Recently I finally got round to playing MGS. I had wanted to play it for a long time, but it just didn’t happen. However, now I decided to really get down to it. And I’m glad I did.
This ‘tactical espionage action’ game is world-famous and, as it turns out, deservedly so. What is it that makes it so good?
For the record, I have been playing the PC version which is slightly different, but I know of most of these differences. For example, in the PC version there isn’t any of the cool stuff in the battle against Psycho Mantis, like the ‘mind reading’ , but I know that in the PS version there is.
Let’s kick this review off with the graphics. This is right away and by far going to be the most negative part of my review. The problem is that MGS came out in that place in time when 3-D graphics was a new thing and the developers hadn’t really gotten around to making it look appealing yet. I remember when I was young and when 3d games started coming out that I was overwhelmed by it, but looking at it now it looks, in the words of game critic Yahtzee, ‘like an ass made out of lego’. Both the games that came before it, the last of the 2-D era, and the games that came after it, the Gamecube/ps2/XboX generation, look more appealing. To be fair, not all is horrible, the landscapes and surroundings all look nice and the general gameplay has a zoomed out view, so that it looks better. But every time there’s a close-up like in the cutscenes, and this game has a lot of cutscenes, it looks horrible. And it is such a damned shame, for I find the storyline and characters very interesting and it is just a real bummer that every time the game goes into emotion-mode I’m looking at faces that are more pixel than facial features and a bloody wound is just some red pixels, a torn-off hand is just a few pixels that are removed.
Aside from the aesthetic quality of the graphics, there is not much to complain. Functionally everything is clear, easy to see and nothing is impossible to find.
Now onto the more awesome aspects of the game! The sound is very good. All the in-game sound-effects are well done and the voice acting is top notch, even though Snake sometimes sounds a bit too much like Christian ‘throat-cancer Batman’ Bale. The music is also very good, and gives the game a distinctly cinematic atmosphere.
The gameplay of this game is unique and very entertaining. It is mainly a good combination between stealth and action, with the game often rewarding you for sneaking your way through. There are many different challenges and things to do, and everything feels instinctive. You go around collecting items such as Rations (health), mine detectors and body armor and weapons such as submachine guns, grenades and anti-tank missiles, using them with the very innovative and easy-to-use interface, sneaking around guards, finding your way around the immense military base where the game takes place, the action regularly interspersed with cutscenes and codec conversations providing plot points and also the bosses: it’s all very fun.
And the bosses. That deserves a paragraph for itself.
Mr. Kojima and friends really went out of their way to create interesting boss battles. All the characters are distinct and unique and so are most of the battles. Even the ones that are somewhat boring, like the Sniper Wolf battles, are fun and fit the character. The battles are at their best when you are learning as you go the best way to win: the learning curve is often excellent. Especially in the Cyber Ninja, MG REX and Liquid Snake battles it gets more fun the more you do it. It all feels very natural. I should of course mention Psycho Mantis and his very original fight: in the original game, you had to switch controllers ports to beat him, and he would tell you what games you often played. That is just fucking awesome.
The game has more of these corky, unique moments. Some clues are found outside of the game, and there are many small things that the player does or the environment does that effect things in the game. For example, after a fight in a room with very low temperature, you find your rations frozen! Keep them close to your body and they will thaw. In another segment Snake is shirtless, if you walk around too long there is a chance he gets a cold: he will sometimes sneeze making stealth harder to do.
What about the difficulty? I’d say it’s just about right. But of course for the most part you as the player get to decide how hard you want the game to be. There’s three difficulties (you can unlock a fourth, harder, one). I chose to play normal and that worked just fine. Harder difficulties, as well as fast times, good stealth, few deaths and one major choice in the story can yield rewards when the game is finished. You can then start a new game with some items you could not get before, making a replay more fun.
Special Mention: Storyline & Characters
My special mention for this game just has to be the storyline and characters. The creators of this game did their best to create a cinematic feel, complete with opening credits, long cutscenes and an intrigate plot. It all works very well. Like I said, the graphics sadly diminish the emotional power of the cutscenes, but overall the story is told very well and we as the player feel for the characters and want to know what happens next. All the characters have interesting motivations and unique designs, and the plot twists and turns often in unexpected ways. The story as a whole is very well researched to correspond to the real world, with Konami even recruiting a military advisor to make sure they get their facts right. The story itself is, of course, fictional.
So, does it hold up?
15 years after its original release, does the game hold up? All in all, I’d say …. it most certainly does! Even though the graphics diminish the emotional impact, overall the game is very original and fun, and almost every aspect of it is well done. The storyline is intense, the characters original, the gameplay fast-paced and diverse.
The easiest way I can conclude this review is by saying that, while playing this game, I decided to purchase all other MGS games. Now that is a compliment.
Best Boss: My favorite is the Cyber Ninja. In the beginning it is very hard, but as you continue trying you start to get the hang of it and I at least very much enjoyed the challenge. It pisses you off just enough to continue playing!
Worst Boss: The worst is, in my opinion, Sniper Wolf. Her fight is just rather dull, as sniper fights tend to be I guess: just a lot of waiting.
Best moment: My favorite moment of the entire game is in the elevator down the second communications tower. As you get in, the weight alarm goes off. Snake, and the player too, is confused: he seems to be alone. Otacon then contacts you via codec, informing that four of his invisibility suits went missing. It turns out, these four guys are there in the elevator with you! Fight! =D
Worst moment: There was only one moment that I really didn’t like, because it took all the tempo out of the game at that point. Once again, it involves Sniper Wolf. To get to her, you have to get through a really annoying section with wolves. Then, when you want to fight her, it turns out you need a weapon that is way back, so you have to go back through the annoying section, and it is FAR back, and then you have to return all the way, once again having to cross these stupid wolves. God that part sucked. I thinks I understand what Kojima wanted to accomplish here: both to build tension for the fight, which also involves a wounded friend of Snake, and also to show the player that all the locations he has visited so far are interconnected and that he can backtrack whenever he wants. That is all nice and dandy, but it is still a very dull part of the game.
Hardest part: The hardest part is a lot more fun. Actually there’s two: the pre-final boss, MG Rex, is one, and the part where you go up the communications tower with hordes of Genome Soldiers in front of you and chasing you up the stairs is intense.