Stealth and Survival: Metal Gear Solid’s Evolution of Mechanics

The mechanics of a game define what the player can do, from basic movement to complex button combinations for combat moves and everything imaginable in-between. Mechanics, since they define the actions, can enhance the effectiveness of a game’s story. For this post, I had just finished the fourth game in a series that I enjoy so much I decided to discuss the mechanics of the series. The mechanics, referenced in every game and constantly evolving from each other, provide an immersive and unique experience for the player. I decided to focus on the mechanics that defined this iconic game series, specifically in the first game (arguably the best game in the whole series) that made it so successful. Stealth, combat, survival. All the elements of Metal Gear Solid.

Metal Gear Solid (MGS1) is an action-adventure stealth game produced by Konami and released on the PlayStation in 1998. The series has spanned over a decade with sequel and prequel titles on every Sony console released.  MGS1 follows soldier Solid Snake as he is sent to Shadow Moses, a military base on an island in Alaska, for a sneaking mission. With no weapons in a heavily armed and guarded base, Snake must stealthy sneak around, relay to his support team over codec (a radio), find weapons and take down terrorist group Foxhound.  As Snake progresses through Shadow Moses, the story becomes complex through twists and turns. This game’s plot, which takes place in one night, stands perfectly on its own. Following this game, the lore of the world expands drastically and fully captures a complex and emotionally captivating game series of military industrialization, government conspiracies, and the complexities of man and war.  One of the most important factors that has made this game, and its series, so successful is the mechanics.

Beginning with no weapons, Snake relies on the most basic mechanics. Snake can walk or run, but running will be noticeable and alert the highly sensitive elite Genome soldiers who patrol the base. Crawling on the ground and through ducts, and ducking allows Snake

An enemy solider passes by Snake as he is pressed up against a structure. MGS1

to move around more sneakily and find hidden locations. There a few items to use in your inventory to start: cigarettes, binoculars to get a closer view, and rations to restore health. Without weapons, Snake can fight, doing a punch-punch-kick combo with R1. One of the best mechanics in the game series is standing against a wall and peering. In MGS1, when the player positions Snake against something, the camera tilts and allows the player to look around to see if anyone if coming. Players can hide against walls, and peer down hallways before moving. Snake can also knock against walls to detect fake spots or to draw attention to the enemy soldiers. Players must use stealth to move around and not get caught by enemy soldiers or surveillance cameras; it becomes a real sneaking mission. These mechanics really enhance the game’s subtitle: tactical espionage action. By pressing select, Snake can use his codec to gets hints, tips and background on the story from one of the best support teams in the game’s series. In the corner is the soliton radar, a radar that tells you about the locations of enemies and cameras, as well as their range of vision. Further in the game, Snake gets access to weapons likes guns and grenades and other items like keycards and the iconic cardboard box to use.  Players can do non-lethal runs past the enemy guards, but the boss battles require the player to kill using weapons. Each boss battle has a unique twist that the player must figure out that plays off the mechanics; this idea becomes prevalent in the later games as well. Making your way through Shadow Moses without alerting guards and fighting off Foxhound as a long solider is enhanced through the use of the simplest mechanics.

The iconic cardboard box seen in every game. MGS2

As the story becomes deeply connected and complex, the mechanics throughout the game series has built up and added on to each other. The mechanics of MGS1 are simple and effective, with each game following expanding on some aspect from the first game. In MGS2: Sons of Liberty, the game added an optional first person perspective for shooting and the ability to hang from bars to hide (there’s a secret push up mechanic that actually improves your bar strength). MGS2 begins with Snake following the events of Shadow Moses, and then transitions to a soldier named Raiden who must go on a stealth mission on Big Shell, on oil tanker in the ocean, to stop a terrorist group called Dead Cell. The game played like MGS1 but with advanced graphics and a strange complex story that is further enhanced because it is like MGS1 so much.

Next in the series is MGS3: Snake Eater, which is a prequel to the series. During the Cold War, Naked Snake (later Big Boss; a soldier-turned mercenary who is Snake’s enemy in Metal Gear) is in Soviet Russia to take out his mentor the Boss and her team called the Cobra Unit as well as deal with Volgin, a GRU colonel attempting to overthrow the Soviet government. Like the previous games, Naked Snake has a support team that helps the player throughout the game as well as all the basic mechanics. The soliton radar is different, it is more simple, since the technology predates the soliton radar from the first game. MGS3: Snake Eater elevates stealth with a really unique mechanic: camouflage index. This prequel allows the player to change camos to blend into the jungle

MGS3 new menu featuring new mechanics like camo, food, and a curing system.

environment to further hide you from enemies. Another important addition was close quarters combat, or “CQC,” developed by Naked Snake and the Boss, that was a new hand-to-hand combat system to take down enemies.  There was also an introduction to a stamina gauge, which dealt with the ability to aim weapons, and an injury treatment system for bullet wounds and poison.  Food was also important to collect out in the jungle since it contributed to the stamina gauge and health bar. With the jungle environment and the 1960’s setting, the stealth and survival mechanics add to feeling of this combat mission.

MGS4: Guns of the Patriots utilized the camo index, now through OctoCamo, and CQC, but replaced the stamina gauge with a “psyche meter” that displays Old Snake’s stress (which sometimes goes down purely based on someone calling him old.) An iconic moment, for me as a player witnessing the end to Solid Snake’s story, was the final punch-out fight that referenced all the first three games signature combat moves. Sadly, I have not yet played MGS5 so I cannot comment on the open world possibilities and the face scanning or any other mechanics they would have added to Big Boss’ prequel.

The unique mechanics of the series allowed players to fully experience Snake’s missions. In the first game, with no weapons, the stealth mechanics that became iconic to the series immerse the player in a tactical mission to explore the base. As players become immersed in the mechanics and the plot, you begin to feel for Snake. The complex twists and turns of the story hit you just as much as Snake. Like Snake, the player comes in with nothing but the basic tools, or mechanics, to get a foot in the complex world of the Metal Gear Solid series.


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