Metal Gear Solid ('98 Week)

Surprise!

In 1995, I purchased a Sega CD from my cousin. With it came a forgettable sampler, an overly-punitive shooter, and two decent games: Sonic CD and Lunar: The Silver Star. Despite my investment, the Sega CD never became a mainstay console for me. I purchased it on a whim because I didn’t want to see it tossed into a dust bin. But the games that came out of this great experiment never really gripped me.

What it did do was introduce me to a world of audio that made the rich compositions of the SNES sound as primitive as the Bloops from Pong. The sweet R&B vocals behind Sonic CD’s theme song, “Sonic Boom”, were as crisp as anything from my parents’ Hi-Fi stereo. The heavy orchestral tracks that formed Lunar’s incidental music punctuated the 16-bit world with joy, immediacy and sorrow. The Sega CD brought stereo into my bedroom, made me realize how a few words could transform my gaming experience, and made me dream of music that was not created on a chip, but in front of an orchestra . Most of all, it helped bring the spoken word into gaming.

Metal Gear Solid takes all of these expectations and shatters them completely. It is the absolute apex of gaming as a scripted sonic medium, and a milestone in the development of the games I play.

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It seems odd to be typing this about a game in the Metal Gear series, of all things. In the NES era, Metal Gear was synonymous with horribly translated Engrish and confusingly non-linear gameplay. The series protagonist, Solid Snake, was little more than a generic commando. And the idea of stopping a rogue terrorist organization may have had a bit more weight in the 8-bit days, but seems like an action movie cliché to players of today. In the intervening years, though, the series found some novel legs.

Snake is still fighting against terrorist cells, but the ideas his enemies stand for are grander than just world domination. Snake’s antagonists come to represent fundamental ideas that shape war. They question love born of suffering, insight (or perhaps insanity) as found through unique gifts, and hatred derived from perceived inadequacy. These individuals become more than just obstacles to overcome. They portray the kind of complex compromises, equivocations, and circumstances that create enemies. The end effect is that you sympathize with the characters, even as you’re pumping them full of tracer rounds.
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Likewise, the game concerns itself with more than just a preoccupation with stopping the forces of evil. There are heady, longwinded sections dealing with the history of strategic arms reduction pacts, the implications of genetic engineering, and the specter of atomic war. Despite feeling like a one-man army, the player is continuously reminded that war is not a game. Instead of glamorizing the soldier, he is seen as a cog in an ever-complex, uncaring system. Solid Snake is portrayed as an unwilling accomplice: a man venerated for his steel resolve, but left spiritually empty thanks to years on the battlefield. War is not seen as an avenue through which mankind can gain security, but rather as an organism that serves to propagate misery. In its most extreme incarnation, it is able to rob the individual of his humanity.

And while I gush over the content pushed out by the game’s story, the force of the game’s narrative isn’t in what it communicates but in how it communicates.
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Metal Gear Solid features extensive use of high quality, professional voice acting. I don’t mean this in the sense that pivotal moments of the game are expressed through dialogue, or only that cut-scenes feature spoken components to help move things along. Instead, virtually every interaction with a character includes masterfully directed voice talent. It’s such an obvious progression from the awe that I felt at listening to my Sega CD that it’s hard to believe it took this long for production values to catch up to ambition. As a result, Metal Gear Solid delivers a cinematic feel that is completely unrivaled by current games.

Ironically, the bulk of the dialogue found in the game occurs in radio calls to other characters. The visuals here are mostly still graphics. The result is more “radio drama” than live action tet-a-tet, but the static pictures can’t be faulted too much, given the sheer amount of talking that is to be found. Honestly, it’s hard to play an hour of MGS and then go back to the sterile quiet of an RPG. There’s no longer an excuse to shy away from voice acting. Metal Gear Solid has not only proven it feasible, it’s set the standards.

Kudos should be given to Solid Snake’s voice actor, a man by the name of David Hayter, as he carries the game on his gruff vocal chords. There isn’t amazing range to be found in Hayter’s performance, but what is there is an earnestness and professionalism that keeps the sometimes stilted dialogue from flopping in “master of unlocking”-esque mediocrity. His mannerisms and devotion to the character are part of the magic here.
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At the beginning of the decade, I was enamored by the possibility of experiencing a full-motion video game. The prospect of a live, controllable movie seemed to be the way of the future. Now, as I prepare to face the close of the decade, I’m less interested in capturing reality and more in wonder of the way established media forms are finding their way into my entertainment. It seems that games are fated not to become movies, but to draw upon the strengths of cinema, literature and visual arts provide well-polished stories. Provided the games are still fun, I’m all for it.

