Action, stealth, a seemingly unnecessary but very fun and detailed Mother Base building mechanic, a bizarre number of amputees, mutes and blind people, a robust weapons system, the unusual ability to build your own army complete with various branches like R&D and Intelligence and a vast sandbox in which to experiment with all of this. That’s Metal Gear in a paragraph. In fact, so vast is the game, the options and the styles with which you can play that even this succinct summary misses a great deal of it.
Feel like going loud and having some pulse-pounding action this evening? Easy. Select a mission, choose to be helicoptered in smack in the middle of the day, arm yourself with heavy weapons and maybe a grenade launcher and have at it.
Feeling stealthy? Simple, select your mission, wait to be dropped in until the cover of night will assist your desire to remain unseen, select a tranquilizer gun and a silenced main weapon and go.
Metal Gear’s biggest strength lies in it’s variety and the ability to tailor the game to whatever mood you happen to be in. Hiding in the classic cardboard box, getting just enough of an enemy’s attention so that he cautiously approaches and then springing out at just the right moment to grab the unwitting fool in a chokehold so you can interrogate him is endlessly amusing.
What’s more there are a limited but useful number of sidekicks you can choose for any given mission that also fit right in to whatever approach you feel like taking. Quiet can assist you in being, well, quiet. Your trusty canine companion can easily assist in the action or obediently slink along the ground next to you in stealth operations. Walker equipment can be outfitted to blow the ever-loving Hell out of huge swaths of Afghanistan if that’s your deal. And it’s all a blast.
Even better: There are consequences for consistently eschewing stealth but they aren’t mission killers. Rather, because of Metal Gears unique base-building and army-building mechanics you can easily miss golden opportunities to recruit highly skilled soldiers or steal precious assets to be used in upgrading your Mother Base; and upgrading Mother Base is crucial in allowing you to accommodate larger military branches like Intelligence and R&D divisions, whose services can be invaluable in the field. Choices, choices and a little restraint is the key here.
Often a mixture of stealth and Rambo style action is how I played. Crawl into an enemy encampment on my belly and interrogate the first guy I can so he spills the location of whatever prisoner I am attempting to free. Once I know where he is I quietly litter the camp with C4: a block on the communications equipment, a block on the air radar and maybe a block on the anti-aircraft emplacement for good measure. Then crawl back to higher land and use my binoculars to survey the enemy. Spot a skilled soldier, mark him, and devise a way to incapacitate him so I can have him whisked away via a Fulton device to Mother Base. He can join the Medical or Assault units! Lesser rated soldiers, I apologize, but you won’t be making it out alive. Ok, back to sneaking on my belly, grab the prisoner, Fulton him out. Find a secluded spot and detonate the previously placed C4. Call in a chopper extraction, mow down anyone left that stands between me and evacuation and it’s back to the base for a shower.
Metal Gear is packed with an infinite number of ways to approach each mission. So much fun is it that during missions where my intentions for stealth went awry I would simply restart the mission because it was all a blast to replay anyway.
Metal Gear also has a way of taking tasks that could easily be snooze-filled minigames and making them amusing and necessary for success. For example, and in a startling level of detail that borders on micromanagement, the game has a system for you to assign and reassign your recruits to various units in your growing army. I know, it sounds like repetitive busy work. But consider that those skilled in fighting can be assigned to units that you then dispatch on missions that generate money. Building Mother Base, developing weapons and gadgets, calling in airstrikes and emergency evacuations, well, it’s all expensive. Sending your top mercenaries for hire out on missions is crucial for keeping Mother Base from going into the red. Unlike the actual real life government, you have to stop spending when you run out of cash. What’s more, taking the time to assign that last guy you captured to the R&D unit, where he excels, can be the difference between leveling up that unit so you can acquire the next iteration of your favorite sniper rifle and you being stuck with the last weapon you developed that can quickly become inferior. You can even earn precious, precious GMP (Gross Military Product, or CASH) by extracting animals and building a robust and fun-to-visit zoo on Mother Base.
WARNING: Because of the staggering number of things you can manage, build and acquire there is a learning curve to using your iDroid. Don’t let this frustrate you, it can be overwhelming initially but once you’re used to it you won’t be able to imagine the game stripped of this intricate and infinitely fun device.
