Celebrating 28 years of gaming: Metal Gear

Dakotah Lilly

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Metal Gear, a video game series that’s been going on for almost 30 years, is getting its biggest and most hyped entry in the entire franchise. “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” launches much later this year, Sept. 1st for the majority of platforms with a staggered Sept. 15th for PC. This comes seven years after the most recent mainline entry before it, “Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots,” even though there have been trailers as far back as 2012.


The release date announcement came just over a week ago. With so much hype behind this title, now is a good time to look back on the series as a whole, and see just how far it’s come from the days of running on a Z80 processor.


Hideo Kojima has been behind the majority of the games in the series as the director. However, regardless of whether he took the helm, he always had a major hand in the design of the title in development at any given time. Starting with the originals which launched on the MSX2+, we have “Metal Gear,” and “Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.” These titles are, to put it bluntly, clunky. The controls aren’t fantastic, the graphics are what someone would expect from a game made in 1987, but the story and characters are the focus of these games. They tell stories of espionage and intrigue that weren’t done before, and the same can be said for its stealth gameplay. These games separated themselves from the classics that many gamers know and love including “Contra” and the “Legend of Zelda” series, by stepping away from constant action or crazy fantasy. They put on a tuxedo and dress shoes and took themselves seriously, barring some absurd plot points, and that was a rarity in the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Whether this is a good or bad thing is entirely subjective, up to the reader, but it’s definitely a step away from the trend at the time.


The next title in the series is “Metal Gear Solid,” and is the start of what the Metal Gear series is most commonly referred to, most players understandably have not touched “Metal Gear” or its sequel for any extended period of time. “Metal Gear Solid” was released on Playstation and was alongside the Nintendo 64 in housing the first set of games to be released with full 3D graphics. Combining this new feat along with the mainstream success of the Playstation meant this would be the first time an official Metal Gear game had a chance at becoming a legitimate series in the eyes of the players. With stealth focused gameplay being the biggest advantage in setting it apart from other titles, the new 3D graphics helped bring “Metal Gear Solid” to life as well as improving the gameplay. The improved control scheme thanks to the Dualshock controller used with the Playstation also helped in improving this game over its predecessors. In addition to improving on the previous games in a myriad of ways, this game also introduce another element brand new to gaming, and that was full voice acting. This was something that had never been done to the same extent before, if at all, and even treated the characters more like a movie, showing the voice actors name next to them the first time they appear in the game. The game was a commercial success and spawned an extended version which was released for the Personal Computing (PC) platform as well as on the Playstation. Many years later, a remake was made for the Gamecube titled “Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes,” a direct reference to the storyline of the game.


The first sequel to the Metal Gear Solid branch was on the Playstation 2, “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty,” and added the tagline “Tactical Espionage Action,” a phrase that fits well with all the additions to the gameplay in this entry. A toggle first-person mode which introduced a host of new tactical options, thanks to being able to directly aim guns or equipment. This facilitated the addition of location-based damage to enemies and the environment for increased realism, making the first-person mode more than a welcome addition. There are also new methods for distracting enemies, such as being able to slowly walk across noisy surfaces, hanging off of catwalks to sneak around guards and shooting from behind cover. The list is extensive. In addition, the game received improved music quality as well as drastically improved graphical fidelity over the first Solid title thanks to being on the Playstation 2. It definitely deserves its title as a sequel solely in the gameplay department. However, this title also introduced some controversy to the series for the first time. Before the game came out, the first chapter of the game, a flashback to previous events in the series, was available early as a demo or sorts, and did a fantastic job of getting fans hyped for the new entry in the series. The early mission known as the “Tanker Chapter” featured Solid Snake, the protagonist of all the previous Metal Gear games, but the rest of “Sons of Liberty” had the player take control of Raiden, an entirely different character with a new voice actor to boot. Despite this change however, the game was well received by critics, and is considered by many to be fantastic writing that touches on several taboo topics in an ambitious way, something that again, wasn’t seen often when the game was released. Thanks to this critical and commercial success, it also got its own extended version titled “Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance,” which brought the game to two new platforms, the Xbox and again to PC. It also added a staggering amount of new content in the form of 500 side-missions split into several categories, which unlocked different costumes for both of the main characters along the way. Not only that, but the extended version also added a skateboarding mini-game, based on the publisher Konami’s skateboarding series.


