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Metal Gear Solid at E3 – Looking back at two decades of stealing the show

by Ron Duwell | June 15, 2015June 15, 2015 7:20 am PDT

Old Snake Salute

It’s just pure science. Metal Gear Solid shows up at E3, and it’s the most talked about game at the show. Something about Hideo Kojima’s espionage action franchise just makes it show really well in public. This hidden element is more than just the franchise’s complex storytelling or deep gameplay. Ever since the days of the PlayStation, Metal Gear Solid has been expected to push the envelope, and gamers have responded by pouring over each trailers’ content, looking for hidden messages and Easter Eggs.

It’s a wonderful tradition that could very well wrap itself up this year. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain will feature a 6 minute trailer on Monday before launching in two and a half months on Sept. 1. It is widely assumed that Director Hideo Kojima and publisher Konami will officially part ways at that point in time.

From there, we can only guess as to what Konami has planned for Metal Gear Solid. Many joke about pachinko machines and mobile games, but my guess is that Konami will crank out a spin-off like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and judge fan reaction from there. However, as a franchise with a central overarching plot, Metal Gear Solid is finished. It’s canon has come full circle to where the first game took place, and piling on top would be an exercise in excess.

Not that Hideo Kojima and Konami haven’t run that course before.

At any rate, if this indeed is the last time Metal Gear Solid shows up at E3, let’s look back a nearly two decades of the game showing up big at E3. We’ll look just as reveal trailers or else we’ll be here all day.

Metal Gear Solid – E3 1997

The first Metal Gear Solid turned up at E3 before I even knew what E3 was. In 1997, I was aboard the PlayStation train, but my twelve-year-old mind was too fascinated by Final Fantasy and Squaresoft to broaden my horizons. I first heard about Metal Gear Solid through an older cousin who was talking about guards “noticing footsteps” and “reacting to sounds.” I guess this would be the trailer he saw.

It’s very obvious this footage comes from an early build thanks to the first few seconds. Before it jumps into the gameplay, Konami decided to show off a few pre-rendered CG models of the Gray Fox ninja, Revolver Ocelot, and the HIND helicopter. Of course, Metal Gear Solid is famous for telling its story almost entirely through in-engine graphics and has no such pre-rendered footage in the game. These models did not get left on the cutting floor, and the gaming world became a better place because of it.

The rest of the trailer is just a look at how forward thinking the gameplay was. Guards who react to suspicious sounds and sights, binoculars to look at the world through a first-person view, attaching to walls to get around security cameras, in-engine action and cutscenes. What’s noticeably absent from the trailer though is any story or voice acting. No hints at Metal Gear Solid’s groundbreaking localization anywhere! That’s an element we would uncover through experience, not through hype.

It’s hard to remember a time when this was cutting edge, but after E3 1997, there was no going back. This trailer made the game one of the most hotly anticipated titles on the market, and it dominated the competition when it launched the following year in 1998, rivaled only by The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

High point: Hands down Solid Snake battling it out with the Cyborg Ninja. I missed this trailer in 1997, but my mind would have been blown seeing that after being stuck in 2D platformers and JRPGs for the better part of my life.

Metal Gear Solid 2 – E3 2000

If Metal Gear Solid got universal praise for its trailer, then I don’t know what to call the reaction to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. This trailer is something of a legend in and of itself, and I actually can remember the hype on this one. 3D had evolved to a higher standard thanks to the PlayStation 2, and the cinematic possibilities of Hideo Kojima’s imagination seemed like they could finally be fully realized.

What changed between games? Well, for one thing, Snake’s face was no longer reduced to boxes. His model was fully articulate and could generate genuine human expressions. It was on the gameplay front though that Metal Gear Solid 2 changed the most though. Hanging from fences and ledges? Holding up guards and frisking them? Riot shields? First-person shooting?! What!

Of course, the downside of this trailer was that it turned out to be one big fat lie. All of this footage was taken from the Tanker Level in Metal Gear Solid 2, aka, the opening 15 minutes. No mention of the big shell, a far more boring action set piece, and of course, no mention of… ugh… Raiden. We assumed we would be playing as Snake throughout this whole action adventure thanks to this trailer and the demo that followed, but nope. We were wrong.

This trailer was so huge, it led to major backlash aimed at Hideo Kojima and Konami when the actual game failed to live up to it. Their invincibility came crashing down. You thought Mass Effect 3 had it bad. Wow! Metal Gear Solid 2 was ten times worse, and let’s not forget that it was completely overshadowed by the biggest sleeper-hit of all time, Grand Theft Auto III, later that holiday season.

Metal Gear Solid 2 has been reevaluated over the years, and people like it more than they used to now that emotions have settled. However, this shows the power of a trailer. It can make your game a huge success, but it can also break your reputation. Keep your noses clean, publishers! Honest trailers, please!

