Metal Gear Solid for the original Playstation wowed the world with an unprecedented cinematic story for a video game, full voice acting, and a take on the stealth genre that helped it grow into a popular game type, but one thing that is hard to ignore when looking back on it is the quality of the visuals. The game deserved graphics better than the doll-like models with smears for faces, so with the GameCube remake Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, it was now able to present itself in a more acceptable visual style and port over improvements to the gameplay design from Metal Gear Solid 2 to help polish an already exceptional game to better match its phenomenal reputation.
You can’t really lead in with such praise for the game revolutionizing video game storytelling and then leave its plot on the table for later. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes takes place at a nuclear disposal site on Shadow Moses Island, Alaska, where a group of exceptionally gifted soldiers known as FOXHOUND have taken over the facility and threaten to launch a nuke at the U.S. in 24 hours with the revolutionary war machine Metal Gear REX unless their demands are met. Solid Snake, having dealt with Metal Gears before, is called in for a solo op, infiltrating the enemy base with the goal of declawing FOXHOUND to prevent the fallout of a nuclear launch in a post-Cold War world. The bones of the plot are simple and could even be the makings of a straightforward video game, but the story is not just an excuse for the action. Metal Gear Solid delves deep into its subject matter, taking a close look at the nature of war, especially its landscape after the development of nuclear weapons. Genetics play a heavy role in the plot as well, with the terrorist group demanding the body of what is believed to be the perfect soldier as part of their ransom that spirals into the diminished importance of soldiers in a political world governed by the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The game takes long, in-depth looks at the way war has changed in the 21st century, and the game is packed with government conspiracies and twists upon twists right up until the credits finally play.
The story is conveyed in two main ways, those being typical cutscenes and Codec calls. The Codec is definitely the more unique storytelling method, Snake having an earpiece he can use to get in contact with his support team and people he meets while on his mission. While cutscenes are used to convey the most important information and push along the action, Codec calls are often extended conversations where subjects are explored in-depth, characters can have philosophical debates, and a lot of the character building is done for the biggest characters in the plot. It’s a bit strange Snake can find the time to have these long chats in the middle of enemy territory, but the role they play is key in helping Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes explore its complex topics and it serves a secondary purpose as a source of hints during gameplay. Colonel Campbell is Snake’s CO for this mission and the one most reliable for providing info on what to do next, Mei Ling will save your game and share proverbs to keep Snake motivated, and Master Miller seems to mostly provide tips to the player on making sure they don’t forget to sleep or use the restroom while playing the video game. Miller is actually part of the game’s many moments of brazenly breaking the fourth wall, with characters sometimes looking directly at the camera to tell the player something, with Psycho Mantis’s boss battle being perhaps the definitive fourth wall break in all of gaming. Psycho Mantis plays with the medium in unusual ways, like reading your memory card and interacting with your controller, and while the game seems a bit too enamored with the GameCube controller’s rumble feature, most of the fourth wall breaks can range from clever to frustrating if you don’t realize the characters are talking about something outside the game’s fictional context. Perhaps the only frustrating one is the characters mentioning a Codec number on the back of a “package”, the other breaks existing to enhance play or worst case, the Colonel is on hand to explain them to avoid any other hiccups.
Metal Gear Solid may explore heavy subjects in regards to war and genetics, but the game can be deliberately cheesy as well, the Twin Snakes remake particularly reveling in scenes that seem ripped straight from action movie schlock. It speaks volumes for the strength of the grander narrative that Master Miller telling the player to drink plenty of fluids and Snake kicking off a missile to fire another missile don’t undermine the greater plot, and it’s not like the game ever truly asks you to take it entirely seriously, with many moments of goofy humor or gratuitous eye candy. It’s an unusual mix that rises and falls well, and the voice cast are perfect fits for making sure everything is delivered as intended for the current tone. David Hayter manages to balance the grizzled soldier Snake is with the lonely man underneath, and while the character’s propensity to repeat everything he doesn’t understand with a question mark is a bit silly, Snake makes it a character trait rather than unusual writing. Over the top voices like Liquid Snake match an over the top character, and it’s a bit surprising how much emotion Paul Eiding puts into Colonel Campbell’s performance when he’s only ever really seen as a portrait during Codec conversations. Packed with quotable lines and memorable moments, Metal Gear Solid manages to pack in the strengths of a movie with elements only a long-form medium like a video game can handle. Characters can spend the time needed to have conversations that develop their personalities and relationships, although many of the boss battles are book-ended by introductions and brief life summaries to put them into a broader context before you kill them. The series would get ridiculous with this in later titles, but the first Metal Gear Solid spaces it better and helps make the chats natural enough considering how much the members of FOXHOUND want Snake to hear their motivations.
