Metal Gear was also commendable for being a rare military game that emphasized non-combat alternatives. You could sneak past enemy patrols, time your movements to avoid cameras, or quietly knock out enemies instead of shooting through every opponent. Pre-planning is encouraged through items like the binoculars, which let you inspect your surroundings for enemy activity. Most importantly, if you're spotted or trigger an alarm, it's fairly easy to reach an escape route or clear reinforcements to try again. While stealth is the focus, you're never so harshly penalized for mistakes that it feels like a burden.
On the whole, Metal Gear's story is fairly basic. There's only one real twist worth mentioning, but it's well presented, even if you see it coming from miles away. (Or had it spoiled years ago.) It features a few unique encounters like Snake being captured, rescuing a fake hostage planted as a trap, or finding ways to interact with local resistance members using the radio. But for the most part, these are just flimsy backdrops that provide an excuse for Metal Gear's stealth and espionage focused gameplay. The plot elements certainly have enough of a structure for an engaging, minimalist story, but it's not nearly as engaging as the gameplay itself. (Although from the sounds of things, by the time we reached Metal Gear Solid 4, Kojima had completely switched gears to emphasize too much story.)
Metal Gear Solid's unique brand of silliness was already on display here, even if it hadn't quite plateaued into "Kojima riding a playground duck" territory. Just about every character you meet has utterly laughable names which sound like G.I. Joe rejects, like Shotmaker, Dirty Duck, Bloody Brad, and so on. You can eventually equip Snake's familiar box to hide in plain sight, which looks completely ridiculous in rooms where no other boxes are stored nearby. The gameplay also has some pretty intense tonal shifts, like dropping you into highly structured boss fights after open-ended stealth encounters. Which isn't to say boss fights aren't exciting - they hold up remarkably well. But when Snake is single-handedly taking down tanks, helicopters, and the Metal Gear itself, you start wondering why he bothers sneaking around with that box at all.
There are also various quirks unique to classic games which first-time Metal Gear players will have to get used to. The interface requires players to manually equip each item - not just the weapon you want to use, but goggles, keycards, your box, the parachute, and more. It's especially frustrating to keep pausing and swapping between items you need, especially when enemies are approaching and you don't remember which of your half dozen keycards open the closest locked door. Metal Gear also doesn't do a great deal of handholding, so without a walkthrough figuring out puzzles can be a huge pain. Sure, you can obtain clues through story progression or rescuing hostages, piecing everything together into something useful requires time-consuming trial and error. I lost count of how many times I parachuted off that swaying bridge before reaching the correct location.
Yet at the same time, Metal Gear manages to get a lot right on the first try. It quickly established a unique style of gameplay that riveted players, featured a challenging but satisfying difficulty curve, and offered a variety of gameplay approaches that appealed to stealth and action-oriented players. When Kojima turned to the MSX2 sequel and the core Metal Gear Solid series, he already had a fantastic foundation to build from without needing to completely reinvent the gameplay. What's more, the retro visuals are just charming enough to keep the graphics from seemingly completely out of date.
If you've only experienced the Solid series, Metal Gear makes for a great retro throwback. If you're starting the series for the first time, it's an excellent introduction to a critically-acclaimed gaming franchise. Either way, Metal Gear is a valuable part of gaming history, and I titled I hope continues to be played for decades to come.
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