Metal Gear Solid HD Collection review
Move over The Orange Box, Konami has now released the best deal available to us gamers in the form of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. Containing Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater, and Peace Walker all for $40, this collection is a dream come true for fans of the series, and it's never been a better time for newcomers to find out just what all the hype surrounding Metal Gear is all about. Rather than covering the games chronologically I'm going run through them in the order that they were originally released.
Maybe the most divisive title ever to be released in gaming history. Hell I've read some reviews which have joked that it sparked a civil war within it's fanbase, and that's not exactly far from the truth. The infamous twist that put you in control of Raiden, left a sour taste in a lot of players mouths who were furious that all around bad ass Solid Snake had been replaced with some upstart rookie. Those who toughed it out though, were rewarded with one of the most engaging and thought provoking video games of all time.
Now before the haters begin to chant together in unison, yes it is true, Metal Gear Solid 2 does have a lot of cutscenes. How many cutscenes you ask? Well I don't know exactly but a shitload pretty much covers it. The original MGS had also gained notoriety for being as some backhandedly called it an "interactive movie", but this one really takes the cake (well at least until Guns of The Patriots). It's funny as the term was meant to be an insult, yet I'm sure Kojima would blush like a schoolgirl if you told him that. The Hollywood inspiration is apparent in almost every shot, from Raidens slow-mo removal of his mask on the elevator to Snakes very stylish boarding of the tanker. The presentation is actually done so well that you won't mind when Kojima decides to take the reins away for 10 or so minutes to flesh out the world he's created.
The voice acting and soundtrack were always top notch and the HD collection amps every noise up to 11. Seriously everything from the quiet pitter patter of footsteps, to the click-clacking of guns, to the way the music instantly kicks up once you've been spotted is more epic than ever. Thanks to the HD coat of paint slapped over the title, the graphics look as you remember them, not as they did. And while they are no longer beyond compare (and some textures are downright awful) the art style is still very eye pleasing. The introduction of Vamp and Raidens initial encounter with Metal Gear RAY, are one of multiple scenes in the game that you wont be forgetting anytime soon.
So if most of the cutscenes are actually quite well done, then you might be thinking that your friends talk of people endlessly jabbering on was somewhat misguided. Well I'm afraid that's not true. For as much as MGS2 relies on it's cut-scenes to sell it's story, it also relies on a device called the codec. This my friends is a device which you will learn to loathe. Now in principal the codec should be listed up there as one of gaming's biggest innovations. It's a built in tip system that also doubles as how you save your game. A little bit lost on how to proceed? Call up the Colonel for some advice. Want to know Snakes (ahem Pliskins) deeper feelings about cardboard boxes? Give him a ring as well. Matter of fact the optional codec conversations are more often than not hilarious, and provide the game with a lot of its offbeat humor.
But when that Codec rings and its non optional it takes all of your might not to hit that skip button, as the characters will ramble on and on often drawing out a 30 second conversation into a 3 minute long bullshit session. And you can't skip them if you want to be in the know as they are necessary to watch if you want the plot to make any sense. The cut-scenes get away with being so long thanks to Kojimas cinematic eye and the somewhat anime vibe (Cyborg Ninja anyone). But the codec conversations which are essentially two characters faces with some blue tint thrown in are blander than a ham sandwich. And when Kojima mixes in the cut-scenes with some good old fashioned codecs you might just wish that death was knocking at your door. It'd probably be less painful.
However even when the codec conversations seem as if they have no end in sight the plot will allow you to pull through. The characters are engaging for the most part although the less said about Rose the better. Voice acting is superb throughout the whole affair, and the mind bending plot will hook you. While I am one of those who believe Kojima might've gotten a little too ambitious with this one (Raidens questioning of whether he's even met Rose will likely echo a lot of players confusion) everything does tie together in the end although not as neatly as it probably should. It's often said that it's the journey though, not the destination and Sons of Liberty is one hell of a journey.
