Release Date: Out now!
Developer: Bluepoint Games
Thanks to Konami for providing a copy of this game for review.
Whether you love it, hate it or are entirely indifferent to it there’s no denying that the Metal Gear Solid series has had a massive impact on the history of games and helped pave the way for future stealthy action , like Mr. Sam Fisher and his Splinter Cell games, for example. And because of this fame, and current trend of HD remakes, Konami have decided that now is a good time to take three of the games, spruce them up with some nifty HD graphics and a framerate upgrade to 60fps and toss them back out onto the modern market to compete with new releases, and that’s a problem, because how do you really review something like that?
It’s a question that’s been bothering me quite a bit as I played through the collection during the past two weeks (sorry for the delay folks. Real life sucks) – reliving old memories as I went – because obviously two of these titles are old now and so they can’t be expected to compete with new titles, while the other was a PSP title, yet they have been released back onto the modern market and are competing for your money just like any other game sitting on the shelf. Other reviews I idly flicked through whilst drinking my afternoon cup of tea (I’m high-class, ya see) seemed content to award the package high scores simply because it’s Metal Gear Solid, and that didn’t seem right to me. To me the question comes down to this: is the gameplay still strong enough after all these years to warrant a purchase? Sure, the joy of either replaying classic memories or experiencing a junk of gaming history for the first ever time will go a long way toward deciding if it’s worthy of your money, but really it comes down to whether the gameplay still holds up. So, no, I can’t really review this. Not fairly, but I’ll give it a go regardless. So let’s take a look, shall we? A trip down memory lane, if you would.
Before I do get into this, though, it should be noted that I’m not going to go into huge levels of detail on each game. After all, there’s three titles here and I’d like to get some sleep so that I don’t look like a stoned zombie and these games have all been reviewed before many times, and while the scores they received back then wouldn’t be applicable today there’s not a whole lot of reason for me to go back and cover all the gameplay again. Instead, this is going to be a retrospective in a way: a chance for me to go back, talk about this classic series and try to determine whether they manage to hold up well enough to warrant some cold cash today, as well as experience Peace Walker for the first time as I’ve never had a chance to play it before.
The first stop for clear reasons is the actual contents of this HD collection, and that’s where we hit the first bump in Memory Lane – there’s no Metal Gear Solid 1. What we have instead is HD versions of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, which used to be exclusive to PSP and is seeing the light of day on consoles for the first time. Metal Gear Solid’s absence from this collection is a baffling omission regardless of the reason as one of the primary targets of this package would clearly have been new gamers looking to check out a piece of gaming history, and without MGS1, MGS2’s plotline will be a nightmare for newcomers to follow, though a handy mini-novel and documents that attempt to explain what happened are included in a special menu of MGS2.. It’s simply disappointing to see something boasting the word “collection” missing something so vital, though. Perhaps we’ll see it on Xbox Live Arcade sometime instead. It’s also a shame that Metal Gear Solid 4 couldn’t be included in the package to make it a true collection.
The actual versions of Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater are the Substance and Subsistence releases respectively, which are both branded as the definite versions of both titles. Strangely, though, some things are actually missing. Both the original 8-bit Metal Gear games are here, and good fun to play, but the Metal Gear Online, Secret Theatre, Boss Survival and the bloody awesome Snake vs Monkey modes are all missing for no evident reason.
METAL GEAR SOLID 2: SONS OF LIBERTY
First up under the metaphorical Microsoft is Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, which, and I’m just going to be straight here, is easily the weakest of the three titles, at times feeling closer to a chore to play than a pleasure, thereby tarnishing many of my fond memories of it. That may sound harsh, but it’s the simple truth, and one that I stand by.
