Metal Gear Solid
I feel enough time has passed by now to feel a bit nostalgic for the Playstation 2. I have to be honest, by the time this console was released, I really wasn't in to video games all that much. I still played here and there, but never really had the time. I was in college, interning and working, so time spent playing a video game was limited.
It's hard to argue against 1998 being one of the best years for video games. A lot of old franchises came back, a lot of new trends were set, a lot of my money spent. It's usually in the top 3 or 4 in the great years for gaming, then again the late 90s was damn good in the first place in a decade that really saw a great balance of quality games, quantity of games and creativity all around. Not like today where the video game industry has turned in to a second-rate Hollywood system full of sequels and remakes…but I'll save that rant for another time.
No, in 1998 we saw the likes of Ocarina of Time, Thief, Diablo, Banjo-Kazooie, Half-Life, Silent Hill, Resident Evil 2, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Grim Fandango and Soul Calibur. A great mix of classic franchises and new titles all around. Then we have one that emerged out of the shadows and not only brought an old franchise back from dormancy, but re-defined the action genre as a whole.
I remember it well. A huge advertising campaign was hard to ignore and is, still to this day, the best ad campaign Konami ever put together for a game.
It's hard to imagine there was a time when Metal Gear was a "dead" franchise that few people really knew about. Now it's arguably one of the biggest, spreading lots of mainline games across various consoles, remakes and spinoffs everywhere. In fact, trying to find images for this trip down memory lane proved difficult. Go to google images and search "Metal Gear Solid" and tons of screens of recent games, fan art, official art and...well this...
I suppose it's official: you are embedded in to the world of pop culture when you meet Rule 34.
But in all honesty, there was a time when these graphics were incredibly impressive:
Now look at 'em.
Nobody really knew what Metal Gear was or who Hideo Kojima was when this came out. At least, most people. I'm sure there were some fans who remembered the old games and still had them around, probably the same group that figured out Samus Aran was a woman long before anyone else did or started the rumors you could revive Aeris in Final Fantasy VII after she lost a battle with the sharp-end of a sword, but this was a new generation and new styles were needed. Though Metal Gear Solid didn't re-invent "stealth" gameplay, I honestly feel it was the first game that I played that made you feel you were right in the middle of a big-budget spy thriller of a movie.
Metal Gear Solid and "movie" would become synonymous. This was when videogames had a bit of an identity crisis and were looking at film for inspiration (Final Fantasy VII was inspired by anime, Resident Evil zombie movies and Metal Gear Solid akin to Michael Bay). At the time, the cinematic cutscenes were, at the very least, an impressive novelty. It may be overkill now, but it's overkill in a lot of games that spend more time having you watch rather than interact. Metal Gear Solid and all its sequels were guilty of that, but we let it slide in 1998 because, from a sheer technical standpoint, it was something we really hadn't seen before. Full of a very cinematic camera and a ton of voiceacting, it made the Playstation worth the money even if its plot was ridiculous. Like I said, it made you feel like you were in a big Hollywood movie. Hell...even the main theme feels like it's straight from the latest blockbuster:
Metal Gear Solid changed a lot of things in gaming. Well, maybe not so much "changed" as much as showed a new era of what videogames can do in terms of storytelling and presentation. It also changed my own expectations. We'd already seen games like Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil use a more cinematic perspective, but not in a full 3D world where the camera moves and gets you really in to the action. It was exciting and I couldn't wait to play it!
And boy, did I absolutely suck at it. Metal Gear Solid was a game I was ill-prepared for. It was not only different in presentation, but I found myself having a hell of a time getting adjusted to its gameplay. A mean, these new controllers already had more buttons than I was used to. It had, like, two more buttons. That was nuts.
Actually, I didn't even beat the first Metal Gear Solid game until years later. Once I became accustomed to the idea of more buttons, I remembered the game gave me fits so, well in to college, I finally sat down and cracked it back open. The sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, was about to be released so I felt obligated to play the original.
Note the word "obligated" here.
Because by then it was 2001 and already Metal Gear Solid was showing its age. Those graphics that once impressed were now muddy, pixelated fodder. It was like playing the original Mario Brothers well after you witnessed the glory of Super Mario 3.
Did I hit a strange, black hole of videogame playing? Before, I wasn't ready for it. I couldn't get a handle on the controls and the controller. I needed time to adjust. But then when I wanted to come back and play it and felt "ready," too much time had passed. I was used to better looking games. Better controlled games. It's amazing that, in just a few years, games of the 32-bit era were already looking pretty bad. Some got by, though, because they blended polygons with sprites (Xenogears for example) but full 3D models still were looking pretty archaic.
I don't consider myself a "graphics whore" in the slightest. Not then and certainly not now. I'm appreciative of great visuals, but it's never been a deal breaker. Yet, this time. This one time, I admit that maybe I was. I think it was also because I still had trouble getting in to the gameplay (somethign I wouldn't have a problem with in the Metal Gear Solid sequels, strangely enough) on top of it and I was just searching for excuses to not want to play it.
I still forced myself to play Metal Gear Solid like a kid forced to eat broccoli. I did it more out of necessity than want, like the videogame Gods would be ashamed if I didn't and send me to Hades with only a Phillips CD-i to pass the time. But I did it, even if it turned from trying to spend time and have fun to a bit of a chore. Sure, I had to get by much of the age, having to turn on the "smoothing" option on the Playstation 2, but I damnit I did it.
Then, at the end, all I got was was this overlong, exposition heavy, pretentious and dull ending that made me question, again, why I bothered:
Shut up and just end already.
Well, at least I can say I did it. Truth is, Metal Gear Solid is one of those games I respect and appreciate. Hell, even admire. But in terms of my "favorite" games it's, perhaps, a footnote of my game-playing biography, right next to forcing myself to watch the 5 hour cut of the bloated film that was Cleopatra (because damnit, I started it, I'm going to finish it). Playing favorites is not the point of this little memory article series. This is about nostalgia, and even though it wasn't and still isn't one of my favorite games, it still had a huge impact and made a massive impression in my videogame memories. You have to recall the bad ones as much as the good and though I wouldn't call Metal Gear Solid a bad game in any way, shape or form, it certainly makes me cringe when I think about it.