The Metal Gear series was one of the few games at the time that placed more emphasis on trying to sneak around enemies as opposed to engaging them in combat. The series saw some success in Japan on the MSX and in North America on the NES, though the ports were very different from their original versions. However, it was the debut of Metal Gear Solid on the original PlayStation that brought the series to the spotlight and made people associate the game with tactical stealth espionage. Several sequels later, Konami decided to jump on the recent HD remake trend and bring out a compilation of the series. While it isn't exactly a complete collection of every game in the series, Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection provides a good opportunity to replay a few of the games in a higher resolution and also gives those who never owned a PS2 or PSP the opportunity to experience some of the finer story-based games.
For the Xbox 360 version, the compilation is split up into two discs. Disc one contains two games, the first one being Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Recognized as the polarizing game of the series, it is set years after the events of Metal Gear Solid. Solid Snake, now a member of the anti-Metal Gear group known as Philanthropy, is sent to investigate a tanker in New York that is rumored to have a new Metal Gear as part of its cargo. While the rumors were true, the ship goes down before he could escape, taking the new weapon with it. Years later, a new version of Foxhound is created and a fresh operative named Raiden is sent to the offshore base known as Big Shell to rescue the president and eliminate the terrorists who have taken over the facility.
Despite a story that split the fan base, the game still holds up quite well now. Once you get over the fact that you aren't playing as Snake for more than half of the game, you'll find that the stealth action is about the same and that the boss fights are just as inventive. Combat is on par with the previous title, and the act of hiding bodies in lockers or trying to catch soldiers off-guard with girlie mags never gets old. This is also the game that introduced long cut scenes and bizarre story tangents such as the La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo to the series, and while this stuff may turn off some players, traits like this have been part of the series for so long now that most fans have accepted it.
The version of MGS2 included is Substance, which threw in a heap of content on top of the original game. The ever-popular VR missions are included for Raiden and Snake, and they are numerous, closing in on the 300 mark. There are also 200 alternate missions where both characters carry out objectives, such as defusing a bomb or eliminating an enemy within a set time limit; you'll get extra costumes for the trouble. Casting Theater, where you can replace certain character models in cut scenes, and Boss Survival mode are also here, but the biggest addition from this mode is Snake Tales. Set as a "what-if?" scenario, the mode gives you five missions that all take place in the Big Shell portion of the game as Snake, with Raiden completely written out of the picture. Though it isn't treated as series canon, it is a nice alternative for those who really weren't too enamored with Raiden in the first place.
The second game on the disc is Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, the prequel to the entire series. It's set during the 1960s at the height of the Cold War, and Naked Snake, ancestor to Solid Snake, is sent on a mission to rescue a defecting Soviet scientist who was commissioned to work on a tank capable of delivering a nuclear payload. While the mission goes smoothly at first, it goes off course when The Boss, Snake's mentor, defects to the USSR and provides two nuclear missiles to the Soviet army. When one of them goes off, both the U.S. and USSR try to prevent nuclear Armageddon. In order to do this, Snake is sent to find and kill The Boss, who is blamed for the incident.
Many people called MGS3 an instant classic, and the game has certainly earned that moniker. The use of camo to better disguise yourself was an excellent gameplay mechanic, and it was addicting to create either the stealthiest or silliest combination of face paint and clothes. The use of food to increase stamina became a nice side-quest as you hunted down various animals. The use of sonar instead of radar added some tension to the proceedings, as you couldn't properly tell whether an enemy saw you unless you saw him first. The story is well told and had some great pacing, even though it had some quirky characters and bosses.
Like MGS2, MGS3 is the updated version known as Subsistence and it, too, is packed with extra content as well as a few changes to the core game. While the option to play the game from a traditional MGS viewpoint is still there, you can also choose to play the game with the MGS4 control scheme, which is more like a traditional third-person action game. An extra set of camo and a higher level of difficulty are included, as is an interactive encyclopedia of the characters and events. The most significant addition is the inclusion of the original MSX versions of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, bringing the compilation game count to five instead of three.
Disc two contains a port of the PSP game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Set in the 1970s, years after the events of MGS3, we find Naked Snake, now known as Big Boss to most people, heading up a group known as Militaires Sans Frontieres (Soldiers Without Borders) in Costa Rica. After a training session with the troops, Snake is approached by a professor and his student from a nearby university. It seems like the CIA is building something in the area and threatening those who try to pry into what they're doing. Without an army of their own, the professor pleads for their help. Before Snake can flatly refuse the offer, the professor plays a recording from the CIA building, and on that tape is the voice of the Boss, the woman Snake supposedly killed years ago. Intrigued by the prospect of her being alive, Snake accepts the mission.
While no new version of the game was created since the initial one, there is one gameplay tweak, and that's online play. Everything, from the use of co-op for the campaign to the various multiplayer adversarial modes, is available for play online, which the PSP version had originally relegated to local Ad-Hoc only. The experience is rather lag-free and includes some shortcut buttons for communication if you're playing with someone without a headset or doesn't speak the same language. Surprisingly, there were some people playing online during the review period, and considering the number of big multiplayer releases in the last few weeks, this is definitely a good sign.
