Metal Gear is the first game created by the now famous Hideo Kojima, the mastermind/designer behind the critically acclaimed Metal Gear Solid series. It was first released for the MSX2 computer, and then later ported over to the NES without Kojima’s involvement. This review may contain spoilers, so be warned (although this game is over 20 years old, so come on you can’t really complain at this point).
The opening scene drops Solid Snake (a Snake Plissken/Rambo/Kyle Reese mashup) into some random jungle – South Africa, according to Wikipedia – on his first mission: rescue Gray Fox (fellow bad-ass operative (although how bad-ass is it to get captured?)) and uncover the secret behind his radio transmission, “METAL GEAR…”. Snake will have to sneak, fight, radio, duck, dive, and dodge his way through enemies, traps, cameras and more to rescue his compatriot and (of course) save the day.
Reviewing classic games is tough; they lack much of the polish and presentation modern games have, and the story is often really only told cryptically through in game text and then more elaborately through game manuals and (now) the internet. Imagination is key, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s a testament to decades old writing that, while ham-fisted, the plot still gives me the HOWAWESOMEISTHAT tinglies, from my brain right down to my… chutzpah.
The gameplay is dated, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable in its own right; you ‘sneak’ around various rooms, and have various items (key card, goggles) and weapons (machine gun, mines) at your disposal to either clear the room or solve a puzzle, then move onto the next room. The sneaking involved doesn’t require much stealth or skill, and in fact for the most part isn’t even required. The rooms are separate entities, and if you’re spotted in one, all you have to do is make it to the edge of the screen, and the guards will forget you were even there. Once again, it’s difficult reviewing a classic game; The Metal Gear Solid titles thrived on the intensity that being spotted gave, and the countdown timer that appeared often carried over from room to room. There was more of a consequence for being spotted. In Metal Gear, however, being spotted by a guard is more of an annoyance than a consequence, and is often trivially thwarted by moving from one room and then back.
If you’re a previous Metal Gear Solid fan playing this classic for the first time, or you suck at video games, you might struggle for a bit; every time you die (A LOT), you get transported to the very beginning of the game. Later, you can rescue prisoners to achieve a ‘rank’, which will then respawn you at various other locations. But, for a while, it’s going to suck. You get to keep your items when you die, but you have to trudge ALL the way back to where you were, if you can even remember where that was.
Luckily, the map is designed really well, similar to Dark Souls where everything seems to be interconnected and you move back and forth to achieve different objectives and continue the story. There are a few developer tricks, like getting into the back of a truck and having it transport you to a different location, but overall the map is crafted delightfully and is just a great design. The art design, however, isn’t really anything to write home about. The only redeeming quality is the opening scene where you parachute into the jungle. Other than that, the textures and character models are plain and uninteresting, and look rather silly moving around, shooting, and performing all other necessary action stealth gameplay functions.
Sonically, this game rocks. The Metal Gear franchise has always had some of the great sound tracks in video games, and this one is no exception. The midi beats spark out of your speakers the moment you hit the hit the menu screen, and you’ll never forget the moment you first drop into the jungle and the eerie yet rocking Jungle Theme kicks up. Classic games, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, consistently have much more memorable and enjoyable music, and this game is no exception.
As a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, it’s interesting to go back to the franchise’s roots and see where it all began. The game is fun, that’s for sure, but there definitely isn’t anything that screams out to me that this is the beginning of one of the most seminal game franchises ever. The plot is corny, yet fun, and the music rocks, but honestly the biggest let down is the gameplay itself. There isn’t much depth nor skill to it. Obviously, I’m looking through a painted lens having already played the various other titles created on more powerful and complex systems, but I was hoping for more variety in the original game that spawned one of my favorite series of all time. There are flashes of greatness that eventually appear in later games (can anyone say cardboard box?), but the game lacks the specialness that makes the Solid series so awesome.