But before I get into the nitty-gritty of it, lets begin with the mental story, which, if you’re playing the game for the first time, is where you’ll be introduced to the series obsession with incredibly long, and at times overly indulgent, cutscenes that generally last over 20-minutes and sometimes even past the 40-minute line. These lengthy scenes in MGS2 are a relative smorgasbord of quality, sometimes offering tense, engrossing and tightly written sequences that deliver the often convoluted plot filled with backstabbing, betrayals and insanity in a fantastic way, but more often than not delivering nothing more than a half-hour of complete tedium and poor dialogue. In the games defense, though, these tedious scenes are mostly due to Raiden’s, the games main character, penchant for having conversations with his girlfriend, Rose, about their relationship and feelings over the radio/codec during the mission. At times you can barely move five-feet without initiating another one of these dull conversations that quickly shatter absolutely any illusion of Raiden actually being a trained professional dealing with a terrorist threat. Seriously, people’s lives are in danger, the world might end, there’s a freaky vampire guy running around, a woman with telekinetic powers, giant robots and a global conspiracy, and yet you’re talking about the day you met your girlfriend!? GET ON WITH IT, YOU COMPLETE TOSSER!
It’s a shame really, because Raiden’s constant yacking and his fairly unlikable personality ten to overshadow other interesting characters and the fact that his past and current events onboard Big Shell, an off-short clean-up facility where the game is set, tie together to deliver a final hour that is actually quite ingenious. In fact, in a neat twist of fate, the game’s plot which delves into the growth of the Internet and censorship, is actually more relevant today than it was when the game was first released. Yet sadly Metal Gear Solid 2’s plot ultimately falls flat, its intriguing ending ruined by the hours of tedious dialogue and the simple fact that it all becomes a convoluted mess of betrayals, mayhem and stupidity. It’ll be even worse if this HD collection is your first Metal Gear Solid experience as the story often references the events of the first game, likely leaving new comers baffled or desperately searching Wikipedia for an answer as to why that just happened. By time the ending came I found myself glad that it was simply over, and that’s a shame because hidden within it all are some truly great moments and memorable characters. Dead Cell, a group you encounter during the game, are on such bunch of memorable characters, offering a superb amount of personality considering little is ever truly known about them. In particular I have a love of two characters named Vamp and Fortune whose supernatural powers, whilst never really explained, somehow fit in to all the other madness well.
But to experience those few great story moments you’re going to have to actually play the game and that’s where MGS2 shows that it really hasn’t aged very well. It’s important to remember, though, that it’s not because the core Metal Gear Solid stealth mechanics haven’t aged well, because they, no, it’s because of clumsy controls and MGS2’s use of tight indoor zones with static overhead cameras. In all honesty I found myself wishing, and in MSG3 as well, that the developers of this collection, Bluepoint, had gone in and created a brand new control scheme using todays games as a basis and simply added the option to switch back to the old one for nostalgia’s sake. Why? Because they really aren’t nice to use. Yes, you can work around them and get used them, but it never feels good, and when combined with the awkward camera angles that make seeing in front of you tricky it quickly drains MGS2 of fun, often making me feel more like a bumbling idiot than a professional, especially when the game sometimes has trouble distinguishing between a chokehold and a throw. To simply get a decent view of your surroundings you usually have to step out into the open and hold down the first-person view, which then renders movement impossible, leaving you feeling like a bit of a clutz. Happily the guards are both short-sighted and brain-dead, so even when you are standing in the middle of the open, quickly trying to get a decent view of your surroundings, they won’t spot you. Also helping matters is a fairly generous radar system that displays both the lay of the land and enemies, so even if you can’t actually see you can still usually avoid guards and navigate the environment without too much effort.
Clunky controls and daft cameras aside the basic mechanics of MGS2 do hold up well. You can hide bodies, hold-up guards, use guards as shields, search bodies for items, use sounds as distractions, shoot out radios and more as you sneak your way through the guards. Carefully navigating an area filled with enemies thanks to clever trickery and precision timing is still incredibly satisfying.
On the graphical front no amount of HD polishing can hide the face that MSG2 is a Playstation 2 game. Bluepoint have simply upscaled the textures to work at 720p and the result isn’t actually as much of an improvement as some people might have been hoping. The character models and environmental detail are a touch sharper than before, but that’s about it. The real improvement comes from a tweaked aspect ratio that allows you to see considerably more on-screen at any given time, which is certainly nice. There is the questions of whether Bluepoint should have perhaps gone in and added a few improvements such as better lighting and reflective surfaces, but that’s a debate for somewhere else. Happily the audio stills holds up very well with some great voice acting and sound effects.
