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Metal Gear Solid – cinematic while embracing the novelty of gaming

Content of the article: "Metal Gear Solid – cinematic while embracing the novelty of gaming"

Style and presentation

What originally drew me to MGS was the distinctive art style of the game. Every time I looked up a screenshot of MGS1 I would see environments drenched in psychedelic greens and blues. Even the hud elements shared and emphasized this color motif. This visual style always made me want to try the game, even over newer MGSs.

Sitting down to play MGS I enjoyed how abstract and game-like it was. I had read some complaints about MGS1 describing how you basically never take your eyes off of the radar mini-map and ignore what's actually happening within the game world. I didn't mind this. In fact I enjoy how gameplay centric it feels. A stylish environment wrapped around a prominent gameplay element is appealing to me. I'd compare it to focusing on a menu in an RPG while a battle happens up above in the main screen. I think it's fine.

Making the radar such a bold aspect of the the game's presentation is in fact part of why I enjoyed the aesthetic of MGS so much. And I think something like the radar even plays into some of the meta qualities of the game. Something like the UI or the HUD isn't there just to transmit information, it's part of the experience, flashing red and shifting to a timer when Snake gets caught. It's comparable I think to how your controller isn't just there simply to functionally move Snake around in the Psycho Mantis boss fight, instead it becomes integrated into the game world itself.

Looking around at other impressions of the game, I've seen people refer to MGS as one of the first games to usher in the cinematic "immersive" style of storytelling so popular today. I think I disagree with that, in large part because of all these meta elements present throughout the game. Take the codex for example. Instead of relying solely on 3D character models during narrative moments the game also offers drawn silhouettes of each character's face. It's a good use of the abstraction of the medium, offering rendered models where appropriate but also using the codex faces to give the player clues into the more subtle emotions of the characters.

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The entire game seems to be very playful with gaming as a medium in this way. Your modern cinematic game I think tends to try hide away gameplay elements, or make them as seamless as possible, MGS on the other hand constantly reminds you that it is a game. It's not shy at all about using the unique characteristics of the medium to convey itself in the best way possible.


I feel a bit conflicted about some of the gameplay choices the developers made. For example going into the game I knew there would be backtracking, in fact I was looking forward to it. I imagined there might be intricate connections between various pathways you could take, maybe with different consequences depending on which direction you choose. Unfortunately the game is fairly linear, going backwards is mostly traveling in a straight line.

It gives me a sense of missed opportunity. I love all the environments, and I like the idea of gaining gradual familiarity with a small but dense island facility. There just isn't quite enough going on to make everything feel integrated together. Rather than frustration I mostly feel disappointed that Shadow Moses isn't more interconnected since the setting and atmosphere are both so well done.

Oddly enough, there's no real central skill that you become better at as you play the game, instead moment to moment action is loosely strung together with distinct and novel set pieces that offer new methods of gameplay. Like, in the Sniper Wolf fight, suddenly you're sniping. This isn't a skill that's been emphasized, it's not something you really practice, it's just here to justify and contextualize a gameplay moment with this boss/character.

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On the one hand this feels kind of erratic, especially because something like the sniper controls aren't implemented very well. On the other hand I kind of like how MGS ties itself together using short, rudimentary, but novel gameplay sequences. I think this is another way MGS differs from modern cinematic games and celebrates the medium. MGS seems happy to embrace the utility of video games, using mechanically unique instances of gameplay to frame and effectively emphasize narrative moments.

Very happy I finally played the game. It has a great sense of style and nicely captures the strangeness and innovation that was so prevalent around the 5th generation when 3D games were still finding their footing.


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