Metal Gear Review Rewind
For anyone interested in the origins of Solid Snake.
Alright, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Yes, Metal Gear was originally released on the MSX in Japan. Yes, it looked and played better than the NES version. And yes, the NES version is riddled with typos, inaccurate plot elements, and a counter-intuitive menu system. But let’s be honest-- few, if any of us were aware of the MSX version before internet gaming sites came into full blossom. Be that as it may, the NES version was respected as one of the most innovative (albeit frustrating) games of its time, and rightfully so. Despite the many differences from the MSX version, Metal Gear still provided a unique experience you couldn’t get elsewhere.
Despite several silly changes to the plot by Ultra Games (the now-defunct subsidiary of Konami), the basic premise remained intact. You are the rookie FOXHOUND recruit Solid Snake. Your commanding officer, Big Boss, has tasked you to infiltrate a heavily fortified stronghold called Outer Heaven and destroy Metal Gear-- a walking bipedal tank capable of launching a nuclear strike anywhere in world. Along the way, you’ll need to rescue Grey Fox-- FOXHOUND’s top soldier who was originally sent to neutralize the threat but was captured by the enemy. As Snake progresses onward, he eventually discovers the hidden truth behind his mission.
As one of the earliest examples of stealth gameplay done right, Metal Gear didn't encourage you to run through a room full of guards, guns blazing. In fact, you start the game completely unarmed. Depending on the number of enemies in the area, there are times when it’s usually better to sneak past them and avoid combat all together.
In addition to avoiding the guard patrols, you'll also have to be mindful of security cameras, guard dogs, booby-trap floors, and infrared beams-- all of which can quickly bring a quick demise to Snake if you aren’t careful. It really drills into your head the importance of not being spotted by the enemy, who you’ll need to sneak around in order to get anything done.
For an early NES game, it featured some impressive attention to detail. For instance, when you first come across the handgun, you’ll instantly alert nearby enemies if you fire a shot, even if the area is completely empty at the time. You'll need to find and attach the silencer before you can get a little trigger happy. I found this to be quite interesting, considering that most action games at the time focused on simply blasting baddies into oblivion without needing to think before you act. Metal Gear really did a great job of getting the player immersed in a different approach to combat.
With that being said, the game has its fair share of design flaws, which are especially noticeable if you've seen the vastly-improved gameplay elements of the Solid series. One of the biggest offenders is the questionable hit detection when Snake attacks with his fists. It’s especially awkward when attacking from above or below an enemy’s position. It always seemed like his punches were just a hair short of connecting with the enemy when it was crucial to take them down before getting spotted.
Communications with Big Boss and other FOXHOUND allies via your transceiver plays an important role in progressing through your mission. However, there’s at least one part in the game where a vital piece of information comes too late. About midway into the game (just beyond the tank battle), you’ll need to disguise yourself in an enemy uniform to gain access to the next building. If you missed the uniform, you’ll receive a communication telling you where to pick it up. Unfortunately, the game was designed in a way that made it impossible to backtrack to the previous building to get it -- leaving you stuck at a dead-end.
Needless to say, you’ll have to restart the game from scratch, or use a password that resumes the game at some point far enough back where can you pick up the enemy uniform. In either case, it’s a real bummer because you’re not going to feel like retracing your steps so far back by that point in the game. I highly recommend checking a game guide just to make sure you aren’t missing anything before proceeding forward (at least for the first half of the game). There are a few other odd issues like having to constantly switch between eight access cards to open countless doors- but they mostly amount to minor annoyances that don’t take away from the overall enjoyment of the game.
The Metal Gear series has always been known for its eccentric bosses that require some creative thinking to defeat them, and not much is different with this inaugural entry (except the bosses are more reality-based than in future sequels). You'll be going up against an incredibly fast soldier with a machine gun, a flame throwing maniac, and a battle tank just to name a few. Fortunately, you'll come across a ton of other weapons and equipment that will help you to defeat these bosses with minimal frustration.
Granted, certain aspects of the game haven’t aged well. Realistically, newcomers to this game might not have the patience put up with the some of its glaring blemishes. But if you can look past that, then you shouldn’t have too much trouble enjoying it. Metal Gear may not have the polish of its sequels, but you can’t help but to feel a certain fondness for it when you see all the series hallmarks that began with this one, cardboard boxes and all.