Lazily, it could (and, yep, probably always will) be remembered as being one of the first successful attempts at a true movie-like experience in a videogame, and for single-handedly re-establishing 'stealth action' as a legitimate genre - Metal Gear Solid's surface appeal shouldn't even look out of place alongside most of today's gun-sighted, neo-war murder simulators. That's what we already know, right?
And yet, it doesn't take an awful lot of further inspection to discover something all the more opposite and interesting within Hideo Kojima's 1998 opus: a stubbornly linear game with throwaway depth; a game whose most memorable moments involve almost nothing tangible happening; a game which does its best to convince you it isn't a game at all.
At least in its original guise, (what with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance around the corner, as well as an upcoming movie) most curious of all is to contemplate that Metal Gear Solid would today be far too idiosyncratic to be accepted back into a market it helped create - that it actually offers a unique alternative because its key elements were never really imitated.
Following its film-aping introduction (complete with opening credits), Snake must sneak a short distance into a service lift, where his battle against a terrorist group attempting to launch a nuclear warhead from within a remote Alaskan island really begins. Hm, so far, so standard. What perhaps isn't obvious during this carefully crafted and directed task is that this start is a microcosm of many of the game's key components, and that subsequent events are merely repeated, or played out in a different order.
The thematic score ebbs, swells and trails. Codec conversations rattle on for minutes on end. The camera swoops down and sets itself off-centre so players can visualise their movements several steps in advance. Concentrated blasts of tense, sneaky gameplay, where planning and patience are rewarded.
Videogame etiquette of the time stated a game mustn't bombard players with reams of tedious dialogue, un-skippable cut scenes, nor place any overbearing weight on story over gameplay. Yet that's precisely what MGS does, right from the start. For over 20 minutes, the opening sequence crams in a plot overview, and it's nearly half an hour before the player gets to actually control Snake for the first time.
Yet if all this is enjoyment suicide, how does Metal Gear Solid hold such an attractive proposition?
The single most important approach when playing MGS (which needs to be understood as quickly as possible), is patience. Fail to align yourself with the pace, both of the codec conversation sequences and with the action itself, and it can feel like a right tedious little game. From start to finish, events are played out over a 24-hour period, but even so there's plenty of time to relax - if you rush through, MGS's unique appeal will be missed entirely.
One of Kojima-san's objectives with the project was that he didn't just want the player to play the game, but desired it to change their outlook on life after doing so.
The audio and video scope is enormous - tailored to the PlayStation's media storage capabilities. For all the hours' worth of forced dialogue, however, it's the moments where you begin calling characters on your codec of your own free will - perhaps whilst hiding in truck or in the toilets before planning your next move - that reveal and strengthen a sense of freedom and burgeoning immersion.
The codec sequences and relationship-building in fact play the most integral part of the game. Of some consequence, Metal Gear Solid is a text adventure, embellished as an action adventure videogame. This also helps provide a contrast between action and silence: the very raison d'être of Snake himself. A seemingly innocuous codec transmission can turn into a profound conversation, and none more so than with Snake's early correspondence with Meryl. These are cleverly crafted-slash-manipulative, no doubt, but by the time Meryl is taken out from a sniper's nest approaching half-way through the game, you already know you're in a relationship with this girl - and exactly what it is you will be willing to do to save her.
When you jump back into the action, Konami compact a myriad of AI routines and incidental gameplay details (tapping the walls to alert nearby guards, using cigarette smoke to detect infra-red beams), all devised from the concentrated playgrounds of Kojima-san's LEGO playset.
But unlike today's massive ADHD expanses and abundance of bombastic weaponry, MGS's are cold, colourless, and interspersed with lonely propositions. Sometimes there is literally nothing to do. Crawl around a near pitch-black air duct with only rats for company. Wait for an elevator. Wait for a codec call. Nothing to do but sit and hide, have a smoke. There's usually no music either: just the eery silence of Snake's footsteps echoing across a damp cavern, a surveillance camera twisting on it's axle, or the cold, howling Alaskan winds.
All the while there's distinctly Japanese sensibilities sprinkled liberally by Konami, never too far from preventing the player from taking anything here too seriously. Checking the back of the game box for a codec number; the highly stylised anime character design; the giant mecha; the self-references and the entire fourth-wall-destroying battle with Psycho Mantis (the psycho-reality horror of which was certainly later to influence Eternal Darkness, the developers of whom would ironically go on to co-create the Twin Snakes remake for the Nintendo GameCube).
In a world where set pieces and rhythm are seen as the essential ingredients of fundamentally similar American-designed blockbusters, what could be learned from a Japanese game that flaunts almost all of these rules?
Well, it's by no means perfect. The dialogue can get mawkish at times, and there's some pretty shitty voice acting in the English dub which doesn't help matters either. In late 1998, this was the most anticipated PlayStation videogame in the world, but there was also a sense that it could set a dangerous precedent for future games. Did all games subsequently turn into mindless story-a-thons with little-to-no actual gameplay? Well, make your own mind up about that one. But particularly compared to the rise of instantaneous mobile gaming, MGS now looks like a relic rather than a pioneer.
Its sequels went on to expand the movie-like realism and clarity of Kojima's vision, and although 'stealth action' was subsequently shoehorned into lots of other games because of MGS, most of its more intriguing and unique gameplay elements we've talked about appear to have been forgotten.
The ultimate aim of any game is to immerse the player in its world. Metal Gear Solid's anime sensibilities and quirkiness, tied in with its focus on dialogue and intricate, considered gameplay, help to create many moments that stay with you forever. And that's the biggest compliment you can give.