In less than two weeks time, a new installment to the legendary Metal Gear series is rolling out with Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. Websites dedicated to covering video game news have been abuzz all week with developer interviews, pre-order bonuses, and the logistics behind releasing MGS V in two different episodes, the prologue Ground Zeroes and the main game Phantom Pain. Now not many franchises can command this much attention and analysis in the weeks leading up to a prologue. It’s no secret that Ground Zeroes can be completed in two hours, primarily existing to bring players into the actual game which is still in development. A non-stop online media blitz is clearly not normal for something that can easily be beaten within an afternoon.
However, as any gamer knows, a title from Hideo Kojima boasting the Metal Gear brand is inherently not normal. There really is nothing else like them. Even games like Assassin’s Creed or Splinter Cell, which contain similar stealth gameplay, can’t even come close to this series developed by Konami. The past 27 years has seen the Metal Gear series grow from a moderately received title on the MSX2 computer into the predominant king of stealth. It set the standard for what a full-on stealth game should be while also diving into some of the strangest, creepiest, 4th wall breaking scenarios ever seen. So in honor of the upcoming release of Ground Zeroes and the already bound to be incredible Phantom Pain, I’ve decided to look back at one of the most renowned franchises in video game history.
The original release of Metal Gear in 1987 for the MSX2 and shortly after for the Nintendo Entertainment System gave the franchise some quiet beginnings. It starred a military operative named Solid Snake whose mission is to infiltrate a state named Outer Heaven to destroy the walking, nuclear missile shooting tank Metal Gear. Snake must complete his mission solo and to do this he has to avoid direct enemy confrontation at any cost. You start the game entirely unarmed but later pick up a whole variety of weapons at your disposal. While Metal Gear laid the groundwork for the series, including the introductions of Solid Snake and Big Boss, it was widely considered a title that showed promise for future success but had too many negative qualities holding it back.
Metal Gear was followed up with Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (and the non-canonical Snake’s Revenge but I won’t talk about that one) in 1990 to much bigger success. Many regard this sequel to be better than the original by a significant margin. However, whatever strides Metal Gear 2 made were almost completely overshadowed by 1998’s Metal Gear Solid. In a manner strangely similar to Square’s Final Fantasy VII, the enhanced power of the PlayStation brought Metal Gear Solid into an entirely new level. MGS brought back Solid Snake to infiltrate Shadow Moses island and defeat the terrorist known as Liquid Snake, setting the stage for an overarching series story about rampant genetic experimentation. It revealed that Solid Snake is actually the genetic descendant of the original antagonist Big Boss and also Liquid Snake’s genetic twin, making him the main series antagonist. This idea is even further expanded in the sequel Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty with the villain Solidus Snake and later with the combined Liquid and Revolver Ocelot to form Liquid Ocelot.
The change from 2D to 3D brought an entirely new level of gameplay to the series, specifically in terms of stealth. You could now crouch behind structures, strangle enemies into submission, and hide within cardboard boxes. Stealth is such a major factor of the game that it’s entirely possible to complete it without killing a single person, something that was unheard of back then. The same goes for having Snake start out the game completely unarmed. Stealth was always an option in the past for other titles but never a complete requirement. By giving Snake nothing, MGS forced players to play as creatively as possible instead of running in head on. That alone was innovative.
From this moment on, Konami knew they had found the right formula for MGS success. The game had to be stealth heavy, it had to break the fourth wall, and it had to be really, really bizarre. For a lot of the early parts of the game everything about it seemed normal. Since it had a heavy focus on stealth, you had to sneak past enemies to get from point A to point B. You could attack people like a wildman but that would almost always lead to you getting overpowered. However, once you get into a boss battle with an enemy named Psycho Mantis, the unique weirdness comes rushing out. Throughout the battle Psycho Mantis uses his powerful psychic abilities to read your PlayStation’s memory card and comment on your progress on other games. He will literally berate you on what you’ve accomplished outside of the game. There are even moments where Psycho Mantis will predict your actions, making you literally change your controller port to beat him, and “turn” your TV off. Yes, it’s that type of weird shit that became cornerstones of future titles.
The Metal Gear series officially kicked into high gear following the immense success of MGS. Sequels, spin-offs, and remakes were released at a breakneck pace at the turn of the century. People simply couldn’t get enough of the classic Tactical Espionage Operations that Metal Gear brought to their homes. The series branched out into novel adaptations, comic books, radio dramas, and there was even talks to make a feature film. A film seemed unnecessary for fans though as the games themselves had extremely long cutscenes, making them feel like movies already. 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was especially notorious for making the player sit and watch for extended periods of time. Yet this was all to benefit the series though as both MGS and Sons of Liberty were inducted into the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games exhibit. Solid Snake himself became an icon by popping up in games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Initial villain Big Boss got some more depth as well by being the main character of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the many spin-offs from that title, and the forthcoming Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain, all taking place before the first Metal Gear.
My personal favorite Metal Gear title is easily Sons of Liberty. It was the first I ever played and it made an incredible impression on me. The game looked amazing but the gameplay was really what stood out. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. I’m the typical player who likes running in guns blazing so the emphasis on stealth was quite a change of pace. It also helped that the game’s typical strangeness stuck to me like glue, including a rollerblading boss named Fat Man, running naked through a hallway as the then-lame-but-now-badass Raiden, and entering a near final battle with glitched up words like “FISSION MAILED” flashing across my screen. I had no idea what I was getting into with Sons of Liberty, but I never expected it to be a cacophony of insanity. Even though I loved the sequels, this one still stands out in my mind.
Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain both look to bring radical changes to the series as a whole. For the first time ever, the games are entirely open world. There are still missions to accomplish but now they can be done any way you please. Based on past experience, there really is no one better to bring the open world genre to new heights than Hideo Kojima. He has personally made this franchise into the major industry changer it has become and I can’t wait to see what his trademarked weirdness and attention to detail bring to the table. Whether you playing through the modern era as Solid Snake or exploring the past as Big Boss, Metal Gear is always a good time. If you’ve never played this series, at the very least check out one of the Solid titles. You won’t regret it.