Of course that owes as much to the gameplay as it does to Kojimas script. While dated and awkward at first, if you played the title in the past it won't take long for you to readjust and start pulling off head shots like a pro. You can also throw down, punch, and choke out enemies but the gameplay really is much deeper than it sounds on paper. Throw in cardboard boxes, empty magazine clips, adult magazines, remote controlled missiles, and a wide variety of other tools at your disposal and the sandbox gains a lot more depth. The MGS series has always been the cerebral gamers title of choice, as getting from point A to point B without being seen is the ultimate goal of each section. As often happens though the enemy will spot you, your plan will break down, and what was once a slow back and forth game of cat and mouse becomes a desperate attempt of escape as you are forced to think and react on the fly. It's those two halfs that make SOL's gameplay so addicting, as blasting everybody and everything in sight is equally as satisfying as sneaking up on them and silently snapping their necks. And running around strapping C4 to peoples backs just never gets old.
Boss fights as per usual in the series are outstanding even if they do fail to live up to their predecessors. No fights possess the wow factor of say the battle vs the HIND-D or of course Psycho Mantis, but they are exciting and on harder difficulties if you're not careful they will easily tear you to shreds. Of course this only makes defeating them that much more rewarding, and if I were hard pressed to name the best, I'd say it's an encounter early on with the mad bomber Fatman. As ridiculous as the idea and image of a dangerously obese madman sliding around on roller blades and planting C4s is, the feeling of tension as the clock ticks away as you desperately rush from bomb to bomb; all the while pumping bullets into the psychopath, is one that most other games can't even come close to matching.
On your first play through the game will likely take you around 10-12 hours if you watch all the cut scenes and don't skip any codec conversations. This number decreases greatly with each play through and skilled gamers will find themselves being able to beat this one in under three hours if they try hard enough. While this was often a harping point for reviewers, I don't really see the issue. A few of the best games of all time aren't all that long and Metal Gear Solid is the modern Metroid for gamers who love a good speed run. Finding out ways to shave more and more minutes off your final time can be pretty addicting but no leaderboards to post them on are a missed opportunity.
Of course the HD collection gives us the Substance version of MGS2 which means it has the extra features lacking in the original release (barring skateboarding). VR and Alternative missions provide players with 500 story-less levels of gameplay divided into modes such as sneaking, elimination, first person, etc. While I am not a fan of the VR levels aesthetics and I'm sure some out there aren't fans of this bite sized approach to Metal Gear, I do love the idea of it all. Sons of Liberty was criticized for 'lacking' gameplay so it makes sense that Kojima would throw in a mode where story is nonexistent and all that matters is nailing that perfect run.
Snake Tales gives us some non canon stories to play through although they are basically here so that Snake can hang around the Big Shell and fight some of the games big baddies. These tales are told using text and; no disrespect intended, obviously were non penned by Kojima himself. Yet given the nature of the main game, this simpler approach to storytelling is actually a welcome change of pace, as it gives the fantastic gameplay more time to shine. With five missions and each mission lasting around an hour, these side tales actually end up lasting about as long as the main game if you were to take all the plot elements out. And besides for the codec and cut-scenes the Snake Tales share all the strengths and weaknesses of the original.
Speaking of weaknesses, the camera in SOL was shit 11 years ago and it only seems shittier now. The lack of pressure sensitive buttons of the 360 means that the old way of aiming has been replaced with a new one, and while not necessarily bad it does take a while to get used to. The stealth mechanics are weaker than in future entries as you can literally just run up behind people at full speed and hold them up in most areas without them hearing a thing. Again not necessarily bad just something that should be noted. Non adjustable aiming sensitivity is a bit odd nowadays but as I said if you've played the game previously you'll be able to adjust. Newcomers might find it a bit harder to master the controls though.
Toss in a Boss Survival mode, and we're off to a great start for this HD collection. Honestly the gameplay in SOL holds up better than almost any other game from it's era and is still near perfect. The additions of the features from Substance allow me to wholeheartedly recommend this without any reservations to any fans of the stealth action sub genre. Self indulgent, ridiculous, and crazy as all hell, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is also without a doubt one of the greatest video games ever made. Haters gonna hate, but SOL is among the most imaginative, adult (no not in that sense pervs), unique, and ambitious video games I have ever played, and if it misses the mark sometimes, that's OK as it aims higher than most video games released before and after it.
