Editor's note: This is a fantastic overview of the Metal Gear series that goes a long way to explaining its lasting appeal, and also provides an easy introduction to the uninitiated. I just wish the first two games weren't so hard. -mossy_11
Had a good game of Splinter Cell, Thief, Assassin's Creed, Hitman or Tenchu lately? If so, you owe a fair amount to producer Hideo Kojima for spearheading the development of the 'stealth/espionage' video game genre in his acclaimed Metal Gear series.
Chances are you have played, seen, or at least heard of the 3D Metal Gear Solid instalments on the PlayStation systems (the first two rank highly in best-selling lists), but you are unlikely to have played Kojima's original MSX2 creations, unless you live in Japan.
In the original Metal Gear you play as Solid Snake, a special forces operative assigned to infiltrate the military base/state 'Outer Heaven' in order to liberate your comrades and eliminate the enemy weapon, Metal Gear -- a giant, walking, nuke-firing Mecha -- which always seems to be in the wrong hands. The first game in the series establishes a recurring theme of the series: a mission undertaken by one barehanded agent -- you heard right, if you want a gun, you better try and find one. Via radio and radar assistance, you must avoid detection by carefully sneaking through various corridors and floors in order to guide Snake towards completing his mission.
Despite the fact that combating the enemy has become a slightly easier -- or at least more developed -- as the series has evolved, fighting your way through is never the best option, although boss fights will force you to step out of the shadows with a rocket launcher every once in a while.
This very fact means that Metal Gear and its numerous sequels are by no means easy games. Many times I have seen impatient players attempt to quickly move onto the next area, not taking the time to study where the enemy will be patrolling or how many guards stand in Snake's way. This type of gameplay can provide both a frustrating and tense experience, especially with the sound effects and blaring alarms that can puncture a state of careful concentration when Snake is spotted by soldiers or surveillance cameras.
Patience is a necessary virtue when playing either Metal Gear (left) or Metal Gear 2 (right).
The storyline of the entire Metal Gear saga has increased in complexity as the games have developed, especially since the relatively straightforward scenarios and revelations of the MSX2 games. If you have a penchant for plots revolving around world nuclear threat, black-ops, secret government conspiracies, futuristic weaponry and science, surreal and abnormal characters (think James Bond super-villains on acid) Cold War politics, and even some mild philosophic debates, then playing through these games should satisfy your storytelling needs -- and even halt you having your hands anywhere near your controller at times.
If you're keen to get playing the real retro originals, do try to get hold of the original MSX2 version (English translation patches are pretty easy to find); I would recommend avoiding the American NES port. This game, with no input from Kojima, features inferior graphics, modified levels and a mangled translation and went on to spawn an unauthorised sequel for the NES, which is not recognised as part of the Metal Gear canon.
The NES port (left) has a very different introduction to the original (right).
The large popularity and size of the Metal Gear franchise has since led to novelizations, graphic novels and comics (including exclusive digital comic titles for Sony PSP), and spinoff games dealing with alternate storylines of Solid Snake, including a Game Boy Colour title and two turn-based card games for the PSP (Metal Gear Acid 1 and 2).
Below is how I would personally play through the retro Metal Gear saga:
Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake – MSX2
As stated before, this MSX2 title and its sequel best embody Kojima's vision and are my personal favourites, with the second being a more polished effort, most like later evolutions of the series. These games are quite difficult, I have never managed to complete them entirely! Should you be unable to reach the end, a full rundown of the plot can be read on Metal Gear Solid for PlayStation in the 'Previous Operations' section. The missions here are referred to quite often during the game.
These first two titles can also be played in the special 'Subsistence' edition of Metal Gear Solid 3 for PlayStation 2. MSX translation patches should be easy enough to come by, and my preferred MSX emulator for Mac is fMSX. (Available at www.bannister.org)
Despite both being on the MSX2, the graphics and interface evolved considerably from the original Metal Gear to its sequel.
Metal Gear Solid – PlayStation
This is the first 3D incarnation and perhaps my favourite Metal Gear offering post-MSX. There is a fair bit of dialogue and plenty of cutscenes rich with character and plot to chew on. This, like its predecessors, is still a pretty difficult game, although I would not recommend playing on anything below Normal difficulty for a true Metal Gear experience.
PCSX runs this game perfectly for Mac (in my experience). An add-on disc for the game is also available entitled 'Integral,' 'VR Missions,' or 'Special Missions,' depending on your country. As a side note, once you have played this and the PlayStation 2 sequel I might also recommend the Gamecube remake entitled 'The Twin Snakes.' This game features the improved graphics and gameplay mechanics of the PS2 sequel, though it must be said that the game is far easier in this format. Avoid the Windows port.
The PlayStation sequel took the series into the third dimension, but kept the same core gameplay.
From here on in things get pretty intense. The PlayStation 2 titles are both great plays although are increasingly complex with far more plot and character depth. Metal Gear Solid's direct sequel, 'Sons Of Liberty,' introduces a new playable character and some great new mechanics, allowing finer control at the expense of a slightly steeper learning curve for seasoned MGS players.
The third game, a prequel, deals with the origins of Big Boss, and is one of the most ambitious and engrossing games in the series before the current generation of consoles, which I can also highly recommend.
The plot of MGS3 has been continued in PSP titles whilst Solid Snake's story has been further expanded on the PlayStation 3. I have not yet explored these games thoroughly enough to give any recommendation but reviews are so far positive.
What is your favourite Metal Gear game? Are you happy with the evolution of the series and its star Solid Snake? Let us know your thoughts below.
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