Metal Gear 1 & 2 Retrospective

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Metal Gear Solid V will be out in one month? It can’t be…

In September the next instalment of the Metal Gear Solid series of games arrives and, despite all my worries and concerns, I am still hyped up for its release.

So, in anticipation, we have decided at Japan Curiosity to go back and recall all the previous major games in the series to see how far this game series has come in its over twenty five year history. So, we start with the two very first games: Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake.

“A game where you run away from the enemy? Who would play that?”

I have a distinct memory of reading this quote in a videogame magazine as a child when Metal Gear Solid arrived in the UK. I do not know if this is a true quote but it does catch the basic twist to the action game genre that began with Metal Gear on the MSX2. Instead of playing a powerful character that can cut a swath through waves of opponents in the style of say, ‘Contra’, fighting in this new style of game would be a last ditch effort used when other options have already been exhausted.

We play as Solid Snake, a member of the covert unit FOX-HOUND. Snake is sent to infiltrate the fortress Outer Heaven, save some hostages, and destroy Metal Gear, a nuclear equipped walking tank.

While you might look at the first Metal Gear and see something incredibly primitive, it was really pushing the hardware it was made for. With only limited space, all of the radio dialogue was written in katakana as the MSX could not hold the other Japanese alphabets and Snake was only a few coloured pixels dodging guards and cameras with tunnel vision.

It still has some of that tension that comes with pressing yourself to the wall as a guard passes you by and you manage to slip by them. Once the player starts to reach the end of the game and it is revealed that Big Boss, your commanding officer, is the one behind everything, you start to receive incorrect information over your radio and even you are even told to abort the mission by switching off the console.

The really noticeable piece of bad design comes from the game’s rank system, which allows Snake to hold more items and ammunition as his rank increases. Sadly, the rank you need to be at to be able to complete the game cannot be achieved without a noticeable amount of grinding by killing a load of extra guards. This is a real pain to have to deal with if you have spent the game playing carefully and then suddenly have to go on a killing spree.

Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake followed in 1990 for the MSX2; Snake now moved up from a mere four colours to a staggering eight different colours. Most importantly, the early elements of stealth game play are more solidly codified here. Enemies could now look around while standing still and react to noise. Snake now has a radar to help him and can crawl. Most of the characters we think of when we remember Metal Gear are more solidly fleshed out in this game. Snake starts wearing his bandanna, we are introduced to Roy Campbell and Benedict “Kazuhira” Miller, and Grey Fox gets much more of a character in this game.

More than characters, most of the more memorable events in Metal Gear 2 would be re-used in Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation. From a tense fire fight in a lift, a long chase up an exhausting amount of stairs, and a mysterious helper over the radio who turns out to be Grey Fox all along originally appeared in this game.

But the most important thing that was introduced in this game was the dying boss monologue. Nearly all the bosses have a long speech after Snake beats them in this game; it is generally explaining why they joined up with Big Boss in Zanzibar. It is my favourite reoccurring device in these games, because the writers constantly up the length and tragedy of a boss’s final speech. So by the time you finally defeat Grey Fox you have a huge story of racial persecution and face torture to read through.

Although originally not really available to everyone, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2 were finally released in English as part of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence, so you can enjoy these games and see the germination of all the early Metal Gear tropes and, maybe in September, when you are playing Metal Gear Solid V or any other game, really, you can think back on how far video games have come.

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Exists behind a keyboard in London trying to jam as much media down their mental gullet as is physically possible.