Metal Gear Solid: 25 Years Later

(Image by Yoji Shinkawa/Konami)

The iconic Metal Gear Solid passes a major milestone this month. It’s my favorite game ever.

It’s crazy that Metal Gear Solid is now 25 years old. It feels like I just played the game last week back in the late 1990s. Metal Gear Solid is probably my all-time, number one, favorite video game. It’s a title I completed multiple times, spending countless hours playing.

The playable hero in the game is Solid Snake, a legendary soldier taken out of retirement. Snake is sent on a top-secret assignment to a nuclear weapons disposal facility in Alaska at a place called Shadow Moses Island. What starts as a rescue mission and stopping a terrorist group escalates into saving the world from nuclear war. Set in 2005, Metal Gear Solid takes players through the armed facility and against unique boss fights to stop Metal Gear Rex, a walking nuclear weapon machine. The game is a stealth action title that’s written, directed and produced by Hideo Kojima, with a focus on its story and characters. Kojima and his team developed Metal Gear Solid while at Konami. The company also published the game.

Metal Gear Solid first launched for the original PlayStation on Sept. 3, 1998 in Japan and on Oct. 21, 1998 in North America, with a European release the following February. The Metal Gear franchise actually started in 1987 on the MSX2 home computer in Japan and its sequel Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake in 1990. Solid is the third game developed by Kojima. A lot of people consider this the “first” game with Snake though. Many people didn’t play the first few Metal Gear titles by Kojima as they weren’t available in North America or Europe until many years later.

This was the first Twitch-style streaming game for me, before we had any idea of what that would be two decades later. I watched one of my friends at the time basically binge the entire game over the course of a few consecutive sleepovers at his house. I was glued to the television while sitting next to him as he completed the game. His PlayStation console was on for hours and hours straight, running super hot like the original PS1 tended to always do. I was probably 9 years old. I don’t think I looked at video games and maybe even the world the same way after Metal Gear Solid.

Back in the ’90s, for kids my age you really only found out about new video games through print magazines, your friends or other kids at school. Yeah, there was the Internet, but no one I knew even had a computer much less personally connected into the world wide web. The Internet existed but it wasn’t a reality yet. This particular friend of mine introduced me to Metal Gear Solid, as I don’t recall ever knowing about the game prior to him. I didn’t know about Snake’s previous two games either. I can’t remember but I think he was the same age as me. I have no idea how he even found out about the game. This guy was always into cool stuff even at our young age (like BMX biking, Magic: the Gathering and alternative music), so looking back it doesn’t surprise me. This was also a Mature (M)-rated game so technically we shouldn’t have even been playing it. I still remember the excitement as my friend went through the ending sequences towards the final cut-scenes.

Metal Gear Solid was probably the biggest game of all-time at that point in 1998. Looking back I don’t think anything came close, at least from what I was aware of and available to me. The game was so good, I didn’t even care that I wasn’t the one playing it. To this day I don’t think anything has matched Metal Gear Solid. It was a unique experience. The game was extremely innovative. Metal Gear Solid really elevated the video game medium and set itself apart from most other games at the time. There was a clear before and after in the game world once Metal Gear Solid released.

I still have my original copy I later got at a Best Buy store probably in 1999 or early 2000 at the Harlem Irving Plaza (HIP) Mall in the Chicagoland area. It’s a bright green-labeled, double-disk, Greatest Hits copy. I’m pretty sure my mom bought it for me. That Best Buy was later torn down and rebuilt while the rest of the mall looks completely different now. Things constantly change but I’ll always remember getting games there. The cover of Metal Gear Solid still looks slick and iconic, with “Tactical Espionage Action” blazon in red across the all-white front of the PS1 jewel case.

Metal Gear Solid sold over 1 million copies in North America in 1998, which is a lot given the time period. The game went on to have worldwide, lifetime sales of over 7 million. That would still be considered a ton of copies today for a game released on a single platform. It’s even more impressive given that the game industry has a much larger audience now compared to the late ’90s to early 2000s. There were also an estimated 12 million demo discs distributed across North America in magazines and places like Pizza Hut, which is pretty insane.