Metal Gear Solid stands at the vanguard of this new age. If it is any indication of how the new millennium will play out, I may find myself spending more time listening to my games than watching them.

Comments

Man, this game is so awesome. I bet in 10 years we'll still be talking about it and how it's affected gaming as a whole. I hope they release a sequel soon, because I can't wait for more Solid Snake!

I still have my Sega CD! And it still works!! Sonic CD, Lunar: The Silver Star, Eternal Champions, and Earthworm Jim: Special Edition are some of the greatest games ever (within their respective genres), yet Metal Gear Solid trumps them all. I only hope they don't make sequels with over-the-top action and choreography-- while one man against a tank is pretty far-fetched, at least he's not backflip-kicking rockets away and some such nonsense.

Prank-calling Mei-Ling for the win.

trueheart78 wrote:

Man, this game is so awesome. I bet in 10 years we'll still be talking about it and how it's affected gaming as a whole. I hope they release a sequel soon, because I can't wait for more Solid Snake!

I sure hope they don't change characters on us, because that would be dumb and stupid!

I'm no good at gamepad controls. I couldn't get past the big stairwell. >_<

Was the overly-punitive shooter Sol Feace? I played that game to death on my Sega CD.

Speaking without irony from 2010 (I know, I'm a funcrusher plus) the quote that stands out for me is this one:

It seems that games are fated not to become movies, but to draw upon the strengths of cinema, literature and visual arts [to] provide well-polished stories.

It's interesting that this should come up in a discussion of Metal Gear Solid because as the series has worn on it's faced criticism from some for not being cinematic enough. I know that the games get slagged for having a lot of cut scenes (and I can't help but think that's the ironic reference you were trying to make here), but Kojima has also clung stubbornly to the videogame roots of the series.

The game's mechanical systems are on full display and aren't hidden behind the more seamless, cinematic solutions used in other games. For example, consider that alerted enemies still get little exclamation marks over their heads in Metal Gear Solid 4 when other stealth games like the Splinter Cell series use audio cues to indicate the same thing. Likewise, the game's voice actors refer openly to what buttons you need to press to perform actions rather than relying on on-screen prompts to relay that information.

While the rest of the industry seems focused on making games that do away with gamey elements like health bars, item pickups, and HUDs, the Metal Gear Solid series has done a better job, in some ways, of integrating cinema, literature, and the visual arts into honest gameplay experiences.

This game probably had the second-best 4th Wall breaking moments behind...

Spoiler:

...Batman: Arkham Asylum. At least if you were playing it on a 360 you just got back from Microsoft after your last one bricked.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

Was the overly-punitive shooter Sol Feace? I played that game to death on my Sega CD.

Bingo. That was another decent example of strong narration in a game. The opening intro that details the rogue AI (or whatever 80s trope they were using) was voiced very well.

The character cut scenes, however, were crap crap crap.

I also would have accepted Sylpheed.

The only overly-punitive shooter I played on the SCD was Robo Aleste. Man that thing was vicious! I think I made it to level 2 a few times early on and then never, ever again.

Great piece on a great game. MGS really opened console gaming for me. As a long-time PC player, it felt just alien, and something I obsessed over, even playing it on a PC (with the horrible controls).

Meryl's hot.

I still have vivid memories of the first time I fought Psycho Mantis.

I didn't play this game until 2008, but even by the standards at that point, I still classify this game as a masterpiece.

I clearly remember saying, after seeing Lunar the Silver Star, that home gaming wasn't going to get much better than this.

I thought they had peaked. I was real young and 3d games were unheard of. It wasn't even a concept I could conceive or being of any use at all for videogames in my mind. 3d animations were extremely rare and ugly.

The only limit we'll see in our lifetime is probably due to budget more than technology. That's my new opinion on where it's going to end now hehe

interstate78 wrote:

I clearly remember saying, after seeing Lunar the Silver Star, that home gaming wasn't going to get much better than this.

I thought they had peaked. I was real young and 3d games were unheard of. It wasn't even a concept I could conceive or being of any use at all for videogames in my mind. 3d animations were extremely rare and ugly.

The only limit we'll see in our lifetime is probably due to budget more than technology. That's my new opinion on where it's going to end now hehe

Sounds like someone forgot just how awesome flight sims used to be.

Also, MechWarrior was 1989.