Compared to many of my colleagues and contemporaries, it’s not unfair to suggest that I was a little later than most to the games industry party. Missing out on just about every 8 and 16-bit classic you might care to mention, my love affair with gaming only began upon being gifted a PlayStation for my tenth birthday back in 1996. Hindsight would suggest there were perhaps few better times to get involved, with Sony’s debut machine later playing a part in revolutionising the industry as we know it. For all the gaming goodness available for the PlayStation however, there is one game that stands above the rest in my personal hall of fame.
From the first glimpse of a screenshot onwards, Metal Gear Solid dominated my interest in gaming more than anything else before and perhaps even since. Every time I went shopping with my Mum, any games magazine adorned with Solid Snake on the cover would end up in our trolley between the apples and the baked beans. In the days before we owned a family computer, I absorbed every printed word and every low-res screen capture in the same way that my modern-day self will read internet blogs or trawl forums for the latest gossip on new releases. The eventual demo, a short sequence from the games warehouse opening bundled with the Official PlayStation Magazine, barely left my console during the seemingly never-ending wait for the game’s full release. Restricted to a single area with just 3 guards, some rations and a static fork lift truck for company, the experience was like nothing I had witnessed before. For hours I would toy with the guards, knocking them unconscious, purposefully treading through puddles or attracting their attention just to see how and where I could find a hiding place. I was enthralled.
When Metal Gear Solid finally released, it became the first title in my gaming history that I simply needed to own on day one. Accompanied by an adult after previously being turned down by GAME due to my youthful age, I literally ran into the nearest Electronics Boutique and grabbed my copy with both hands. It took just two or three days after this for me to finish the game, which retrospectively suggests I took my time with it, but in the weeks and months that followed I couldn’t even offer you an estimate of how many times I sneaked my way through Shadow Moses.
To my 1998 self, Metal Gear Solid was revolutionary. Gameplay issues such as Snake’s restricted movement, clunky item management and enemies with cones of vision are, of course, all outdated relics here in 2011, but at the time they created an unparalleled blend of stealth and action brilliance. Getting to grips with memorable weapons such as the SOCOM, FAMAS and Stinger missile launcher formed the basis from which all my action experiences have since been judged, and utilising such a diverse range of weaponry and equipment (Huh? It’s just a box…) was a dramatic leap forward from anything else I had experienced at the time.
Although at times bordering on the ridiculous, and in my opinion since soiled by Kojima himself, Metal Gear Solid also introduced me to the concept of videogame storytelling. Snake’s tale will hardly trouble any Oscar nominations, but the blend of unforgettable characters and main story arc still offers me some of the most dramatic and memorable moments in my personal gaming history. Meeting characters such as Revolver Ocelot and Vulcan Raven for the first time was almost like being treated to a sub story unto itself. Although standing as rudimentary boss battles and acting as mere barriers to your progression, for a brief moment I became totally enamoured by their story and their character, as if nothing else mattered for those few precious moments. Other sub-plots, such as the card key activation of Metal Gear Rex itself or the entire sequence involving Meryl, Sniper Wolf and Otacon, still send shivers down my spine just to think of them. Metal Gear Solid’s plot is, for me at least, just as compelling and emotionally stimulating now as it was the very first time.
A game I routinely revisit once a year and never enjoy any less for doing so, Metal Gear Solid is a stone-wall classic and the absolute epitome of what videogames represent to me. Neither before nor since has a single game introduced me to so many of the core mechanics or experiences that I take for granted today, and neither has a single game offered me so many unforgettable moments, quotes or set pieces that I still remember so fondly more than a decade on. Unquestionably the game that shaped my most formative years, Metal Gear Solid single-handedly switched me from small time hobbyist to lifelong enthusiast, and for that reason alone its place as my favourite game of all time will almost always be assured.