I recently had an enlightening conversation with a good friend about time and video games. I’ve grown up with games my entire life, but when I was a kid a video game was a luxury. We wouldn’t get many video games over the course of a year (typically Christmas and birthdays), so each one was savored, replayed, and loved. Now as an adult, I have access to more video games than I could ever play simply through Xbox Game Pass, free games through PlayStation Plus, and using disposable income to buy new releases.
I’ll never get to play every single game, nor would I want to. It’s important to remember that not everyone will get to play the same video games as you – it’s our ability to share our passion through conversations, YouTube videos, Twitch streams, or blog posts that allow us to nerd out about the experiences we love.
With that in mind, I’d like to start writing about some of these experiences with a series called “It’s Never Too Late” – because while I do occasionally play a game right as it gets released, most of my gaming is months and even years behind. To lead off, I’d like to reflect on a series that I recently dove into: Metal Gear Solid.
A Daunting Task
Whenever the Metal Gear Solid series came up in a conversation with my friends, I always told them the same thing: I had finished the first and second game, but put Metal Gear Solid 3 on a hard enough difficulty that I had gotten frustrated enough to give up.
Looking back on the series now, I don’t think I ever actually finished the first game. I remember renting the Twin Snakes version for the Gamecube back in high school, but I don’t believe I made it all the way through the game. I also distinctly recall buying Sons of Liberty for dirt cheap as a used copy my freshman year of college and playing through its entirety in my dorm room (ah, back when video rental stores existed).
A few years ago, I borrowed the Legacy Collection on PS3 from my twin, but it’s mostly sat collecting dust until the beginning of this year. An interest in Death Stranding finally motivated me to fire up the old PS3 and restart Metal Gear Solid. Over the course of four days I experienced a weird mix of nostalgia, an innovative blend of gameplay and narrative, as well as some truly frustrating moments.
A Little Rough Around the Edges
To start off, I played the original Playstation game as a classic on my Playstation 3. So yes, the graphics were quite blocky and rough around the edges when it comes to today’s standards. I’ve never really been too concerned with how a game looks, and I’d like to think I would never scoff at graphics. Sure, I’ve been blown away by Read Dead Redemption 2 and Gears 5 in 4K, but I knew that MGS was released over 20 years ago. About an hour into the game and I felt like I had gotten used to the dark style, and my mind was filling in for some of the missing pieces like facial expressions. It felt right.
What I had a hard time getting used to were the game’s controls. Around the time of meeting the DARPA chief I realized that the PS3 has a separate menu option for turning on the analog sticks, which certainly helped give Snake’s sneaking a little more fluidity. Even with smoother movement without the D-Pad, I encountered a very sticky railing early on in the Tank Hangar. I would successfully cling to a wall to sneak past a security camera, but then as I tried to move onto the stairs before the camera swept back, Snake would get caught on the railing and the enemy would be alerted. This happened three times in a row and irked me quite a bit.
Tough, but Rewarding Boss Fights
Some of the touchy controls also bled into the penultimate boss battle against Metal Gear Rex. This was a doozy of a fight for me as I had a hard time avoiding the constant barrage of rockets so death was a familiar friend during this section. What made it harder to conquer was the constant flipping between items – bringing out the Chaff Grenade to block the boss’s targeting system, using R2 to swap over to the Stinger for a brief second, and then utilizing first-person aiming to hit the mech in the right spot. I felt like the timing of the boss attacks left very little room for error in getting this sequence down.
I played through the game on Normal, and while many of the bosses were difficult, only Metal Gear Rex felt a little cheap. A few bosses took me three or four tries like Revolver Ocelot, Cyborg Ninja and Vulcan Raven. Some took around a dozen attempts like Liquid Snake and Psycho Mantis. Others were knocked out on the first try like the Tank, the Hind, and Sniper Wolf. Some of these fights were infuriating at the time, but ultimately I believe they will be memorable.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
I’m sure one of the reasons this game is so unforgettable is due to its creativity. The bosses and their weaknesses were unique, especially Psycho Mantis. Revolver Ocelot didn’t just have slick gunplay for show, his bullets bounced off walls and nailed Snake directly. The game broke the fourth wall several times and actually made me chuckle in its execution. After a torture section where you have to tap O repeatedly, Snake’s ally Naomi directs you (the player) to put your controller on your arm and she’ll help the pain. A short controller vibration later, and I was all smiles at a small and clever little gesture.
I dug the story for Metal Gear Solid a lot, and it never really felt too convoluted for me. Most of the story is told through Codec calls, which is a radio, but silent? I guess that never really clicked how Snake was able to have full conversations mere feet away from a guard, but I just rolled with it. The voice acting in these scenes, as well as the more animated cutscenes was fantastic, especially considering how long ago the game was released. A few characters could be overly dramatic at times (Otacon) or ultimately they were a melodramatic villain that I expected to tie my friend Meryl to railroad tracks (looking at you Liquid).
Metal Gear Solid is a sneaking game that forces you to be stealthy – it’s not easy to fend off an attack if you’ve been discovered. Other games like Dishonored give you some leeway once you are spotted: make a few quick kills and maybe the problem goes away. For MGS, you need to be patient to successfully sneak past guards and cameras. It’s a different skill set, and you certainly need to be in the right mood to take your time.
So with all of that in mind, was it worth playing Metal Gear Solid for (mostly) the first time, over 20 years after the game was released? Absolutely. If you haven’t tried this game or series, jump on in. It’s $10 on Playstation 3 and you’ll have a good time. If you enjoy it, there’s always several more games in the series to play as well.