Sunday, 23 September 2012

Metal Gear Solid HD Collection

I should point out to begin with that I won’t be going into detail with the plot or gameplay of any of these games, if anything I’m assuming you’ve played at least 2 of them already if you’re the kind of person who can read and doesn’t fuck small rodents. This is more of a review of these versions of the 3 games; I’ll be attempting to answer the question: “Is it worth spending valuable heroin money on this package?”

Metal Gear Solid 2 stands as one of my favourite games ever, with fantastic gameplay and a masterful, multi-layered Post-Modern storyline, so it goes without saying that if you haven’t played it then you absolutely should and this collection is as good a reason as any. But how does it compare to the original? Well, in graphical terms, to my eyes anyway, very little has changed. I imagine if you put the PS2 version next to this one you’d maybe see a clearer picture but the difference is not massively appreciable on its own. You could say that this stands as a testament to the sheer graphical quality of the original; it was untouchable back in its day, probably one of the PS2’s finest graphical achievements. Even now it still holds up; I’d certainly prefer this graphics-wise to the parade of generic first person shooters with their fifty shades of grey and nothing else colour schemes that infest modern gaming like a swarm of unoriginal insects. I know Metal Gear Solid’s never been Parappa the Rappa style-wise but the sunset alone should be enough to win over even the most hardcore fans of dirt stained military complexes. With such strong graphical foundations to build upon, there was very little that could be done to improve the experience other than polishing things up a bit, and Konami have done that admirably.

It’s worth noting that the version included with this package is the ironically named Substance, not Sons of Liberty, which is one of the main reasons that this version is worth acquiring. I imagine far fewer people are familiar with this version so it’s worth discussing. The first major addition is a set of VR Missions, ranging from weapons and sneaking to elimination and bomb disposal, in a VR simulator, the Tanker and the Plant. You can play as a variety of Metal Gear characters, a feature presumably added to satiate every variety of Metal Gear fetishist, and the large number and huge variety of these missions make them something of a time sink, but a very fun one, of course. The second is called “Snake Tales,” a set of 5 non-canon short tales starring Snake (doesn’t the name make much more sense, now?) performing various tasks in the Plant. Now, these missions aren’t particularly interesting, gameplay-wise. You’ll be doing the same kind of thing that you always do in Metal Gear Solid, a bit of sneaking, a bit of escorting, a bit of mandatory shooting. More of the same, really. One disappointing aspect of these sections is the fixed difficulty; I’ve played the main story on every difficulty and I’d say the Snake Tales are set somewhere around Hard Mode, which may be too much for more casual fans, especially with the complete lack of radar. The stories are a mixed bag, ranging from shameless rehashes of the Plant storyline to monster hunting, but the lack of voice acting and cutscenes give them a decidedly rushed and low budget feel.

One incredibly disappointing omission from this particular version is the Skateboarding level. Not that anyone spent any great deal of time playing this section but it was a fun, brainless little level that I’m sad to see missing. Plus, that song! In fact, here, listen to it now, I’ll wait:

See, wasn’t that AWESOME!

The REAL reason I was interested in this collection was for this version of Metal Gear Solid 3. Again, it’s the upgraded version, Subsistence in this case, that’s included in the collection, and one of the features I was desperate to play this game with is having a rotatable camera on the right analog stick. Sounds trivial, I know; most 3rd person games rightfully have rotatable cameras by default but it was a glaring omission from the original game. For a game that’s so focused on an almost sandbox-type feel, in which enemies could come from anywhere and you had to be watching every direction to avoid Soviet prostate removal, fixing the camera was a ludicrous design choice. Hell, it even made several of the indoor sections virtually fucking unplayable; making it so Snake was running towards the camera meant that the player couldn’t see the dangers lying ahead, resulting in what The Great One termed as “leap of faith” gameplay. The game is just much more playable and fun with a rotating camera. A* Konami! As well as the updated camera, the graphical improvements feel slightly more prominent in this game for some reason; that may be because I’m finally able to view larger areas in one go or it may be because I wasn’t too fond on the graphical style of the original. Who knows? But yeah, it feels slightly better, now.

The only other additions to this version are the original Metal Gear games for really old consoles. Now, I understand their importance to the series development and as much as the stories of these games fascinate me, anyone who has discussed video games with me before should know how much I absolutely detest “retro gaming” in almost all of its forms. Probably something to do with the fact that my first console was a PS1, which I would consider just outside the realms of retro gaming for maybe another couple of years, and the old-school NES-y feel of these games outright repulses me. But, you know, they’re there. So if that’s your bag you should enjoy being able to play them without shaky emulation, for once. That’s something.
The extras in this version of MGS3 seem to have suffered the most in terms of removal of content. Obviously the online mode is gone; any online game with a core user base of 7 players was never going to inspire recreation, and things like the Boss Survival mode and the cutscene viewer are all gone, not a big deal to me. What is a big deal to me is the removal of the obscenely fun “Snake vs. Monkey” mode. Seriously, hunting monkeys in the jungle, what could be more fun!? I wouldn’t say it’s a deal breaker though, a mild game changer at worst; being able to play with a controlled camera was always a far bigger deal than the extras with Subsistence anyway, and considering a PS2 copy still costs £20 minimum, picking up this collection to experience MGS3 in its true form is highly recommended.

The final game included in this package is Peace Walker. I’m sorry if this section seems woefully short but I honestly didn’t play much of Peace Walker. The story fascinates me in a similar way to the original retro Metal Gears so I really wanted to get through it but I just found it virtually unplayable. It’s very much a case of little nit-picks accumulating; enemies turn around and trigger alarms the second you get close, rendering CQC useless, the stiff and wooden animations and jerky movement controls, the imprecise aiming, all just adds up to make this a frustrating experience. I’d previously played Portable Ops on PSP and found it about as playable as a Kinect game would be to a man with no arms and legs who doesn’t own a television so I was hoping playing a console port of one of these games would make things easier but exactly the same problems came up. Still, expecting them to completely remake the game is probably a bit much for a package that’s already pretty good value and I guess it was nice of them to port it at all, I guess. I’m sure most MGS fans will enjoy it a lot more than I did.

In summary, I would highly recommend this collection. For the absolute completest, the original versions of Substance and Subsistence are still superior to those found here but for the more sensible and sane among us, the opportunity to play a slightly graphically superior MGS2, the ultimate version of MGS3 and a port that you may or may not enjoy for less than £30 in most good retailers is a deal second only to The Orange Box is terms of sheer value-gaming goodness ratio. It’s nice to see Konami get at least one of their HD Collections right! 

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