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Metal Gear is a series I’ve been wanting to jump into for a while but put it off mainly because of the first two games. I want to play them in release order and to be honest, I haven’t been looking forward to playing Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2. I’ve been under the impression their dated design would result in frustration. Well I finally decided to take the plunge and find out for sure. Developed and published by Konami, Metal Gear was released for the MSX2 in July, 1987. A reworked version was released for the NES in December of that same year and because of all the changes made to this version, the internet tells me it is not considered part of the Metal Gear cannon. The MSX2 version was included in Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence and in the HD Edition. This version was also released for Wii Virtual Console and PC via GoG. I played the version from the HD Edition for Xbox 360 on a Series X.
After a weapon of mass destruction known as Metal Gear is discovered to be under construction inside a base called Outer Heaven, the special forces group FOXHOUND sends Gray Fox to infiltrate the base but contact with him is eventually lost. The player is put in the shoes of Solid Snake, a member of FOXHOUND and his commanding officer, Big Boss, tasks him with infiltrating the base, to make contact with Gray Fox, and to find the location of Metal Gear. As you progress through the game, Snake will interact with NPCs he comes across and use his radio to speak with other characters that provide assistance during the mission. I do think the plot is one of the better aspects of the game and it is important to interact with characters so you know exactly what to do and where to go.
I will give credit where credit is due and say that for the time this game released, it was pretty impressive stuff. Metal Gear is a stealth game and the internet tells me it’s the game that popularized the stealth genre. You can run around and shoot bad guys but staying out of sight is usually safer. Most areas allow you to sneak and learning how to get passed enemies and hazards like cameras and lasers undetected is all part of the fun and challenge. You’ll come across many hostages and after rescuing enough, Snake’s rank increases which also increases his max health and enables him to hold more rations and ammo.
By today’s standards the stealth mechanics in this game are very simple and straightforward. How to stay out of sight is usually pretty obvious but you may need to study enemy patrol patterns from time to time. Enemies do patrol along specific paths and most do respawn once you leave an area. They can only spot Snake if he’s in their line of sight so if you take the correct routes, you can get pretty close to them without them ever seeing you. Snake can perform a punch attack and even silently dispatch foes with a few punches. There are some areas that basically force you into hostile situations, as in you’ll be spotted no matter what, but most of the time, you have the option to sneak around.
If an enemy spots Snake, they along with any other enemies in the area will start attacking him. There are two alert modes, so to speak. If one exclamation point is seen above an enemy’s head, all enemies in the area will attack Snake but he can simply leave the area to escape. If two exclamation point’s appear above an enemy’s head, reinforcements will arrive from off-screen and Snake can only escape by eliminating all foes, going outdoors, entering an elevator, or entering a boss area. Honestly, for the time this released, I can see how all these stealth mechanics were pretty innovative and cool for the time even if they can lead to some frustration now. For example, there’s no map so you better study the environments as you go because if enemies are on high alert and you’re out of ammo and/or out of rations which replenish health, escaping can be a real pain in the ass.
The environments do encourage exploration and you’ll navigate around three buildings. You can find shortcuts and different paths back to other areas and buildings and there are elevators which not only take you to different floors but also act as save points. However, there’s not a lot of hand holding so you’ll have to figure out how to get to certain areas which isn’t always clear and can result in trial-and-error gameplay. You should definitely read what certain hostages that you rescue have to say and use the radio to interact with certain characters so you can learn helpful information on how to proceed or defeat bosses.
If you’ve never played Metal Gear before or decide not to use a guide, you may find yourself backtracking through areas frequently. And there are several things about this game I just don’t like which I’m attributing to it’s dated design. Some of it is just quality of life stuff. If you find a pickup, it doesn’t automatically refill all your supplies. You’ll have to leave the room and come back in repeatedly until your ammo or rations or whatever is is fully replenished. Furthermore, the game only saves at elevators so you can lose progress if you don’t backtrack to an elevator. Ammo and rations aren’t everywhere so it’s possible to enter a boss area and without the appropriate amount of ammo or rations to deal with the situation or survive. So then you have to backtrack to find what you need. That alone isn’t necessarily a problem but depending on where you’re located, you may have to backtrack quite a distance and then travel all the way back and keep in mind, enemies respawn.
