We’ve got a good one for you folks. Fifteen years ago to the day, Hideo Kojima’s seminal third person stealth action game Metal Gear Solid was released exclusively for the Sony PlayStation. Published by Konami and written by Kojima and Tomokazu Fukushima, Metal Gear Solid is the third title in Kojima’s Metal Gear series, and the first game of the series to transition to 3D graphics, allowing for a more cinematic experience than the first two titles–Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2— which were both 8-Bit games.
Set in the year 2005, Metal Gear Solid centers on the exploits of Solid Snake, a highly trained soldier who specializes in espionage. Snake is sent to a remote island within Alaska’s Fox Archipelago (code named “Shadow Moses”) to investigate a terrorist plot carried out by members of FOXHOUND, Snake’s former unit. Led by Liquid Snake, FOXHOUND (along with its biologically enhanced genome army) has taken refuge in a nuclear weapons disposal facility, holding DARPA Chief Donald Anderson and president of ArmsTech Kenneth Baker as hostages. FOXHOUND demands that the remains of legendary soldier Big Boss be given to them in 24 hours or they will use the bipedal tank Metal Gear Rex to launch a nuclear weapon.
Metal Gear Solid was one of the biggest releases for the PlayStation, earning acclaim from critics and gamers alike. The game sold six million copies during its run, and received high marks from critics, earning many near perfect or perfect ratings. In 1998, the game received the Excellence Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival. Last year, TIME named it as of the top 100 games of all time and it was featured (along with Metal Gear Solid 2) in the Smithsonian American Museum of Art’s exhibition The Art of Video Games.
Metal Gear Solid eventually became a series in itself, with several sequels and spin-offs being released over the years. The first game has seen re-release on several systems, including the Game Boy Color, Windows PC, and Gamecube. Digital versions of the game have been made available for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable.
In celebration of Metal Gear Solid‘s fifteen year anniversary, we’ll look at the top fifteen things I love about the game. For those who haven’t played or completed MGS, know that this post contains some spoilers. If you’re fine with that, read on.
15. The intro
When MGS debuted back in 1998, video gaming was beginning to fully embrace the 3D graphics movement, allowing for more cinematic gaming experiences than before. Being the movie fan that he is, Kojima embraced 3D graphics to create an experience that can best be described as playing through a high budget action film.
Even now, it’s still stirring to hear the dialogue between Snake and Col. Roy Campbell as Snake prepares to enter Shadow Moses. Furthermore, it makes me appreciate the work of David Hayter, who was the American voice actor for Snake for over a decade. That role now goes to Kiefer Sutherland, who should fit right in after playing Jack Bauer in the TV series 24.
14. Entering Shadow Moses Island for the first time
Before MGS, I (and perhaps many other gamers) wasn’t used to playing a game in which your primary method of survival was to stay hidden. The first time I entered the weapons disposal facility I had chills all over me. The score, the ambiance, and the whole digital environment were all so compelling I had to pause the game just to settle my nerves.
13. Calling Meryl
If there’s one Kojima has been known for as a video game designer, it’s his knack for innovation. At one point in the game, players are tasked with calling rookie soldier Meryl Silverburgh with the Codec. It seems simple enough, but you’re not initially told what her number is, only that you should contact her.
Got the digits!
If you call Col. Campbell, however, he’ll tell you to look on the back of the MGS case, where you’ll see a shot of the Codec screen showing Snake and Meryl during a call. The number “140.15” is seen on the Codec, and “Meryl” is typed just below that number. The light bulb suddenly turns on inside your dome, and you realize you’re looking at Meryl’s Codec number. Genius.
12. Death of the DARPA Chief
This is one of those disturbing moments in video gaming that just won’t leave my brain.
Snake and the DARPA Chief Anderson are having a chat about spy stuff when suddenly, Anderson yelps and begins to tremble as a horrid gurgling sound emits from his innards. Anderson begins to severely convulse, shaking as though he might rip apart from the inside. An instant later, he unleashes a blood curdling scream, hand clutching his chest as his digital heart gives out.
