I’m not sure what I can say about Metal Gear Solid that hasn’t already been said. The masterpiece created by Hideo Kojima in 1998 has been detailed and dissected thousands of times. Two decades later, the game holds a special place in many hearts, including my own.
The first time I encountered Metal Gear Solid was through the surprisingly fun demo version of the game at my friend’s house. While the PlayStation demo disc had other games, Metal Gear Solid was the easy standout. The demo featured Snake on his quest to find the kidnapped DARPA chief. It was the perfect amount of gameplay and story to hook anyone.
I was a late PlayStation adopter. By the time I had my own console, Metal Gear Solid was already one of PlayStation’s “Greatest Hits”, which is a fancy way of marketing the cheaper re-release of a game. It was an easy first game for my fancy new gaming system.
Metal Gear Solid takes itself seriously, except for when it doesn’t. Yes, Snake is embroiled in a nuclear fueled espionage mission with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. He’s also being taught to climb ladders using the Action button and hiding in cardboard boxes. In many ways, Metal Gear Solid is very aware of just how ridiculous everything is and doesn’t mind poking fun at that.
And Metal Gear Solid can get pretty silly. Some of these things are juvenile, like being able to catch Meryl in her underwear if you sprint to the bathroom quickly enough1. And then there are other leaps in logic, such as the genetically modified soldiers not being able to see more than 10 feet in front of them.
I appreciated that such a serious game could take a few moments for comic relief, because it was so different than any other game out there. And these moments were done in a way that adds flavor to the game, not in a way demeaning of it’s greater world.
The overall structure of Metal Gear Solid is unique as well. There are clear settings and act breaks for each portion of the game 2. Yet there are many times when you must redo previous portions of the game, backtracking to go forward. And then there are times where you feel the game designers are merely torturing you. Like taking an excruciating long and boring elevator ride. Or having you backtrack to the beginning of the game to find a sniper rifle. Or having an actual torture scene in which you can’t use save points.
One of the things that I love about Metal Gear Solid is one of the things it is best known for: breaking the fourth wall. While there are a few simple “ha-ha we are a video game” moments, many of the breaking moments are incredibly inventive. Psycho Mantis can read people’s minds, including your memory card. To beat him, you have to physically switch your controller to the Player 2 port. This stuff blew me away as a kid. To get a specific codec frequency, you had to look at the back of the actual video game case, because it is used in a screenshot. I can’t tell you how many times I meticulously examined my inventory items in-game before I realized I was meant to examine the CD case sitting next to me.
Metal Gear Solid is an incredibly deep game, but it’s also an incredibly fun game as well. My friend and I were obsessed with it, trying to see how quickly and efficiently we could beat the game. How often could we avoid being detected by guards? Could we play without dying? The stealth genre provided a challenge that was downright joyful to play over and over.
Through brute force, my friend and I completed the game on Extreme difficulty. What we learned is that “Extreme” means reloading save points a million times. Enemies kill you almost instantly. You do minimal damage to bosses while they deal unbelievable amounts to you. It was touch and go, with the first encounter with Gray Fox being exceptionally difficult, but we eventually did it. Our only true reward was bragging rights, bragging rights to no one.
20 years later, Metal Gear Solid is still a great game. You could make some minor qualms about game mechanics that are 20 years old, but it’s hard to argue the genius of the end-product. It’s sequels are amazing games as well, but I don’t think any game will ever live up to how I feel about the original. Metal Gear Solid is perfect.