Next on the list is a prequel to “Sons of Liberty” titled “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater,” and takes place before the entire Metal Gear series. Also on the Playstation 2, while still improving on the graphical fidelity, this game added all sorts of features to help the game’s realism, as well as increase the options of the player. These include a new Close-Quarters Combat or CQC system to the game for taking out enemies up close, a camo-index meter and swappable costumes that force the player to change what they wear to better match the environment, as well as use the improved controls to hide in bushes or shadows. The better the player is realistically hidden, the higher that percentage climbs to indicate how easy or hard they are to spot. “Snake Eater” also handled health in an entirely new way compared to games before it, following the trend of Metal Gear games. Instead of regenerating health, having a shield system, or using life and armor kits, the player has to accurately bandage and treat wounds encountered in the field. To top it off, a food system was implemented including requiring it over time, and having stored food rot as time passed, as well as allowing players to interrogate targets that were held using the new CQC system. All of these new gameplay features served the game incredibly well, and the vast majority of critics found themselves absolutely floored at the quality displayed by this title in every instance. This game is often considered to be the best in the series, and rightfully so, as the additions here are substantial, challenging, realistic and provide unique gameplay opportunities that many developers never would, and still haven’t, copied. The biggest flaw of this game is that the increased graphical fidelity came at a cost. “Sons of Liberty” ran at a fantastically smooth 60 frames per second (FPS) which made gameplay feel amazing and responsive. “Snake Eater” runs at 30 FPS, which is considered to be the bare-minimum a game should run at, and depending on the person, even unplayable. This isn’t an issue for casual players, but for the more hardcore crowd, it means playing this title on the original hardware comes with some grumbles. Once again however, “Snake Eater” received an extended version titled “Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence,” which added what is probably the biggest addition out of all the extended versions. Oddly enough, it ditched the idea entirely of adding more single player, story focused content to the main game in favor of adding multiplayer to the series for the first time, simply titled “Metal Gear Online,” often shortened to MGO as “Metal Gear Solid” is to MGS. It also brought to the table the first two Metal Gear games, in a slightly updated form, as well as several pieces of downloadable costumes and camos, and the use of a 3D camera in the game. Unfortunately for the length of this paragraph, that’s not all it added, as the limited edition versions of “Subsistence” also included “Existence,” a three and a half hour film made from the game’s cutscenes, which also featured additional scenes and remastered sound. On a side note, there was also a remake of the game for the 3DS, which added the ability to create custom own camouflage patterns using the built-in camera, made use of the gyroscope, and attempted to improve the controls. Unfortunately, the framerate suffered heavily. Likely as a result of having improved models and textures on a handheld, it couldn’t handle the game and stayed around 20 FPS, leading it to be panned by quite a few critics and part of the Metal Gear fanbase.