Metal Gear Solid 2 was never my favorite of the series and that still holds true today even with its HD make-up. The lead character is an annoying twat, the plot, which could have been great, is a convoluted mess and the mixture of clumsy controls and terrible cameras mean that I never actually had much fun playing through it, except for the occasional awesome moment when everything came together. The simple fact of the matter is that I didn’t like MGS2 when it first came out, and I don’t like it now, either.
METAL GEAR SOLID 3: SNAKE EATER.
Whilst Metal Gear Solid 2 has fallen to the ravages of time and proved to be a rather joyless play, Metal Gear Solid 3 stands supreme as not only the best title in this collection, but one of the best games of all time. Sure, the clumsy controls are still present, but a player controlled camera eases that burden and some truly legendary boss battles, beautiful storytelling, great gameplay and iconic moments ensure that Snake Eater is almost worth buying the collection for on its own.
The first major improvement over MGS2 is the setting. Gone are the bleak, boring and grey environments of Metal Gear Solid 2, replaced by lush jungles as we journey back to the Cold War to follow the tale of the first Snake as he’s sent on a mission by the US government to kill his old mentor, and legendary hero, The Boss, after she seemingly defects to the Soviets. What follows is a fantastic tale of politics, betrayals and spies, packed with memorable characters and dialogue with the relationship between Snake and his beloved mentor at the heart of it all. Unlike Metal Gear Solid 2, Snake Eater manages to tell a complex and detailed tale without ever turning it into a convoluted puzzle, culminating in a truly emotional ending. I know I sound like I’ve already heaped enough praise upon it, but the amount of emotion that the writers managed to get across and personality that the actors managed to project is astonishing given that they didn’t have todays facial animations to work with. Of course it’s not all perfect; those famous lengthy cutscenes are back, and while this time around they’re almost all fantastic there are still a couple of bad ones that might just make you get up, make a cup of tea, read the paper, walk the dog and do the dishes, especially in the first few hours when the game insists upon far too much exposition while providing very little actual gameplay. The game also tends to over use Codec (read: radio) conversations that again tend to be intent on delivering totally pointless exposition that only serves to slow the pacing down. But I’d argue that the biggest flaw is that there’s several points during the story revolving around a weapon that simply don’t make much sense.
Out in the field the core stealth concepts remain the same, but now that you’re sneaking through a jungle, which has far more space to maneuver in, those same core mechanics feel infinitely better than they do in MGS2, especially as there’s a couple of key new ideas thrown into the mix to help keep you on your toes. First up is that Snake is dropped into this fairly deadly jungle with almost zero gear, so he’s got to keep himself alive during his mission by hunting animals and eating them to replenish his stamina. It may not sound like this could really add much to the game, but it does! Crawling through the underbrush looking for food just adds to the overall atmosphere of the game and makes it feel that much more believable, which is saying something considering there are people with freaky-ass powers (what is up with that hornet guy!?) running around the place and all sorts of entirely implausible things are going on. It’s even possible to capture animals alive and use them against guards, like flinging a poisonous snake into their faces. Another second major addition is the concept of using camouflage to blend into what ever environment you just happen to be crawling through. Some how mister Snake, because he’s awesome, is able to keep a pile of face-paints about his person and a bunch of different clothes as well, allowing you to swap between them at will. A small number on the screen lets you know just how well you’re blending in, with a higher number making you pretty damn hard to spot. Of course it’s not infallible: move too much when hiding in long grass and all the great camouflage in the world ain’t going to save your ass.
If you do happen to get spotted while hiding in the undergrowth then you might think that its game over, but that’s not the case as Snake can actually take an almost ludicrous amount of punishment. In fact, Snake’s seemingly bulletproof skin almost makes stealth a bit of a joke as it’s more than possible to stand in the middle of a courtyard in first-person view and gun down a legion of guards whilst simply soaking up the damage, although be warned firefights are still clumsy affairs. It rather takes away some of the tension of sneaking around, as you know that should you happen to get spotted, you’ll still be fine. It also helps that Snake can patch himself up using a “cure” menu which lets you treat wounds by applying certain items like bandages and disinfectants. In stark contrast to his iron skin this helps to make the game feel a bit more believable again, as basic medical skills would make perfect sense for someone like Snake.