While Metal Gear Solid’s main attraction is definitely the intrigue of its ever-shifting plot, it’s got a strong backbone of stealth action to maintain the play. Viewed from a top-down perspective, Snake is meant to sneak through the Shadow Moses Island facility, each room packing some new arrangement of guards and cameras to get through or some unique hazard that he must find a way to overcome. Snake’s items all must be procured on-site, meaning that he starts with nothing but his fists and sneaking acumen until he can find his first weapon. All enemies in the game have a cone of vision that can be seen on the player’s radar, so you have a decent idea of whether or not you’ll be spotted even if you can’t really see them well in your current position. Their vision isn’t the only thing you have to be concerned about though, as there are many interesting small touches that can lead to your detection. For example, if Snake steps in a puddle, he’ll leave wet footprints until his shoes are dry, and if he walks too quickly, his footsteps will be loud enough for guards to hear and investigate. Most enemies aren’t too bright and will give up on a lead if you avoid them well enough, but if you do get detected, an alert phase can begin, where you’ll be under fire and back-up will be called in to try and eliminate you. While you can try and stand and fight if detected, the waves of enemies will keep coming and are strong enough to kill you. If you can shake off their attention long enough though, the base gradually goes on lower degrees of awareness until they finally clear the threat warning and return to regular patrols. It’s a simple stealth system you’ll learn quick, and you have many skills and tools to help interact with it, like being able to crawl into vents to hide, boxes you can pop on to disguise yourself in warehouses, and various means to throw off enemy attention with distractions and false flags.
While stealth is a big focus, there are moments of forced action to ensure you’re good at both sides of the game. Shooting while in the top-down perspective is a tad awkward however. The game ensures that if you’re looking in the general direction of an enemy you’ll shoot them when you fire, but it can take a bit to put them down… unless you use first person. Switching to first person will let you be even more inventive in your sneaking and more precise in taking down enemies. Shooting out security cameras or headshotting an enemy while in this more controllable aiming mode opens up different approaches to sneaking puzzles, and it’s not like you can cheese through things thanks to this addition made for the remake. Any weapon save the tranquilizer guns will make a loud noise when fired, meaning you’ll likely draw attention from anyone else in the area, and even tranquilizing guards only incapacitates them briefly and they might be woken up by other soldiers. If you do get detected, first person mode isn’t so powerful that you can easily dispatch anyone who comes at you unless you put in the effort of finding a good spot and holing up, and even then your enemies pack grenades to flush you out. Your weapon selection, much like your utility item selection, is tied entirely to what you scavenge from the area, but the weapon variety doesn’t push too far nor is too restrictive. Your weapons are primarily used for fighting bosses or squeezing out of being detected, so they are either basic designs like a pistol, machine gun, or sniper rifle, or have a unique function like the Nikita guided missile, remote activated C4, and the tranq weapons. You switch guns using one easy access menu that pauses the action and have a second menu to set an item to help you out, and while you’ll likely be keeping rations there most the time as they’re a free revive if needed, the utility item menu also includes the many implements that will help you avoid detection or interact with the environment. Many items will have a clear intended point of use, but creative players can find many solutions to any sneaking puzzle or battle, even if it is harder than the intended method.