I really don’t care for how the game handles items and weapons. It’s actually pretty terrible. You can only equip one item and one weapon. You will need to find key cards and items to progress through certain areas and to gain access to certain rooms and areas. There are numerous key cards to collect, all of which open specific doors. Of course, there’s nothing on the doors to identify what cards they require nor do they remain unlocked once you’ve passed through them. Furthermore, some areas will require you to endanger yourself just to open a door. There are gas rooms you’ll have to get through meaning you need the gas mask equipped to get through them without taking damage. And to open the doors to exit these areas, you’ll have to equip the appropriate key cards which means removing the gas mask so you’re guaranteed to take damage before leaving the area. That is annoying.
There are several weapons in the game including a handgun, submachine gun, rocket launcher, mines, RC missiles, and plastic explosives. You will need all of these weapons to progress through areas and defeat bosses and some bosses will require the use of specific weapons to take down. Some of the items you acquire will simply help you get passed certain obstacles and the game throws you into some pretty cool situations. At least I think so for a game released in 1987. You can equip Infrared Goggles to see and avoid lasers, use the mine detector to see land mines, and enter a Cardboard Box to sneak passed cameras and enemies. You’ll even have to wear an enemy uniform to trick guards into letting you through a door. But you know what’s not cool? When you enter a gas room with land mines, meaning the game is encouraging you to switch between the gas mask and mine detector. I just think that’s terrible design.
How to progress through this game often reminded me of the Metroidvania style of gameplay. It’s very much like that. You’re free to explore the environments and will have to find specific items to progress. You are free to go anywhere and do as you please and will have to figure things out on your own if you’re not using a guide. Some areas are more maze-like than others, it can be easy to get lost and having to switch between items frequently can become a bit tedious. Even worse is when you come back to previously explored areas and have to switch between the numerous key cards because you simply don’t remember which ones opened which doors. Shit like that can be a nuisance, especially if you’re under attack. Progression will require a mix of patience and memorization.
After you beat the game, you can see your results and code name which I guess is like your overall rank or the title given to you based on how well you did. This does give the player an incentive to replay. I only beat the game once but according to the internet, the best code name is earned by completing the game as fast as possible and basically being as sneaky as possible, and not killing any humans among meeting some other specific requirements. Beating the game unlocks the Boss Survival mode. In this mode, you choose the difficulty and then must proceed to fight all the bosses. And you are given a code name based on your performance which includes the difficulty, finishing time, and rations used.
Metal Gear is a game that definitely looks like a product of its time. The sprite work is decent and even though the game uses many of the same assets across its numerous areas, there is enough details, color changes, and things to make most areas actually feel different. I will say I was actually impressed with the music. The tunes really help add tension and suspense to situations. On the technical side, I did not encounter any problems.
Metal Gear is exactly what I expected it to be. A stealth game with dated design resulting in frustration at times. But I do think it was impressive for its time and can see why it was influential. I definitely consider it to be a landmark title in the stealth genre. Playing it now, the stealth stuff comes across as simple but mostly works even if some of the design choices just did not age well. If you don’t pay attention and communicate with characters through the radio, you can easily get stuck, the gameplay can be trial-and-error, and getting through some areas can be tedious. Once I got the mechanics down and understood how the game actually flows, I was able to get into the groove of things pretty easily. Much of the challenge comes from figuring out how to overcome certain obstacles and hurdles. Metal Gear is not a game that holds your hand but does encourage exploration and offers incentives to replay.
I would recommend Metal Gear just because of its influence on the stealth genre. Despite it’s dated design, it’s not a bad game and I think it holds up rather well. It just requires patience. It’s a classic title that marks the start of one of the most popular video game franchises and is definitely worth playing if you’re into the overarching plot of the series.