It was all so crazy it was somewhat comic. Didn’t stop me from shivering myself to sleep that night, though.
11. The backtrack
During the encounter with boss Sniper Wolf, you find yourself enmeshed in a sniper battle after Wolf wounds Meryl and uses her as bait to lure out Snake. Unfortunately for Snake, he has no way to retaliate because he doesn’t have a sniper rifle. Defenseless, the only way to proceed is to go backwards; you have to retrace your steps and get to an armory to find a sniper rifle. Of course, this is all easier said than done. First off, you’ll again have to deal with the dogs in the cavernous area just outside of where Wolf is hiding, and then you’ll have to deal with laser trip wires and the guards protecting the armory. Fun times.
The first time I got to this scenario, I swore that was enough. Those wolves terrified me, and I didn’t want to deal with them again. I later manned up and got through it, but I’ll never forget how initially surprised and frustrated I was about the task.
10. Torture sequence
During the game, Snake gets captured by the Russian gunfighter Revolver Ocelot, who places Snake in a device that delivers electric shocks. Ocelot informs Snake that to regain his health, he must repeatedly press the Circle button and if he wishes to submit, he can press select.
This is a brilliant sequence in which Ocelot is made to break the fourth wall, acknowledging that Snake is in a video game, while maintaining the stakes of Snake’s “reality” as a captive soldier. Perhaps the best part about this moment is Ocelot’s admonishment against using “auto-fire” (a common feature on many advanced controllers) with the words “I’ll know.” The very idea that a video game character could know anything about something outside of the game is wild in itself, and Kojima and crew played that notion perfectly.
9. “Rookie eyes”
First impressions can go a long way, and in the case of Snake’s first encounter with a disguised Meryl, it probably went a few miles.
Snake first encounters Meryl after the DARPA Chief dies. Thinking that Snake is an enemy, Meryl holds him at gunpoint and attempts to intimidate him. Bad idea.
In a speech worthy of an action movie, Snake intimidates Meryl, asking her if she’s ever shot anyone and telling her she has the eyes of a rookie. The proverbial tables now turned, Meryl begins to shake as the war weary Snake shows her the value of experience.
Otacon (short for Otaku Convention) is the nickname of Dr. Hal Emmerich, the brilliant but skittish engineer who becomes an ally of Snake’s. Otacon is first seen as he is trying to hide from the Ninja (more on him later), after the latter has sliced through a gang of genome soldiers.
Upon seeing the Ninja, Otacon is understandably terrified, and woefully wets his pants. When Snake intervenes, Otacon becomes even more confused, and utters the now classic line “It’s like one of my Japanese animes!”
Otacon is no warrior, but he’s surprisingly brave and undoubtedly sincere. He later risks his life to help Snake, and shares a heartbreaking scene with Sniper Wolf later on. One of MGS‘s finest.
7. The Game Over screen
Earlier this year, I did a compilation of all the MGS “Game Over” screens to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Snake. The MGS games have become famous for their melodramatics when Snake dies, which usually consists of one of Snake’s colleagues frantically yelling “Snaaaaaaaaake” at the top of their lungs. MGS was the first game to introduce this type of game over screen to the Metal Gear series, and it has been a staple of the games ever since.
6. Tank fight
Anyone who has played a Kojima game knows to expect some plot twists and turns, but even for him it was a stretch to go from sneaking around to fighting a tank.
MGS wasn’t the first time I had fought a tank in a video game. That experience came in ljn’s The Punisher for the NES. In that game I at least had extra lives, but that wasn’t the case in MGS. Snake is pit against Vulcan Raven and his massive M1 tank, and takes all of your wits and mobility to avoid getting blasted. Of course, this being an MGS things get crazier later on, but boy wasn’t this a change of pace.
5. Encounters with the Ninja
Ninja are awesome. That’s just a basic fact of life.
In a game with such an emphasis on stealth, a ninja wouldn’t be out of place, even if (or perhaps especially if) nuclear warfare is involved. Kojima must have thought this through because the Ninja of MGS is about as stealthy, deadly, and eerie as they come in a video game.