(Photos by Tim Bowman)

For a long time now the game had been difficult to play from an accessibility standpoint. Metal Gear Solid is downloadable for the PC from GOG. If you have a PlayStation 3 you can play it on there as part of Metal Gear Solid: The Legacy Collection (voucher code), with an original PS1 disc version or as a digital “PSOne Classics” download. There’s also the PlayStation Classic console with the game built-in that released in 2018. For years you couldn’t play the game on PlayStation 4 or 5 since there wasn’t any backwards compatibility specifically available for it. The game and its first two sequels will finally be part of the upcoming Metal Gear Solid: Master Collection Volume One on Oct. 24 for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S and PC on Steam (retailing for $59.99). Konami as a company appears to be going back to its gaming roots, treating its classic franchises and catalog better after years of neglecting them.

I went back and played some of the original game on PS3 for this article and the anniversary. I can’t exactly remember the last time I played Metal Gear Solid. It maybe was around high school, so more than 15 years ago at the minimum. Of course the graphics haven’t aged well with the PS1’s 32-bit polygonal visuals. In 1998 it was one of the best-looking games ever. Now it seems somewhat simplistic and crude given the insane graphical leaps over the last 25 years. When you play the game today none of the character’s move their mouths when they talk. I guess I never noticed that back in the day. The game uses the circle button instead of X for everything, which I remember always being confusing as it was one of the few exceptions to do so. Everything about Metal Gear solid had to be different.

Metal Gear Solid really became synonymous with the original PlayStation and that brand in the years that followed. The Nintendo 64 definitely didn’t have games like this. Metal Gear Solid greatly boosted Sony’s first entry in the home console market and its momentum with the incredibly successful PlayStation 2. The game was one of the top titles to cement Sony as the leader in the console space that it eventually became today. I never saw this goofy commercial for the release, which totally doesn’t fit the game’s tone. It’s similar to a lot of advertisements in the ’90s, when video games were still considered toys and not something really for adults to be taken seriously.

The game’s story holds up, which is called the “Shadow Moses Incident” in the Metal Gear timeline. Kojima put a lot of concepts into this game, mixing his fictional Metal Gear universe with real world events. Themes of patriotism, propaganda, the military-industrial complex, the global arms race, the cold war, superpowers, black projects, nuclear proliferation, environmental concerns, truth and how the world really operates all ran through the story. It also portrayed how governments lie to their people and their own soldiers. How governments and political leaders manipulate the media and public perception. How war is actually nothing more than money-making tool for the powerful and the weapons manufacturers. The game even touched on genetics and cloning with the “Genome Soldiers.” There weren’t many games back then touching on these issues and ideas, or even today really.

The threat of nuclear war is still ever present given the current ongoing conflict of Russia invading Ukraine. People jokingly make memes about World War III across social media but underlying them is the anxiety that this might be what finally drives us all into nuclear annihilation. During a scene after rescuing the president of an arms manufacturing company, Snake said, “the Nuclear Age ended with the turn of the millennium.” ArmsTech President Kenneth responded, “You’re wrong. The threat of nuclear war isn’t gone…in fact it’s greater than it’s ever been.” War and conflict are also good for business. Earlier in that conversation Baker said, “Maybe they’re [the terrorists] like us in the arms industry…Always looking forward to the next good war…” A lot of the game’s themes are still relevant to our world. It’s reality portrayed as fiction.

Of course there were also a lot of creative liberties in Metal Gear Solid that got even whackier in future entries. As the nerdy engineer Hal “Otacon” Emmerich said in the game when meeting Snake and a mysterious cyborg ninja named Gray Fox for the first time, “What’s with these guys? It’s like one of my Japanese animes.”

Metal Gear Solid is a game with legitimate cut-scenes, not just text on a screen or something throwaway like most games had at the time. The game’s story is just as important as its gameplay. It felt like you were watching a movie. It was more than just a video game. It’s a cinematic experience where the player is in control. The cut-scenes are full of dialogue and scenes acted out. Some of the cut-scenes also blended real life and historical footage into them as the characters talked. Metal Gear Solid is probably one of the reasons why I still love story-based games so much. I had never experienced anything like that before.

