Backlogs, We all have them. Whether it be TV shows, video games, anime, books, or any other hobby you could be interested in. We all have things we wish we had time for. And I have decided to make that list a little bit shorter each day. Last time, I beat Wolfenstein: The New Order. Today I’m reviewing and comparing the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake for the MSX2 computer system.
Metal Gear Solid V came out just a little while ago and everyone’s excited about it. From what I hear, it’s a really good game and I’m looking forwards to picking it up for cheap in the future (because screw Konami). But before I did that, I wanted to go back and experience the series from the beginning. The original Metal Gear came out on the Japanese MSX2 computer system in 1987. It got a port to the NES in America, and then got a sequel on the NES developed by Konami USA. The problem was, this game wasn’t designed by Kojima, the original developer. A friend of his on the American dev team told Kojima that he should develop his own sequel, and that’s what he did. What you get instead of the side-scrolling NES crap is Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, a more-refined, but less accessible sequel for the MSX2. After that, the series transitioned to 3D on the Playstation and exploded into the main stream and the rest was history. But for these first two games, how did they set the groundwork? What story and traditions did they establish for the series? Were they actually any good? Do they hold up under modern critique?
Metal Gear 1 has a pretty simple storyline. You enter a military base with the intention of rescuing a captured agent, and a scientist, and destroying the deadly, nuclear powered robot, Metal Gear. As you explore the base, you receive transmissions on your radio on various frequencies. This is how you receive new objectives, hints for exploration, and nice little tips for avoiding new obstacles. If you have completely managed to avoid spoilers for this ENTIRE series, skip to the next section. All you need to know is that the story in Metal Gear 2 is way better than Metal Gear 1. Ready? Okay, so the cool thing about Metal Gear 1 is that the guy giving you directions, Big Boss, is actually the leader of the enemy base. He sent you in on your mission because he was under political pressure from the US government to address the threat, and sent you, “a rookie”, in so that you would fail. This starts to come across in later stages of the game as you slowly receive small little hints to his true allegiance. One of the cleverest ways they do this was by having him give you info on your radio that leads to your demise. Other small hints in the dialog, set him up as the big bad, while still being subtle. That’s extraordinarily impressive for what is essentially an NES game. As a whole however, there’s not really any other narrative going on. Two or three characters give you some advice, but ultimately Snake and Big Boss are the only characters that matter. This helps keep the game focused, without getting overly complicated. Especially since it’s only a few hours long.
Metal Gear 2 has a significantly better storyline. Characters with one off appearances in the first game, like Gray Fox, become full-fledged personalities with backstories and emotions. Codecs change based on how you’ve progressed in the story. There are small cut scenes with dialog between characters. Even Snake gets a personality of his own and starts to flirt with all the female characters as would be characteristic of him in later games. Again, nothing revolutionary, but it would come to define how future games would tell their stories and was therefore important. Lastly, Metal Gear 2 is the first game in the series to focus on a primary theme, which in this case was, “Can you ever break the cycle of violence that creates war?” There’s one or two plot twists that are telegraphed pretty well, but the rest kind of fall flat, maybe because I’m used to all the clichés at this point. Even bosses have some kind of rhyme or reason for what they’re doing, almost all the characters matter, there’s not any fluff. The dialog is smart, and doesn’t feel overly dramatic. Details that are described feel important to the stakes and events of the game. Overall, the parts of the story all come together in order to make a compelling and interesting story about war. It transcends the original in both its quality and effectiveness, especially for its time period.
These are retro games, so there’s not a lot to say here. The MG1 has a fairly simple sound system. Basic sneaking music, basic sound effects, a couple of changing songs, nothing to write home about. The problem is that MG2 doesn’t have nearly as good music. The sound effects, and environmental feedback is much better, but the tunes themselves aren’t as catchy. MG2 is just a little bit more grating, a little bit blander and has a little bit less character. It’s nice that you get more environmental feedback with the new game, but as a whole MG1 is more entertaining musically.
MG1 has NES graphics, MG2 has SNES graphics, despite both being on the same system. If you can play Retro games, it won’t bother you, if you can’t then they will. MG2 is better, done. It’s pretty easy to tell what each part of the environment does, which is vital for a stealth game where split second decisions are vital to remaining undetected.
This is where it all gets complicated. MG1 is simple and complex. It uses a lot of different systems all built on top of a really simple initial system. Guards can see in a bee-line straight in front of them for an infinite distance, but can’t see across screens. You can shoot guards with a gun, or punch them out from behind. If a guard sees you, all the guards on screen are alerted, but you can escape to another screen in order to turn off the alert. If you set off a camera or trip wire, then all the guards are alerted and you can escape in the elevator, or by killing a certain number of guards. You can equip an accessory, and a weapon at any one given time. The game guides you through the base as you go, introducing you to more complex security systems and counter-measures as you go. As you explore, the buildings make sense. They are small enough that you don’t get lost and keep you moving through the game, rather than go in circles trying to figure out where to go next. The boss battles, are not that great. Really simple, really straightforward, really easy. Shoot the guy until they die, the end. All of these elements come together to make a really solid game. It has simple systems, but it doesn’t make you over stay your welcome by continually making older sections easier with new tech (cardboard box) and introducing new concepts that make it harder (floor traps, gas chambers). Best of all, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. At about 4 to 5 hours, there’s not a moment where you get fatigue from playing too long or backtracking too much. It’s just the perfect length.
