Reflecting on 25 years of Solid Snake.
It's not hard to believe Metal Gear is one of gaming's longest standing franchises still around today. It's hardly surprising; after all Sonic has just celebrated his 20th anniversary which seemed to come by rather quickly, and Konami's Metal Gear first hit the MSX in 1987 and was the child of the then rather unknown Hideo Kojima.
Metal Gear is historically well known for being a game that set out to do something a little different, in a time where video games were starting to diverge away from platformers, turn based j-rpgs, or text adventures. What Kojima wanted to do was bring a movie like experience to gamers, and although it would arguably be 1998's Metal Gear Solid that gave gamers the full Kojima experience, Metal Gear was a brave and for the most part successful attempt. Bringing gamers a simple yet intriguing story, and kick starting a series of which its stories are still being told today.
Set in an unspecified year of the 90's, Metal Gear tells the story of the fictional South African fortress of Outer Heaven, a place which has threatened the world with a nuclear strike. Foxhound, the unit tasked to deal with the situation, sends their best operative in Grey Fox, but when he is captured, his final transmission mentioning 'Metal Gear', Foxhound's leader Big Boss is left with sending in a rookie Foxhound operative - a man who goes by the code name Solid Snake.
As most of us know by now, the titular Metal Gear turns out to be a large bipedal nuclear equipped walking battle tank, Big Boss turned out to be Solid Snake's father, and Solid Snake himself turned out to be one of gaming's most well loved heroes, culminating in - of all things -, a great cameo within Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Over the years the Metal Gear series has had its ups and down within the gaming community as well as its own fanbase.
Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation, the series' third entry has always been considered the peak of the saga, is often championed as the best, and everything since hasn't been able to quite recapture that lightning in the same way. And although you can see where that opinion comes from, (the game does feature a stunning amount of quality, despite the now-dated visuals) we actually prefer other chapters. Metal Gear Solid 2 courted controversy with a lot of fans, by reducing Snake to a support character and introducing Raiden, a younger more spritely character designed - in the words of Kojima - to give Japanese female gamers someone elso to play other than 'old men'. MGS2 also gave gamers a brilliant but incredibly twisted and unpredictable narrative, this effectively divided the community into two halves, one half embracing but the other half disappointed in the sometimes outlandish and odd way the series went.
2004's Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater brought back much for many of MGS2's critics, and although the conspiracies introduced within MGS2 were still as present as ever, the new mechanics and intriguing boss fights, including one of gaming's best - the lengthy and incredibly slow burn sniper battle against 100 year old sniper, The End - were all incredible and still great today. The 60's Cold War setting proved interesting and somewhat fresh to gamers, and playing as Solid Snake's father himself, Big Boss, proved to be a delight.
Following on, the next few years were awash with announcements, trailers and information for what was allegedly Solid Snake's final mission, Metal Gear Solid 4 - Guns of the Patriots. Promising much of series' loose threads to be tied up and featuring many returning characters, Metal Gear Solid 4 was met to extremely mixed opinion. We here at The X Button absolutely loved it, but plenty were irked by various aspects of the game. Whether it was the events of the near hour long ending, or how people found the differing gameplay amongst the games 5 acts, it was a real divider for gamers all over.
The biggest thing we appreciated with MGS4 though was the closure. Character arcs were effectively finished and although some questions still remained, Solid Snake's story was finished. It was a great swansong for the series and we still celebrate it as such.
So here we sit on the verge of new game Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and just shortly after the announcement of Metal Gear Solid 5. Much has been made in the media of Kojima being unable to let the series go, but that has perhaps never been made more clear than now. We hate to say it but we fear that the series is being more and more diluted with every addition Kojima and Konami add to the series. Spin off, non canon titles are great, and we suspect Rising Revengeance will fall into that category as quirky PSP card strategy game Metal Gear Acid does. But MGS4 was always meant to be the last, and although there are always stories of the past you can fit in, Metal Gear Solid 4 was such a good bookend to the series that any other tales squeezed in to the history aren't really necessary. Peace Walker, for example, as good a game as it, told such an unnecessary story and as a result it didn't really add anything to the series. We fear Metal Gear Solid 5 will be a masterpiece in every way except its relevance to the rest of the series, and for a series built so much on it's story and it's characters, it's something of a concern.
What we would perhaps welcome more than anything (although we are often against this notion at The X Button) would be remakes of the very first games of the series, Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Both are important entries into the saga but both have a few issues with their canon and events, despite a fairly recent re-translation. To make these games fit seamlessly within the rest would be, for us, a real swansong to the series instead of just adding to the story and potentially damaging continuity or weakening the brand.
We do truly love Metal Gear as a series here at The X Button, but we'd really like it to stand proud of its legacy, with the closure it has, rather than just keep adding to it. Sometimes a series' true greatness is revealed when it is finally left alone. We'd love to see what Kojima could come up outside Metal Gear but aside from all that. We can't deny this fantastic celebration of one of gaming's best ever series.
And what a series. Happy Birthday Metal Gear Solid.