Everyone who's dipped his or her hand into gaming knows the name Metal Gear Solid. Don't deny it: whether you were a Sony gamer who was into nothing but sports games, a Nintendo loyalist who held onto visions of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, or even the rare Sega gamer who held Sonic above all others, you heard about Metal Gear Solid. You knew whether you wanted to play it or not, but there are very few people who can honestly say they weren't curious. If you had the willpower to resist it, or just weren't interested...well, the very same game is back again, under the guise of Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. And boy is it ever fine.
The premise of the game is fairly simple: you are Solid Snake, former member of the elite fighting force FOXHOUND, sent to Shadow Moses Island in the most barren part of Alaska in order to stop terrorists from launching a new type of nuclear weapon. In doing so you will have to infiltrate the captured military base on Shadow Moses Island, rescue or befriend what allies you have left within it, fight assassins and lunatics and genetically engineered super-soldiers, and stop the use of the single most sophisticated piece of weaponry on the face of the earth. And you have to do all this initially equipped with nothing but your clothes, your attitude, and a pack of cigarettes. Oh boy.
The entire game is based around the simple concepts of avoiding detection and infiltrating the enemy base. While this may sound suspiciously like Splinter Cell to the untrained eye, Snake does not have it quite so easy as Sam Fisher: every single area of the military base is well-lit, and Snake does not start off with much to his name. Ingenuity comes in simpler forms in this game, and that is the name of the entire thing: be quick, be quiet, and be decisive. Already it sounds like a very interesting concept, which might be quite easy to get into.
Be forewarned, though: this game is by no means for everybody. Certain people heralded the original as the greatest game of all because it was the first game that was truly what one could call a "cinematic experience". However, while this particular quality is considered a strength by some it could be very bad for others: the cinematic aspect of Metal Gear Solid is so pervasive that at certain points it doesn't seem like a game. I've never bothered to find out exactly how many hours of cutscenes are in this game, but I know that if you know where you're going and are quick you can actually finish the game in less time than it takes to watch all the cutscenes. The game really plays out like a movie. Now, if that's your bag, welcome to the party. But, if you've had past experiences with games of this type and came away with a bitter taste in your mouth, this probably won't be too different.
The game itself is played out from a third person view that ranges from over-the-shoulder to an overhead view. Since it varies according to your situation and never gets in the way of combat, the camera works pretty well. I can't ever remember an instance where an obstacle obstructed the view of Snake to the extent of it being a problem, nor can I ever recall it obscuring the combat. So the game has that much to its advantage. The controls that go along with this camera angle are fairly intuitive - Snake only has two movement speeds, but this is at least partially made up for by the fact that it's all you really need. The general action button used for interacting with your environment is the Y button, the kneeling/rolling/crawling actions are assigned to the X button, melee combat is given to the B button, and all other aggressive actions are generally on the A button. Selecting weaponry or other equipment are on the R and L shoulder buttons, respectively, and going into first-person view is on the Z button. It's a nice, simple, intuitive setup that lends itself well to a very fast learning curve.
One of the most oft-heard and probably most popular complaints about the game is that the addition of a first-person mode makes the game too easy. Now, I can't honestly say that the game being too easy is a problem I've had. The addition of the first person mode certainly makes the game easier than it would be otherwise - which is good, because against the enemies in this game it borders on necessary. When you're actually playing the game instead of watching the pretty cutscenes, you realize that every single difficulty level is very different from every other except for possibly Very Easy and Easy. In Very Easy you could probably beat the game if Solid Snake only had one leg, while on Extreme it would take Superman himself to get through unscathed. As there is a difficulty setting to fit everyone's tastes, I can't count the hardness or easiness of the game against it. You get what you want.
Graphically, the game is the prettiest on the Gamecube in several aspects. Silicon Knights is familiar with the limitations of the little purple box thanks to Eternal Darkness, and every ounce of gritty and sometimes disturbing realism from that game is combined with the beautiful art and direction one expects from Metal Gear. The areas all look and feel distinctly different while holding a certain military consistency that gives the game a nice, flowing feel. Texture work is nice but nothing amazing - if you really want to be wowed by this game, you have to either look at the tiny details (fading footprints left in the snow, snow melting on Snake's face in first-person view, heat waves coming off molten steel, etc.) or the characters themselves. The character models are mind-blowing for a game of this type, particularly in the cutscenes - which are all run using the game's engine, by the way. The only FMVs in the game are of real-world footage.
