Special: A tribute to the gracefully aging Solid Snake
In the mid to late 1980s, the NES and action games were the rulers of gaming. These were they days dominated by Castlevania, Contra, Mario, Metroid, Gradius, and many more action oriented games that gave exploration as well as loads of action. But while all that was happening, a young game designer for Konami had other ideas ? instead of an all-out assault action game, why not try to make a game that rewards the player for their ability to not get into firefights?
And that's what Kojima & company did; and Metal Gear was born. While the game never really was considered with the aforementioned classic series' above until the 3rd Metal Gear game, the series has always been popular for the unique shift away from action and towards stealth; or as Kojima calls it: Tactical Espionage Action. The rest, they say, is history.
A Star Is Born: Metal Gear:
Despite the original Metal Gear's fame on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the series truly got its beginnings on the Japanese MSX system. This is where the early MG games shined; the NES version was the same game, just not as tight or pretty (for an 8-bit game, anyway). The original saga is where the world is introduced to Solid Snake ? a Super Sneaky Soldier (say THAT 5 times fast), and many of the characters that are discussed in modern Metal Gear games, such as Big Boss & Foxhound, Grey Fox, and of course the star of the show, Metal Gear itself.
The game follows the prototypical MG plot; Solid Snake is sent alone to Outer Heaven (apparently in South Africa), to destroy metal gear before it's used to launch a nuclear missile. As with all MG games, there is plenty of twists, turns, and plenty of deception slipped into the game, true to Kojima's cinematic flair & style.
By today's standards, Metal Gear is obviously dated and really doesn't stand up to the test of time like many classic games of the era. Today's technology allows true stealth, something the first batch of Metal Gears couldn't have. Still, it's required playing for Metal Gear fans that got into the series during the Metal Gear Solid era; to get a better grip on the current MGS story.
The Missing Gear: Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake:
Unfortunately for us American gamers, the true sequel to Metal Gear, MG2: Solid Snake, was never ported or released in the United States. It remained in the confines of the MSX console, never to see daylight on any other platform. Definitely a shame, because this side of the pond missed out on a much-improved sequel, and what some consider the best game for the MSX system. Thankfully due to this era of emulation, you can play it on an MSX emulator if you choose, and many people have worked many months translating the game to English to make the experience that much more satisfying.
This time around, Snake is sent to the fantasy world of Zanzibar, to once again put an end to metal gear. MG2 introduced many of the elements that the MGS games carry; loads of deep characters, the temperature sensitive key thing, a long chase up the staircases, etc. This is also where Snake has the legendary fistfight with Grey Fox, also known as the Ninja from MGS. Playing MG2 before MGS is almost a must to really understand the tension and drama of the Snake-Ninja friendship-rivalry.
This would be the final Metal Gear from Kojima for 10 years; and it's a shame it was never released in the US. Considering the near-fanatical love for the series nowadays, perhaps Konami will be nice enough to sneak the game onto a Konami's Greatest Hits disc, so we can get a taste of this much-heralded game, on a console anyway.
The One Everyone Wants To Forget: Snake's Revenge:
While the US was shunned from getting MG2, we were "treated" to the only game in the series not considered part of the official timeline: Snake's Revenge. Instead of the much more clever stealth, SR was more about action than stealth or story. The game wasn't even created or overseen by Hideo Kojima, but was made by the trigger-happy American developers at Konami/Ultra Games (one of the other labels Konami used to bypass Nintendo's limit on how many games per year one publisher could release), if I recall correctly. The story was highly, uh..odd and was nothing like other MG games. The game wasn't really terrible, but very out of place in the Metal Gear saga and would have been better off as a stand alone game instead of the poor side story it was passed off as. However any game featuring a character named Higharoller Kockamamie is kinda interesting.
Anyway, Snake's Revenge is largely ignored and not even mentioned in any official Konami history sheets for Metal Gear. Many believe this game almost killed the MG series, but Kojima had other plans, even if it would take 2 generations of hardware to realize them.
Kojima's Masterpiece, Volume 1: Metal Gear Solid:
With the Sony PlayStation, Hideo Kojima truly had the platform to create the Metal Gear game he's always wanted to create. When the game was first shown at E3 1997 in Atlanta, everyone gasped at the initial looks of the game and drooled over the possibilities. When it was shown again at E3 1998, just a mere 6 months prior to the American release (and oh yes, after the hell that was raised over Kojima's last MG game not hitting the US, there wasn't much choice but to release the game here), the anticipation was at a fevered pitch.
When the game was finally released in October of 1999, it set off rave reviews and the immediate praise that MGS was one of the most important games of this generation, and easily one of the best on PlayStation. It was also one of the rare old-school games that translated perfectly to the 3D world; in fact the whole game begged for that treatment. Kojima was able to finally mix in the cinematics and voice acting to make the game a sort of interactive movie; and was able to make the stealth action more..stealthy and less..actiony. Or something like that.
