Entry updated 20 February 2023. Tagged: Game.
The original Metal Gear is notable largely for having popularized the idea of an action-based Videogame whose gameplay revolves around stealthy infiltration. (The World War Two action game Castle Wolfenstein [1981 Muse Software, AppleII; 1983 Atari8, C64; 1984 DOS] designed by Silas Warner – the inspiration for the much less stealthy and rather more violent First Person Shooter Wolfenstein 3D  – appears to have been the first Videogame of this type, but was little known outside the then small community of American personal computer enthusiasts.) As with all of its various sequels, Metal Gear is essentially a Technothriller, set in what was at the time the Near Future of the 1990s, and features the eponymous bipedal tank which serves as a launching platform for nuclear weapons. The player, in the role of a US operative codenamed Solid Snake, must penetrate the defences of Outer Heaven, a rogue state founded by disillusioned soldiers. Snake's mission is to gather intelligence on and eventually destroy the Metal Gear, with which Outer Heaven's leader is threatening the nations of the West. In order to succeed, the player must avoid combat wherever possible, using the game's two-dimensional overhead view to spot and evade enemies and finding innovative ways to bypass or disable various traps. The game succeeds in creating considerable tension as the player threads their way through one lethal obstacle after another, particularly after a twist in the (admittedly minimal) plot leaves the protagonist cut off from his superiors. Metal Gear had two direct sequels, of which the first was created by other hands than Kojima's: Snake's Revenge (1990 Konami, NES), which uses both overhead and side views to tell its story of the infiltration of a terrorist base containing mass produced Metal Gears. Kojima returned to design Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990 Konami, MSX; 2004 Phone), another two-dimensional stealth-based game in which the player is tasked with rescuing a kidnapped scientist who has invented a way to produce petroleum using Genetically Engineered algae.
The series only became truly popular, however, with the release of Metal Gear Solid (1998 Konami, PS1; 1999 rev vt Metal Gear Solid: Integral; 2000 Win) designed by Hideo Kojima. This work retains the basic gameplay of the original Metal Gear, but displays it in three dimensions, usually from overhead. Perhaps more importantly, it begins the process of transforming the simple storylines of the first three games into an increasingly baroque serial melodrama, littered with flamboyant grotesques, bizarre plot twists and unexpected lectures on philosophy. The approach taken is highly cinematic, both in its use of visual techniques derived from film and in its presentation of the generally linear narrative through long Full Motion Video scenes and conversations which the player listens to rather than participates in (see Interactive Narrative). The story begins with Solid Snake called out of retirement to infiltrate a nuclear weapons disposal facility occupied by members of his old unit. These ex comrades turned terrorists have seized control of a Metal Gear and are threatening the US government with a nuclear strike if it fails to surrender the body of the leader of Outer Heaven, killed at the end of Metal Gear 2. Things rapidly become more complicated, as it emerges that the unit is commanded by a previously unmentioned Clone of the protagonist, known as Liquid Snake, and that Solid Snake has been infected with a Genetically Engineered virus designed to kill the terrorists, and possibly himself as well. Meanwhile, Snake's commanding officer regularly contacts him via radio to supply advice on how to play the game, obtain updates on the status of the mission and occasionally discuss the meaning of life. As with the later Metal Gear Solid games, the tone veers between enthusiastic kitsch, broad humour – pornographic magazines are an especially effective way of distracting guards in later revisions of the game – and heartfelt denunciations of nuclear proliferation and the corrosive effects of warfare on human nature. There is one expansion, Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions (1999 Konami, PS1), a set of additional missions unrelated to the main storyline which were included in the revised Metal Gear Solid: Integral. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (2004 Konami / Silicon Knights, GC) is a full remake of the original, incorporating various enhancements to both the gameplay and the visuals.
The first sequel to Metal Gear Solid was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001 Konami, PS2; 2002 rev vt Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance XBox; 2003 PS2, Win; rev 2011 PS3, XB360) designed by Hideo Kojima. The gameplay of Sons of Liberty is a much refined and more realistic version of that seen in its predecessor, with markedly more intelligent opponents. The linear story is split into two parts. In the first, Solid Snake – now working for a United Nations sponsored organization known as Philanthropy – is dispatched to investigate the theft of a new Metal Gear prototype. In the second, a new protagonist known as Raiden is sent into an environmental cleanup facility in New York City which has been captured by terrorists. Almost everything in Raiden's initial mission briefing, however, eventually proves to have been a lie. The narrative tone resembles that of Metal Gear Solid; characters repeatedly break the fourth wall, at one point telling the player to turn off the console on which they are playing the game. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004 Konami, PS2; 2005 rev vt Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence PS2; rev 2011 PS3, XB360; 2012 rev vt Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D 3DS) designed by Hideo Kojima adopts a somewhat more sober tone in its depiction of the early career of "Naked Snake", the man who became the leader of Outer Heaven in Metal Gear and from whom Solid Snake and Liquid Snake were cloned. Naked Snake is an agent of the US government during the 1960s, sent into the Soviet Union to extract a defecting nuclear scientist. The mission rapidly disintegrates, however, as it emerges that Snake is acting as a pawn in a war between different factions of a secret society which once controlled the most powerful nations in the world; the ending conveys a sense of genuine tragedy. Snake Eater's gameplay emphasizes exploration and accuracy of simulation to a greater degree than previous entries in the series, including realistic depictions of wounds and jungle survival. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (2006 Konami, PSP) designed by Masahiro Yamamoto, Hideo Kojima is a sequel to Snake Eater. Set in South America during the early 1970s, the game deals with Naked Snake's attempts to dispose of renegade members of his own unit who have taken over a Soviet army base. The gameplay is quite different to that of previous entries in the series; while stealth is still emphasized, Portable Ops is a squad-based game in which the player must recruit members of the opposing forces and deploy them in teams to secure mission objectives. Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops Plus (2007 Konami, PSP) is an expansion which concentrates on adding new multiplayer options; it can be played either separately or in combination with the first game. Similarly, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (2010 Konami, PSP; 2011 PS3) designed by Hideo Kojima follows Naked Snake's use of his mercenary army – the Militaires Sans Frontières ["Soldiers Without Borders"] – to defend Costa Rica against a mysterious invasion in the mid 1970s. The gameplay and narrative styles resemble those seen in Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater, with squad-based elements reminiscent of Portable Ops. Ultimately, Naked Snake will decide to create the military nation of Outer Heaven, making himself into the villain of the original Metal Gear.