And finally we get to the main attraction, possibly the best game in the entire Metal Gear Solid series, yet the title which the least amount of people played. The stigma that got attached (some; as in me, would argue unfairly) to Sons of Liberty resulted in a massive drop off in sales. SOL sold about 7 million copies, Snake Eater ended up around 4 million. Respectable numbers that a lot of developers would kill for but definitely a disappointment. Those 3 million who passed on the third entry however missed out on one hell of a ride, one that was much more exhilarating and focused than the previous title. Of course one problem from the past still plagued Snake Eater, the archaic camera system that had been with MGS since it's PlayStation origins. Well luckily Kojima has a penchant to re-release his titles and Subsistence (the first title released under the Kojima Productions banner, for you fans of history) introduced the single greatest innovation that the series has seen in the last decade. The introduction of a third person, player controlled camera.
This simple little tweak to the series formula ironed away the only major flaw in the gameplay and what emerged was something that resembled perfection. Oh sure this is the entry that also introduced camouflage and a stamina bar which has to be replenished by eating, but the addition of the new camera system is the greatest legacy that Snake Eater will leave behind for future games in the saga.
Of course there are a number of smaller touches which make Snake Eater so much more than your average stealth game. Blowing up armories so that the enemy is light on ammo? Sure, go ahead. Interrogating people to gain access to secret radio frequencies such as alert cancellations and air strikes? Why not. Defeating a boss by feeding him poisoned food so that he throws up? Totally doable. Snake Eater gives you more options to deal with one situation than most games present you with throughout the entire game. And the jungle environment that you'll spend most of your time in is the ideal location for Metal Gears trademarked tactical espionage action. Or you might spend most of your time in a research facility while disguised as the enemy, punching people in the testicles. That last part might only apply to me though.
Graphically the game is the best looking of the bunch and a noticeable step up from Sons of Liberty. PS2 era textures still plague the title with some ugly textures on things like The Bosses sneaking suit, and a variety of other clothes and the like but overall the game is still visually striking. The jungle still looks amazing and the lighting effects have had an upgrade.Naked Snake and company have never looked better. Oh and everything said about SOL's audio applies here as well. The soundtrack stands up to the series best and the ambient sounds of nature really pop when they're not being covered up by gunfire.
Little details taking advantage of the era the game takes place in, add much to the experience. No radar this time around, although you do have a device that picks up movement, and one that detects life forms, although neither work in real time (and on harder difficulties you lose these). And in a jungle that little white blip that flashes up has as much chance of being a bird as it does being a person. This Snake also smokes cigars which are 10 times more bad ass looking than cigarettes. The game has a sort of old school James Bond feel to it as Snake meets E.V.A. his very own Bond Girl, motorcycles are cool, and a senior agent ends up defecting to the Soviet Union. Which brings us to our story, and boy what a story does it wind up being.
And no that's not in the "SOL winds up being a convoluted story, that while exploring interesting themes kinda ends with its head up it's own ass" but more along the lines of "Holy shit that Kojima guy knows his stuff, Snake Eater winds up being epic!" Cos it does. When Kojima restrains himself he's capable of creating some of the most moving video games ever created, such is the case with the original MGS. It's when he feels the need to impart grandiose human truths upon his audience that Kojimas games start to drift off into the absurd and ridiculous as was the case with SOL and Guns of the Patriots. Luckily Snake Eater is planted firmly in the former camp.
Snake Eater is without a doubt the most approachable for newcomers to the series, as it doesn't rely on the audience to have any prior knowledge of the series to enjoy it. There are definitely a few in-jokes for fans of the series and some revelations about characters who end up involved in the events of later games but more so than any other game in the franchise since the original MGS, the narrative gets by on it's own merits, not just because of it's history.
