by Marcus Brown
Every gamer seems to have that one game that changed their whole outlook on the video game industry. Whether it was the game that convinced them that being a gamer isn’t so bad or it was the game that sold them on a specific console, gamers around the world have that one special IP, like the best friend they’ve had since high school. This title and any sequels that may have resulted from it have cherished and nurtured gamers through years of problems, boredom and want of something more than just a boss fight and a happy ending.
For me, that title is the Metal Gear saga. Starting in 1987 as a sort of eleventh hour project by Konami and director Hideo Kojima, the Metal Gear franchise has grown to become the series that defies conventional gameplay mechanics, easily digestible plot lines and cookie cutter characters. The tale of Solid Snake, the espionage operative turned heroic symbol, is one that becomes less about saving the day and more about saving himself as time goes on. The series lays out plenty of material for discussion, and that’s what I plan on doing here. So, join me on this and other parts as we discuss what exactly makes the Metal Gear saga great, in regards to thought and play.
Metal Gear was a title for the MSX2 computer gaming system and was released in 1987 by Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc. The project director was Hideo Kojima, a recently employed game designer who, at the time, was struggling to release a product that would succeed. Originally, Kojima was tasked with creating a war game for the MSX2. However, the fact that the MSX2 could not properly handle the graphics and action needed made Kojima consider other types of games he could make. He decided to do the exact opposite, creating a game that encouraged players to not fight rather than destroy every character on screen. Kojima credits his inspiration for this to the game Hide-and-Seek, stating that he was fascinated by the idea of role changes in an instant. He understood the allure and rush of going from the being the seeker to the hider, and he wanted his game to reflect that. This became the beginning journey for his legendary hero, Solid Snake.
To give a brief synopsis, the player controls Snake, a rookie operative in a top-secret spec ops unit known as FOXHOUND. Snake is tasked with infiltrating a mercenary-run military compound in South Africa known as Outer Heaven. Though he has to go in alone and weaponless, a staple situation in the whole saga, Snake has radio support from his FOXHOUND commander, Big Boss. (If you’re unfamiliar with the series, just accept the names of these people. They are code names.)
After Snake infiltrates Outer Heaven, he spends the rest of the game trying to rescue another FOXHOUND operative, Gray Fox, and to figure out what Metal Gear is. What follows is a basic starting story but gameplay mechanics that are unheard of. (Note: if you would like a full synopsis of the game, click here.)
As mentioned before, the main idea of Metal Gear is to not get caught by the enemy. This means that Snake is able to hide behind cover to avoid the sight of enemies, which works fairly well even in this 2D environment
If Snake is seen by an enemy or camera, an alert phase is triggered. The only ways to escape this are to either run to another screen or kill all the enemies that appear. Other elements that have become defining Metal Gear characteristics include using a cardboard box as a hiding item in plain sight, using a variety of weapons in certain situations, and fighting bosses that require learning individual weaknesses in order to beat them. All of these parts come together to create a gaming experience that was ahead of its time.
The Metal Gear saga is known as much for its espionage gameplay as its underlying messages and themes that Kojima wants the player to understand. The entire saga has a tone of war and the military complex as it relates to individual lives. Though Metal Gear is a little more basic in its story and does not reflect strong themes, one can still see 2 of Kojima’s thoughts in the gameplay.
First, the character, Snake, is a rookie to this mission and environment, as is the player. Kojima has been quoted to say that he expected players to project their own personalities onto Snake, in order to feel part of the world and to understand Snake’s mission and struggle. As Snake learns more about Outer Heaven and the intentions of its occupants, so does the player.
Second, the game is about flight, not fight. Though there are mandatory battles in the game, most of the violence can be avoided with patience and practice. Kojima is trying to introduce players to a thought of using stealth to accomplish tasks rather than fists and guns. Here, a thinking gamer can see undertones of creating peace and using wits to achieve ends. Hideo Kojima wishes the players to understand that there are alternatives to war.
Metal Gear began a new type of gameplay that future generations would experience in titles such as Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed. Through revolutionary game mechanics and strong characters, Hideo Kojima created a legacy for himself and for Konami. This was the start of something extraordinary, and it would only get better, if not a little stranger at times. Whether you’re a newcomer to the series or a long time fan, make sure to start your story’s journey here.