That emphasis on cinematic cut-scenes and storytelling was totally different to most games in the ’90s and earlier. The cut-scenes and dialogue during the “Codec” calls were so long but fully voiced. Instead of only readable text during these Codec calls they all had spoken dialogue, which wasn’t the norm back then. The Codec number 140.85 for Colonel Roy Campbell is still burned into my brain. The game’s story is filled with drama, deception and shocking reveals. The DARPA chief Donald Anderson losing it in his holding cell remains an iconic scene that really gave the player a sense something crazy was going on in this game. It’s thrilling from start to finish. There’s even romance. Snake falls in love with Meryl Silverburgh, the niece of the Colonel. Otacon falls for the deadly Sniper Wolf. Yes, love can bloom on the battlefield.

Metal Gear Solid had a tremendous cast of characters. Fox-Hound are the terrorist group behind the Alaskan compound takeover and threat from Metal Gear Rex. The group was formerly a special forces team of elite soldiers for the U.S. government. Solid Snake was previously a member, the country’s “dirty little secret.” Fox-Hound went rogue under its current leader Liquid Snake. They revolted against the government, threatening to launch a nuclear attack with the newly (and secretly) developed Metal Gear Rex unless their demands were met. Liquid has a cast of iconic bosses underneath him that Snake faces and encounters throughout the game, all with unique superhuman abilities. Revolver Ocelot. Vulcan Raven. Psycho Mantis. Sniper Wolf. Decoy Octopus. Then there was Gray Fox, the cyborg ninja slicing soldiers to pieces with his massive sword, the player not knowing if he was friend or foe.

Solid Snake himself is one of the best characters ever created. Everyone in the game refers to him as a living legend for his past accolades and reputation. Solid Snake is the cool, no-nonsense badass that players wish they were but vicariously can be by playing the game. The friendship that grew between Snake and Otacon made them one of the best pairings in games too. They were polar opposites; Snake with his combat expertise and Otacon with his intellectual abilities. However, they worked strongly together and became an iconic duo.

(Scans by Tim Bowman)

The game has fantastic voice acting throughout the entire story. The voice acting was so important to Metal Gear Solid. It helped shape the character’s personalities and identities. David Hayter voicing Solid Snake gave an incredible performance, a role he would continue to be perfect for in later games. Hayter played a crucial part in making Solid Snake such an important character and the Metal Gear Solid series so popular. The main antagonist Liquid Snake is voiced by the prolific Cam Clarke (Leonardo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon), who also delivers all his lines fantastically. I love every time Liquid says, “brother!” during the game. Patric Zimmerman as Revolver Ocelot also made that character iconic.

The voice actors had their name under each character when they’re first introduced in the game, like the credits in a movie. Unfortunately these weren’t their real names but aliases (except for David Hayter in North America but who went by Sean Barker for the European version). For example, Clarke is James Flinders, Zimmerman is Patric Laine, Paul Eiding is Paul Otis (Colonel Campbell), Greg Eagles is George Byrd (Gray Fox/Donald Anderson), Debi Mae West is Mae Zadler (Meryl) and Christopher Randolph is Christopher Fritz (Otacon). This was potentially done because it wasn’t a union job and there were issues with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) related to video game voice acting work.

There’s so much spoken dialogue in this game performed at a high level. The circumstances of the recording made this even more impressive, as the cast performed their dialogue in a Hollywood, California house converted into a studio. Everyone recorded their lines together in an open room. The room wasn’t soundproofed, so outside noise and traffic caused the actors to have to continually pause or start their lines over. This is also one of the reasons why all the voice acting was redone for the 2004 remake Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes on the Nintendo GameCube, as the original recordings still had some of those extra noises in the background.

There are so many iconic sounds and music from Metal Gear Solid that add to the experience. The intro jingle for the Konami logo when you first boot the game up (that I just learned is the ending theme from Kojima’s Policenauts from 1994). The enemy alert sound when you’re spotted. The intense music that plays when you get caught by enemies and your radar map is covered up with a red alert screen, which is easily one of the best songs ever made. Snake’s scream when you die and get a game over screen. The Codec call alert. The whole soundtrack is phenomenal but the music when sneaking around in certain areas adds so much to the feeling of being in this espionage world. Konami’s in-house composition team did an unbelievable job with the game’s music.

The artwork and style of the game created by Yoji Shinkawa are still iconic. It’s some of the best art ever made in gaming, which continued on for the rest of the series. His art and design created the characters within this game world that have remained instantly recognizable for the last 25 years.