The series culminates with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (2008 Konami, PS3) designed by Hideo Kojima. The gameplay is a refined version of that provided by Sons of Liberty, but the (generally linear) story is markedly more complex, and almost impossible to follow without playing the previous games in the sequence. Solid Snake is now suffering from premature ageing brought on by rapid cellular degeneration and referred to as "Old Snake". Guns of the Patriots begins with him deployed to the Middle East to prevent rogue agents taking control of a Nanotechnological facility used to enhance the abilities of the mercenaries who dominate military operations in the game's Near Future. The subsequent plot is so convoluted as to defy description. Characters from various previous games reappear, often in disguise, bioengineered Supervillains proliferate wildly, and the backstory of the entire series is explained by means of a remarkably intricate conspiracy theory in which America's Secret Masters turn out to be a network of AIs named after its most famous Presidents. This game may be Solid Snake's last hurrah; if so, it is certainly a fitting conclusion.
Related works: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (2013 Platinum Games [PG], PS3, XB360) designed by Kenji Saito is a spinoff game, set four years after the end of Guns of the Patriots and featuring Raiden (the second protagonist of Sons of Liberty) as the player's character. Here, however, Raiden spends far more time slashing than sneaking; this iteration of the franchise is more concerned with action than stealth, featuring a great deal of high speed swordplay with excessively powerful blades and an almost obsessive focus on dismemberment. The linear plot is as overwrought as ever, with frequent discussions of the various characters' ethical stances, a talking robotic dog, and a villain who plans to restart the War on Terror in order to transform the United States into a land ruled by an endless war of all against all (an outcome he sees as the true American dream). Ultimately the game's Cyborg hero, having successfully come to terms with his inner child soldier, can hack and slash his way through all opposition. The story ends with him disappearing to fight his own private war, while the mercenary army that employed him sets up a refuge where the brains of abused children can be rehoused in artificial bodies. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Blade Wolf (2013 PG, PS3, XB360) and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Jetstream Sam (2013 PG, PS3, XB360) are expansion packs which serve as prequels, focusing on the back stories of two of the most iconic characters from the game.
Various other games have been created in which Solid Snake is the protagonist and the gameplay emphasizes stealthy infiltration, but which are not part of the main story sequence. Metal Gear: Ghost Babel (2000 Konami, GBC; vt Metal Gear Solid outside Japan) designed by Shinta Nojiri, Hideo Kojima has similar gameplay to the original Metal Gear, and a plot based on the theft of a Metal Gear prototype by an African guerrilla group. Metal Gear Acid (2004 Konami, PSP; 2008 rev vt Metal Gear Acid Mobile Phone) designed by Shinta Nojiri has a highly stylized design in which a virtual Collectible Card Game is used to control Snake's actions; the story revolves around attempts to rescue a kidnapped US senator and investigations of a secret research project. The broadly similar sequel is Metal Gear Acid 2 (2005 Konami, PSP; 2009 rev vt Metal Gear Acid 2 Mobile Phone) designed by Shinta Nojiri, in which an amnesiac Snake is forced to perform missions by a rogue US official. Metal Gear Solid Mobile (2008 Ideaworks, Phone) deals with attempts to prevent the spread of leaked Metal Gear technology, while Metal Gear Solid Touch (2009 Konami, iOS) is a much simplified version of Guns of the Patriots in which the player shoots their way through a predetermined series of enemies. Metal Gear Online (2008 Konami, PS3) is a competitive multiplayer game set in temporary Online Worlds which has to date only received an independent release in Japan.
Several Comics and novels have been written based on the franchise. Metal Gear (1990) by Alexander Frost is a Young Adult novelization of Metal Gear, while Metal Gear Solid (2008) and Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2009), both by Raymond Benson, are novelizations of Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2. Similarly, Metal Gear Solid (2004-2005) is a 12-issue Comic based on the game of the same name, written by Kris Oprisko, and Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty (2005-2007) is a 12-issue comics series derived from Sons of Liberty, written by Alex Garner. There is also a Japanese novelization of Guns of the Patriots by Keikaku Itō: Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriots (2008). [NT]
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