Games: Metal Gear Solid

Since its launch a few months ago, Konami's Metal Gear Solid (Sony PlayStation, pounds 39.99) has been a thunderous success, grabbing hold of the top spot in the bestsellers list and refusing to let go. If any game has been burdened with international hype, it's this one. Released last year in Japan and the States, the praise it collected in the press was unending. Indeed, its early release overseas created such interest here that it probably contributed heavily to the thriving disc-pirating industry. This raises issues about the wisdom of staggering release dates in different territories, and George Lucas has just announced that the tie-in game for the new Star Wars movie will be issued worldwide on the same day, even if it means the game appearing before the film in some countries.

Metal Gear Solid is not a film tie-in, yet it owes much of its success to attributes more associated with movies than videogames. The scariest, tensest moments in films are always the bits where you're waiting for something to happen. The hero frantically searching the murderer's apartment, not knowing that the villain is on his way home, for example.

Such scenes keep us on the edge of our seats precisely because we think we know what is about to happen. This is how Metal Gear Solid works, with stealth a more powerful weapon than firepower. Watch as the hero (codenamed Snake Solid in reference to Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken character in the movie Escape From New York) flattens himself against the wall to evade the gaze of the passing guard, who casually stops and yawns when Snake's a matter of inches away. This is scary stuff, even though nothing is going on, but it only takes one sudden move to blow your cover, and for all hell to break loose.

The real miracle of the game is that the hype is justified. Not only is there plenty of wait-for-it-he'll-see-me tension, but there's also a complex plotline which advances as you do, so the bog-standard sneak- in-and-rescue story becomes something richer as you learn more about your adversaries. The dialogue, too, is as gripping as the latest cinema blockbuster actioner, which doesn't say much, but is more than you'll get with most game releases, and the design of the game, with the credits fading up over the first scene, means that the holy grail of games: "the interactive movie" is one step nearer. And now the wait is over, the really scary bit will be whether you can get to the store before MGS is all sold out.

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