Online aside, this game feels like the odd one out in the collection because of the changes from the main series. Missions are much shorter, with each one being split into several small areas that can all be completed in 10 minutes or less. Some cut scenes are interactive beyond the typical camera movement of past entries, and the cut scenes are done in the sketchbook comic style as opposed to using in-game assets. There's an army-building element where you can capture other soldiers for your own army, assigning them to different tasks to strengthen the army and fortify the stronghold that will be later known as Outer Heaven. Items you collect on the field or earn through mission completion can be used toward R&D for new items and weaponry. It is still a good game, but you might be taken aback by the pacing if you haven't played it before.
Beyond those changes, the game is still Metal Gear through and through. Sneaking is still the main gameplay mechanic, and the camo and sound detection systems from MGS3 play a big part in not getting caught. Weapons have limited ammo, though you can now carry a stun rod that has to recharge a bit before you can use it again. Hand-to-hand combat has seen some major improvements, so you can quickly unleash combos and get people into choke holds. You can also throw them into other people, various objects and walls for a quick knockout, or you can chain together attacks and throws from multiple people; it's a pretty deep combat system when you're fighting against more than one soldier. Boss fights are still tricky, and there are enough twists in the plot to "feel" like the series, even if it has a less complicated tale.
For a title that is labeled as a "collection," it is fascinating that this isn't a complete collection of the games after all. For Xbox 360 owners in particular, there is no way to get the complete story since no port of Metal Gear Solid was ever made for the console. PS3 owners, on the other hand, can play that game if they have the original discs or if they grab the downloadable version on PSN. The exclusion of the game won't hurt much if you're already familiar with the story from either the original PlayStation release or Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes on the Nintendo GameCube, but if you're coming into the series fresh, expect some confusion when you hit MGS2. Also, The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2, an increasingly rare interactive PS2 game, is missing from the pack, so those who wanted to delve deeper into that game won't have that opportunity unless someone posts the videos online.
Aside from the missing games, the collection also seems to be missing some elements from the games in the compilation. Metal Gear Solid 2, for example, is missing the Evolution Skateboarding-inspired Big Shell skate level. While original Xbox owners have never seen this before, PS2 owners remember this as a strange mode where Big Shell was turned into a skate course and Solid Snake could ride it Tony Hawk style. It wasn't anything to write home about, per se, but its inclusion would've been nice for a laugh. Metal Gear Solid 3 has everything but the Metal Gear Online and Snake vs. Monkey modes. The exclusion of Metal Gear online might be fine since Peace Walker has online play, and while some may speculate that Snake vs. Monkey may be gone since it features the monkeys from Sony's Ape Escape series, one can't help but wonder why this was left out of the PS3 version. As for Peace Walker, the Xbox 360 version doesn't contain the PS3's "transfarring" feature, where the save file from the PSP game can be used on the home console version and vice versa. Considering that the two devices are from rival manufacturers, though, it's to be expected.
The controls take some getting used to simply because of the variances of each game. MGS2 employs the classic control scheme where the right analog stick isn't responsible for much, and using the first-person viewpoint means you can't move Snake at all. Thanks to the fact that the Xbox 360 face buttons aren't analog, you can't simply draw your gun without firing it unless you switch equipment, which the PS3 can do with its analog face buttons. Other than that, it'll feel fine for series vets and a bit awkward for others. MGS3 takes on more of a third-person control scheme, where both sticks handle movement and look, making it more accessible to those who have played third-person action games and not necessarily Metal Gear Solid. Peace Walker benefits the most here, as the second analog stick makes the game feel more in line with MGS3. Both the classic and Monster Hunter-style control schemes are in place for those who have played the game on the PSP.
Since the game is billed as an HD compilation, the graphics have received a good deal of focus, and while some HD versions of old titles usually uncover more flaws, this one is pretty good. Most of Bluepoint's work was targeted toward cleaner textures. MGS3 clearly benefited the most from this work, as the jungle atmosphere looks more vibrant than it did on the PS2, which already looked great considering the hardware limitations. MGS2 had a more industrial look, and while some items, like door signs, still appear blurry, everything else looks on par with most of the good HD remakes. Peace Walker fares about the same as MGS3 in the texture department, but the effect isn't as profound due to the low polygon count. While the polygon count didn't change, they're better hidden in MGS2 and 3 than they are in Peace Walker, making that title look more out of place.
The frame rate is the other aspect of the graphics that received a touch-up. All three of the main games hold steady at 60fps, with no accidental drops when things start flying. It makes the graphics pop more with the cleaner textures, and this title is visually pleasing even when compared to some of the newer games on the market.
For the most part, the sound remains unchanged. The voice work is the same, the music is still top-notch material, and the effects are realistic when you're not listening to gunfire. The only tweak is the move away from standard stereo and into Dolby Digital. MGS3 gains some marginal improvements since it originally ran on the Dolby Pro Logic II codec, but both MGS2 and Peace Walker get real improvements from having a surround sound setup. The effect isn't employed most of the time, but when you start to hear footsteps coming from your rear directional speakers, you'll wonder how the games functioned without them in the first place.
Despite some missing pieces, Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection is a good value for fans of the series and those who like stealth games. The upgrade in graphics, particularly textures, is done well, and the constant 60fps makes the game feel smooth. In comparison, the boost to the sound is nice but not immediately noticeable, and the controls work nicely once you get past the fact that it's different for each game. Even if none of those changes and tweaks were available, the fact that you're getting five of the best stealth games for slightly less than the price of a new game makes it worth it, and unless you have a deep hatred for Metal Gear or stealth in general, you should have this in your game library.
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