While the stealth genre had obviously been around for a while (this game follows Metal Gear 1 and 2), Metal Gear Solid helped popularize the genre. The gameplay itself has been massively improved upon; the simplistic enemy A.I. is almost comedic, with plenty cracking jokes about the guards being severely nearsighted. The gameplay of the original MGS only holds up as a simplified, arcade-style experience. The simple fact is, the non-stealth-based bosses stand out because the basic gameplay does not quite function as it should.
Metal Gear Solid is a flawed experience from nearly every angle. If analyzing art was as simple as going down a checklist and marking off every element which did not quite work like some emotionally void inspector, then MGS could easily be disregarded as a nonsensical attempt at capturing the spirit of an 80s blockbuster film in video game form. But the story of Solid Snake infiltrating Shadow Moses Island has hung over the industry for a reason. Despite the numerous flaws, there’s never a moment when Metal Gear Solid stops being engaging. The series has had several strong sequels with much-improved gameplay, but few have hit at the same level.
The key to Metal Gear Solid’s success is how each new section pushes the experience in an insane direction. This is assisted by the colorful cast of characters, from FOXHOUND’s team consisting of six animal-themed villains to Solid Snake and his support to the mysterious cyborg ninja Gray Fox. We kept playing because we never knew what Kojima would end up throwing at us.
The six central member of FOXHOUND are what really guide this experience. Liquid Snake leads the band of terrorists, somehow failing to challenge his twin brother even with the advantage of a helicopter and eventually a Metal Gear. Revolver Ocelot makes his stellar debut as a gun-twirling Russian western wannabe, and the eventual torture sequence is unforgettable. Sniper Wolf leads a stellar boss fight and a few classic lines in regards to her strange relationship with Otacon. Vulcan Raven exists. Don’t even get me started on Decoy Octopus.
Okay, maybe the FOXHOUND team isn’t without its issues. But what matters is the set-up, how this game establishes an elite band of soldiers gone rogue. Everything in Metal Gear Solid is larger than life, and the boss fights are suitably challenging and rewarding experiences loaded with that extra bit of meaning.
Of course, I had to save the best for his own section. Hideo Kojima enjoys messing with his audience, and no moment since has quite matched Psycho Mantis. Everything about the fourth-wall breaking works, from the memory card reading to the vibrating controller to the HIDEO input display. The cleverest moment is the need to plug the controller into the second port. Little moments like this pervade the rest of the game. Revolver Ocelot taunts the player directly during the torture sequence, pointing out how long it’s been since they last saved. Meanwhile, reaching one of the characters by codec requires looking at a screenshot on the back of the box.
Metal Gear Solid is emblematic of early video game storytelling. In a medium waiting to be taken seriously, Hideo Kojima threw every stray concept into a blender. The medium would go on to tell better written and more socially relevant narratives, but something about MGS’s absurd and almost juvenile approach to storytelling gives it a special place. For Hideo Kojima, anything goes, and the singular moments throughout Metal Gear Solid stand far above its otherwise shaky foundation. Like the best pulp novels, Metal Gear Solid sinks its nonsensical teeth so deep that even the flaws are just part of the charm. And the sad thing is, we’re likely never going to see something of this nature again on the AAA level – even Kojima’s later work ended up becoming needlessly complex. The original Metal Gear Solid is B-movie action through and through, and I mean that in the most loving way.