sunnuntai 22. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Metal Gear (1987)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 1987
Available on: C64, MSX2, NES, PC, Virtual Console
Developer(s): Konami
Publisher(s): Konami, Ultra Games
Players: 1

In 1987 a 23-year old independent game designer by the name of Hideo Kojima was finally able to break through as a director on Konami’s payroll, when he introduced the executives to the concept of something he liked to call “Metal Gear”. This very unique action game which incorporated a gameplay style later promptly dubbed “stealth action” did quite well commercially – but Kojima couldn’t possibly have predicted that by age 46, he would’ve created one of the most gigantic forces in the video game community. Let’s take the first game in the now fabulous, some would say almighty franchise, for a spin and see how it fares in the eye and care of the contemporary gamer.

“Big Boss here. How you doin’? Call me.”

Special Forces’ FOXHOUND is a unit of outstanding soldiers specialized in tactical espionage. When a FOXHOUND agent codenamed Gray Fox goes missing while investigating the actions of a rebel army cooped up in a South African, heavily armed fortress named Outer Heaven, rookie agent Solid Snake is sent in by his superior officer Big Boss. His mission is to rescue Fox and to neutralize what FOXHOUND believes to be a weapon of mass destruction, a doomsday device known only by its name: Metal Gear.

The game might not be much to look at, but it looks fair considering that it’s huge in size for a NES game – seriously, it feels endless. The proportions are ridiculous, for example whenever Snake’s outside a truck, the size difference between him and the vehicle is pretty normal, but whenever he gets inside one, the truck’s size suddenly increases by more than a dozen while Snake stays the same size. The music in the game is way awesome. I don’t remember any of the NES version’s tracks being rearranged for the iPod in Metal Gear Solid 4, that’s somewhat of a pity but comprehensible since Kojima didn’t like the NES version as a game at all. Just the alert sounds are quite horrible.

Let me actually start by telling you a bit of my relationship with the Metal Gear series, so you don’t get me totally wrong in the end. Metal Gear for the NES was among the first ten video games I ever played. Actually I never got too far in it as a kid, but my brother loved the game for some reason and played it all the time. I gladly watched since he did better than I would’ve ever done in the game and it looked very cool from the sidelines. When Snake’s Revenge came out on the NES – neither one of us had any idea that it didn’t have much to do with Metal Gear in actuality – it got the same treatment. Sleepless nights, lots of cursing. In this game, I actually got pretty far, but never beat it since it was always on short-term rental. In any case, I kinda liked it. When Metal Gear Solid was released on the Sony PlayStation in 1998, a friend of mine who wasn’t very familiar with the NES games got a pirated copy of the NTSC version, ‘cause he had read about the game and was so convinced that he couldn’t wait for it to hit European retailers. So, the next thing I did was borrow my friend’s PlayStation (I had to cope with the SNES at the time) and the game, ‘cause I wanted to surprise my brother by bringing him a whole new Metal Gear to hack through, while I would watch in the sidelines. Just guess what happened. He couldn’t beat it. He hated the game. At the time, he felt it was just too technical and hard for him. Well, I took on the game because I didn’t want it to go to waste, and I LOVED IT! I played and beat the game in every possible way about five times during the course of two weeks. I was totally hooked. Now, twelve years later, I’m a huge fan of the Metal Gear series and the mythos surrounding it, and when it comes to video game design, Hideo Kojima is pretty much my hero. At the very least one of the five best games ever is a part of the Metal Gear series.

Well, partly inspired by James Rolfe’s (a.k.a. Angry Video Game Nerd) review of the game, and of course due to the fact that it’s inevitable when I’m making this sort of site, I took on Metal Gear for the first time since I bought the SNES to replace my NES in 1995. I’m not disappointed, I kind of expected to hate the game. The correct interpretation of my relationship with the game as a child is that the game was simply too hard for me. It’s still hard, very hard, but the reason why is that its quirks are extremely hard to bear.

How nice of you to shout that out loud.
You control Solid Snake, a rookie FOXHOUND agent in search of his missing comrade and the truth behind the evil at work at Outer Heaven, a gigantic fortress in the middle of a jungle in South Africa. In the beginning, Snake is equipped with nothing but his cigarettes – which have no use whatsoever – and a radio transceiver, which is used to communicate with Big Boss and everyone trustworthy enough you happen to meet on your long and tedious clash through the jungle and the Outer Heaven base. You’ll gain a heap of weapons and equipment as you progress, but first – and for a disturbingly long while – you’ll have to do with your fists against the enemy soldiers and their hounds. There’s problem number one, assuming you don’t consider the bad grammar which rears in about two seconds into the game as a huge problem. OK, so you’ll have to sneak – in this case, just walk – behind soldiers when they’re facing the other way, and beat the shit out of them with your fists while avoiding to alert them of your presence. They’re pretty calm about you bashing their brains in, if you do it rapidly enough. The dogs move like they’re stuck on some tracks, they’re quite easy to cope with... but who in the right, and moreso anti-suicidal, mind would punch a dog? Of course, these are quite irrelevant little remarks.