Speaking on the violence, Metal Gear Solid is not a particularly violent game - for the most part. It's true that you can shoot enemies in the back of the head and they'll keel over with their arms propped up on whatever was beside them and their head hanging, and that you often snap a few necks, but in today's video game market this is all standard stuff. And when something is done that you just really don't want to see, you never really see it. But be warned: there is a specific moment in this game that's so violent that it blows away anything else I've seen on the Gamecube. I'm not going to spoil it for you if you don't know what it is already, but I will say that you should never mess with a ninja in a crowded hallway.
In a game like this, story is extremely important. Now, assuming you can put up with certain character traits, the whole thing is pulled together rather nicely. The story isn't particularly believable (hardly a realistic game), but in context it makes enough sense that it shouldn't put you off. It's intriguing, to say the least - and it has enough good characters to make up for any weaknesses in the plot itself.
So, since so much of your enjoyment of this game hinges on the various characters, it's a very good thing that nearly the entire roster is filled with entirely likable faces. Solid Snake is the lecherous type of hero that makes you forget names like James Bond, Otacon is a complete anime freak whose eccentricity is only matched by his blatant displays of cowardice, Sniper Wolf maintains a sense of femininity while being so cold and cruel it borders on unreal...I could really go on, here. While there are a few people who seem like they have filler positions, you can find depth in nearly everyone in the game if you're willing to look hard enough. The Ninja redefines every single preconceived notion of "cool", and there is a particular lunatic appropriately named Psycho Mantis...
But hey - just like any game, this one has its shortcomings. The problem with this game is that it's once again a case of extremes: either these shortcomings are going to bother you just the tiniest bit or completely ruin the experience for you, and I am not joking. Probably the single most annoying aspect of the entire game is, ironically enough, the most helpful. The codec conversations, which are basically cell phone transmissions without the cell phone, are both informative, numerous, and long. Very long. Some of them breach the five-minute mark, and the only incentive you're given for not skipping through them by tapping the A button is snippets of information you need to gather for progressing in your mission and subtly moving mouths on otherwise static pictures of a character's head. The conversations aren't really all that bad - typically they're fairly interesting. It's just that there are so many, and they're so long, that impatient people may well quit playing the game before they can dig their claws into it for real. A similar problem is presented with the cutscenes, but it's not so bad: the cutscenes make up for their numbers and length by being almost universally cool.
Ultimately, the real experience of Metal Gear Solid has always been in the sense of stealth and danger, knowing that one slip-up can mean the end of the game for you. Cranking up the difficulty and turning off the radar requires you to play blind and realistically, hurling you into situations so intense and stressful you can't help but be pulled into them. There is nothing really so satisfying as getting caught over and over again by the same guy...and then finally realizing you only have to wait a few seconds longer before jumping out and breaking his neck. When you're playing you have to be quiet, and you have to be careful. Walking through the snow, always knowing you're on the edge of being caught...that's what it's all about.
Engaging characters, including one of the best casts of "realistic" villains in gaming
Stunning cinema scenes, with the best action choreography on the Gamecube
Simple and intuitive controls
Wide range of well-fitted difficulty levels
The most cinematic experience on the Gamecube
Ninja is the coolest ninja since Shadow
Altogether a short game - about ten hours on the first play through if you're on a low difficulty
Long, long, long, long, LONG codec conversations
Plays more like a movie with interactive segments than a pure videogame.
This is the defining example of stealth gaming on the whole. It nearly started the genre in a more serious sense. If you like games of this type, you will love this game. If you don't, you won't. It's that simple. Personally I cannot help falling in love with a game that focuses so heavily on its story and characters, and when you're actually playing the gameplay is a treat. Honestly, if you're an action fan, a stealth fan, a movie fan, a secret agent fan, or just a fan of very cool stuff, this game has to be played to be believed. Go give it a try.