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Opinion: Why I love Metal Gear Solid

Baffling, bloated and brilliant, the hide-and-sneak series defines Dave Meikleham's love for PlayStation

This article originally appeared in PSM3 magazine.

Wow. Where do you start? Like many people who've worked on PSM3 over the last 12 years, Hideo Kojima's wonderful, absurd, often mad and always esoteric stealth saga has defined my love of games. We've snuck behind Solid Snake every step of his journey, from giving away the incredible Metal Gear Solid 2 trailer on a VHS tape (remember those?) with PSM2's first issue, to editor Dan Dawkins being one of the first ten people in the world to complete MGS4.

Over the past decade I've digitally dispatched thousands of men. What should feel extraordinary - taking a life - is rote and routine. Yet there's only one series that let me bump off a century-old sniper by fiddling with my PS2's clock. Since I first switched on a SixAxis back in March 2007, dozens of PS3 titles have grunted shouty, jingoistic nonsense at me during their phoned-in plots.

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Big Boss, not Solid Snake, is the series' true icon, as MGS3 attests

But only one series has tried to make me ruminate on the ageing process while a nappy-wearing monkey offered me a coke. Throughout all those years I've played countless games made with a committee-approved cowardice designed to ensure punters are never pushed too far from their comfort zones. There's only one series with a visionary, slightly mad creator who'll gladly bin his beloved cover star for a bleach blond rookie who everyone immediately hates - oh, Raiden.

Cape Gear

Metal Gear's best moments burn in the memory like no other because it has more smarts, takes more risks and shows more balls than anything else on PlayStation. The man responsible, the divisive Hideo Kojima, is often criticised for thinking too much like a film director, and admittedly, the snarkers have a point. Kojima wallops your lugs with over 90 minutes of interminably talky cutscenes at the end of Guns Of The Patriots. For all the ocassionally cack-handed dialogue and clumsy plotting, though, it's these cinematic, often subversive sensibilities that lead to MGS's most inspired ideas.

Would Snake Eater's haunting five minute ladder ascent exist if Kojima had staged a more traditional 'whack the End's glowing vital boss bits' fight before it? Could that mournfully nostalgic return to Shadow Moses in MGS4 come from someone who wasn't obsessed with making players reflect during constant codec chatter? Perhaps you have to take the overly talkative rough to get that velvet smooth Koj genius. If Ground Zeroes has a moment to rival the bewitching pad-switching Psycho Mantis shock or the silent beauty of battling the Boss in a field of white petals, I'll happily take another dose of half hour cutscenes. Stat.

On a purely mechanical level, Metal Gear titles are immensely, peerlessly playful

Kojima may often take an age to say anything in MGS, but crucially, he always manages to say something. Where a Modern Warfare is simply content to bamboozle you with angry military speak for seven hours, the Gear would rather lead you on a twisty meditation about the nature of fate and free will. Sure, this occasionally leads to a tangled mess of bloated, over indulgent plot threads - yes, that does mean you, MGS2.

Yet it also leads to moments like the quiet, understated bonding between an estranged father and son when Big Boss shares a final stogie with Snake. Fearless and uncompromising, its Kojima's willingness to tackle topics like the philosophical divides that birth war or nuclear profligacy that mean I can overlook him wielding all the narrative delicacy of a sledgehammer.

Though the storytelling has sometimes been ropey, the tech powering MGS has never failed to impress. My timbers were well and truly shivered - just as Kojima intended - during Sons Of Liberty's gorgeous tanker downpour. I could barely believe my eyes throughout the astonishing choreography of MGS4's balletic Cyborg Raiden vs Gekko fight. And even though I was never that bothered with PSP, you can't deny that Kojima Productions barrelled in and definitively declared 'that's how you make a handheld game' with the masterfully crafted Peace Walker. Even now, the Tokyo-based studio is pushing PS3 to limits few thought possible with the amazingly Ground Zeroes, made possible by its advanced proprietary FoxEngine. In short, Metal Gear Solid makes PlayStation dance a merrier graphical gig than anyone outside of Naughty Dog.

Precious Platinum

Amid all the gushing, it won't surprise you to discover I've had 'colourful' (read: borderline certifiable) times with Metal Gear. Recently, I went through Metal Gear Solid 4 a ludicrous nine times to unlock the game's platinum trophy. What inspires such mentally questionable devotion? The cinematic splendour of those preposterous cutscenes? The unforgettable bosses? Watching Otacon spoil his long johns while cowering in a locker? It's much simpler than any of that. On a pure mechanical level, Metal Gear titles are immensely, perhaps peerlessly, playful. And given that videogames are - exactly as their name tells you - games, albeit highly sophisticated ones, I can't pay the series a higher compliment than that.

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Kojima’s most ingenious moment occurs when Snake dukes it out with Psycho Mantis, the only way to beat him is by plugging your pad into port two

Holding up guards for dog tags. Shooting seagulls then getting your comeuppance slipping face first in bird shit. Dropping a copy of Playboy to disrupt a randy guard's patrol before sneaking up on him inside a battered cardboard box. There are so many MGS moments which revel in the simple act of playing. As a virtual take on hide-and-seek, the Metal Gear series' rigid and well defined ruleset makes it the undisputed sultan of stealth.
Since 1998, Kojima and Snake have constantly thrilled, moved and surprised me. In 2000, PSM2 started to produce incredibly passionate and insightful coverage to match the games' quality - a trend that has continued right up to this issue you're holding. MGS isn't just my favourite series; it's PSM3's defining game.

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