Why is Metal Gear Solid SO Genius?

Updated on February 13, 2017

Colonel, can you hear me?

Did I Just Play a Movie?

From the opening scene, the entire game feels like a well crafted and long winded movie. No video game before had taken cinematics to this level. Long and dramatic cutscenes provide context to what's going on, who you are, and where you are going. So you land at the dock and after a brief call to your CO Campbell, it is made clear that you have to wait for the elevator to come back down. The task at hand is pretty straight forward, hit the elevator and find a way through. Mind you, the entire time you are playing (at this point) the credits are still coming up to continue that movie intro scene kind of feel.

Even the elevators arrival is an event. The screen switches to cinematic mode, so to speak, and a big deal is made of the elevator making its descent. There is MUCH focus on the elevator; the camera is right in front of it and gameplay temporarily pauses (kind of a big deal). When you land, there are two guards to avoid/disable. A third guard steps off of the elevator when it arrives. Either way, you make your way to the elevator platform after it clears and you're off. Once you reach the elevator, the game steps back into movie mode to complete the intro.

Metal Gear Solid Released for the Sony Playstation

Metal Gear Solid Released for the Sony Playstation
Metal Gear Solid Released for the Sony Playstation

Is there such a thing as 'Linear-Free Roam'?

After you get off of the elevator from the dock, you are presented with a choice between one of two ways to infiltrate the enemy base ahead of you. You can try to get past the sleeping guard in front of the lower level air duct or you can try to get past the guard patrolling upstairs to crawl through the 2nd floor air duct. The cool thing about that is the fact that a short cinematic will play if you go in through the 2nd floor instead of the 1st. If you are spotted on your way in to the 2nd floor air duct, a second cinematic will play at that same spot. Whichever way you decide to go, you end up going exactly where you need to.

The items will even appear in different places, depending on what you pickup and where you get it. You have a few chances to get the SOCOM pistol in the beginning of the game but if you haven't acquired it by the time you reach the gun fight alongside Meryl, it will be in the room with you at that point. You can lead a horse to water I suppose. The thermal goggles are another item that moves around, the mine detector as well. Aside from items you are free to engage as you please. If you want to run and gun you can but the idea of the game is stealth. Knocking on walls is pretty fun but you have to mind your footprints.

Preferred method of infiltration:

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Another intruder?

There's an intruder besides me?
There's an intruder besides me?

The Clashing of Bone & Sinew!

The boss battles in this game are fantastic. Each boss relies on a different skill/weapon or approach than the last one. Not many games would have you destroy a tank with grenades but hey, Metal Gear. Along with the varying methods of approach for guards the same goes for some of the bosses too. Some people chose to stun the ninja with chaff grenades and then shoot the mofo until he starts blinking. Others would punch-punch-kick and run until he stopped blinking. Either way, the freedom of choice along with dynamic bosses makes for some good entertainment.

Choices, choices...

Liar! That nervous glance... that scared look in your eyes.
Liar! That nervous glance... that scared look in your eyes.

The basic idea behind each boss is usually that there is a simple method to defeat each particular enemy. You can throw grenades at that tank until you fall asleep doing it but if you time your throw and run up on the tank you can lob one right into the cab of that sucker (dealing much greater damage). 2 grenades later, you are done. You could throw chaff grenades to stun the ninja but it is much, much faster to face off with him hand to hand. Besides, your chaff grenades will be better against Metal Gear.

The clashing of bone and senew
The clashing of bone and senew

Rocking to Bach, Man!

I love the music in this game. It is the kind of soundtrack that perches itself in the background, perfectly setting exactly the tone and mood that best fits the environment. Sometimes the music is incredibly full and busy, usually when the game has a lot going on and things are getting stressful. It always fits and is quite dynamic, I find myself humming various parts while I'm stealthing around usually. Sometimes the music is subtle and tense, just enough to know that your feeling of unease is perfectly natural. Almost everything is symphonic with choir-like chanting.

One odd thing about the mix that I have to give props to here is the use of silence. A tense and quiet background is fantastic but there is something to be said about not having any music at all (especially unexpectedly). The first time I made it to the snowfield, after the intense tank battle, after the dramatic ninja battle, after the crazy sniper fight, past the helicopter face off, my skin started crawling for the first time. I was actually afraid to keep playing any further. At first I made my way from one side to the other, staying along the wall right where you come out, procrastinating. Eventually I made myself press on and when I got hit by the sniper I jumped like crazy. It took a while to understand how they did that to me, it was all because there was no music playing in the background.

Video Games Live, now that's what's up people.

Ancient Snake, I mean Mustache Snake
Ancient Snake, I mean Mustache Snake

What Was That Noise?

The options and music in this game would be nothing without AI to play with. Let us begin with the fact that they will follow any footsteps you may leave. If you walk through a puddle and leave wet footprints on the floor, they will follow the trail until it ends, the same goes for footprints in the snow. That is an oversight in many movies, much less video games. As simple as it is, I think it is genius. If you are spotted, the guards do indeed call for backup and they will swarm your unstealthy self. It is usually best to remain unseen and keep your presence unknown.

One good method of disarming an enemy is to flip them or simply punch and kick them unconscious. The only downside is the fact that if a guard is close enough they will hear the commotion and investigate. Again, if you are spotted, they will surround you. The cool thing about this is the fact you can use their investigative nature to your advantage. You can knock on walls to lure enemy guards to investigate the noise. You can do all kinds of things with this concept, wait around the corner and knock him out, lay a claymore or some C4 where you know they will walk, sneak around the other way and get by unnoticed, get a guard into position for a sniper shot (if you're fast I guess).


What was that noise?
What was that noise?

