It's hard to believe it's been thirteen years since the original Metal Gear Solid first graced our PlayStations. With the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection coming out in just a couple short months, I figured there's never been a better time to revisit the original PSOne masterpiece. Since my hard copy has long been redeemed for GameStop credit (in fact, our local GameStop may have still been FuncoLand at that point), I downloaded the PSN version and gave it a whirl. So how does the game hold up after over a decade?
Surprisingly well, actually.
Of course, there are several issues that arise due to the fact that video games have evolved so much since 1998. For one, obviously the graphics don't hold up. The polygon count is laughably low, making characters look jagged and blocky. And the textures are so low-res they'd make Minecraft blush.
But when playing a PSOne game, you really can't expect the visuals to match up with current gen titles, and this is easily overlooked. More important than how it looks, though, is how it "feels." Back in 1998, MGS felt great, and for the most part, it still does. The controls are certainly responsive, and as completely bizarre as it seems in retrospect, holding the circle button to aim and releasing it to fire actually works somehow, so it's not all that hard to get used to.
However, from a modern perspective, the camera is hard to get used to. The visibility we've come to expect from third-person cover-based systems is simply absent. Several times, I found myself hitting the right control stick, expecting the camera to move only to be frustrated when it didn't respond. Once again, this is a flaw that should be expected from any game of this era. Polygons and 3D environments were pretty new in the gaming world at that point. The third-person adjustable camera simply hadn't been perfected yet. In fact, Super Mario 64 had implemented its famous Lakitu camera system just a couple years earlier, and this felt completely revolutionary at the time (though reviewers tended to have mixed feelings about it).
A couple more things should be mentioned about the camera system in MGS. First of all, holding the triangle button allows you to switch to a first-person perspective. This is quite a bit more awkward than modern camera systems, but it helps to alleviate some of the frustrations of low visibility and some counterintuitive camera angles. More importantly, though, is the Soliton Radar, which shows an overhead view of your environment, even displaying enemies' fields of vision. MGS conditions the player to use both the main screen and this Soliton Radar in tandem, and the truly expert player will spend as much time looking at dots on the radar as at the 3D environment. It's almost as if the developers knew the camera was awkward and gave players tools to compensate for this.
Yet, as much as Metal Gear Solid was a product of its time, it managed to do a lot that was completely revolutionary. In fact, some of the things you'll encounter in the game still feel unique and interesting today. For example, there's one point in the game where you'll be captured and spend time in a cell. Your guard has a cold, and takes some medicine which makes him drowsy. Sure enough, he falls asleep, giving you a chance to hide under your bed. When he comes to, he thinks you have escaped and opens the door to inspect the cell. You can take out the guard and get a card key that allows you to get out. However, the one downside of taking out this sick guard is that you might end up catching his cold, and in a game that is so focused on stealth, the occasional sneeze can completely blow your cover. You need to find some medication as soon as possible to alleviate your symptoms.
That entire scene is creative, fun, and to this day, hasn't really been copied. Playing through it even now feels fresh and innovative.
Even more innovative, though, are the boss fights—especially the Psycho Mantis fight. This is the guy who moves your controller across the floor with his mind, reads your memory card to see which games you've recently played, and tells you what sort of player you are based on how often you've saved and how many times you've died. This is the closest a game character has been able to come to actually reading our minds, and it makes for an incredible experience.
And then there's the love story aspect. In a game that lasts only 10-15 hours at most, it feels a bit strange for Solid Snake and Meryl to fall in love so quickly. However, the game does make up for the rapidness of this by offering several philosophical contemplations of what it means to "find love on the battlefield." Even so, it's a bit hard to deny that this love story is a bit corny and cliché.
But there's a second, more subtle tale of romance, and that's Otacon's unrequited love for Sniper Wolf. Where the Snake/Meryl relationship is a fairly shallow ordeal, the Otacon/Sniper Wolf relationship is complex and unexpected. It could have been delved into a little further, but it adds a layer of depth that actually enhances the emotional impact of the story. Especially after Sniper Wolf shoots Meryl and sets her sights (both metaphorically and literally) on Snake. Snake has to kill her, and Otacon has to give him the intel by which to do this, all the while claiming she's a good person while Snake thirsts for revenge. It's this giant mess of a situation, involving some tough decisions and providing some insight into the mentality of the "bad guys."
And that is one thing that MGS does right above all else: it has a fantastic story. Sure, it breaks the fourth wall as often as it possibly can, and the cutscenes have a tendency to be obnoxiously long (some of these last 30-45 minutes), but it offers a satisfying story filled with emotional gravity, philosophical musings, deeply fleshed-out characters, and unexpected plot twists.
The bottom line: Metal Gear Solid is definitely worth a revisit. The camera feels pretty awkward at first, but this is compensated for with a great overhead radar and the ability to momentarily switch to first-person perspective. It takes a bit of skill, but MGS gives its players all the tools needed to make its outdated camera system still manage to be fully functional.
Metal Gear Solid was a unique gem in its time, and to this date, remains almost as innovative and surprising an experience as it did thirteen years ago.
CCC Editor/Contributing Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*