MG2 has a lot more options, but at the same time isn’t nearly as straightforward. The puzzles and places that are described in MG2 are more complex, so it’s a lot harder to keep track of where you need to go next, as well as where you’ve been in the past. The map is harder to navigate, and it’s bigger too, which makes it harder to memorize. There’s a mini-map, but not a big version to view what you’ve explored. Some elevators only go to certain levels, you have to go into certain areas of the level in order to get something to work. It feels arbitrary, like they just wanted to make things more complicated than they needed to be. On the other hand, a variety of new systems help make the game more fun. You have a radar now, guards move from screen to screen, you can crawl, there’s a sound system, the accessory system has been optimized, guards have better field of view, etc. Those improvements are welcome and useful, but they are overwhelmed by the obtuse nature of trying to navigate a much more complicated structure. In fact stealth is nearly impossible until you find the cardboard box and bucket, at which point it becomes much more manageable. MG2 is commonly referred to as the “better” game, which mechanically it is. But in terms of level design, it falls short of the original, which is a barrier overlooked by those who frequently replay these games. Their familiarity with the level design lets them overlook this flaw in its construction leading them to believe MG2 is the superior product. If you know what to do, then MG2 is awesome, but the game itself doesn’t lead you through the environments enough for my own liking.
The controls for both games are really manageable. It uses an NES style D-Pad, which means there’s no diagonal movement. In order to choose an item, you need enter your pause screen and select it Legend of Zelda style, same goes for your weapon select. I have a couple of small notes on the controls in general. In both games, you need to select and test the correct key card for the door you want to enter, which means entering your pause screen, selecting the key, walking into the door to see if it works and then trying again with a different key if it doesn’t work. This becomes a major problem when you’re trying to escape from guards or are caught in a gas room without a gas mask. Little oversights like this make the controls frustrating, as though they didn’t think through everything they wanted to do before trying to make them do it. Ultimately though, the control feel practically the same, but are a little more functional in MG2, so I’ll give them the gold star.
Metal Gear 1 and 2 were far better than I had originally expected. When you play games from the NES era, they were so early in their conception and limitations of the media that they often feel unguided, clunky, and confusing. Even the original Legend of Zelda doesn’t stand up to modern critique, despite the fun that I had with it. LOZ was so un-guided that it was almost impossible to play on your own without a guide, which is why I was SO impressed with both Metal Gear games for how well they manage to guide you through the various buildings. Both games hold up to modern-day gameplay and are worthy of a playthrough if you want to give them a chance. Since they’re included as a nice little bonus on the MGS HD collection, if you are a fan of the series and haven’t played them yet, then you should definitely give them a chance. They are an excellent example of one of the best, earliest example of the stealth genre.
Points (I grade on the full 10 pt. scale, 10 is perfect, 5 is average)
Story/Writing: MG: 8/10, MG2: 9/10
Music/Sound Design: MG: 7/10, MG2: 6/10
Graphics/Art Direction: MG:7/10, MG2: 8/10
Gameplay/Level Design: MG: 9.5/10, MG2: 7/10
Controls: MG: 8/10, MG2: 8/10
Final Rating: MG1: 39.5/50, MG2: 38/50
Bonus Points (Spoilers):
- MG1: That moment when I got the Cardboard box for the first time +4
- MG1: punching all the walls in the basement searching for hidden rooms -2
- MG2: Waiting in front of the Women’s restroom for the soldier in disguise +2
- MG2: Bucket +1
- MG2: Crawling over mines in order to pick them up +1
- MG2: Trying to escape in an elevator and having to punch a never ending supply of dudes -2
- MG2: Being able to get to a boss without the weapon you need to beat him in a linear game -1
- MG2: All of the bosses in this game are fun and unique, the last two especially were thought-out and epic +4
- MG2: Tossing a gas grenade in order to judge the direction of the wind to jump with the glider -2
- MG2: Creating accumulated key cards to reduce the necessary amount of switching bewteen key cards. +1
True Final Rating: MG1: 41.5/50, MG2: 42/50
— When you encounter the first boss after being captured and helping Gray Fox escape, punch the second door at the bottom of the boss screen and it will open. You then get access to your stuff so you can kill the boss
— The only place you can punch walls to find hidden rooms are in the basement of Building 1 and Building 3. Use a guide to find where the exact locations are.
— The guards can literally only see straight in front of them, stay out of their line of sight and you won’t get sighted, even if you’re right next to them.
— You save and checkpoint in elevators, you also get rid of base alarms whenever you enter an elevator. If you’re being chased across multiple screens, go hide in an elevator and you can escape.
— When you are put in prison, they put a “Bug/Transmitter” in your inventory. This will automatically alert all guards on screen to your presence.
— You can’t escape in an elevator, guards will follow you into the elevator. Break line of sight and let the timer go down. Then enter an elevator or room inside after you’re anonymous again. Some rooms automatically disarm the alarm, but it’s usually impossible to tell which ones do and don’t.
— You get a bucket and a cardboard box to hide in. The bucket makes noise while you move, but if it is shot by guards the bullets bounce off.
— You can crawl and use a box/bucket at the same time by entering the crawl state first and then equipping the box. This lets you move over squeaky ground without making noise while remaining concealed.
— When you finally need to fly across the gap using the glider, go to the twentieth floor balcony, use the gas grenade or cigarettes to tell the direction of the wind and then fly when it’s blowing towards the compound
— At some point you receive two eggs that both hatch. One will hatch a snake which will eat all your rations. As it passes over the remains of its egg shell, select it like you would rations to get rid of it.