Metal Gear Solid was released in 1998, and became the genesis for stealth action when it was popularized for the majority of the Western world. However, the Metal Gear series truly began over a decade beforehand on Japanese home computers, becoming the codifier that inspired stealth-based games as they exist today.
Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake were released in 1987 and 1990 respectively, created by Hideo Kojima to kickstart the franchise. Despite being overshadowed by the more popular games that followed, the original 8-bit era of Metal Gear contains great moments and concepts that still garner praise to this day.
10 Fourth Wall Breaks
One such asset to Metal Gear's memorability is its use of fourth wall breaks that call attention to the player's existence. Perhaps the most iconic example is Psycho Mantis reading the memory card in MGS1, but the MSX originals also made use of this irreverent trope. Along with direct references to player controls via the Codec system, Snake witnesses the first of many fourth wall breaks designed to unnerve players.
Big Boss serves as Solid Snake's mission control to guide him through Outer Heaven, but eventually the former will send certain messages telling Snake (and the player) to make bad decisions like going into a trapped room or a delivery truck. The most shocking message, however, comes when Big Boss tells Solid Snake to turn off the console, citing "the mission is a failure!" This may not seem particularly alarming to modern gamers, but in 1987, breaking the fourth wall in a game was almost unheard of.
9 The Rank System Forces Gamers To Play Like a Hero
One feature that didn't continue in the 3D Metal Gear games was the Class/Rank system that awarded stars procedurally as Snake progresses through the mission. This was a useful staple of computer games at the time to grant bonuses, such as increased inventory and new weapons. However, killing even one hostage that Snake is supposed to rescue permanently drops Snake's class rank, making the game unwinnable.
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Metal Gear has presented anti-nuclear messages since the start, often through Snake's exploration of how much he considers himself a hero. The player can choose to kill hostages, but since this is something Snake would never do, the game punishes the player for doing it. Kojima used this generic feature to influence player actions as well as introduce themes of morality.
Snake's Revenge is a forgotten Metal Gear game thanks to its canon discontinuity and lack of input from Kojima. Originally designed as an NES spinoff, Snake's Revenge has been criticized despite retroactive praise from Kojima himself. At the time, Kojima was unaware that an unofficial sequel was in development, which prompted his creation of an official follow-up game.
Thankfully, Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was a vast improvement over Snake's Revenge. In a sense, fans should be grateful for Snake's Revenge as it led to the stealth action genre being adapted and improved for future generations.
7 Metal Gear 2's Stealth Camouflage Concept
One concept brought into Metal Gear 2 was an optional camouflage item dubbed the Stealth Mat. This special item helped players evade guards by selecting a bit of the terrain and letting Snake crawl underneath it. Its inclusion could be considered gimmicky from a modern perspective, but wacky stealth items ended up becoming a regular feature for the series.
This concept was born from a programming glitch which accidentally left parts of the floor covering Snake's body, but its inclusion was a necessary part of the series development. Since the start of the franchise, Hideo Kojima has endeavored to push boundaries. The Stealth Mat was discontinued in later entries, but its design was eventually updated for the portable Stealth Camo item, which appears in every subsequent Metal Gear game.
6 Prone Crawling
To use items like the Stealth Mat, Snake's moveset was improved between Metal Gear 1 and 2. Part of the difficulty with the first game was an inability to move stealthily, but Metal Gear 2 introduce the ability to crawl on the ground. The map was redesigned to accommodate this update, introducing vents and crawl spaces.
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Each new entry in the Metal Gear series implemented new technology concepts such as OctoCamo and nanomachines, but prone crawling was the start of stealth gameplay evolving into a new gaming genre. This simple yet significant change emphasized the "stealth" aspect of Metal Gear more than the action.
5 Trailblazing Evasion Mode AI
The Evasion Mode addition in Metal Gear 2 may seem quite tame in comparison to modern game AI. Still, Kojima's attempts at emulating enemy movement and "thought" were cast as a significant improvement over Metal Gear 1. While not in alert, enemies would break their patrol pattern to actively seek out Snake, which was an impressive use of limited hardware and AI at the time.
Evasion Mode exists as a middle ground between being spotted and being hidden, heightening tension and forcing players to think about how to use stealth. The 4-stage alert system started in Metal Gear 2, going from Alert to Evasion, then Caution, then no alert. Later Metal Gear games expanded on Evasion Mode, but these improvements were based on the original implementation.
Metal Gear 1's initial attempts at stealth were literally limited in scope. Enemy sight consisted of an unerring straight line in front of them, making for a laughably unrealistic experience. Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake updated the enemy AI with a system that better emulated human vision. Along with audio cues, vision cones were implemented into live enemy patrol routes.
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This also introduced the Solition Radar, a visual depiction of the surrounding environment that updated live with enemy placement. It would take until Metal Gear Solid's tactical espionage setting for the recognizable red and blue cone shapes to be added, but this classic HUD display in Metal Gear 2 helped shape the franchise's future designs.
3 Metal Gear's Solid Characterization
Metal Gear's infamously long cutscenes were done under Kojima's supervision to break up long gaming sessions. But since the longest Metal Gear cutscenes total 71 minutes, much criticism has been received from players. However, this tradition originated long before any FMV renders or voice acting were implemented.
Metal Gear 2 pioneered the series' use of long cutscenes, but also presented a powerful story along the way. Characters such as Gray Fox, Big Boss, and Gustava Heffner (AKA Natasha Marcova) all get the chance to deliver powerful monologues. Here, Kojima's writing was given a chance to shine, becoming the eventual springboard for MGS1's iconic story.
Hideo Kojima wasn't even the first person at Konami to begin work on Metal Gear. The game was initially planned to rival American action games like Contra, but the MSX computer hardware meant having lots of complex enemies on screen at the same time would break it. This led to Kojima's idea for a game where the player would avoid enemies instead of confronting them, and thus the concept of a non-violent Metal Gear was born.
Konami originally didn't like the concept, with one executive anecdotally stating: "Hiding from enemies? That's not a game!" Kojima persevered with the concept, however. Since stealth-based games have emerged into their own eminently popular genre with multiple franchises, it's safe to say that Kojima made the best decision.
1 Metal Gear's Iconic Exclamation Mark Origins
Perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Metal Gear is the red exclamation mark that appears over enemies' heads once Snake is spotted, plus the unforgettable audio accompaniment. Its first appearance was in Metal Gear 1, appearing as a single exclamation mark to alert enemies on screen. Occasionally, two exclamation marks would appear, signaling respawning enemies coming from off-screen.
The exclamation mark offered a clear indicator that players had been spotted, but subsequent games have still kept it as the alert symbol. Improved game rendering technology means that such an icon was redundant. Kojima even considered removing it entirely for Metal Gear Solid 4 and using facial detection instead, but eventually tradition won out. Metal Gear's trademark alert symbol has since appeared in Easter eggs and other forms of media, solidifying its memetic status in pop culture.
The current state of Metal Gear's legacy is often shrouded by controversy, but its humble origins paved the way for a franchise that lasted 28 years. Many other titles have attempted to emulate Metal Gear's brand of stealth, but the pre-Solid games show that the series has been full of great ideas since the beginning.
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