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Metal Gear Solid

By not owning a Playstation, it has been my misfortune to miss out on many really great games over the past several years. According to many of my PSX-owning friends, the foremost among those great games would have to be Metal Gear Solid. I had gotten a chance to play it very briefly in its PSX incarnation, but not enough to really get into it. So, in essence, I have lived my life in an ignorance that, as blissful as it was, kept me from the true happiness brought on by this game. So said the PSX-owning proponents of Metal Gear Solid.

Well, with the release of the game onto PC, and the luck of the draw for reviewing purposes, I ended up putting an end to that ignorance, and the relative lack of joy. There really is no other way to say it -- Metal Gear Solid (MGS) kicks ass.

In the game, the player controls a man by the name of Solid Snake. According to several of the other characters in the game, Snake is not so much a man as he is a legend. While his fame in our own world may not be quite the same as it is in the world of MGS, Snake is definitely not a name unfamiliar to gamers, particularly console gamers. He has been around since the glory days of the NES in Metal Gear and its sequel (which I believe was called Snake's Revenge). As it is, Snake may be a legend, but he is a retired legend. He has moved up to Alaska to enjoy some time to himself, where fighting is not a part of his day-to-day life.

As you may have guessed, things don't work out quite so well. Terrorists seize a nuclear disposal site in Alaska and Snake is called in to help put an end to their dastardly plans as negotiations break down. A series of revelations soon indicate that not all is as simple as it once appeared to be, then a few more intricacies of the story are revealed. Needless to say, a storyline that could have easily been something embarrassingly bad ends up being fairly involved. Furthermore, the character development is particularly strong. Through cutscene conversations or calls on the Codec, Snake slowly learns more about his friends and foes alike, while the player learns not only about these characters, but Snake as well. In the end, the characterization and plot are interesting enough to make MGS quite a good candidate for a movie script, although probably not a nomination for any Oscars.

Although the story was definitely not a weak point, the game's true power is in its gameplay. It is unbelievably fun. I don't think words can adequately describe how much fun it is; however, I will give it a shot, as that is my job, after all.

First of all, let me say that controlling Snake via the keyboard isn't nearly as horrid as I thought it would be, but I definitely recommend the use of a game pad for this is much more fun that way. Now, having said that, let's talk about the controls. There is a button for using weapons, a button for performing actions (pushing elevator buttons, for instance), a crouch button, and a button to switch to first-person view. Those are the primary four buttons for use in the game. This leaves only operating your Codec and switching among inventory items.

A quick note on First-Person view mode: although the PC version of MGS does allow you to move Snake around completely in first-person mode, I have found that doing so is not a great idea because of the lack of strafing and mouse look.

Now to the heart of why the gameplay is so great. First, MGS is a sneaking kind of game. Taking the world on with guns blazing and a snarl just will not work for you. As a result, it is generally a good idea to avoid being seen by the guards whenever possible. Should one of them spot you, they enter alert mode. When in alert mode, guards attack you and call for backup. Normally when this happens you end up with roughly four automatic weapon-toting guards shooting at you. If you manage to escape from them (i.e. get out of their field of vision for a couple of seconds), evasion mode begins. During evasion mode, the guards and turrets and cameras are actively seeking you out instead of following set patrol paths. Supposing you are spotted, alert mode begins all over again. After a certain amount of time, evasion mode ends and everyone goes back to their patrols, while Snake's satellite imaging (radar) comes back online.

Of course, this does not mean that you are going to have to (or even want to) go through the entire game trying to avoid attacking guards. In fact, it is often necessary (or at least advantageous) to take them out. However, it's usually best to do so quietly. Sneaking up behind one and grabbing him, you can drag him off to some corner and snap his neck, usually getting away without the guards being alerted. Use a pistol with a silencer on it and you can usually take down a guard before he makes a sound. Take a shot from a long way off with the sniper rifle and the target will fall without alerting his friends.

Of course, if you want to make some noise, there're options available to you. C4 explosives, hand grenades, Nikita remote-controlled guided missiles and, of course, the handy dandy machine gun all make a nice dent in the enemy population. Using any of these within hearing range of a guard will start up alert mode, though, so discretion should be used.

For the most part, the enemies you face will be simple guards armed with machine guns. As in Austin Powers 2, they are fairly inept. For instance, one of my favorite tricks is to press myself up against the wall, and then knock on it to make a noise. A guard will hear it, and mosey in my general direction, but before he rounds a corner I hide in a cardboard box. Most of the time, he simply shows up, and says something brilliant like "Huh, it's just a box." Thinking himself safe, he turns to walk away and I spring forth from said box, snapping his neck like a dry twig.

Aside from the guards and a few other assorted enemies, there are the various boss characters. The bosses are all just as well developed as the good characters, and are extremely fun to fight. The best part about the bosses, in my mind, is the way they are so varied. Even though you must fight Raven twice, one time he drives a tank and another time he carries around an immensely large machine gun (so large, in fact, that it is supposed to be mounted on an F-16). Needless to say, every boss is an extremely distinct battle requiring different tactics and, more often than not, different weapons as well.

Something worthy of mention: included with the PC version of MGS is Metal Gear Solid, VR Missions. Basically, this is a virtual reality training pack that, for the most part, plays much like the game. In the sneaking training, you have to reach goals without entering alert mode. In various weapons training modes, you have to destroy targets or guards with given weapons. In mystery mode, you have to solve little murder mysteries (I found those particularly fun). The VR Missions is just as much fun as the actual game (according to a friend of mine, they are more fun), and playing them definitely is a learning experience (who would have thought you could use C4 to blow up guards?).

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Steve (Bane) Rhoades
October 19, 2000
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PII 233
Video with 4MB VRAM
250MB HD space
4x-speed CD drive
Windows 95
Gamepad recommended




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