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Retro Replay: Playing Metal Gear Solid (PS1) Before Phantom Pain

by Dean James

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s release is fast approaching and everyone is wondering just how Hideo Kojima’s swan song with the Metal Gear Solid franchise will finish up his part of the series at least. With less than three weeks to go until the release of Phantom Pain, it seemed like a perfect time to play through the series yet again as the first game in the Retro Replay series.

Before going any further, explaining my history with the franchise and what I’ve played seems like a good start. I did not experience the series upon its initial release on PS1 back in 1998, but rather was introduced to it by a friend in 2004 when he showed me Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for GameCube, the remake of the original. I only saw a bit, but also saw some of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater later that year.

While I was quite interested in what I saw, I just never got around to playing it until the release of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was approaching in June 2008. After finishing that year of college in early May, I finally told myself I was going to get into the series and I went and purchased Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection for PS2, which included the first three games, all of which I was able to play on my backwards compatible PS3.

I played through each of these and then 4 soon after release, though I have yet to play any of the portable outings. With such a crazy and often convoluted storyline, I really felt like I needed to replay the mainline games, Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.

Naturally, with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain coming soon, it made sense to start with the first Metal Gear Solid. Technically, the first Metal Gear games are involved story wise, but starting here is more than fine in the long run. Also, I went with the classic PS1 Metal Gear Solid, rather than the remake for GameCube, The Twin Snakes.

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For anyone that has never played this game or hasn’t played it in a long time, it definitely can be pretty hard to grasp at first. The controls are are far from what you expect from later entries in the franchise and the graphical limits of the time do not help that either. However, the controls themselves are very tightly handled and just take some time getting used to.

While later entries in the series will have you better off going into a first person view to aim and shoot, the original relies more on an auto-targeting style. This will feel a little strange at first, but after dying a few times while trying to more specifically aim at enemies, you will realize just how helpful it will be. At the same time, it does make it a little harder to be stealthy by knocking out enemies. Instead of taking out enemies with your M9 as often, sneaking up behind them and choking them or just sneaking past them will be your best bet.

As the original game in the series, we get many of the signature items and sneaking techniques here. Solid Snake’s use of a cardboard box is one of the most well known parts of the series, even though honestly it’s not all that helpful a lot of the time. Snake has a decent selection of weapons at his disposal, but it is definitely more limited than later games in the series.

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While series like Final Fantasy and such had proven how strong of a story that a video game could provide gamers, Metal Gear Solid was really one of the first games to provide us with a true cinematic experience. This was due to the well crafted story that was very innovative for its time, greatly helped by the superb voice acting of Snake (David Hayter) and others like Otacon (Christopher Randolph) and Meryl (Debi Mae West). The emotional range found between these characters and some of the others are excellent and really set a benchmark for gaming as a whole at that time, while still holding up today.

Many games that were standouts back in the early 3D era were very impressive at the time, but upon looking back at them today, they just look and play terribly. However, Metal Gear Solid is just as good of an experience today as it was back in 1998, though obviously the twists and turns don’t have quite the same impact for someone who has already played.

One of the most important elements of each Metal Gear Solid game has been the boss battles and the first game kicked that off with some of the best in the series. While not quite all on the scale of some found in later games, the ones found here are fantastic and are still among the most iconic. Early on, you have the first showdown with Revolver Ocelot and that is followed by the very memorable Psycho Mantis.

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The fight against Psycho Mantis, with the switching of the controllers, was one of the most intriguing boss battles at that time, complete with the fake out involving the messed up screen, and still to this day is one of a kind, which shows just how innovative Kojima already was that long ago. Then you have the amazing Sniper Wolf fights which are consistently ranked among the best in not only the series, but gaming history, and that’s not even all of the boss fights in the game.

Almost 17 years later, the original Metal Gear Solid stills holds up better than most games from that era, largely due to the tight gameplay and top tier story. While the Twin Snakes looks better and adds some more modern gaming elements, the original is still a classic and honestly one of the greatest games of all time, but where does it rank in the overall series? You’ll have to stay tuned for the upcoming Retro Replays to find out, with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty up next.

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