The clumsy controls, as I said, are still present and are almost exactly like those seen in MGS2, and they still don’t feel intuitive at all compared to what we’re used these days, leaving me again wishing that a newer controls scheme had been implemented. It’s strange because almost everything else in Metal Gear Solid 3 has stood the test of time, considerably more so than its predecessor. But this time around you’ve got considerably more control of the camera which follows you around in the more traditional 3rd-person style. This makes the controls far easier to put up with, essentially eliminating much of the need to enter first-person mode to check out the surroundings and therefore ensuring that the gameplay feels more fluid. Mind you the guards are still shortsighted and blind idiots who, and let’s be honest, no one in the history of the universe would actually hire, so that helps. Seriously, if you ever get spotted and the alert goes off, you can actually hide under a truck and the guards, who are standing right in front of the truck, will just forget that you exist after a certain amount of time. Thank god for stupid AI.
And then there’s those legendary boss battles that I mentioned earlier. In reality all the boss battles,except for one, are truly fantastic in MGS3, each standing as prime examples of how it should be done, but three in particular stand out for me and as such I just have to talk about them a little, so there will be some minor spoilers. Don’t worry, I’ll put up a message letting you know when the spoiler moment is over in lovely red capital letters. Got that? Good, because the spoilers start in 3…2…1….NOW!
First up is an hour-long sniper battle against an ancient foe known as The End. Many games have tried to capture the tension, excitement and intensity of a sniper battle, but few have ever truly succeeded. Of those few, Metal Gear Solid 3 is arguably the best. This intense battle requires extreme patience as moving too quickly or simply not paying enough attention will get you shot. You must quietly navigate the terrain, constantly scanning the horizon, foliage and cliffs for any sign of your foe. Best of all the usually awkward controls don’t affect this battle too much as quick movement simply isn’t required. There’s a palpable sense of tension that’s hard to put into words during this battle that makes it a truly outstanding experience. It easily stands as one of the greatest boss battles in gaming history, and finally claiming victory over The End after such a gruelling test of endurance and concentration is immensely satisfying. The only complaint, and it really is minor, is that the HD upgrade has made this battle just a tad easier, as the sharper textures and detail make The End easier to spot amongst the scenery.
The second battle is against a strange man known as The Sorrow, and to describe it as a “battle” is perhaps an injustice. To progress past the sorrow you’re forced to wade upstream through a river that’s populated by ever soldier and enemy you’ve killed throughout the game, dodging each as they come near. The ghosts of your fallen foes scream out in pain as they pass by, while the The Sorrow hovers overhead, delivering a chilling monologue. It’s not the most challenging battle, the most demanding or even the most exciting, but it’s such an eerie, atmospheric and harrowing sequence that it sticks in your mind well after clearing it and remains one of the most iconic moments in gaming.
The final battle I want to briefly touch upon is also the final battle in the game. Your arena is a beautiful field of white flowers that sets a perfect scene for the final showdown as you’ll need to use these white flowers as camouflage. Crawling through them, trying to anticipate your opponents location, is a tense, dramatic affair periodically interrupted by bouts of intense action as you leap into action, desperately opening fire and hoping that you can bring your opponent down before the countdown that’s running in the background hits zero. It’s a truly wonderous battle that will go down in the annals of gaming history, and serves as a near perfect ending to the game that’s only tarnished by the fact that the game then launches into another seriously long cutscene that feels over done.
Again, the HD paintjob hasn’t made a massive difference in MSG3’s graphical quality, but it actually holds up surprisingly well against modern titles. Character models and textures have again all be sharpened up and the jungle now looks better than it ever did. It’s not going to be giving modern titles a run for their money, but it’s still a nice surprise to see that MGS3 doesn’t look bad at all. It also helps that the audio is still superb, delivering convincing ambient effects and an outstanding score, including an absolutely fantastic theme tune that riffs off of James Bond and suits the tone and style of the game perfectly. The voice acting is also to-notch with David Hayter again providing the iconic gruff tone of Snake, though there are a few characters whose voice acting is a bit over the top.
