With all the current rumblings that Metal Gear Solid mastermind Hideo Kojima may be leaving Konami following the release of The Phantom Pain, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on my favorite games from his 30 years at Konami.
5. Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner
Though Kojima didn’t direct this game and isn’t one of the credited writers, his fingerprints are still clearly all over this fantastic mech-based action game. From the impeccable polish to the too-good-to-be-a-PS2-game visuals that never falter no matter how many superfluous (but still awesome) effects are filling the screen at one time, ZOE2 definitely has all of the flawless presentation of a Kojima game. It is shares another key trait with most of Kojima’s resume – like-a-glove gameplay, which is even more impressive here than in a Metal Gear game given your free range of airborne motion and the bevy of attacks and maneuvers at your disposal at all times. Not unlike what 28 Days Later and Zak Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake did for zombies, the ZOE series did for mech video games – transformed mechs from slow, plodding, lumbering behemoths to graceful and lightning-fast flying robot acrobats. Not bad for a sequel to a game that could be beat during a lunch break and most people treated as little more than a bonus disc for a Metal Gear Solid 2 demo.
4. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Yeah yeah, I realize that this is the MGS that everyone loves to hate, maybe even moreso than MGS2. The cutscenes were insanely long, there was way too much cool stuff limited to unplayable cutscenes, and far too many series threads were tied up with the explanation “…because nanomachines.” I don’t care. As someone who followed the Metal Gear Solid series faithfully since the first installment and it being one of the few franchises who’s story and characters I had a real investment in, I found MGS4 to be an extremely satisfying conclusion to Solid Snake’s story. Beyond that, gameplay-wise MGS4 was also the culmination of a decade of modern stealth-action games, being both a skillfully-crafted stealth game and third-person shooter and allowing you to switch between both seamlessly. Maybe you agree with none of what I just said; that’s what makes this a list of my favorites, not yours. Plus, I’m right.
It took me a long time to finally play one of Kojima’s two forays into graphic adventure games (the other, Policenauts, sadly never came here and is entirely in Japanese). But even though it was about 15 years since its release when I finally played Snatcher, I was still completely engrossed in it from start to finish (I played the Sega CD version). Heavily inspired by Blade Runner as well as various other sci-fi and cyberpunk fiction, Snatcher tells the story of Gillian, a member of a task force that has been established to seek out and destroy the snatchers, cybernetic beings who have been killing people and assuming their identities. The game is basically just an interactive movie and offers very little obstacles or puzzles to stand in the way of you simply progressing through the game, but it is still a wonderful story and fantastic adventure and one of the best reasons to own a Sega CD (and one of the few Kojima games that was actually improved upon in being ported to a later system rather than watered down or changed for the worst. I’m looking at you, Twin Snakes and NES version of Metal Gear).
2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Telling the story of Big Boss long before he was Big Boss, rewinding the series all the way back to the 60’s, and taking you from indoor industrial environments to the lush jungles of Russia gave Kojima a chance to reinvent the MGS series and take it back to its roots in more ways than one. The game’s setting meant that many of the modern gadgets of other series entries would be anachronistically impossible, meaning no constant radar, degrading gun silencers, and having to actually use legitimate clothing-based camouflage rather than just pressing a button to turn invisible. The Subsistence version also added – for the first time in series history – a completely movable camera via the right stick, which completely opened up the game world and made you feel even more a “part” of the adventure than any other Metal Gear game. Finally, the loose James Bond vibe, especially in the masterpiece theme song, was just the icing on the cake for me. It’s not hard to see why this is so many people’s #1 entry – just not quite mine.
1. Metal Gear Solid
A lot of this choice could be nostalgia talking, but it is impossible for me to not hold this game in high regard because of how much I loved it at the time and how unlike it was from anything I had ever played. I certainly love my Marios and my Zeldas and my very “gamey” games, and I’m not particularly crazy about so much of the industry being about chasing and replicating Hollywood, which this game deserves much of the “blame” for. But none of that affects what an amazing game this is, how complete and compelling of a story it tells, how fleshed out and complex its characters are, and its brilliant collection of bosses – including one of the best and most creative in video game history (“You like Castlevania, don’t you?”). I guess all I really need to do to hammer home how much I loved this game is to explain how I would beat it night after night after night, and even though it would be 2am and I’d have to get up for work in 4 hours, I would always go right ahead and restart the game after the credits rolled and played at least another half hour into my next playthrough. I always say Metal Gear Solid is my favorite non-Nintendo game, and that is absolutely true and not something I even have to think twice about.