Kojima’s Magnum Opus
Certain titles have the capacity to lift themselves above their respective genres into seminal, iconic gaming moments, emblazoned into our subconscious like a badge of honour. They stay with you, conjuring images of victories, story elements, gameplay segments or idiosyncrasies; parlours of the industry holding their own against the current generation’s pretenders to the throne. The Playstation Vita, maligned for any offence the lazy journalist can thrust upon it, has some stellar ports in addition to the likes of Gravity Rush & Liberation; Wipeout 2048, NFS: Most Wanted & Persona 4 chief amongst them, and through this mini-collection, MGS3: Snake Eater, arguably the greatest Metal Gear title to date.
Firstly, the collection; this is, minus the glaring omission of Peace Walker (PSP), the same edition released on PS3 last year, comprising the original 8-bit MSX versions of Metal Gear 1 & 2, Sons of Liberty & MGS3, with the latter two presented in HD, offering greater resolution, sharper pixels and other visual enhancements proving irresistibly resplendent on Vita’s screen, including effective use of the front and rear touchpad, for cycling through menu options and choking / knifing respectively.
Sons of Liberty is an often misunderstood game. Certainly, Kojima needlessly created barriers to it’s positives; whilst equally fatalist, Raiden isn’t as entertaining or old-school a protagonist as Snake, though it’s not as damning as reviews initially claimed and it’s more the repetitive gaming environments (a tanker and hexagonal off-shore facility) which stifle the game. The story is riveting, however, and once you reluctantly accept the tight reigns and buy into it’s pace, it excels in the best traditions of a Metal Gear title; imaginative, numerous bosses, depth of stealth, a powerhouse narrative and strong replay value. That being said, it’s more appreciated second time around, with visuals and traditional Playstation controls perfectly suited to Vita, with front and rear touch screen used to replace L2 & R2 with little fuss. It’s controls are similar to that of Metal Gear Solid 3, with analogue control, triangle as the action button, up and down on the digipad to aim/reload, x to switch stance and square to fire. Also included are the numerous VR missions from the Substance edition plus Snake Tales, effectively 5 mini stories surrounding Solid Snake. A special note must also be reserved for Hans Zimmer’s supreme orchestral score, which soars in a hugely cinematic, promising intro that helped bring gaming into comparative analysis with film for the first time in 2001.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is the piece de resistance within this collection, arguably a love story punctuated by war, politics and loss; a vastly underrated and complex, absorbing, origins tale which over the course of the series spans generations. Focussing on the transition from Snake to Big Boss – effectively a villain of the series – his moral, political and psychological shift is given significant heft when playing through his story, enriching the saga and rooting for his victory come the end. This original Snake, setting up future events played through Metal Gear’s 1, 2 & 4, is the most interesting and human story of all the Metal Gear titles, with Konami producing some stunning moments that linger long in the memory. Double crosses, moments of heroism and emotional conflict abound, the depth of characterisation and player immersion is conceived by gaming’s answer to Hollywood’s finest; Hideo Kojima.
It’s one heck of a tale involving betrayal, the growing cynicism of a tortured spirit and the nature of war, politics & espionage, authentically housed within the 1960′s Cold War, with much of the game taking place in the Soviet jungle. All these story elements are interwoven together with panache and film noir – with regular doses of hollywood rancour – by Kojima in a multifaceted way, adding layers upon layers to plot twists, gameplay experimentation, audio and visuals. At your first playthrough, you’ll simply marvel at the story, cinematics and battles, yet repeated play generates the same level of respect ordinarily reserved for masters of their craft a la Ridley Scott or Christopher Nolan. A bold claim? Consider for a moment that Assassins Creed, lauded on home consoles for stealth play, is rendered amateurish by Kojima’s demands of a player in modern Metal Gear titles; these masterpieces require a lot more focus and skill than contextual button presses.
Placing the backdrop to one side, the gameplay has a significant advantage over the original PS2 version, wisely adding the 3D camera from the Subsistence edition which transforms the experience into a more immersive affair, offering a more cinematic playing angle and enhanced strategic options in line with current-gen cameras.