In case you hadn’t guessed it from the fairly lavish praise I thoroughly enjoyed playing through Metal Gear Solid 3 again. It may seem strange that I almost hated playing through Metal Gear Solid 2 but loved Metal Gear Solid 3 considering the basic concepts are the same, but to me they’re worlds apart. Metal Gear Solid 3 delivers a truly fantastic story, plenty of iconic moments and memorable characters. Sure, the cracks in the gameplay are definitely showing now, but in comparison to Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater has aged remarkably well and playing it again has reminded exactly why it’s my favorite title of the series, and of this collection.
METAL GEAR SOLID: PEACE WALKER
Having only been released 2-years ago back in 2010, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was always going to stand up with modern titles in terms of sheer polish far better than it’s two brethren, but it’s also a radically different game from the other two titles as it was originally developed as a PSP only title, with this collection being the first time it has seen the light of day as a console release. It’s a quicker, slicker and sometimes simpler Metal Gear that occasionally left me wondering if I was actually playing an MGS game at all, until Snake’s reassuringly gruff voice came across the radio to remind me that, yes, I was.
Peace Walker is arguably the most subdued storyline the series has seen, by which I mean it’s not chock full of so many ludicrous moments and insane characters as was previously seen in the Metal Gear series, again separating it from the other Meta Gears. That’s no bad thing, though, because Peace Walkers story is arguably one of the best of the series, second only to Metal Gear Solid 3. The game’s story picks up 10-years after the events of Snake Eater where our beloved gravely voiced Snake is now sporting a beard and his very own mercenary company, because he’s badass. A strange man appears and offers Snake and co. a contract to rid Costa Rica of the CIA, to which Snake has little interest. But after the mysterious man plays Snake an even more mysterious tape, it’s off to Costa Rica for some sun, sand and stealthy action. I don’t want to spoil anything, but much of the story revolves around Snake and everything that happened with his old mentor, The Boss, in Meta Gear Solid 3, and because of that there’s an emotional resonance throughout the game that works perfectly.
Even the game’s story presentation is determined to set Peace Walker apart. While the previous game always use in-game cutscenes to tell the majority of its story, Peace Walker has opted for a black and white graphic-novel style to tell its tale, with some quick-time button presses thrown in for good measure. While it is surprisingly different there’s no denying that it’s a beautiful style indeed, and one that doesn’t get overused either as Peace Walker has also largely done away with the famous lengthy cutscenes, again to fit better on a portable platform. That also means there’s a lot less entirely unneccessary exposition this time around, which was a real blessing.
Out in the field Peace Walker continues to set itself apart, primarily thanks to bite-sized missions and a new control layout which ditches the clumsiness of the other two games in favour of a far more fluid system that lets you fire while on the move, giving the game a far quicker and more aggressive pacing than previously seen. The controls have been ported over from PSP very well, with the right analogue stick of the Xbox controller now being used for camera control. admittedly there’s still a few oddities, like the fact that you can no longer move while crawling and that switching weapons still isn’t that slick, but mostly it all works well. The core stealth is still the same: hide behind things and try not to get caught, but now they’ve been streamlined somewhat as the food hunting concept from MGS3 have been removed entirely and the camouflage system is a shadow of its former self. When taken with the fluid controls, generous amounts of cover in levels and fairly simple enemy layouts, Peace Walker is a surprisingly easy game that rewards aggressive play – it’s simple to blitz through a level, headshotting enemies with your tranq gun thanks to a far too generous aiming system, in just ten minutes. Truth be told, it actually feels a bit like Splinter Cell: Conviction. Thankfully there’s a hell of a lot of ten-minute missions to get through, plus a ton of bonus ones, so there’s plenty for you to do.
One thing that I was highly disappointed by, though, was Peace Walker’s boss battles. The Metal Gear Solid series is famous for its inventive and awesome boss battles, with, as you already know, Metal Gear Solid 3 providing some of the most memorable in gaming history, but this time around there’s no super-tense sniper battles or atmospheric battles in a field of flowers, instead there’s a series of battles against AI vehicles, each of which just feels…..generic. They all use the time-honored tradition of shoot the weak spot, and they almost all feel the same, despite the fact that the vehicles are often quite different. It doesn’t matter if you’re facing off against a massive flying AI or a huge tank, you just need to shoot the big pod with an RPG to win. Oh, and seriously, nobody in their right mind would design a vehicle with the AI pod, which is the single weak point, in such plain sight with almost zero defense. Mind you if such things didn’t happen then the forces of evil would likely win every time.