The Boss; a legendary soldier who taught Snake everything he knows, defects to a rebel organization in the Soviet Union, and he is forced to kill her in order to clear both his and Americas name. Sure there are other things going on too. The rescue of Sokolov, the destruction of the Shagohad and the recovery of it's data. These mysterious bunch of people referred to as the Philosophers, but by a large margin it's that central goal; the assassination of the Boss, that moves the tale along and looms largest over both Snake and the player. Before the main game kicks off proper she is on the radio support team and Snakes respect for her is immediately displayed. In only a handful of conversations as Kojima often does he manages to endear her to the player and establish her master-apprentice relationship with Snake. (Yes, yes, this is all done over the games equivalent of the codec. This is a case of it used properly)
Then sometime around the hour mark, she shows up with two nuclear warheads, kidnaps the man you just worked so hard to save, and sufficiently hands you your ass. This is all before she throws you off a bridge, just in case you thought she wasn't serious. Oh yeah, and then she blows some shit up, with one of the afore mentioned warheads. If there is ever a definitive list of top ten WTF moments in video games, this one should place highly on it. The first time I saw that scene I was as confused as Snake, and everything that comes after is simply leading up to the inevitable final confrontation. Luckily it doesn't disappoint and just over 7 years later it still remains the most moving and heart wrenching; as well as perfectly executed, boss battle I've played. And the reveal afterwards? Lets just say that if you don't at least sniffle during the last 20 or so minutes of cut-scenes (come on, by this point Kojima deserves to pat himself on the back) then you are a cyber person developed in the future who was sent back in time with fake memories so your society could spy on us. Or maybe your just more stoic than I, all I know is that I would place it up there with the greatest video game endings of all time.
So whats not to love? Nothing really, although this is a case of the problem lying with whats not included instead of what was. The Duel Mode that allowed players to fight the games bosses is curiously missing despite the Substance equivalent Boss Survival making the cut. Metal Gear Online first introduced with Subsistence is also a no show which is a shame, as no games on the 360 really encourage Metal Gears slower pace. The Secret Theatre is also absent, and while the demo theatre is nice, it is disappointing for them not to include the likes of the hilarious 'Metal Gear Raiden: Snake Eraser' and 'Cat-Like Reflexes'. Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake also make the cut but I doubt many people will give them a second look. They are old school hard.
Overall though a fantastic title and the best of the collection without a doubt. It lacks the amount of substance that its brethren have, but the core gameplay at the heart of the title is just so damn perfect that its hard to care. The phrase replay value was practically invented for Snake Eater, as soon as the credits were over I was starting up a new game on a higher difficulty. It's just that good. In my opinion the high mark of the Metal Gear Saga.
As the review winds down we get to the red headed stepchild of the collection; Peace Walker the latest in the epic Metal Gear Solid saga. Continuing the events of Snake Eater and the not included Portable OPS, Peace Walker is the tale of Big Boss' (the bad ass formerly known as Naked Snake) attempts at finding out the truth of what happened to his mentor. Of course as our heroes often do, Big Boss ends up in the middle of a political catastrophe that could bring about the end of mankind. Interesting premise to be sure but does it live up to the series legacy? Well....
Lets start out with the positive things first shall we, as everybody loves a bit of good news. MGS:PW is a beast of a game with a simply daunting amount of content. How daunting? Well lets just say that if you were to add up the campaigns of all four titles of the main series, you still wouldn't even come close to the number of hours it is possible to spend with Peace Walker. It almost seems like Kojima directly responding to that 'interactive movie" complaint that's dogged him since Metal Gears became Solid. Series fans have always clamored for more gameplay, but not this time. In fact only the most dedicated of Metal Gear fans will likely see everything this title has to offer, I can easily see some people spending 100+ hours with it.
The biggest change present is the recruiting of staff to man Mother Base; Big Boss and companies current hangout, and the development of weapons and equipment for use on missions. These changes allow you to better dictate how you progress throughout the game. It's your decision on whether you use your GMP (money) to upgrade your trusty pistol, or start development on a new rocket launcher. And eventually your own Metal Gear.
Your staff is broken down into field troops, research and development, medical, intel, and those who work the mess hall. Collecting the best people for the job proves an addicting addition and had me searching every nook and cranny of the games levels in search of POWs, and analyzing every enemy taken out non lethally. While you can let the game assign your staff for you it is much more rewarding to micro-manage and do it all yourself.