What resulted was a true classic ? while so many games tried to mix a movie feeling with action, none could pull it off, but MGS walked right in and did it right. Snake was joined by a giant cast of well-voiced actors and actresses, along with plenty of surprising plot twists and climactic boss fights. The stealth was way more realistic and tougher, and with more graphical power to work with, Kojima was able to create a world with lots of open space and loads of realistic detail.
The game was an instant hit everywhere; and to this day is a top-selling classic. A special VR Missions diversion was released in 1999 as a fix for those needing more MGS, and now in Sega Dreamcast's dying days, Bleem! (who is completely dead now) was able to create an emulator to play MGS on Dreamcast with enhanced visuals. A High-res PC version was also released to reach that market of admittedly different-tasted gamers.
Portable Gear: Metal Gear: Ghost Babel:
During all the MGS hoopla, a Game Boy Color title was released in Japan called Metal Gear: Ghost Babel. It was released in the United States under the title Metal Gear Solid, but has nothing to do with the PlayStation version; instead it's a whole new game with the classic MG style. For those who have played it, MGS on Game Boy is considered by many to be the best GBC game released, using every drop of the ancient portable systems' power to create a compelling into the MG universe. Most of the MGS mechanics are implemented in the 8-bit style as best possible; in many ways the only thing missing is the cinematic presentation MGS is famous for.
Unfortunately, this version of Metal Gear was never as hot a commodity as MGS was for PSX, due to the complete differences in platform. Game Boy's audience, save for a good handful of hardcore gamers, but not the majority, isn't the type to play Metal Gear, and the old-style visuals and simplified mechanics might have turned off MGS fans. However if you can find a copy, make sure to give it a play, to get even more insight into the series. And no, this game isn't an embarrassing sidestory; this is a true, recognized (but still fringe..oooh MGS2 flashback) installment of the Metal Gear saga.
The Present: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty:
At E3 2000, Kojima once again shocked the world with the first images of a sequel to Metal Gear Solid, for PlayStation 2. As one of the initial displays of the potential of the PS2, MGS2, like MGS before it, dominated the show floor and actually was given Game of the Show by many. The fall 2001 release of the game couldn't come soon enough.
Meanwhile, to both ease the anticipation, yet then increase the anticipation for more, Konami snuck a playable demo of MGS2 into another game Kojima produced, Zone of the Enders. The demo of course impressed and blew away those who played it, increasing the hype about the game. However this would be the final morsel of information about the game for a while; in order to keep the story of this much-awaited sequel quiet, Kojima went into hiding to finish his game and avoid things leaking out, ruining the whole game for those who wanted to be surprised.
Finally on November 13th, MGS2: Sons of Liberty was unleashed in the US ? before the Japanese release. That's right, the US received the game prior to the Japanese: something almost unfathomable. Kojima took some serious heat, but the truth is MGS was much more revered here than in the Land of the Rising Sun, so Kojima decided to reward the fanaticism by getting the game into their hands first. What irony ? the true sequel to Metal Gear was never released here, but now MGS2 is in our hands before Japan gets it. Of course they get some cool goodies to go along, but that's not an issue: the issue is, due to America's love for MGS, MGS2's release prior to the release of the game in the country it's developed in is a feat.
Now we sit with MGS2 racking up loads of high scores and Game of the Year honors; the game lived up to all the pomp and circumstance. However, just what is the future of Metal Gear?
The Future Gear: What's Next?:
Hideo Kojima had stated this is the final Metal Gear game. However, now he says the series deserves to continue, however he claims he will not be directing or producing any sequels. We shall see, but there is one cloudy element that nobody really knows about: MGSX.
There's a lot of debate about what MGSX, for the Xbox is all about ? some say it's a direct port of MGS2, some say it's a mix of MGS and MGS2, and others say it's a whole new game; but as of now, nobody really knows. Konami and Kojima have been mum on the issue, maybe to keep the PS2 version in the spotlight, but maybe not. Is the game even coming? Nobody is for sure. It won't be for another year once the MGS contract with Sony expires, but as of now, nobody knows just what the hell is going on with MGSX.
Final Gear: Wrapping Up:
Even with a cloudy future, Metal Gear as a series has slowly grown into one of the most beloved series ever, ranking up there as one of the best. Even if there is never another Metal Gear game released, the series has gone a long way to disprove the theory that everything has to be action-packed and mindless action; when a good game of stealth may be all that's needed to supply a good time of gaming. If you've never experienced a MG game, do yourself a favor and check one out. You'll be glad you did.