|Title||:||Metal Gear Solid|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
It was Game of the Show at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. It's been highly anticipated since it was announced as reality a few years ago, after several years of wishful thinking. Metal Gear Solid, Konami's blockbuster PlayStation title, has finally coalesced, and succeeds not only as a game, but as a cinematic experience.
The series began on the original 8-bit Nintendo. It followed soldier-spy Solid Snake, as he infiltrated the country Outer Heaven, which was developing the Metal Gear, a standing tank with nuclear capabilities. The game was a hit, with intrigue, an involving storyline, and Zelda-like exploration and item acquisition. Metal Gear enjoyed a sequel on that system a few years later, but Snake has not been heard from since — until now.
Snake's former unit, FOX-HOUND, has taken control of an Alaskan nuclear disposal site, and is threatening the world unless their demands are met. Only one of their own has any chance of getting into the base unnoticed and foiling their plans.
The storyline which develops from here sells the game. Snake will encounter a complicated cast of characters full of secrets, surprises, and lies, among both the enemy and his own comrades. Unexpected twists develop at every turn. Metal Gear is based in a realistic near future, with bases in, references to, and stock footage from World War II, the Gulf War, and other events.
Gamers who played through the original Metal Gears long ago will find old friends and enemies reappearing — sometimes in name only, sometimes more – and will appreciate the intrigue that has taken a decade to weave. They will also notice that Metal Gear Solid retains the feel of the original series, having not suffered for the leap to 32-bit.
Newcomers can read old mission logs to catch up; most background is explained during the plot development anyway.
Enemy AI is also a plus. They're smart enough to follow footprints in the snow, inspect the source of odd sounds, and remain on alert even after Snake has gone into hiding. Few of these details come into play often, though.
Audio plays a large factor in the game. Dialogues occur regularly between Snake and the rest of the cast, be they face-to-face or via radio. The voice acting, unlike many other games (such as Resident Evil), is quite good. The first thing you should do is disable the captions, for dramatic effect.
The music also adds depth and life to the story. Be it a hostile confrontation, a startling revelation, or a abrupt discovery, the mood is augmented with the proper soundtrack.
The graphics are dark but detailed. From slaughtered bodies to new weaponry, a realistic feel envelops the game. The camera angles are fixed for optimal viewing pleasure, switching when proper or scrolling to follow Snake's exploits.
The control is not terribly complicated. The biggest points are learning to scroll through the inventories, and the difference between Action & Shoot, neither of which take much getting used to. Oddly, Snake cannot jump, or shoot while crouching or crawling, but these are minor points. Snake can grab a soldier by the throat and use him as a shield, break his neck, or flip him to the ground, but cannot kick him while he's down. A VR Training mode allows him to practice these skills. The game is noticeably enhanced when played with a shock-capable controller.
The bosses are unique, and the obstacles and pitfalls many. Continues and saves are regular, but expect to die frequently, and rehash many scenes until they're done just right. FOX-HOUND isn't giving up with a fight!
Metal Gear is a two-disc game, and takes about 10 hours for an expert gamer to finish. It's extremely easy to miss many finer details the first time through; this and other incentives exist for multiple replays.
Metal Gear is scripted better than most movies. Plot development usually occurs in ten-minute blocks, creating a dramatic atmosphere without killing the excitement of action. It's a solid package that's as much a game as it is an experience, and should not be missed.
This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 02-Nov-98