There are only a few video game franchises that have achieved an almost legendary status amongst gamers, for their memorable stories, enjoyable gameplay, and expansive sequels. Metal Gear is undoubtedly one of these, having sold roughly 31 million copies of all its games from 1987 to 2012.
It is almost impossible to be involved in video games in any way and be entirely unaware of this series, as well as the iconic figure of its protagonist, Solid Snake. It was the progenitor of the genre of Stealth games, and provided for the first time in a meaningful way an action game where you did not have to simply destroy everything in your path. All of this means that the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection will be incredibly enticing for fans of the series, as well as an intriguing entry point into the series for newcomers of all types.
The Collection contains three games: Metal Gear Solid 2, 3 and Peace Walker; released in 2001, 2004 and 2010 respectively. The first two were both released on the PlayStation 2 originally, but this is the first console release of Peace Walker, as the title had originally only been available on the PlayStation Portable.
Any description of the plot in these games serves only as a brief summary, as the complex and sometimes convoluted arrangement of events and philosophical themes is best approached from the position of experiencing the games as they were intended. The majority of responsibility for this can be lain at the feet of series auteur, Hideo Kojima, who through the Metal Gear Series has become known for his deep musings and personal philosophies being expressed through the games he creates, sometimes at great cinematic length.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is set in 2007 with Solid Snake, a former Special Forces soldier, investigating a rumour of a new Metal Gear being built. Metal Gears are large bipedal tanks capable of launching nuclear missiles, the threat of which usually drives the tension of the plot in one way or another. However, the situation goes awry, and the weapon is stolen, and Snake is presumed dead. Picking up events two years later, the player takes control of an operative codenamed Raiden, as he infiltrates a facility where a terrorist group known as the Sons of Liberty have kidnapped the president, and threaten to destroy the Manhattan harbour with an environmental weapon. Raiden must both stop the group and investigate the rumours that their leader claims to be Solid Snake.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a prequel to the entire franchise, taking place in 1964 during the height of the Cold War. The player controls Naked Snake, who came to be known as Big Boss later in life, and who served as the primary antagonist in the original two Metal Gear games. Here, the player gets to experience the mission that shaped him into what he would become, and allows the player to see the man behind the later villain. Snake is tasked with rescuing a Soviet scientist who wishes to defect to the USA before his new super-weapon, the Shagohad, can be completed. Before the mission can be completed, Snake is betrayed by his mentor, The Boss, who takes back the scientist, and also steals two nuclear warheads to give to the mad soldier, Colonel Volgin. Volgin fires one of the missiles and the blame is laid at the USA’s feet. Snake must return to the area, stop the Boss and Volgin, and destroy the Shagohad to prove his innocence.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is a sequel to MGS3, taking place ten years after the completion of Snake Eater. The focus of this game is the bridge some of the gaps between Big Boss as he was at the end of MGS3 and who he became in the later games. Since his famous mission, Big Boss has formed his own private military force, Militaires Sans Frontiers, and become at odds with his former CIA employers. Big Boss is approached by a group who request his aid in stopping the actions of a CIA military group in Costa Rica, but of course he discovers as he goes on that there is far more than what initially appears to this operation.
It might be hard to link these continuities together if you are not familiar with the series, but it is actually easier than it might appear. The version of MGS3 included in the collection has the re-mastered original Metal Gear 1 and 2 games, meaning that if those are also played; the only major game missing from the series understanding is Metal Gear Solid 1. Sons of Liberty, however, includes a vast series of documents highlighting the events of that game, in the form of fictional letters and books. The story can still be daunting, even to ardent fans, but deciphering more meaning from each play through can be just as rewarding as analysing a piece of literature.
Of course, being a pioneer of the Stealth genre, the active gameplay elements do primarily revolve around sneaking, avoiding guards, and quietly taking out those that remain. Once the mechanics are mastered, this becomes an absolute pleasure when done correctly. The guard’s AI is pleasing in all the games, with them investigating sounds and raising alarms in all manner of applicable ways. From MGS3 on, the series incorporated a more advanced system of hand to hand combat known as CQC which allowed for varying actions to be performed. As well as this, a wide variety of weaponry is also available to the player for when bosses need to be fought, or when enemies are unavoidable. For those of you who do not see themselves as sneaking masters, playing the game on lower difficulties does make shooting enemies normally a viable option, if that is how you prefer to play the game. Each game does have its own unique aspects, such as the varied camouflage system in MGS3, used to blend into different terrain, that helps distinguish between them as well. Peace Walker will probably feel the most unusual compared to the other games, as it was originally designed for the PSP system, but it still maintains enough of a MGS feel about it to not be too distracting.
One of the joys of Metal Gear Solid games is how the average action is broken up with a new interesting mechanic or action to do for sometimes only one area. This includes for example a whole series of bomb defuses in MGS2, and a memorable sniper battle in 3. These are most often seen in the boss fights, which add an interesting character to gameplay beyond simply shooting them until they die. The bosses themselves are quirky, interesting and engaging as villains.
Firstly, for games released 11, 8, and 2 years ago (on a handheld) all three manage to look incredible in spite of this. MGS3 particularly, with its lush and varied jungle environments is still very beautiful as a game. The cut-scenes are also beautifully cinematic, which is a good thing, as some of them can run for up to an hour at most. This is somewhat annoying at times, as there is no way to pause or fast forward them without skipping them, but there are usually enough points where you can manage to stop. One flaw is that the dialogue is often rather overdone and corny, and this sometimes works to the benefit of the game, but just as often does not, damaging an emotional moment.
One very pleasing thing about all these games is the amount of detail and secrets in the world waiting to be found. This range from developer jokes to actual gameplay enhancements. This means that it can be very enjoyable exploring the world and trying things in new ways, something very unusual in a straightforward action game.
Aside from the slightly redone textures, the HD re-mastering itself does not include many new features, except for perhaps trophies and achievement. But what is very enjoyable is that they did not simply place in the vanilla version of the games, but included the enhanced features found in the initial re-releases of MGS2 and 3. This means that hours of bonus content and missions are added to each, expanding the playtime by a great measure of hours, as well as helping to build the story in many other ways.
The games included here are true masterpieces, with Peace Walker perhaps being the weakest, and MGS3 being the most advanced in terms of technology and gameplay. However, all of them, with their gorgeous graphics and gameplay, and astounding musical scores are true labours of love. The story can be too over the top and impenetrable for many players, and the overabundance of cut-scenes can be grinding at times. The stealth genre also can easily not appeal to many players. However, if these issues do not concern you, then buying three (five if counting the original Metal Gear games) memorable games for two-thirds of the price of a modern game is a deal that simply cannot be beaten. Whether you simply want to play them again, or want to explore the series for the first time, it is definitely worth taking a look at the Metal Gear Solid Collection.