The next game to come was titled “Metal Gear Solid 4: Sons of the Patriots” and is set quite a bit after “Snake Eater.” The series protagonist has since grown old and is even referred to as “Old Snake,” interestingly enough his age is actually implemented into the gameplay of “Guns of the Patriots.” This is largely done with the addition of a new Psyche system, as various things increase Snake’s stress level like being hunted, temperatures being very high or low, or other various stressors, the Psyche meter will empty. The lower the Psyche meter, the greater chance of having various negative effects including the chance to be knocked out after being shot and back pain becoming a much larger issue. This game also branches from previous entries by moving to an over the shoulder perspective with a first-person mode toggle, and is extremely action oriented in comparison to previous Metal Gear titles. Despite this, the game also adds two new pieces of camouflage technology that allow the player to blend in with their background entirely. Likely an attempt to help facilitate the move to more action gameplay, a new robot follows Snake around and can be used for the codec function featured in Metal Gear, recon areas, and stun enemies, as well as featuring a new shop function. Collecting weapons in stressful battle conditions, as well as scripted events and destroying unmanned vehicles all give points towards purchasing equipment. The game also featured increased graphical fidelity thanks to being released on the Playstation 3 as opposed to the PS2, and while it never got an extended version like the other mainline entries got, it did feature a new version of “Metal Gear Online.” This title would mark the longest wait between mainline entries for Metal Gear, as the newest game “Ground Zeroes” came six years after “Guns of the Patriots.”


This naturally brings us to the newest entry. “Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.” This is easily the most controversial of the series, and that’s mainly due to the circumstances surrounding the release of the game, including it actually being split into two parts. Purely in gameplay, some fans felt as though the series had been made to cater more for the casual gamer as opposed to the niche audience the Metal Gear games usually attracted. The reason for this is the adoption of several gameplay mechanics that have been introduced into gaming and often recycled endlessly, as well as some newer mechanics that make the controls less than stellar. The gameplay mechanics introduced involved the addition of regenerating health, which replaced the previous game’s health systems, as well as a “reflex” mode which occurs when spotted. The familiar alert sound plays, but in addition to this, time slows down and the game gives the player a chance to neutralize whatever saw them before it ends, and keep the enemy from going into a full alert status. Combining this with the snap-to aiming style when using a controller, and getting seen can become a trivial event. Many players feel that these mechanics make the game significantly easier than previous entries, and considering the implications behind these design choices, it’d be difficult to disagree with a valid argument.


The second controversy surrounding this title is that this is actually the first of two games, as “Metal Gear Solid V” was split into two parts, the aforementioned “Ground Zeroes” and the upcoming “The Phantom Pain.” This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it wasn’t for how these releases were handled, in that “Ground Zeroes” has a miniscule fraction of the content that “The Phantom Pain” is promising to have, and was still being sold at a fairly high price. $40 on launch for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 versions, granted that price has since decreased greatly, but many feel betrayed as this is similar to the “Tanker Chapter” of “Sons of Liberty,” but fans are forced to pay for it this time around.


Despite all this controversy however, it was mostly met with positive reception in terms of gameplay, and especially in the graphics department. Between “Guns of the Patriots” and “Ground Zeroes,” Kojima Productions built an engine for in-house use that could handle high-quality graphics without eating up a ridiculous amount of resources like more infamous engines, as well as allowing for quick design of gorgeous levels. When running on a balanced gaming PC, the game is stunningly gorgeous, and it happens runs well on a large variety of systems. Unlike “Snake Eater,” it even manages to run at a smooth 60 FPS on the next-gen versions of consoles, in stark contrast to the targeted 30 of most titles on those consoles. Backtracking to gameplay for a second, the game has also undergone a massive change in design philosophy. As opposed to the previous games largely linear design with some backtracking throughout, both “Ground Zeroes” and “The Phantom Pain” have gone open-world. Meaning there will be several locations in which the player can roam freely, attacking objectives however they like, at least in the latter title, as the former only has one level.


