The year 1998 was an epic one for video gamers across the world – few years before or since have seen the release of so many high-quality titles, many of which have gone on to become focus pieces for journalists and inspiration for developers generations after their initial release. One such game is the Playstation blockbuster hit, Metal Gear Solid.
Developed by Konami and helmed by Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid represents that fusion of gameplay and cinema in a heretofore unaccomplished fashion. Unlike Resident Evil, which successfully brought the world of B-Cinema horror movies to consoles, Metal Gear Solid was the first truly cinematic experience, a game that attempted to ape Hollywood in many ways but which never lost sight of its role as a game, introducing gameplay concepts that can be found throughout gaming today.
In many ways, Metal Gear Solid’s rise was both anticipated and somewhat unexpected – after existing in a rapidly shifting development environment, which saw the game switch from the failed 3DO console to the Playstation One, Metal Gear Solid also underwent a change in format from a top-down, overhead view to the immersive 3D experience we now know. Metal Gear Solid was even teased during the development of Kojima’s other game, Policenauts, which also stars Metal Gear Solid fan-favorite Meryl.
Policenauts represents the peak of Kojima’s cinema story games, his most memorable being Snatcher, a game heavily inspired by Blade Runner and the Terminator. While Policenauts and Snatcher were action-light excursions, Metal Gear Solid was going to be just as cinematic but incredibly action oriented at the same time.
But a kind of action players may not have expected: Rather than simply running through each stage and killing everything in sight, Snake has to utilize stealth and his full arsenal of high-tech weaponry to avoid detection as much as possible.
Snake can be easily overwhelmed in this game, introducing a human vulnerability rarely seen in titles like this and adding that element of tension often found in the movies. While we know the hero is capable, will he actually make it through? Of course, the added element of it depending on our own ability to see him through makes the experience that much richer and more involving than other action games and demonstrates that games can do Hollywood in ways that they cannot imagine.
Speaking of a richer, more involving experience, Metal Gear Solid’s influences are worn proudly on its sleeves, but the gameplay it inspired in later games is not often readily noticed. If you’ve ever played a game that broke down the fourth wall between you and the virtual world, then you’ve touched upon an element of Metal Gear Solid that was done in an extremely effective way.
Ask anyone who has played the game about the Psycho Mantis experience and he will agree that this is a period in the game when Kojima’s innovation and Konami’s daring combined to produce something completely unique. Games like Eternal Darkness with its sanity meter imitate this one aspect of Metal Gear Solid and turn it into a whole gaming experience. Ever had your memory card read through while playing a game? Or have a game pretend to erase your save files? These are the kinds of fourth-wall-breaking mechanics that Metal Gear Solid brought to the fore.
If you’ve ever had a stealth experience with an overhead monitor showing you enemy positions, you’ve played something in the spirit of Metal Gear Solid. If you’ve ever encountered a highly-stylized world with off-the-wall characters and a bonkers plot involving everything from science fiction to US political history, you can thank Metal Gear Solid again for delivering that concept to the world.
The game places you in control of Solid Snake, a Snake Pliskin type character that has to navigate Shadow Moses Island, home to a nuclear-armed Metal Gear. As the game progresses the player is increasingly introduced to a more complex, convoluted world than upon first appearance, and the game’s engine and masterful voice acting help sell this the whole time.
We could wax poetic about Metal Gear Solid’s gameplay, but others have done that and at lengths we wouldn’t dare. What we would like to discuss is how this game has influenced other games and what influenced it. Eurogamer calls Metal Gear Solid the first modern video game, and in many ways that moniker remains one of the most accurate descriptions for the title to be found anywhere. It was the first game to make the world stage its setting in a way that was immediate and familiar but not so familiar as to be boring or unengaging. Like an excellent Hollywood blockbuster, Metal Gear Solid sells itself best when it revels in its element – a hyped up spy thriller through the lens of a Japanese producer enamored with 1980s US action movies.
Kojima was inspired by films like Guns of Navarone and Planet of the Apes, as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Full Metal Jacket. As mentioned above, the character of Solid Snake hearkens back to the gritty, tough-as-nails star of Escape from New York, Snake Pliskin. The hero and gameplay heavily influenced Deus Ex: Human Revolution as well as entries in the popular Tom Clancy first person shooter Rainbow Six.
Good artists copy, great artists steal the famous Pablo Picasso said, and no creative force most succinctly embodies this ethos than Hideo Kojima, the man behind so many of Konami’s greatest games of all time. Whether it is a 1980s action film or a hot new piece of conspiratorial technology, Metal Gear Solid embraces the insane and translates it into a game that sticks with the player time and time again. Like the best movies, and like the best games, Metal Gear Solid moves beyond the period in which it was released and becomes emblematic of its era while simultaneously defining our own.
Take any one element of Metal Gear Solid, whether it is the epic storytelling or the fourth-wall-breaking game mechanics, and you will find it in most action titles today, especially those that attain blockbuster status. While Metal Gear Solid has become a long-running series, this could not have been anticipated by its developers when they were initially revamping it for a new generation. How does an otherwise obscure MSX/NES title go on to become one gaming’s greats? If using Metal Gear Solid as a guide, developers need to strive for unrestrained creativity and unabashed excellence in their projects, such is the spirit of Metal Gear Solid.