Hyper-Realistic Surrealism/Unrealistic Hyper-Realism

The entire Metal Gear franchise is one that, to me, is every bit as possible as it is unbelievable. They do a really good job of establishing the Big Boss legacy into our real historical timeline. As far as the research and development of weapons, I can fully believe that. When it comes to genome experiments, there are documentaries on that sort of thing so it isn't really a secret. Where I get lost is the one-man stealth-army concept. It isn't possible in my head. I will say that they did present it in such a way that is actually kind of plausible. The tank battle for instance; you throw grenades into the open hatch to destroy it from inside out, that actually seems at least mildly plausible but when you say, "Destroyed tanks with a grenade" I say, "Shut up".

Destroying an M1 Abrams with hand grenades
Destroying an M1 Abrams with hand grenades

Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to hate on this game, I love me some Metal Gear. The unrealism is to the players benefit. Your health bar and the fact that it grows as you progress, the existence of a difficulty setting, the enemy vision radius, all to the players benefit. The guns all handle as they should, it seems about as realistic as you can get with a PSX game, I just wonder how you can carry them all at once. Snake must have some very deep pockets in order to fit that Nikita next to the Stinger without setting off a Claymore or dropping the PSG1. I LOVE IT, I just do.

Solid Snake is a horder
Solid Snake is a horder

Bok Bok, Easter Bunny

No Metal Gear game would be complete without secrets, jokes, and Easter eggs. The entire Metal Gear franchise has always been about details and many are easy to miss. Who would have thought that equipping your rations when they are frozen will thaw them out from your body heat, maybe lots of people but did you know that the hand dryer in the bathroom will thaw rations as well? How about having to pick up cold medicine, don't sneeze or they'll hear you. Did you notice the Playstation sitting on the desk during the ninja fight or the Policenauts footage when the ninja is defeated? How about the fact that the tank is missing from the hangar after your first encounter with Ocelot, it makes sense considering that is your next engagement (whether Snake knows or not).

Sony Playstation

Sony Playstation with wireless controller, HA!
Sony Playstation with wireless controller, HA!

The game even tries to get the player in on noticing some detail when it comes time to find Meryl, she has a certain walk about her... and a great butt (or so they say). Speaking of details, the guard that watches your cell in the torture chamber is the same guard that Meryl knocks unconscious in the beginning. He says, 'That witch, she took my clothes!' remember? How about the little detail involving the wolves and the scent on the handkerchief, they leave you alone if you have it equipped (just like having the wolves pee on your box). One of my favorites is calling Mei Ling repeatedly without saving, eventually she doesn’t speak when she answers and will even stick out her tongue at you.

Nice ass, Meryl
Nice ass, Meryl

Mei Ling

Back in the day (and even some today) the usual method for saving your progress was with a sort of pass code system. For a game (especially from back in the olden days) to have the option to save was almost unheard of. These days, game developers are getting more and more clever with making their save systems manageable, interesting, and/or believable. I have always appreciated Resident Evil and their use of typewriter ribbons to record your progress but it requires you to keep up with another item in your inventory. Metal Gear had a similar way of thinking but managed to take it a bit further than Resident Evil. Early on in the game (at the Heliport after the Dock) Mei Ling informs you that if you call her via codec, she will record your progress for you. I can dig the fact that it does not require an item in your inventory but my favorite thing about it is the Mission Log.

Mei Ling sticking her tongue out, again.
Mei Ling sticking her tongue out, again.
Good ol' mission log
Good ol' mission log

When you load a saved game, you can read the mission log that Mei Ling records as your game progress. To me that really seems like some military style paperwork, making things a bit more believable. What is really cool about the mission log is that:
• You have the option to read or skip
• The mission logs are short and succinct
• They match your progress very well
• Awesome Shinkawa Artwork
• It is like a Metal Gear Novel (before the digital graphic novel of course)
You do not have to worry about losing your place thanks to the mission log setup. For several years, I didn’t even bother with reading the log when I’d load my game, these days I have grown to appreciate the work put into it even though I know the game well enough to not need the option. Regardless of how many times I’ve played, I still don’t know all of Mei Ling’s quotes.

Helpful Shtuff

The 90’s did a lot of good for video games, innovation and ingenuity took the wheel. Most games before did not have any real tutorials or explanation, while many had no help or hints. Some folks were lucky enough to get a tip from Game Informer that actually worked, others (like myself) had to hope it made sense. YouTube has become a great central source for all kinds of help but where did people search before YouTube? With Metal Gear Solid, your help is a call away. At some point in the game, just about every character you speak with will tell you to call someone for information. As you are infiltrating the base in the very beginning, Master McDonald Miller calls you to give you his number with the recommendation that you call him with any questions about the flora and fauna of Alaska (the game’s setting). If you call Miller, there is a good chance he will tell you to call Campbell for help whenever needed. If you talk to Campbell enough he will give you a number to talk to a weapons specialist/ military analyst.

Metal Gear uses actual footage
Metal Gear uses actual footage

It is amazing how much information they made available to the player through codec calls. When you start the game, there are 3 people acting as your support/intelligence. As you progress through the game, you get in contact with several others who all have various information you’ll need. The impressive thing about it is how context sensitive all of it is. If you pick up a gun and then call the weapons specialist (Nastasha) she will tell you everything about your newly acquired weapon, when you are captured and call Campbell he gives you information that (possibly) leads to your escape. There are even times when Mei Ling warns against saving at a particular time, due to her having a ‘bad feeling’ about it.

Questions & Answers


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      • aziza786 profile image

        Zia Uddin 

        19 months ago from UK

        Well written. This was one of my first games played on the PS1. The dialogues were much better and the music too.


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