With this week’s Metal Gear Monday I’ll be concluding our look into arguably the greatest Playstation game ever released, Metal Gear Solid.
Part 3: Story
Metal Gear Solid took the plotting formula that Hideo Kojima had utilized in his previous two Metal Gear games, particularly Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, and brought it into the next generation. For the first time in the Metal Gear series the environments looked far more believable, and even ahead of their time, the entire script of the title was fully voiced, which again was far ahead of its time, and the series earned its trademark cinematic quality through the use of cut-scenes and scripted events, which had been used to some extent in the prior releases but never to this magnitude.
Metal Gear Solid‘s primary theme, and one that we’ll come back to as we move forward into the other entries in the series, is that of genetics, and what sort of biological legacy we leave behind. This point is primarily demonstrated in the differing ideals and heated battle, both mentally and physically, that rages on between series hero Solid Snake and his revealed brother Liquid Snake. This title also marks the first mention of the Les Enfants Terribles project, which saw the cloning of Big Boss, the Legendary Solider and primary antagonist of the first two Metal Gear games, and resulted in three clones, or sons: Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, and the third Snake mentioned in the post credit sequence of the game, Solidus Snake (a.k.a. President George Sears).
Again, harkening back to the previous titles in the Metal Gear series, Hideo Kojima uses action B-movie motifs and absurdities to facilitate his anti-war commentary and overall message of genetic legacies. Sure, there are things like bi-pedal nuclear battle mechs and ninjas wearing future-tech and deflecting bullets with energy powered katanas, but for the most part they all have their purposes in the overall allegory, underlying message, and theme of the story. Like most of the Metal Gear series, Kojima blends frantic and addicting stealth action gameplay with an intense and exciting plot to talk about the dangers of nuclear weapons, comment on deterrence, and make his own predictions on the future of global affairs.
I know, I know, I didn’t qualify any of those statements and haven’t really touched on the themes and motifs that Kojima uses in prior articles. While the latter of those issues is primarily because Hideo Kojima’s first two Metal Gear games were far less dialogue heavy and expository. As far as the former issue, let me help by showing you instead of just telling.
Solid Snake begins Metal Gear Solid by being pulled out of retirement, much like Kojima was pulled back into Metal Gear following the success of the first title and the failure of Snake’s Revenge. Colonel Campbell from Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake returns to be Solid Snake’s primary contact, and Solid Snake is forced to infiltrate a nuke disposal site that has been taken over by defective members of his old unit and figure out what their goal is. I find it interesting that it is mentioned early on that Solid Snake was pulled from retirement to embark on this mission because the terrorist leader is his twin brother, and yet they never utilize this to assist in Solid Snake’s sneaking. He’s a spy, why isn’t he disguising himself as his own brother? Regardless, the mission begins.
For obvious reasons, the nuclear weapon disposal facility in Alaska, Shadow Moses, is used as the venue for two reasons: 1. it would be the perfect place to hide a Metal Gear that is secretly being developed by the U.S. Government and 2. Hideo Kojima can use the irony of this to convey his distaste with the current state of nuclear affairs.
As Snake ventures further into the compound he first attempts to save the DARPA Chief Donald Anderson who happened to be visiting when the attack occurred (coincidence? I think not!), who dies of a mysterious heart-attack. He fights his way out of the failed rescue with Colonel Campbell’s captured niece, Meryl Silverburgh, and then begins his attempt to rescue ArmsTech President Kenneth Baker, who was also visiting on the day of the attack. More tragedy occurs as Solid Snake fights and defeats Revolver Ocelot, who makes his first appearance in the Metal Gear series in this game, but is left with a dead Kenneth Baker due to another mysterious heart-attack.
Crossing over to the next portion of the facility, Solid Snake battles Vulcan Raven, who is piloting a tank, and we see Hideo Kojima’s first comment on nanomachines in the series, at least to my knowledge. Entering the actual disposal part of the facility, Naomi Hunter, the medical advisor on the mission, and Colonel Campbell tell Solid Snake that he can’t physically fire his weapons in the area. It would be too dangerous, so they’ve prevented him from doing so by manipulating nanomachines in his body, that were implanted prior to the mission so they could monitor him. Solid Snake, as the vessel for Hideo Kojima’s voice, gives his higher-ups his opinion on this, and it isn’t a pleasant one.
Bouncing around a bit, Solid Snake takes down more members of his former unit, FOXHOUND, and we play through one of the best fights ever as we take down Psycho Mantis. It is during this battle and when contacting Meryl that we see some of Kojima’s postmodernist take on games shine through as we have to look at the physical back of the game case to find Meryl’s codec frequency and then we have to put our controller in a different port to keep Psycho Mantis from predicting our movements and reading our minds. Judgement is also cast on us as the player based on the contents of our memory card and then we’re given a bit of a massage with the DualShock controller. For the time, it was pretty mind blowing, and still speaks volumes for the maturity of the creative control and the narrative’s voice compared to games that have even come about recently.
A familiar face returns, in the form of Gray Fox/Frank Jaeger. Upon encountering the Cyborg Ninja, and meeting Otacon/Hal Emmerich for the first time in the series, the player is informed that although Gray Fox was brutally killed at the end of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, he was kept alive and experimented on by his own adopted sister whom he rescued in the early 80’s, Naomi Hunter. The iteration of him that we see in Metal Gear Solid is a highly traumatized and damaged shell of his former self, and Kojima uses the Ninja for many things within the game. He assists Solid Snake, plays the part of rival, informs you of lies, hinders your progress, and even saves Solid Snake’s life in one of the greatest self sacrifices in gaming history.
In the end, Solid Snake would triumph over his angsty brother, Liquid Snake, who would use his stunted ego and hurt feelings towards his clone history and jealousy of his brother to drive his anger and desire to steal Metal Gear to wreak havoc on the world. Liquid Snake’s main issue seemed to be that he believed that he was the by-product of Big Boss’s recessive genes and that he was undesirable because of this. In the end it would be discovered that Liquid was the one with the dominant genes and that Revolver Ocelot, under orders from President of the United States and Big Boss clone George Sears, was actually using the entire incident as a way to test the capabilities of the latest Metal Gear: REX.
Depending on what your actions were you either concluded your play through with Meryl or with Otacon, yet the official cannon seems to suggest that they both survive the events. And, like all of Kojima’s future Metal Gear titles, Solid Snake ends the game with a lengthy monologue voicing his feelings, and inadvertently Kojima’s feelings, about genetics, legacies, the dangers of passing down the wrong traits, and ultimately how we are individuals and that we can break free from our genetic fate with a strong enough will and ambition.
Kojima tried to preach a message of human will and overcoming, and he juggled this rather well with stealth, action, and a thrilling narrative. But, it would be the fans that craved more action and less context that would push Kojima and company into releasing the expanded version of Metal Gear Solid in Japan, subtitled Integral, which would see a partial release in the United States as the extra disc entitled Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions.