Retro Game Review: ‘Metal Gear’ (Part 1 of a Series)


I just finished up with Metal Gear Rising: Revengence (which totally isn’t a word no matter how much you want it to be) and decided to revisit the past with the Metal Gear Solid Legacy collection, compiling eight games from the series dating back to 1987. Beginning with the first game released in the series, Metal Gear, we going to examine how the games measure up with a modern perspective and influenced the market.

Metal Gear battle

Battling the first Metal Gear.

Stepping down from the ultra-slick, high definition Metal Gear Rising to the Famicon release version of Metal Gear is more than a shock. The graphics were criticised at the time when compared to more brightly coloured fare as the Mario series. The dull colour scheme and low detailed textures aren’t eye catching, but the level design, original gameplay and pacing far outweigh these factors. It feels easier to ignore graphic quality in the modern age when the bar has been set so high, and games such as Journey and Fez prove that graphics don’t make a game.

Metal Gear 2

Still…get used to brown.

That said, the critics may have been blind to some of the clever details. The enemies are designed to be seen from multiple angles as they turn and face in different angles. The whole notion of enemies responding to what is in their line of sight is already a large departure from the usual enemies following a pattern. The same critics also claim that the character is to vulnerable when without weapons at the beginning of the game, suggesting that they may have missed the point.

Having pointed out that the details are nice, there’s no getting away from the rather bland colours and repetitive areas. One basement in particular is awful to look at, and consists of nothing but long corridors, and the desert areas lack detail. The main character is made up of an extremely limited number of animations and doesn’t have much character when on the main game screen.

metal-gear

This tank is especially inelegant.

The real interest in this game lies with the innovation. At the time a stealth game was largely unheard of, but the stealth aspects only amount to standing behind walls while the guards walk past of using the famous cardboard box. The more interesting parts of the stealth come earlier in the game when you have no weapons, as later you are sometimes forced to resort to them. The enemies have two levels of awareness. One involves only those on the current screen and the advanced sees reinforcements arrive and needs more hiding.

In other inovations we have multiple contacts available via radio who provide different bits of information, one being the series villain Big Boss. The other notable aspect of the game (and one that featured heavily in the marketing) is the inventory. Along the way Snake collects parachutes, mine detectors, infra-red goggles, key cards, gas masks, biohazard suits, antidotes, enemy uniforms and more. This huge range of items saw the game being quite ahead of it’s time even if most were one use items. Going the Metroid route of blocking new areas until you have the right item to access it leads to good use of the mechanic.

metal_gear_nes_large

This comic page ad was my first encounter with the franchise. I imagined all the gear as being part of the sell, not things you got in game.

Being an early game (by rather new designers) there are some serious problems that impede the enjoyment. There are a total of eight key cards to collect and none of the doors indicate which one is required. If you’re in danger, having to swap through a potential eight items to open the door is incredibly frustrating. The combat is downright awful, with the enemies swapping you with a greater firing arc and a much,much longer range. If it was a purely stealth based experience this wouldn’t matter, but some areas expect a confrontation. Just make sure you have plenty of rations. Some puzzles require locating secret rooms that offer no clue as to their location in the large map area (complete with respawning enemies) and sometimes you don’t know that you’re looking for them.

Still, it’s an interesting starting point for a world famous franchise. The imaginative bosses, clever ideas and plot twists that are expected of the series all turn up. Even so, checking this out for the first time is best left to the fanatics.