There are video games series and there’s Metal Gear Solid — a heady mix of the paranormal, stealth, sci-fi and conspiracies all blended together in a seamless (and sometimes endless) loop of cut-scenes, confusing plot twists and of course, gameplay. While some of the most memorable moments in the series have a lot to do with the first two, it’s the latter that makes for what for a sequence of utmost significance.
You see, most of us remember how each game in the franchise pushed existing tech to the limits, wowed us with detailed scenarios so cinematic that would put Hollywood action flicks to shame or simply had our heads turned inside out by a snippet of conversation over codec at the end of the credits.
Which is why after so much sensory overload, it’s only fair that we’d overlook some of the finer points related to gameplay. Some of these slivers of brilliance include having to put your controller in another port to avoid getting bitchslapped by a boss or simply eating frogs and snakes in order to survive in jungles filled with little else, but the cherry on top of the icing of the cake that is this collection of digital deliciousness is something else altogether.
It’s moment you get your first gun in Metal Gear Solid 1.
No that’s not a typo nor has this been posted in a bout of sheer madness (debatable). Now before you go off visiting a host of titillating sites the internet has to offer, hear me out.
Prior to getting your hands on a piece of life stopping metal in your hands, you’re treated to a gorgeous opening movie, all rendered in-game. If you’re playing the Twin Snakes version of the game it’s easier on the eyes but if you’ve decided to go old school on the PC, PSP, Vita, PS3, PS2 or PS1 be prepared for an assault on your eyes of the non-awesome variety. Though keep in mind, it was pretty godlike for its time.
Once you’re done with the obligatory bits of story exposition, you realise that you’re alone in this big, bad military base filled to the brim with soldiers looking to end you in a hail of bullets. Throw in a musical score that just serves to make things a lot more scary than they are and you’ll be more cautious than you should.
In spite trying to carefully sneak your way from the back of one crate to the next, crouching behind cover or crawling under stacks of supplies, you will die. Quite horrifically I might add. The fussy ones from the bunch will blame the control scheme, cry tears of salt and move on. A combination of fear and adherence to the single rule of not being spotted does take its toll on the weak-minded. And this is just the first five minutes mind you.
After you manage to gauge the patrol patterns of your foes or are the patron deity of Dumb Luck, you’ll find yourself exiting the first section in the game via elevator only to emerge at a heliport. There are guards, lights and oodles of snow. Obviously the chance of clearing this portion in one fell swoop isn’t that simple if you’re not perfectly careful. Not only are soldiers sensitive to sound, they can spot your tracks in the snow too. Did I mention there are surveillance cameras as well? So yeah, not exactly too easy the first time around or otherwise.
However once you manage to crawl, crouch and sneak your way through this portion you’ll come across a truck. By now you’ll realise that discretion is the better part of valour what with a soldier walking towards you. So you hide in the back of the truck. Lo and behold, you’ll find your first weapon, a SOCOM pistol.
It’s at this point of time where you think that the game gives you a small, quickly fading chance of taking the fight to your enemy. If you’ve been honed on a steady diet of action games before this (as I was) you’ll find yourself leaving the truck trying to take down every single person on the base and failing miserably. Reason being, it takes more than a measly pistol to take down an entire army. Your death is swift. Your death is painful. And your death has you seeing yet another screen where your allies scream your name in gut-wrenching agony.
So you try again, and hopefully not repeat the same mistakes you made (hell knows it’s tough). Amidst over-perceptive grunts, cameras galore and light towers you prevail and reach the back of the truck.
It’s at this point of time you realise that yes, the game does give you a sense of empowerment and yes, it is fleeting. Empowerment isn’t the pistol that Kojima and friends left at the back of a vehicle. No, it’s schooling you in the ways of stealth and the utmost satisfaction it brings to the table. Shots are meant to be fired only in the worst of situations like silencing an infantryman before they call their buddies to massacre you.
Similar to Dark Souls’ bonfires that offer a moment of respite in a rather sadistic world, obtaining the SOCOM has a similar effect, except it’s one punctuated by an understanding that is more than just “ohai let’s see what this weapon does”.
Rather, one that has you moving from one vent to the next, slinking past men armed to the nines and indulging in a firefight only when needed. All while wrestling with desperation and fear brought on by production values only serve to intensify what you’re already feeling, that this is game where you’re all on your own against unstoppable odds.
Sure it’s tense and borderline horrific but that’s the beauty of it because no other game in the series has manage to capture this tension so well. You either start out with a weapon or in Metal Gear Solid 4′s case, a movie.
So the next time your mind wanders to how well some of the other aspects of the Metal Gear games have been executed, and how memorable certain events are, spare a thought for the last time you truly felt you were alone against the world in the series. One against the infinite.
After all, isn’t that what video games are all about?