The gameplay also fed into the dramatic experience of the storyline. The game’s emphasis on stealth and limited resources meant you couldn’t always go guns blazing in every room. The player has to depend on the Soliton Radar system in the top right-hand corner of the screen to figure out where enemies are and how to avoid them. Without it, it becomes much harder to stay alive. Sneaking around the facility can be stressful. Once the player has been spotted, it gets really tense when the alert goes off, you lose your radar and soldiers are hunting down Snake. The game’s boss encounters are tremendous too. The boss fight against Gray Fox still got my adrenaline going and my hands sweaty on the controller. Some of the gameplay hasn’t aged well though, given how many games have come after it. The shooting, inventory system and using the controller’s directional pad for everything takes time adjusting to. I actually stopped myself from playing any further because I want to beat the game with the Master Collection.

Metal Gear Solid did a lot of small things that felt revolutionary at the time for a video game. When you walk in the snow or a puddle it left footprints that would get an enemy soldier’s attention. The soldiers would then make comments about them and try to uncover their origins. You can sneak up on a guard as they were using a urinal and choke them out. You can smoke cigarettes to see invisible, red security lasers. You can knock on walls and objects to distract guards. You can even run around and hide in a cardboard box. All these things sound trivial in 2023 but 25 years ago they felt mind-blowing.

Metal Gear Solid did break the fourth wall a lot in clever ways. Other characters and Codec calls would give Snake hints, telling him to look at the game case to find someone’s contact information or what buttons to press for certain situations. The Psycho Mantis boss fight is another moment where the game is very self-aware. As his name suggests, Psycho Mantis has psychokinetic and telepathic abilities. He could read your PlayStation memory card and tell you what other games you played. The idea of a memory card would be lost on many game players and younger people today. We used to save game data on a 1 mega-byte, “15 blocks” card that you would have to carry around to your friend’s house to load your games there. Psycho Mantis could also make your DualShock controller rumble by itself, which was still a pretty new feature for video games at the time. Ultimately you had to switch controller ports on the console so he couldn’t figure out your moves. This was all absolutely crazy back in the late ’90s and a really unique way to trick the player. The boss fight against Psycho Mantis is still one of the most creative of all-time.

Kojima earned his icon status from this game and the next few follow-ups in the Metal Gear Solid series. There’s a reason the man is so celebrated these days. Unfortunately after 29 years with the company, Kojima had a bad falling out with Konami in 2015. He’s now at his own studio Kojima Productions working on the Death Stranding franchise starring Norman Reedus.

For years after the PS1 release, Metal Gear Solid was the top franchise in gaming. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for the PlayStation 2 was one of the most anticipated games ever when it released in November 2001 because of the first title. Sons of Liberty was such a graphical and gameplay leap over its predecessor that it was crazy to experience at the time. I played the game immediately when it came out. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater from 2004 is one of my favorite games too and is considered one of the best ever made. At the time I felt Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots in 2018 on the PS3 was forgettable. I haven’t played it since then but do want to try the game again. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain released in 2015 but I couldn’t get more than a few hours through it. The Phantom Pain is also the last game in the series Kojima worked on, which towards the end had a troubled and dysfunctional development. Many people feel that The Phantom Pain wasn’t finished, is incomplete and a flawed Metal Gear Solid game (while also replacing Hayter’s voice with Kiefer Sutherland’s). The franchise has sold over 60 million as of June 2023, according to Konami.

Perhaps the newer games in the Metal Gear Solid series are more remembered since a bigger audience experienced them and are somewhat more accessible today. They’re also easier to play from a design perspective given the technological limitations of the original PlayStation. While the popularity of the franchise may have cooled and with no new releases from Kojima ever happening again, Metal Gear Solid and its sequels still hold an incredibly important place in gaming and interactive media.

Even if you weren’t there back in 1998 or don’t know anything about the Metal Gear Solid franchise today, people playing the game now would still be hooked by its story, characters and cinematic style.

Metal Gear Solid will always be one of the greatest games ever. The game is a masterpiece of the medium. It took video games to new heights. I’m grateful I was able to experience it at the time and see all the changes to the game industry since then. Much like its bandana-wearing protagonist, Metal Gear Solid is a legendary game. Old fans can relive their memories and a new generation can now experience it for the first time with the Master Collection.

Watch one of the game’s commercials from 1998:

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