Another radical change in Peace Walker is the inclusion of a RTS style mode that has you managing Snakes mercenary group, assigning personnel to various departments that can unlock new toys for you to play and use on your missions. While personnel can be gained via a few missions and during the story, the main way of getting them is by capturing enemy soldiers and POW’s using the Fulton Recovery System, which is a fancy name for tying a balloon to their belts which then whisks them away to a waiting helicopter. There’s something immensely amusing about watching people get suddenly yanked away, and handily it also serves as a fantastic way of clearing bodies from a level to lessen your chances of being discovered by the enemy. Once your mission is complete you can head back to your own personal off-shore base and assign the capture soldiers, who seem surprisingly happy to come and work for you, to various departments, such as the Research and Development, Mess Hall, Medical and Intelligence. By doing so you can slowly build up your base into a formidable establishment, which in turn benefits you as the R&D department can be tasked with creating newer and stronger weapons and gadgets for you to use, which is a must in later levels of the game. You can also assign personnel to Combat Squads, along with any captured vehicles like tanks and helicopters, and send them off to different parts of the world on contracts, which, if successful, can yield new designs for R&D to play with. By all accounts it’s not a deep or complex management sim, yet there’s something incredibly addictive about patiently building up your own little army, to the point where I’d often find myself replaying missions just to maximise the amount of new recruits for my base. This is also where many of the extra missions come into their own, giving you the perfect opportunity to catch yourself some new minions.
Peace Walker is also the only title in this collection to contain a multiplayer mode, allowing you and a mate to join up and tackle missions together. During boss battles you can even get four-players together for some fun. I didn’t get much of a chance to play around with this mode, and so I won’t comment much on it, but from what I did play it was good fun and worked well, even if seeing two Snakes running around the place was a bit strange.
In regards to presentation Peace Walker is a bit of a mixed back. Obviously porting a PSP game over to the console, HD upgrade or no, isn’t the easiest task as its designed for a tiny screen. For the most part it works okay, but the textures and level of detail don’t hold up that well to scrutiny. The biggest failing is that the environments all look rather bare on a big screen. By all accounts Peace Walker is arguably slightly weaker in terms of visuals than Snake Eater. On the audio side the voice acting is again rock-solid with just the occasional bit of over-the-topness thrown in. David Hayter reprises his role as Snake and throws even more emotion into Snake than he managed in the other two titles in this collection. The music, on the other hand, didn’t really amaze me in any way this time around, generally just doing it’s job and nothing more.
Peace Walker might be a bit of a different beast from the other two Metal Gear Solid titles contained within this collection, but I still enjoyed my time with it immensely making it, in my eyes, the second best MGS2 here, and one of the best in the series. The mercenery management is a fantastic addition to the series and the gameplay, while quicker, is highly enjoyable.
Again, it comes down to a single question: how do you really rate something like this? And the reality is I really can’t. They’re old games re-released into the modern market, tasked with competing with brand new triple A titles that are sitting on the shelves. Would I recommend it to Metal Gear Solid fans? Yes, despite the fact it’s not truly a collection but more of a mish-mash. Would I recommend it to someone wanting to experience a famous chunk of gaming history? Yes, though I’d also recommend that you go into it remembering that two of these titles are getting pretty old and the cracks are starting to show, so don’t expect everything to match todays standards. Would I recommend it to someone who just wants a new game to play and is perhaps ignorant of the series? No, because you’ll likely hate it.
The simple truth is I can’t truly review this collection, because there’s no proper way to do it. No matter what score I award it, it won’t be right. I know that sounds strange, but just think about it for a moment: if I judged it by todays standards it wouldn’t score well. If I judged them based on when each game came out then it would score high, but that’s not right either because it’s competing in a modern market. Still, I have to award a score of some sort, so here we go.
NOTE: I’m also going to abandon my usual scoring method here as attempting to apply a single score for story or graphics to all three games is stupid task. Instead there will be just one score
Not the perfect HD collection by any stretch of the imagination, but it does bring a classic series back to the modern market for new gamers to experience and offers some superb value for money. Sure, the cracks are showing in the gameplay, but provided you keep in mind that these are old games now, you should have plenty of fun.