Metal Gear is fine, even 33 years after it’s launch I think it’s still a decent game. The game is simple enough so that it remains somewhat timeless but it starts to falter when it adds some of the 1980s game design choices to add traps and extend the game longer than it probably should. In addition to guards there are a few other traps to either gate off progress – like how you cannot go through the scorpion filled desert without a compass, or you can’t move forward on the roof of building one because of a strong gust of wind blowing you back so you need a bomb blast suit. The sequel does more of this (the owl…) but this game is guilty of it too.
Worst still are the sudden pitfall traps that appear out of nowhere and with no warning. Once you know it’s there it’s easy to avoid but it’s such a beginner’s trap that is designed to kill you and impede your progress without being an actual obstacle to overcome – you just have to remember it’s there and move quickly and/or avoid it’s path. If Solid Snake’s little toe even touches the expanding square of death, he’s dead. It’s annoying more than challenging. Same with the bulldozer mini boss which if you’re not expecting it good news you’ve already lost the fight. You need to go in and immediately plaster it with grenades and if your timing if off good news you’ve lost the fight. It’s not hard and the fight lasts ten seconds whether you beat it or not, but it’s just annoying.
Playing this one after playing the Solid games was an experience, in particular with the card keys. There are eight card keys and locked doors are only opened by their specific card key. Unlike in Solids 1 & 2, where if you are given a level 3 card key it works on level 1 and 2 doors as well, you have to use the right card on the right door. Issue: you cannot see what number card each door needs meaning again you have to memorise or otherwise guess. This isn’t actually that much of a bother in most cases – it’s fairly easy to guess what card key works on what door but in the cases where you have no idea it means going through the inventory upwards of eight times trying each card until you get the right one. It’s another case of it not adding a challenge but just adding a minor obstacle that completely grounds your momentum to a halt thus artificially extending the game.
The game controls nicely – limited to what you’d expect out of a late-80s game but I never really had an issue with the controls messing things up for me and honestly it felt good in places. It’s satisfying to get through a room and systematically fist all the enemies to death (or avoid them completely). The game is generous enough with items that even someone as bad I am at the game can get through it – and even if you are struggling in a specific room, the game will take pity on you and completely refill your inventory (I don’t know if this is only a thing in the PS2-onwards editions but it happened twice because there is one map that just kicked my ass, and then it happened during the Metal Gear fight which was an ordeal).
*SPOILERS FOR METAL GEAR HERE*
The game doesn’t have a big plot within the game but the inevitable betrayal of Big Boss (sorry for the Diane slander from earlier, I was lying) is entertaining when you recontextualise everything Big Boss does throughout the game. Big Boss supports you throughout the game through the radio but he’s actually pretty useless. The first sign of this is when you first enter the gas room. Gas rooms will slowly drain your health away. Big Boss will call you to be all like “oh man, sorry Snake, totally slipped my mind, gas will kill you. Find a gas mask!”. This might seem like shoddy game design at first but then when you realise that Big Boss is actively wanting you to fail (since he’s in charge of Outer Heaven) you start to realise that it’s a little foreshadowing for future events.
They pull this trick a few times, and each time it would require the player to go backtracking through the facility to get an item they’ve missed if they’re not actively looking for it. Big Boss’ motive was to send Solid Snake as a rookie so he’s fail and thus preserve Outer Heaven as a nuclear threat and independent nation. Instead, Solid Snake proves himself to be an exceptional agent (in canon, not when I play as him) and so Big Boss has no choice but to reveal himself and try to kill Solid Snake before Outer Heaven explodes. Instead Snake kills BB and saves the day. With a limited amount of story the game manages to make Big Boss a fun villain by having him give shoddy advice for most of the game to try and trick you into failing. By the end he even tells you to turn off your Playstation 3 console (he’s the fool though since I was playing it on a PS4!).
*NO MORE SPOILERS*
Metal Gear is a decently fun game with some aging issues that is unavoidable, but don’t detract too much from the overall game. It’s a blueprint on which the entire series would eventually be built upon and it is a fun look at the origins on what is my favourite game series of all time. The basics are here but Metal Gear 2 and beyond would add to this formula to eventually create the series that would help bring stealth action and cinematic experienced to video gaming. Metal Gear is worth playing for fans of the series, though I doubt any modern player would get a lot out of this game as their first MG game. Overall though, I have fun with this game despite the occasional scream of frustration.
FINAL SCORE –