When famed American film critic Roger Ebert declared that "Games can never be Art", it became instantly clear that he had never played a Metal Gear Solid game. If there was ever a game franchise that captured the drama of a Francis Ford Coppola movie or even the sheer overbearing complexity of a Dostoevsky (ok I'm pushing it now), it would be a Hideo Kojima video game. To be fair though, not many can stomach the Godfather, and similarly the Metal Gear Solid games have had their fair share of detractors as well. However, you'd be hard pressed not to acknowledge the contribution Metal Gear Solid has made to the stealth genre (and even action games in general).
While Metal Gear Solid has become synonymous with stealth games, it did not create the genre. During the 1980s and 90s, a number of games started to explore stealth-based features, and it was from this push that games like Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, Thief: The Dark Project, Metal Gear Solid and even Hitman and Splinter Cell arose. In fact, Metal Gear Solid's claim to fame is that its popularity on the old Sony Playstation (PSX) put the genre on the map. It had such a profound effect that almost every modern game since has included some sort of obligatory sneaking mission.
It's therefore not surprising that when I was handed Konami's Metal Gear Solid HD collection to review, I jumped at the opportunity. I had played the original Metal Gear Solid on the now antiquated PSX nearly 14 years ago. I also enjoyed the later games on the Playstation 2 (PS2) and Playstation Portable (PSP). The combined time span involved covers well over a decade, and it's almost fitting to revisit this series of games on the Xbox 360.
The Metal Gear Solid HD Collection contains three full games, crammed on 2 discs (in glorious HD). The collection includes Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and the previously PSP exclusive, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. By the way, the original Metal Gear (1987) and its sequel Metal Gear: Solid Snake (1990) are also included, but they're hidden as Easter eggs in the menu system of MGS 3: Snake Eater. Both games were previously released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and Metal Gear made its debut on the MSX home computer. The two discs are literally overflowing with content, with additional VR and bonus missions. In addition, online multiplayer is also included on the MGS: Peace Walker disc.
While it doesn't really matter in which order you play the three Metal Gear Solid games (because each game acts as an independent episode in the Metal Gear universe), I can't hide my disappointment that the original 1998 PSX classic of Metal Gear Solid is not included in this set. It might not seem essential, but Sons of Liberty constantly references a number of characters and events (like the Shadow Moses incident) from the prequel. It's a baffling oversight, which might leave newcomers to the Metal Gear Solid universe scratching their heads and lost in this twisted and strange saga. The sad part is that Konami could have included the "first" game, because an updated version does exist, and it was released for the Nintendo GameCube.
Even as a fan, I have to admit that the world Hideo Kojima created is a twisted and complicated affair. The Metal Gear Solid games require you to suspend belief, because while it seems that it might venture along familiar territory (Cold War, terrorists, weapons of mass destruction etc.), Kojima always threw in a twist. It didn't always work out, and many a former Metal Gear Solid fan were left casualties after Sons of Liberty. At the time of its release, it was considered a technical marvel, and in fact some of the set pieces and character interactions are as novel as they were a decade ago, but the unwieldy plot, overemphasis on cutscenes and the decision to throw in a new main character (Raiden) left many deflated. Of all the Metal Gear Solid games, MGS 2: Sons of Liberty has to be the strangest and the weakest narratively. It therefore came as no surprise that when MGS 3: Snake Eater arrived on our shores there were plenty jeers about "cutscenes outweighing gameplay". The irony however, was that Snake Eater was the most competent Metal Gear Solid game since the first.
Where Sons of Liberty felt claustrophobic, Snake Eater had a more open feel. It also benefited from a non-stationary camera, and introduced survival aspects to the already impressive stealth arsenal. Snake (in this case, Big Boss) could hunt animals for food (to replenish his stamina bar) and a comprehensive medical mini-game existed for when he injured himself. But, what set Snake Eater apart from all the other MGS games was the thought-provoking story that covered aspects of loyalty, friendship and patriotism. The game was set during the peak of the Cold War, before Big Boss became a villain, and just as Solid Snake would be forced to confront his mentor (Big Boss) decades later, Big Boss had to tackle his former mentor and friend, The Boss. Let's not even mention that there hasn't been a game since that can beat Snake Eater at the quality of its boss fights. You have to experience it to believe it.
The gameplay of a Metal Gear Solid game has always been about the art of sneaking and the silent takedowns. Direct confrontations (or even run-and-gunning) has always been discouraged, and much like James Bond, Snake (be it Solid Snake or Naked Snake -the Big Boss incarnation) always had a slew of gadgets at his disposal (not to mention his pack of cigarettes hiding stealthily in his inventory). If you're a novice to Metal Gear Solid, a typical game involves making your way through an area undetected. If you are discovered, it becomes a frantic cat and mouse game, as an alert is triggered and it becomes essential to evade and hide from your enemies. Snake can take on his pursuers with either close quarter combat (CQC) techniques or even through exchanging gun fire, but the real test is getting away from your pursuers. The AI on the other hand, will search every nook and cranny, and on higher difficulties will even throw hand grenades into areas they "think" you might be hiding. The collection may include games that are well over a decade old, but the experience is as tense and nerve-wrecking as ever.
Sadly, not many modern gamers would have the patience for it, and those with twitchy fingers will find the slow pace and emphasis on stealth frustrating, but if you have an open mind and want to experience something different, then the Metal Gear Solid collection is a true showcase for the franchise.
The games are also from a different gaming era, so don't expect mind-blowing graphics, but as any retro gamer (worth their salt) will be glad to inform you, it's not always about the superficial, but rather the gameplay and story. Even so, the PS2 and PSP-era graphics benefit from an HD spit shine. Each game has been upscaled, and the 3D models appear crisper and clearer. Even objects in the background appear more defined. MGS 3: Snake Eater looks particularly stunning, whereas on the other end of the scale, Peace Walker's portable origins remain blatantly obvious.
At the end of the day, there is a consistency of quality which means you absolutely can't go wrong with the Metal Gear Solid HD collection - it will delight both casual and hardcore fans of Snake. While it's still inexcusable for Konami to not include the first game, the collection deserves to be added to your games library.
- The pinnacle of stealth gaming
- Three games for the price on one!
- Impressive boss fights
- The ubiquitous Snake/Big Boss mullet and headband
- The "first" Metal Gear Solid (Twin Snakes) is not included
- Controls takes some getting used to
- HD upgrade is impressive, but still last-gen graphics