I know you've read the title already, and I know you (if you're a gamer at all) already have a flurry of thoughts rushing into your head about Metal Gear Solid. There have been many installments of the Metal Gear franchise since 1998's Metal Gear Solid. I want you to try to forget all that. Forget all the lore the sequels have brought into the series. Forget the remake on the Nintendo Gamecube. Forget about the upcoming MGSV. Heck, maybe even forget about the original Metal Gear MSX games (we sure didn't know about them here in America in 1998). Let's start fresh again, and take a look at a PlayStation classic.
I had a little bit of experience with this game in the late 90's. I never played it, but I sure had neighbors that did; they loved this game. We had never seen anything like it back then. This game was like a movie! That's awesome! We had seen plenty of movies, and we had especially seen plenty of action movies. We had never played a video game that let us be inside one. The voice acting was especially worth noting, because it was so... good! We had played Resident Evil, we laughed our asses off at mentions of Jill sandwiches and the like. MGS' voice acting was so real, we could feel the emotions of the characters, and thus the characters ceased to be fake in our minds. Solid Snake wasn't just the hero we were playing as, he was a war veteran, a jaded man with nothing to live for but the thrill of action. This would not have been possible without David Hayter's excellent portrayal of the character. Like I said, forget the later games, because Hayter's Solid Snake was much more subtle and subdued in 1998.
The story to this game was complicated, and maybe a little convoluted at times, but we didn't care. As stated before, the characters were more relatable and believable than anyone we'd ever seen in a video game before. Not just the main character, Solid Snake, but most of the supporting cast as well. You have the Colonel, the commanding officer of your mission, Dr. Naomi Hunter, gene specialist and assistant in your mission, Mei Ling, creator of your radar and the person you call to save your game, Dr. Hal "Otacon" Emmerich, creator of the eponymous Metal Gear (unknowingly to him, a war machine), and many more. The villains all deserve special mention too, because they're all varied, interesting, and provide an interesting challenge. I'll discuss some of them later, though. The story goes that you, Solid Snake, are sent into an Alaskan base on Shadow Moses Island captured by terrorists from your former unit, FOXHOUND. They have taken the base, as well as a highly advanced machine called Metal Gear, which may or may not be able to launch a nuclear strike. Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to infiltrate the base and find out about Metal Gear. The plot goes from there, and takes many twists and turns, and characters are introduced, one of the more important being Meryl, the Colonel's niece. The game is well worth playing just for the plot, that's how interesting it is. The story is definitely one of war, a soldier's life, and criticism of the nuclear deterrence theory. Story is presented to you in one of two ways: A radio conversation on a device called a codec with semi-animated portraits, or an in-game cutscene. The in-game models don't have facial features, so the cutscenes can be a little silly at times. The cutscenes can also drag, but not nearly as much as the later MGS game; I find cutscene length in the game acceptable.
The gameplay is a mixed bag, to be sure. The overall emphasis is on stealth, which is pulls off quite well. Everything is geared towards stealth -- You have a radar that shows patrolling troops' positions and their field of view. You have tools such as the binoculars for scouting the area, chaff grenades for hiding your position from surveillance cameras, and others, such as stun grenades ("flashbangs"), for making a stealthy retreat. You also have stealthy skills, such as knocking on walls to divert an enemy's attention from their patrol area, or getting up next to a wall to see around a corner. However, quite often you are forced in action situations (mostly boss fights), and the control can get quite clunky. The game has a top-down view for most of the gameplay, which can make aiming a gun a difficult task, even if one of the guns, the FAMAS, gives you a laser sight. Additionally, guns that switch between the top-down camera and a first person view (such as a sniper rifle) can be a pain to use, even if the game let's you quickly switch between the two via quick-equip the R1 button. Another annoyance is that certain doors require a certain level keycard to open, which is fine, but you have to have the keycard selected, which can be annoying if you need to use the equipment slot for other things (like a gas mask).
If you know anything about MGS you know it has a penchant for breaking the fourth wall, and I love it. Okay, now, this paragraph is going to contain spoilers, skip it if you want to play the game with a fresh mind. For a lot of people, this paragraph contains old information they've known since the late 90's. Anyway, of special note is the boss Psycho Mantis, one of my favorite bosses in video gaming. In order to beat him, you must plug your controller into the normally-unused second controller port. Earlier in the game, you must contact a character named Meryl, and the only way to locate her codec number is by looking on the back of the CD case. The Colonel tells you to do this, though I'm not gonna lie, the first time I was told by him to do this I searched frantically in the game for a CD case. Oh the shame! I applaud Kojima for bridging the gap between the in-game fantasy and reality, like no other game tried to do. It's a shame more games don't have similar moments, but then again it might be kind of passé nowadays. For those wondering, I purposely left out some of the other fourth wall breaking moments.
Overall, I rate MGS pretty highly. It has some scars from its age, like its control and graphics, but I think it's a great experience in the modern day. Highly recommend, if you've never played it. Also of note is the remake on the Gamecube, but it has a number of differences, and I'm not sure if I'd recommend it as highly. (I have played through both versions.)