The story, full of bizarre characters, but not the sort of memorable tale you’ll be thinking about once the game ends, is one of the places where Metal Gear stumbles. Despite a strong, tense opening packed with beautiful cinematics and teasing you with hints of intricate plot lines to come, the story falls rather short of expectations. In fact, once you’re plopped down on your horse and armed with the first rudimentary weapons, the story seems to stop rather abruptly, instead allowing you to roam through the games vast sandbox and begin understanding how to capture guard posts and develop weapons. After the initial sequence the story dribbles out here and there, often going on tangents to show you there are child soldiers in the world, for example, but not to comment on the situation in any interesting way, just to make them sort of set pieces to rescue and pity. There isn’t a lot of depth here, at least not in the way Sons of the Patriots at least attempted to deliver.
Further, those moments where they allowed Snake to speak reminded you that Keiffer Sutherland was born to snarl and growl his way through Metal Gear dialogue. The problem quickly becomes that there really isn’t any dialogue. Far too many times during the course of the game I yearned to hear Sutherland say something, anything, in the role of snake. So silent is he that it often takes you out of the gameplay and becomes noticeable for it’s absence. Despite solid voice acting all around not many of the games actors are allowed to do much. They sputter at you through the helicopters headset before and after some missions, can be heard on tapes that are optional to listen to, but mostly they just deliver dialogue that is strictly necessary to the next mission and vanish. It is a missed opportunity and a glaring mistake by the usually reliable director Hideo Kojima. Cut scenes are pretty but few and far between, so much so that it feels like someone didn’t want all this story to get in the way of your action.
Metal Gear, despite it’s addictive gameplay and stunning level of detail and variety, also suffers from a lack of uniqueness. When you strip away the clever resource management requirements, the base building and staff assigning, all welcome additions, you are left with Far Cry. The moments in Far Cry where you approached enemy encampments and had to eliminate the enemy in order to raise your own flag, is the core of Metal Core and far too similar in both execution and repetitiveness. Still, acknowledging that, I must also admit I could not just stroll by an occupied guard post during the game, I always felt compelled to stop and interrogate a guard or, if I was frisky, slaughter one. After all, one of the beautifully done aspects of the game is the fact that you never know which guard may, under interrogation, give you the location of a sought after blueprint or the location of an expert gunsmith that may prove invaluable. Still, between the missing dialogue and the repetitive missions there were moments the game felt stale.
The only other major failing worth mentioning is that your sidekick Quiet, once equipped with the most advanced sniper rifle you can develop for her, becomes overpowered enough to throw the game off-balance. Once someone in a camp dares fires at you she will wipe them out with deadly precision while you sit in a bush and sip lattes. Rarely taking damage and moving across the landscape with superhuman speed (and exceedingly annoying humming) she is an unstoppable wrecking ball.
Almost all of what I covered above applies online. While the maps are nicely designed and the gameplay is fun and varied I don’t believe there is much to the competitive multiplayer that you haven’t seen before. I enjoyed it briefly but it didn’t captivate me so much so that I felt the need to explore it extensively before moving onto the next game. It’s filled with all the usual competitive play options, clever hiding spots, sniping opportunities, diversionary tactics and stealth chances.
You’ve seen it all and played it all before but if PvP play is what pushes the adrenniline through your system this a well and fun mode for you to get that thrill.
The exception to the online components been-here-done-that feel was, for me, the ability to infiltrate the FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) of other players. Depending on the amount of security devices they have both developed and deployed (all at a cost because resource management is always the theme in this game) the infiltration can be startlingly easy or excruciatingly difficult. In addition the rewards made the time it took well worth it, whether you were able to fulton extract some precious metal from his Intelligence platform before you were caught, or if you captured the whole base and all his skilled soldiers came to work for you. Cleverly every infiltration of another players base left you open to a retaliatory strike from him or her. So infiltrate players with a large number of wins and losses at your own risk because chances are good they’ll want their revenge. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this online mode is the ability to select players from your friends list to defend. With this option you can see when your friends security has been breached and initiate the retaliatory strike on his behalf. You can also be called to his base in the midst of an enemy excursion. So while you friend is sitting in a movie somewhere blissfully unaware his FOB is under assault you can jump to his defense for the poor fool. And then chide him for lowering his guard.
Overall there is a lot to love here and if nothing else Metal Gear has added core gameplay mechanics that prove the concept of the open world game has not reached a point where it can’t be dramatically improved. The iDroid, Mother Base and “shouldn’t be fun but it is” resource allocation elements will be copied, but you saw them here first.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 Bacon Strips
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