The main thing is that you start off with an extremely pathetic health bar, which will increase on the terms of your rank as a soldier, which on the other hand is increased by rescuing hostages throughout the game. Consequently, you will be demoted by one rank if one hostage is killed. Your health is very easily drained, and just positioning yourself wrong results in death on most occasions. Also, the soldiers randomly react to your attack even though you’ve approached them just right, and the simple fact that they’re alerted when you’re close enough will damage you. Dealing with more than two alerted soldiers in one screen practically spells death if there aren’t more than two exits. The soldiers move ridiculously fast, and at least in the NES version Snake might actually freeze on the spot when you get shot at or you’re trying to run away from a group of soldiers. The worst part? Each time you die, you restart from the first screen of the game. Yes, even if the final boss kills you. You get to keep all of your equipment and weapons, but that isn’t much of a comfort. Strangely enough, if you reset your console each time you die and use a ridiculously long password instead of taking it up the ass and starting over, you get to restart from the beginning of the last floor you entered.

I don’t think I have more major peeves concerning the enemies in the game, except of course for their respawning rate – the enemies respawn after a visit to the menu (!), so let’s move on to the menu. Unlike AVGN, I don’t have complaints about the use of the menu, in addition to it being slow, and I don’t have complaints about the weapons either. One certain series of items is a bonafide nightmare, though. I’m talking about none other than the infamous key cards. The so called “classic” key card system – briefly spoofed in Metal Gear Solid 4 – is completely retarded. You see, none of the doors have any numbers on them, and each of the cards is needed throughout the game. So, even if you’re nearing the end, you still might need Card 1. Let’s assume you have all the cards. You go to a door. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7... no, it’s 8. You have to flip through each and every card in the menu to find the correct one, every single time you go to a locked door, even if you’ve opened it before, and there are a lot of them. Retard alert – we need some backup here! Some items you simply don’t need. They’re there just to clutter up the menu and make it look diverse. Your radio serves close to no purpose. Sure, Big Boss and your pals, the resistance members down at Outer Heaven sometimes give decent advice assuming you’ve never played one game in the series before, but their advice tends to come in at the very wrong moment, and secondly, sometimes there’s an incoming call, the transceiver keeps ringing and ringing, but there’s no-one at the other end! The annoying sound of the radio is there only to drive you out of your mind, and to alert enemies that are already hard to avoid.

No, my turn.
So, the ultimate reason for not beating the game once in my life isn’t its already high level of difficulty, it’s just that I get bored with it and its lackluster, non-justifiable execution so very easily. Since the release of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, the GameCube remake of the first Metal Gear Solid game, I’ve thought this very first Metal Gear title is one game that deserves... hell, NEEDS a remake. There have been so many different versions and ports of Metal Gear through the years, but seeing how much the series has developed – how about truly going for the big prize, for both the designers and the players, and totally reinventing the game by today’s MGS standards? That would be just something out of this world, especially if Hideo Kojima truly has no intentions of directing another true, canonically relevant installment in the Solid series. We can only hope...

The game is truly more like pointless and tedious than difficult. Upon receiving something better than your fists to your disposal, your progress eases up a bit, and the game becomes a little bit more fun to play, too. The boss fights, which later became a defining, most inventive feature in the franchise, require a lot of strategy and are arguably some of the more entertaining parts of the game. Having the game as a ROM doesn’t really help a lot, but might prevent unwanted returns to the damn jungle in the beginning.

Every great story has its beginning, and in some cases, it’s just not that good. I guarantee that if I, in some day and age, have the slightest opportunity to try the MSX version – the true version – I will do that and judging by everything I’ve heard so far, I’ll probably like it. I acknowledge and respect the game as part of the magnificent storyline which went on to reach whole new spheres in Metal Gear Solid, but I’ll most likely never return to the NES version of the game again.

Graphics : 7.3
Sound : 8.6
Playability : 6.2
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 6.4


Nintendo Power ranks Metal Gear #104 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

The game’s original MSX2 version was ported to mobile phones in 2004, and re-released as part of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence in 2006.

Solid Snake’s depiction in the cover art is modelled after actor Michael Biehn and more specifically, his character Kyle Reese in James Cameron’s 1984 movie The Terminator.

Hideo Kojima has said on many occasions that he disregards Metal Gear’s NES version as complete garbage. He was not involved in the NES version’s production in any way.

Originally, the game’s events were set in the year “19XX”. In Metal Gear Solid – which is set in 2005 – it was revealed that the game’s events take place in 1995.

In the NES version’s manual, the game’s supposed primary antagonist is given the name Vermon CaTaffy, whose name is a parody of that of Libyan dictator Muammar Al-Gaddafi, and Snake’s commanding officer is referred to as Commander South instead of Big Boss.

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