Metal Gear Solid - Retroperspective
Hideo Kojima is a complex man, many admire him, some not so but no-one can deny his talent or ability to surprise, reinvent and create worlds and characters unlike any others. Moving on from his MSX/Nes days and graced with the power of the PS1 and Ken kutaragi's VLSI & RISC chip combo allowed hideo to move into his style he is far more known for, being one of the first to venture into the filmic style of games.
This may need some explanation and my opinion of what this actually is, firstly this does not mean cutscenes only, or a flat linear path. This is the use of camera angles within gameplay or mixing high octane set-pieces into gameplay, with high quality voice over, scripts and soundtracks, essentially a Hollywood blockbuster game. But he does all this without ever losing sight that it is a game and he also stays true to gaming roots and more predominately the formula of many a great Japanese game over the years.
Snake is a complete western anti-hero, not so coyly based on John carpenter and Kurt Russel's own Snake Plisken from Escape from New York. Aside the eye patch that would appear later in the series the resemblance is crystal clear. What is never so clear is what makes him tick and just where his ideals are placed.
Within this now rooted saga we pick up with snake forced out of retirement, back into black ops wet work. Infiltrating Alaska,s fox archipelago and shadow Moses island with his old colonel officer pulling him in for one last mission, the Rambo influence is clear. With kojima-San being a clear fan of the 80's action movies all these references are evident across the entire franchise (Plisken is the code name snake uses in Metal Gear Solid 2). But the entire game sticks close to the formulaic style of its forefathers. Segmented within levels hidden behind bay doors and key cards, these are then earned through rights of passage "boss battles" in the form of the games main enemy old members of Fox Hounds Snakes old regiment. But this does not restrict you the chance to mow down hordes of cannon fodder.
These all occupy an extreme level of fantasy and style that endears them and the games story well, it is almost a satire of its own self. But dialogue was never superb then and has not aged well with some particular bad lines and sometimes literal translations creeping in, an issue that any older gamer will remember from many a Japanese game from the 90's. All of these traits give it a charm that still makes it feel special even now, helped in part I feel by its nostalgic appeal being such and icon for gamers at the time, showing the first signs that games where growing up, tackling bigger and harsher subjects.
Sharing the same traits present in all MGS games and Hideo is the message they all have, mgs1 is all about fate and nuclear power and the fear and uncertainty that comes with. It tackles sexual attraction albeit in a way more suited to a teenager but non the less was a large step at the time for games. People died, prices where paid and bums where ogled all in the name of action and espionage.
It did have a unique hook with it inventing the stealth-em-up as we know it. Instead of the normal one man army that left destruction and death in his wake, snake not only was better suited to taking the path of least resistance, aided by the Soliton radar in the top right that shows the cone of view from Snake and any other enemy or camera within range. This change of pace and style made it a thinking mans shooter before it was a thing, getting spotted was never a good thing and genuine tension came from trying to elude the camera sweeps and guard patrols, no here bullets not only where a last resort but genuinely felt like it as well. With the entire level design aimed towards this sneaky approach with hiding spots and cardboard boxes, the boss battles flipped this with much more melodrama and action but most still forced you to outwit your adversary more than simply fill them with lead, it was nothing like any other game at the time in so many aspects it really was an example of Next Gen games.
The game was also a looker at the time, which may be hard to believe now. Proving that 3d was indeed the future with its ,for the time , highly detailed textured models and scenery (much use of sprites over polygons was key to the PS1 visual arsenal). You can see the simple gouraud shaded polygons as textures are turned off for explosion effect working with wrapped sprites which were used within the 3d world to create depth and foliage within the limited polygon budget, one of the weaker sides of the Ps1 only shifting around 180k texture polygons per second. MGS helps this by having many scenes with a fixed view, most in the isometric angle. All this was presented in a 640x480 display that was becoming the norm for the time, HD TV's are not as kind to these older displays highlighting its minuscule 12% resolution of current 1080 display, nearly 300% less pixels.
This added with the again superb for the time but now a bit clunky animation can help to make the game feel like it performs poorly and sub 30fps (which became far more prevalent from this new 3D generation by necessity) but in fact from my frame rate program you can see that it is a very solid performer. With it holding a constant 30 update throughout the games snow filled landscapes, action sequences or again pioneering real-time cinematic's. With this all fitting across 2 Cd-Roms and being originally destined for the 3DO machine this was a huge bonus as the game started one of Kojima's biggest single divisive traits...his love of cut-scenes.
It breaks these up with codec chats at key points which rely vital info, story progression, game saves and even helpful hints when you get stuck. With it showing Hideo's flair for breaking the mold a vital character frequency can only be found on the case picture which was a small anti-piracy trick too, one that would be futile in today's connected age, but in 1998 it was not such an issue.
The battle with psycho mantis was legendary at the time as you needed to swap controller ports to beat him...again highlighting how far we have moved on since the wired age then. But not only did its visuals look stunning but the action style direction made them enjoyable and some of the most exciting of the time, made even more impressive knowing that the console was producing these all on its own. And this is something that the team have stayed loyal with across all games aside some subtle instances all games predominately support real-time cut-scenes right up to and including the forth coming MGSV, and I hope the majority of games across all platforms now.
With such an impressive performance on such hardware within a vast game it really is a true classic of the gaming world that even now shows so many areas like set-pieces, real-time cinematic's, high quality soundtracks and voice work all wrapped up in the founder of the stealth genre that embraces the movie style whilst making its own mark in history...it truly started a story that this year we will be able to see to its conclusion.
Stay tuned soon for my next installment in the metal gear solid retro perspective as we delve under the skin of the Sequel that makes its debut on the PS2 and managed to push the boundaries even further in tech, presentation and expectation as Hideo once again created trolling before the world even knew the word.