This brings us to the most recent, and supposedly the last entry in the “Metal Gear Solid” and “Metal Gear” timelines. (If you believe Hideo Kojima this time around, as he’s been saying this since “Sons of Liberty.”)  “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.” Detailed analysis on this isn’t as easy as previous titles, as all we have to go off of is what was featured in “Ground Zeroes” as well as scripted gameplay and trailer footage, however there’s definitely a good deal of videos to pick and choose from. As previously mentioned this game is going open-world, and keeps all of the mechanics from “Ground Zeroes” as well as adding a host of new features. These include a Phantom Cigar which can be used to speed up time, allowing the player to wait until guards are changing shifts or nightfall for better cover, a buddy system along with new characters, a horse for riding around the terrain, and so much more that it might just be best to look at the trailers personally. One feature to touch on specifically however is the Mother Base. The main character “Big Boss” leads what we would call now a Private Military Corporation (PMC), and Mother Base is the hub for him and his group. Players can use an odd transport system to lift vehicles, animals, soldiers, and other objects out of the game world to get sent back to their base, where they will then become usable supplies, part of their forces or just some nice set dressing. In addition they can build platforms onto their base, and travel around it as they please. Sneaking around their guards will even improve their ability to spot intruders. The player can customize their base to an insane degree, going so far as to change the entire color of the base, or take a more tactical approach and decide where each camera and gun emplacement will be. In a unique form of multiplayer being brought into the single player environment, their base can even be invaded by other players in the same vein of the “Watch Dogs” multiplayer system. What exactly the goal of the invader is, is unclear right now, beyond simply stealing supplies.


With all these gameplay systems being introduced, “The Phantom Pain” appears to be a fitting end for the series, as the gameplay has potentially reached a pinnacle, and game uses the technology available to bring forth an experience unlike most of the games that have come before it. Although some are rightfully upset over the controversy, it seems as though this title is by far the most hyped entry in the series, likely this is partially due to the release of trailers dating back to 2012 regarding the game.


Having covered all of the mainline entries, there are also some spin-offs, and even a game for the PSP that was directed by Kojima, which comes directly before “Ground Zeroes” story-wise. They’ll all get a brief mention here, followed by a breakdown of the various remakes, and to close, the way to experience everything Metal Gear has to offer.


First up is “Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker,” which had its own form of “Metal Gear Online,” as well as featuring the Mother Base system seen in “The Phantom Pain,” albeit a much simpler implementation. The idea of having “Metal Gear” on the go was enticing to some, but the control limitations of the PSP meant that the game would be held back until the re-release on PS3. More recently there was the hack and slash action game made by the prolific developer “Platinum Games,” “Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.” The title featured Raiden from “Sons of Liberty” and was set in 2018, after cyborgs were commonplace among PMCs, and took the theme of technology going too far, and cranked it up to 11. It also went the route of “Sons of Liberty” by toning the graphics down on consoles to keep a stable 60 FPS as long as possible, which made for fantastic gameplay. In addition, it also had what is likely one of the best soundtracks in gaming, as every boss track, as well as the climactic “Rules of Nature” track is phenomenal at setting the mood right for a boss. In an interesting twist on Metal Gear, there were two games developed with the title “Metal Gear Ac!d” is entirely different from every other Metal Gear game in any possible way. The “Tactical Espionage Action” the series prided itself on, was replaced here by a turn-based card game. This spin-off miniseries also had a port to mobile simply titled “Metal Gear Ac!d Mobile.”


And as quickly as possible, the other titles not touched on here are “Metal Gear Solid Touch,” “Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops,” and several remakes of older titles for various systems. The most notable remake is the “Metal Gear Solid: Legacy Collection” on PS3. It contains every mainline entry, as well as the graphic novels, and even throwing in “Peace Walker.” It’s great for collectors as well, as every entry in the collection is the extended version.

The series holds a staggering 30 titles under its belt, with every release being met with positive praise. It’s the single longest running game series that has been handled by the same director for every mainline entry. Hideo Kojima has spent 27 years building a gaming legacy, with titles that stand the test of time dating back to when a modern machine had only 64KB of RAM. This series is practically a requirement for gamers, and thanks to re-releases it’s incredibly easy to get into. All that’s required is a PS3, although having a PC is recommended. If you want to get the full Metal Gear experience, find a copy of the “Metal Gear Solid: Legacy Collection” which contains every title barring mobile ports and the two most recent games, then get “Ground Zeroes” and “The Phantom Pain.” Anyone who picks up those titles is now the proud owner of the most prolific and historic game series to date.