Games have come a long way over the last twenty years, from sprites to polygons to lifelike HD realism; the gaps being bridged between generations are increasing beyond anything we could have imagined when we sat in front of our old PSone consoles back in the day.
While this means that games are getting better looking and giving us an enhanced sense of immersion and control as they transcend from the relatively low budget affairs they once were to full-blown AAA blockbusters in an industry that’s rivalling Hollywood in terms of production values and revenue, it also means that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to go back due to the fact that old games are really showing their age.
Have you tried playing old classics like Crash Bandicoot or Resident Evil recently? While there’s no doubting the impact such games had on the industry, or the amount of nostalgia we have for them, they haven’t held up well. Old game is old, as Greg Miller would say, and Jill Valentine has aged worse than Carrie Fisher…
Clunky controls, outdated mechanics and weirdly hypnotic pixels that seem to shift around like seaweed being dragged around by a low tide, they were great for their time, but times have changed.
Still, having dipped back into a few old PSone classics over the last few months, there is one that still holds up relatively well, and that is Metal Gear Solid.
Metal Gear Solid is the title that I would attribute most with the birth of mature narrative in gaming.
Solid Snake’s debut was the first time I’d experienced an epic, movie-style storyline of espionage and terrorism in a game, with a unique, over-the-top cast of characters, including a rogues gallery of villainous bosses that would have been right at home in a late night 80’s action movie. Snake himself was apparently inspired by Snake Pliskin from Escape from New York, so the creators clearly had that 80’s tone in mind.
Going back and playing Snake’s adventure again felt a little jarring at first, the textures and animations are basic but just simple enough to be passable, though as soon as you’re past the training style intro where you receive fourth wall breaking hints from your Commander (“Snake, press the action button!”) and get the story in full swing, it becomes just as great as you remembered it being.
From the epic music to the charicatured voice acting, it’s just pure awesome. And the gameplay mechanics are still varied enough to feel like you are playing a versatile character.
One minute you’re hiding in a box so that you can be loaded into a van and taken to a new area of the map without detection, the next you’re steering Nikita missiles down an electrified hallway to destroy a fuse box, then before you know it you’re knocking back diazepam to rest your nerves during a tense sniper battle with a naughty Russian piece, it’s mental.
MGS was not just the first time I’d played through a movie-style plot in a game, or experienced such a vast array of different mechanics in one, but it was also the first time I’d seen so many set-pieces.
Taking down a helicopter one on one with heat seekers, having a battle of wits with a psychic who reads your actions until you swap the memory card out, fighting a cyborg ninja (who was once your friend) and then teaming up to destroy a giant Mech, before having a fist fight with your twin brother on top of it’s burning metal corpse? And that’s just naming a few of them, this game has set-pieces for days, and oh boy are they great.
For me, MGS doesn’t just represent the birth of the AAA blockbuster epic in games, or an example of an old game that has stood the test of time (which it totally has imo). For me, it represents the start of my love for the medium, it showed me that games can be involving, that they don’t just have to be about high score chasing, that they can surprise you, and that they can be every bit as as entertaining as any movie.