High point: That opening scene with Snake jumping onto the tanker is just a little too cool especially with the classic theme blaring in the background. It’s so ridiculously over-the-top, but that’s just how I like my Metal Gear Solid.

Metal Gear Solid 3 – E3 2003

Metal Gear Solid 2 might have been a sidestep in the progression of the franchise, but Hideo Kojima promised to get it right in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Right away, we see that something is wrong with this game though… the setting! Metal Gear Solid takes place in 2005 and Metal Gear Solid 2 in 2009. In this trailer though, we get glimpses of the Soviet Union’s flag, and that can only mean one thing.

Ummm… when did Metal Gear Solid become a Cold War drama? And how old is Snake really?

It was then that we learned once again that Solid Snake would be taking a back seat in this game to another character, and many just rolled their eyes at the thought. “Oh Hideo…” they said, but little did they realize that Metal Gear Solid 3 would become the best entry in the franchise. It is at this turning point that Hideo Kojima morphed Metal Gear Solid into a storytelling juggernaut that spans the entirety of the American Military Industrial Complex and established Big Boss a far more endearing character than Solid Snake.

Of course, we had to play this game and the following ones to realize that. From this trailer alone though, all we really had was a guy who looked like Solid Snake who went around chomping on frogs in the woods. I mean, wha? I’m overstating the reaction to this trailer though. It was met with genuine praise, but we were just being cautious. The jungle setting was great, everyone wanted to know more about the camouflage, and who didn’t want to dangle from a tree to stealth kill guards?

The Grand Theft Auto jab was also perfect considering the rivalry the two franchises developed as the biggest that the gaming industry had to offer.

High Point: That’s tough. In retrospect, this whole trailer is great, and we should have believed it would lead to a wonderful game from the start. Snake chomping on the snake at 9:25 is pretty cool. Like…what is he doing and why is he growling? However, I best remember this trailer for the waterfall battle which plays out afterwards. The kicker about this trailer though is that 2004’s would be even better!

Metal Gear Solid 4 – E3 2006

I’m still a fan of the E3 2005 teaser in which Raiden and Snake comically battle over the director’s chair, but we didn’t get a first real look at Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots until E3 2006.

This trailer was released in the post-Irag War world, and Hideo Kojima’s commentary on the state of the human race during the Naughties is pretty blunt. War has become a full on business with PMCs dominating the planet and weapon manufacturers making millions off of advanced robotics. The desert setting isn’t exactly coincidental either.

The PlayStation 3 was also relatively new technology at the time, and the new HD graphics did wonders for the gunfights and making Metal Gear Solid look better than ever. Of course, all that was overshadowed by the reveal of Solid Snake… who was now an old man. Yes, this is where we first laid eyes on Old Snake, and once again we wondered if we would ever get to play as a young, healthy Solid Snake again.

Turns out, we don’t. Solid Snake as we remember him from the first game is destined to be a one time date. Old Snake grew on us, but it took a while. Chomping away on that cigarette and looking like the coolest granddad on Earth obviously helped. However, it wasn’t until this second trailer leaked out that we started to really sympathize with his rapid aging.

Why? Well, Snake puts a gun in his mouth and threatens to kill himself just as the camera cuts away…

High point: Yeah… hard to top that one. If Metal Gear Solid stole E3 every year, 2006 is the year it did so the best. Konami hinted that it would be killing off one of gaming’s most iconic heroes, and we just had to know if he does it or not…

Metal Gear Solid V – E3 2013

After the long and convoluted reveal of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain, we finally got a solid trailer to confirm everything at E3 2013. I’ll keep it short because the trailer speaks for itself, but we finally see here that Hideo Kojima is no longer messing around with the violent subtext of the series anymore, bringing its gruesome nature right to the forefront.

Torture, surgery minus anesthetics, prisoners of war being killed, child soldier… yeah, this is a dark trailer. No getting around that.

But once the gameplay kicked in, reaction became a little mixed because the horse ride takes so long to get Snake to his destination. Behold the tiring powers of an open-world setting. Every vehicle and walking segment had to be sped up so as not to bore fans who wanted to see actual Metal Gear Solid gameplay. Not everyone was interested in seeing Kojima’s attempts to outdo Red Dead Redemption or Skyrim.

Hideo Kojima would eventually convince us that Metal Gear Solid could work as an open- world game, but it took a year or two to do so. Initial reactions in 2013 were not that great, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain stole the show but for all the wrong reasons in 2013. Luckily, the “Nuclear” trailer released a E3 2014 was far better received and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is shaping up to be one of the best games of 2015.

High Point: All the Red Dead Solid and Metal Gear Redemption jokes that followed in the wake of this trailer.


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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