The bosses, in particular, are amongst the finest encountered in any title prior or subsequently, only Shadow of the Colossus standing on equal footing. An elderly, dying, photosynthesised sharpshooter with a parrot on his shoulder, The End provides a stealth duel in the jungle as intelligent as it is enthralling; using night/heat vision goggles, a mic, your ears, weapons and instinct, you hunt each other over 3-4 jungle areas in one of the game’s best moments, simultaneously demonstrating Hideo Kojima’s genius; you can outfox him, snipe from distance, hold him up for a secret camo disguise or even take him out in a tantalisingly brief opportunity during an earlier cutscene which actually negates the battle with him later. Such a battle deserves to be experienced on the Vita with a decent pair of headphones; as you are taunted with The End’s musings, his shots, movements and voice seemingly channel accurately through the jungle in stereo sound, placing you further within the moment and eventually deducing his position. On first playthrough, this duel can last hours as you begin to combine your senses with equipment to hunt your worthy adversary before he kills you, and the sense of accomplishment – or opportunistic, gleeful avoidance in a second playthrough – is matched only by a certain dragon in Demon’s Souls.
The jungle ecosystem, giving you a kaleidoscope of food, wildlife & fauna to eat, also serves to manage your health and stamina gauges; the latter important for steady stealth shots, the former a clever system of repairs depending on where you’re hit. Moreover, the forest environment encourages multiple approaches, with guards reacting appropriately and regularly rewarding experimentation with gunplay, chokes, distractions and traps. The graphics, with enhanced camera and HD sheen, look glorious on the Vita’s screen; lush jungle greens and browns, whilst overtaken with graphically superior titles, still invoke a unique, living environment with excellent character animation and 60′s style. As is befitting a Metal Gear title, certain cut-scenes are extraordinary in cinematic effect, style and dialogue; they’re a pleasure to experience – though not for itchy trigger fingers – and given the epic story being woven, you’ll pick up incidental details, deliberately placed for the discerning viewer by Kojima, which rewards as much as the gameplay experimentation does.
The audio is also deserving of recognition; the title theme, created by Harry Gregson-Williams, out-Bonds Bond lyrically, musically and emotionally. The first time it’s heard is a solemn, reflective moment, and it’s here you begin to understand how Big Boss’ experiences shaped his future actions. David Hayter’s familiar voice notwithstanding, all cast, especially Major Zero, Eva, Volgin & The Boss, are given significant depth through decent voice acting, with measurement of sound accentuated throughout the stealth portions to encourage silent assassinations and zero visibility.
Having been originally amazed by the new experience of MGS on PS1, yet somewhat disheartened by Sons of Liberty – which felt a generation behind come the release of Splinter Cell’s full 360 movement on Xbox – MGS3 was trumped in commercial terms by Sam Fishers more graphically impressive first adventure. There are occasional frustrations; due to the somewhat stuttered and limited movement of Snake, you will find fault with the controls and rigid animations, yet once you accept these issues and learn to play by Kojima’s rules, the game actually frees you subsequently and the wealth of approaches to each area is absorbing for multiple playthroughs.
Google MGS3 and you’d be surprised just how many incidental things have been packed into the title; from differing guard reactions to poisoned food, being threatened with a knife or gun, or distracted, to dozens of strategies for taking down bosses, all and more point to a work of genius crafted by one man at the very top of his game.
To all those who own a Vita and have yet to experience the PS2 Metal Gear titles, be ready; to play your first duel with The End on the Vita is a seminal moment up there with gamings best, and there are numerous moments throughout Snake Eater which combine to create one of the finest games ever conceived.
Whilst it cannot be ignored that given glaring omissions this is more a selection than collection, in Metal Gear Solid 3, you have the best version of one of the finest titles ever created in the palm of your hands, and in this collection a lasting assortment of stealth gaming at it’s best.
- A fascinating, epic origins story of Big Boss in MGS3
- Superlative boss battles in both key titles
- Depth of gameplay encouraging multiple playthroughs
- Excellent use of sound & music
- No Peace Walker or MGS1
GAME NAME: Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
DEVELOPER(S): Kojima Productions
GENRE(S): Stealth, Action Third Person Shooter
RELEASE DATE(S): June 12th 2012 (NA), June 28th 2012 (JP), June 29th 2012 (EU)