Despite the stealth system making up most of the normal play, it does begin to take a backseat as the plot really takes off. Late in the game things tend towards a lot of plot presentation, Codec calls, and boss fights with the FOXHOUND members you’ve been meeting along the way. Luckily the quality doesn’t dip because of it, with the bosses being mostly high-personality characters or packing some sort of impressive machinery that Snake will have to overcome. Fighting a tank out in the snow might not have the emotional impact of the sniper duel but it still packs its own punch, much like how Vulcan Raven’s simpler personality and motivation is made up for by his insane weaponry when you fight him. Not every fight is a homerun of course, Revolver Ocelot may be an incredibly important character to the plot, but your fight with him can be cracked open pretty easily if you keep the pressure on him strong, and the fight with the cyborg ninja can drag on since it asks you to use your rather weak melee attacks instead of heavy-hitting weaponry. It would be misleading to say they’re all as well-designed as Psycho Mantis’s psychic battle, but the framing works heavily in their favor and many at least rely on you having to figure out some weakness or attack method so there’s still some element to it beside generic action.
It is that framing that makes Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes such a stand-out title. The plot doesn’t exist just to set up conflicts, it has things to say and topics to discuss. It has characters who are caught up in a world where such facts dictate their behavior. Characters are betrayed, fall in love, or change their worldview. It’s got the space of a novel to work on things but the presentation of a movie to make it more striking and emotional, all coupled with the interactive side of things to motivate you to push forward to learn more about the underlying complexity of what could at first seem like a simple terrorist threat. It is not the best story a video game has ever told, its got plenty of headscratchers and plot holes, but it has the craftsmanship expected of a well-designed plot. Things like the Colonel’s captured niece Meryl and her desire to become a soldier are explored and discussed over the course of the game and help the player contextualize how being a soldier has affected the other characters in the plot. Even if you don’t agree with its messages, it has a lot to say and a plot strong enough to carry it all even if you write off its messages as fictional blathering.
THE VERDICT: Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is a remake of a monumental game with the requisite touch-ups to ensure it’s amazing elements aren’t ignored due to archaic graphics. Metal Gear Solid’s cinematic plot and presentation, while dipping into cheesiness and sometimes getting lost on the way to explaining its messages, packs in the intrigue of a high-pressure situation, a cast of high-personality characters, and a deep exploration of the effect the nuclear age has had on war politics and the lives of the quality soldiers who were devalued in favor of the sloppy destruction of nuclear warheads. While high quality voice acting and the myriad of twists encourage an investment in the story, the gameplay is not forgotten, with a stealth system that gives the player a slew of elements to interact with. Sometimes it is a bit too simple, and the boss fights suffer from this as well, but there are definitely moments where The Twin Snakes will push you to be creative or fight harder than usual. Metal Gear Solid creates an intensely memorable experience that borders between reality and fiction, drawing on both to examine real world subjects but embracing fantasy to make it more enjoyable and action-packed.
And so, I give Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for the GameCube…
A FANTASTIC rating. Metal Gear Solid proved the power of the video game medium in telling a story that can match the movies, and while it certainly wasn’t the first with a deep plot, it pushed it to the next level, a level that was finally realized even better with the Twin Snakes remake putting the visuals up to par. The story has the room it needs to evaluate issues and flesh out characters, and the action and stealth in-between make sense as a supplement and have the ingredients needed to engage the player when the plot isn’t doing such a fantastic job at doing so. Within its own world, the topics of discussion feed into the conspiracies and twists so that the game isn’t just preaching to a audience that might not be receptive to the message. Metal Gear Solid runs a tight ship and gives proper attention to its cast so they can be memorable, their battles have meaning, and they all tie into the grander narrative.
The stealth system has a few quirks and its plot tries to talk about so much it is bound to miss a few marks, but it can’t erase all the incredible work from the writers, designers, and voice actors. A powerful combination of the opportunities video games give stories, this may just be a remake of the game that made the initial waves in the industry, but it carries all of that greatness still and tweaks its elements to ensure this excellent experience isn’t lost because of the limitations of yesteryear.