In appropriate ninja fashion, the first time the Ninja appears you don’t actually see him. He shows up during the initial gunfight with Ocelot and stealthily chops off the Russian’s right hand while using a device called “stealth camouflage” to remain hidden. Only after Ocelot flees does the Ninja deactivate his camouflage, revealing himself to be a slender figure in a blue and orange colored cybernetic suit.
The Ninja’s most iconic appearance is his first battle with Snake, which happens right in front of poor Otacon.
During the course of MGS‘s story and each appearance is more spectacular than the last. To reveal any more would ruin the fun, but he’s one of the best characters in the game.
4. The ending
Sometimes after having a great start, it’s hard to finish strong. Fortunately, MGS doesn’t have that problem.
The final movements for MGS are exhilarating, and will likely keep your heart racing. From the fight with Liquid as he pilots Metal Gear Rex to the shootout with Liquid in a jeep, there are great action sequences leading up to a thoughtful (albeit somewhat homiletic) and powerful conclusion.
3. The death of Sniper Wolf
For much of her time in the game, Sniper Wolf is portrayed as a cold and ruthless killer, which she is. As you later learn, things are more complicated than that.
Upon defeating Wolf, she reveals some of her past to you. A woman of Kurdish descent, Wolf says she was born and raised on the battlefield. Much of her youth was spent just trying to survive as her people were hunted. As she grew older, she went from hunted to hunter, becoming a sniper under the guidance of a man named Saladin (believed to be Big Boss). Even with her ability to protect herself as a soldier, peace eluded her. It didn’t come until Snake, a warrior himself, ended her life.
The death of Sniper Wolf was one of the few times I was affected by a game. It actually made me think about the consequences of war, and what it does to human beings. Sometimes that’s a lesson that seems to be taught too few times in media. Last thing I expected was to be taught while holding a controller.
2. Psycho Mantis boss fight
Let me be frank: this is one of the best battles ever.
Well? Do you?
In a normal game, a boss has a discernible pattern which, depending on several factors (the game, difficulty) may be easy or difficult to read. Few titles, should they even attempt to place you against a psionic soldier, would actually make you think that character could actually read your mind. With Mantis, that’s exactly what happens.
First, he claims he can “read your mind” and proves it by telling you what video games you like. What he’s actually doing is reading your memory card to see if you have any Konami games on it. For example, if you have Castlevania: Symphony of the Night save data on your memory card, Mantis might remark about it.
Second, Mantis claims he’ll look deeper into your soul, commenting on your in-game actions. If you have been spotted a lot Mantis might call you reckless, but if you’ve been quiet, he’ll speak on that.
Third, he makes your controller move. That’s right; he says he’ll make your controller move by his will, so he activates the rumble feature on the Dual Shock controller. Gimmicky? You could say that. Freakishly innovative? Definitely.
On top of all that, your main method of beating Mantis is to unplug your controller from the Controller 1 port and place it into the Controller 2 port in order to prevent Mantis from “reading” your mind (though an alternate method is available). This battle was crazy then and is crazy still. It’s no wonder that in 2008, the Guinness World Book of Records awarded this battle with the “Most Innovative Use of a Game Controller” record.
1. The cardboard box
U can’t see me!
Were you the type of kid who, when she or she received a gift that came in a big box, you played around with the box? I was one of those kids, and I often turned a cardboard box into anything I could imagine, whether it was Maverick’s F-14 fighter jet or an Indy Car. Imaging myself as an elite solider in a cardboard box during a top secret mission scarcely crossed my mind, but thankfully it crossed Kojima’s enough that he put it in a game.
The first time I found the cardboard box in MGS, I was elated because I had read about it in some gaming magazines. Nothing in MGS, not the boss battles, the plot twists, or the gunplay compared to sneaking around a nuclear weapons facility in that box. It seemed completely absurd to be a deadly soldier scurrying in a box, but it made sense within the game’s context (the box does hide you). In a way, it was like being a toddler all over again.
Here’s to fifteen great years of a great video game and a great series! Until next time.
Peace & Pixels