As glossed over this game also has individual levels each one lasting around 10 minutes. Personally I'm split over this. On the one hand I do enjoy going back through and attempting to achieve the perfect S rank on missions I've previously beaten. On the other knowing that each boss fight is it's own stage, and that you will be able to sufficiently ready yourself for them sort of lessens the tension of having to keep yourself in tip-top condition, and takes away the need to conserve your items.
There are other major changes such as the removal of first person view for most weapons, and Big Boss losing the ability to crawl. He also seems to have forgotten the tactical importance of a backpack, as you can only bring a limited amount of weapons with you at a time. On the upside the worlds greatest mercenary has finally learned how to crouch and walk at the same time, has a third person aiming system similar to GOPs, and is now able to chain multiple CQC moves together for a visually impressive ass whooping to take out a group of enemies without even firing a single shot. Overall the pros and cons of the alterations oddly even out and though the gameplay is now faster paced this is clearly still Metal Gear.
Despite being the newest title released Peace Walker is the ugliest of the bunch, and sort of proves that the whole 'PSP is basically a portable PS2' thing that DS haters liked to use was far from the truth. As always the art style is fantastic and this helps cover up some flaws, but still can't hide the fact that the game was originally designed for an inferior system than the other two. The funny thing though is that with it's occasional textures that appear to be from the original playstation era, Peace Walker does look as if it was released early on in the PS2s life cycle; maybe even released around the same time as SOL. It's actually a testament to the Kojima Productions teams ability to get the most out of their tech that the other games still outshine it. And if you haven't gotten the message yet, Hideo Kojima obviously knows the importance of a talented composure and the soundtrack is once again excellent, the boss' themes being the most impressive.
Yet the boss battles lack the personality that the MGS games are known for. Instead of fighting against the worlds best soldiers, Big Boss will match up against helicopters, tanks, and unmanned AI controlled mechs. They're not bad and they're certainly challenging but they just don't have that special something present in other titles. The previous titles gave me moments (yes always more than one for each game) that I'll remember forever, yet Peace Walkers battles aren't even on the same tier as the core series weaker outings.
Also underwhelming this time around is the games story which never really catches fire. Yes double crossings occur, there's the threat of nuclear war, and Big Boss ends up personally invested in the mission but it sort of feels as if Kojima is just going through the motions. The plot isn't actually bad; I don't think Kojimas capable of writing a bad plot, but if SOL is guilty of being too ambitious than Peace Walker might not be ambitious enough.
This isn't really a problem though as the hand drawn style of the cutscenes is beautiful and the interactive nature of a few of them, helps keep your focus on the action. On the downside though this entry contains the weakest voice work of any Metal Gear Solid game (twin snakes aside) I've played. Christopher Randolph and David Hayter continue to perfect variations of the characters they've been playing for a decade now, although most others such as the voice actors who portray Paz and Chico don't match up to usual gold standard set by the series.
When all is said and done though Peace Walker is another fantastic addition to the Metal Gear series proper. Packing more hours of gameplay than the rest of the series would have combined, this is one huge and addicting title. While not as consistently brilliant as it's brethren, and lacking that certain Metal Gear charm, Peace Walker is among the best games released in 2010. If you have yet to play it do yourself a favor and pick up this collection right away. It's worth the $40 all by itself.
Unique from any other series in gaming, Metal Gear Solid truly is the pinnacle of the stealth genre. A special shout out must be made to David Hayter the only voice actor to appear in all the titles of the collection, and one who would be able to sell a block of cheese to a dairy farmer. Even when the script starts to get a little hokey, David Hayter manages to make every word that comes out of Snakes mouth sound utterly believable.
In closing 3 great games for 40 bucks, the Metal Gear Solid HD collection is the best value in gaming since the Orange Box. If these games aren't yet a part of your collection go out and buy it right now. You owe it to yourself.
MGS2: Sons of Liberty 4.6/5
MGS3: Snake Eater 5/5
MGS: Peace Walker 4.4/5
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