If you know me, you’ve probably heard me gushing about Metal Gear at some point. I’ve also been posting about the games pretty often lately, leading friends to ask me what the series is all about.
This article is my attempt to rationalize my admiration for Metal Gear and illustrate, as spoiler-free as can be, why these games deserve your attention.
What is Metal Gear?
It all began back in 1987 when Hideo Kojima designed the original Metal Gear for MSX2 computers. Initially meant to be an action game, Kojima changed the design, in part due to hardware limitations, to instead revolve around sneaking and avoiding encounters. That makes Metal Gear the longest-running stealth game series and a pioneer of the genre.
|Metal Gear (youtube.com)|
Kojima's Metal Gear series achieved worldwide popularity in 1998 with the release of Metal Gear Solid (MGS1) on the Sony PlayStation. This was the first 3-D game in the series, and was a highly praised commercial success. MGS1 is often cited as one of the most influential games of all time thanks, in part, to its ground-breaking 3-D gameplay.
|Metal Gear Solid (loser-city.com)|
So, Metal Gear gameplay is considered innovative and influential. Is that it?
Style and storytelling
Ask most fans why they love the series, and they'll tell you that they play for the storyline. So what’s the Metal Gear saga all about? I won’t even try explaining the many arcs in this admittedly convoluted plot. Instead, let’s examine what makes the storytelling feel so unique and memorable.
Kojima always tackles serious and novel themes in MGS games, like gene therapy, child soldiers, information control, meme theory, war profiteering, and much more. While the narrative themes vary from game to game, they nearly always involve nuclear weapons and the ethics surrounding their construction and use. Oh, and giant robots. Can’t forget about those! Even though most central characters are American, the nuclear themes and robot mechs are but a few elements that reflect Kojima’s Japanese culture.
|One of the many Metal Gear mechs (metalgear.wikia.com)|
Despite these heavy themes, there's always plenty of silliness in Metal Gear. Hiding in cardboard boxes, distracting guards with porno magazines, and catching a cold are a few examples of how MGS gameplay can be funny. There are often comic relief characters as well. When discussing his latest Metal Gear game, Kojima explained why he adds humour amid more serious subject matter.
|Banana holdup (wikihow.com)|
"He did WHAT?!"
Kojima, being the crazy auteur genius that he is, pulls crazy stunts that mess with your head. This started back in the original Metal Gear when your commanding officer orders you to shut off the game console.
Kojima’s most infamous stunt is arguably the big switcheroo from MGS2: Sons of Liberty. I didn’t experience this when the game released in 2000 (I was only a kid at the time), but the way Kojima fooled his audience is unparalleled to this day. MGS2 is a divisive game, but you can’t deny its depth and ambition – just read this amazing formal analysis. Kojima sure knows how to play with his audience's expectations.
|Raiden and Ray (trueachievements.com)|
Kojima also breaks the fourth wall on occasion, referencing the player or even the physical game itself. Who can forget the Psycho Mantis encounter? Fun fact: this scene holds the Guinness world record for most innovative use of a video game controller. Kojima delivers outside-the-box experiences you just can’t find anywhere else.
|"I can read your mind!" (redflagdeals.com)|
There is also impressive trolling surrounding the latest MGS game, which I’ll get to in a moment. But first, know that…
…there are valid reasons why people dislike Metal Gear.
For all their praise, MGS games also receive their fair share of criticism. Lengthy cinematic videos, exposition dumps, and bad writing are common complaints. MGS games can be pretty cheesy, and my girlfriend aptly described MGS1 as a mix of macho 80's movies and anime. But for some, the over-the-top dialogue and movie-style cutscenes are part of the charm.
Metal Gear Solid 5, Hideo Kojima's magnum opus, has been in development since at least 2012. The first part of MGSV, Ground Zeroes, was released in 2014. GZ serves as a prologue to the full MGSV game, The Phantom Pain, Kojima’s most ambitious project to date. According to voice actor Troy Baker, it may be the biggest game ever made. Check out the latest trailer, which shows the darker tone and the impressive new graphics engine:
|Joakim Mogren (neoseeker.com)|
Secretly revealed in this trailer, the game was simply announced as The Phantom Pain (TPP), with no apparent connection to the Metal Gear series. This psychological action game was supposedly being developed by Moby Dick Studio. The CEO of that company, Joakim Mogren, gave interviews about the game before finally revealing himself to be none other than Hideo Kojima in disguise! Even though fans figured out the truth by analyzing clues from the trailer, this was nonetheless an entertaining way to announce MGSV.
In terms of gameplay, MGSV is the first open-world game in the series. Kojima's team is radically changing the gameplay style in order to create a more open-ended stealth experience.
The story in MGSV acts as a bridge between the two primary Metal Gear story arcs, or sagas, sort of how Star Wars: Episode 3 connected the original and new trilogies. It’s incredibly cool for long-time fans, and the internet is running wild with crazy speculation as to MGSV's plot.
|"I'm already a demon." (reddit.com)|
New technology, new gameplay, and a new story that is crucial to the entire series. Needless to say, hype levels for this game are off the charts.
The Metal Gear series evolves with each new entry. No matter how much the technology improves, it's Kojima's creative direction that really distinguishes Metal Gear games from the rest.
|Hideo Kojima, the creative force behind Metal Gear|