The Metal Gear series is one of the most divisive in gaming. Many love it for its melodramatic story, larger-than-life characters, excruciatingly long cutscenes, and deep, stealth gameplay. Others hate it for the very same reasons. Yet it can’t be argued that the series isn’t bold. The narrative-heavy series was pivotal in moving the storytelling quality of gaming forward, and gaming wouldn’t be where it is today without Metal Gear.
Joining the increasing number of revamped last generation games, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection includes high-definition remastered versions of Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3, two of the best games on the PS2, as well as ports of the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, the often forgotten MSX2 games that began the series. However, the biggest draw here is Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, the formerly PSP-exclusive masterpiece, now remastered for consoles. So, if you picked up this collection for the PS3, that means that the entire Metal Gear saga (barring Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops) is now playable on one console.
For players new to the series, it is highly recommended that you play the original Metal Gear Solid first. Metal Gear’s epic, almost soap opera-like story doesn’t take kindly to newcomers, and jumping in to any of these games without knowledge of their prequels is sure to leave your head spinning. In fact, newcomers, before reading the rest of this review, I implore you to go out and download Metal Gear Solid off of PSN right now, and give it a run through. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Good? Great. Now that we’re up to speed, we can dive into the first game of this collection, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Following up on the events of the first Metal Gear Solid, Metal Gear Solid 2 once again thrusts players into the role of Solid Snake in an attempt to stop global terrorism... or so it makes you think. Back in 2001, Metal Gear Solid 2 infamously pulled somewhat of a deception in who the main protagonist was, that honestly still hurts to experience even 10 years later. Like the rest of the story itself, it is sloppy, poorly executed, and leaves a bitter taste.
Luckily, Metal Gear Solid 2 has some of the most refined gameplay in the series. Featuring nearly the same top-down gameplay as its predecessor, additions such as hiding bodies, hanging off of ledges, and first-person aiming made this one of the most intricate stealth games of its time. Everything controls exactly as it did 10 years ago (unorthodox control scheme intact), and it’s a wonder why games today don’t get released this polished. This is the Substance version of Metal Gear Solid 2, so you get a ton of bonuses, including over 200 “Alternative Missions”, as well as “Snake Tales”, non-canonical story missions which somewhat satiate the appetite for more Solid Snake in the game.
Visually, Metal Gear Solid 2 gains the least out of its HD makeover. Character models look crisp and detailed, but ultimately the game’s simple, geometric aesthetics look pretty much the same, high definition or not. Animation is smooth and goes off without a hitch, but the game’s many low-resolution textures look even more jarring in 720p.
Metal Gear Solid 3 easily benefits the most from the new HD upgrade. The original PS2 sequel’s move from simple, indoor areas into lush, expansive jungle environments took its toll on the hardware, resulting in a visually stunning game that didn’t perform all that well. Now, for the HD collection, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater not only looks amazing, but now runs at a smooth 60 frames-per-second, making it not only one of the best looking PS2 games, but one of the best looking games, period. The 60s setting and aesthetic also makes this the most accessible Metal Gear game, taking place earliest in the series’ chronology, and thus requiring the least amount of background knowledge of the series.
Metal Gear Solid 3 also comes with most the extras of 2005’s Subsistence version, including the fully rotatable 3D camera, replacing the original’s somewhat cumbersome one. As a bonus, Metal Gear Solid 3 features the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, the two MSX2 games that prior to 2005 were only available in Japan. Suspiciously missing from 2008’s Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection, it’s great to have these titles available again. While they haven’t aged as gracefully as other classic 8-bit franchises, their inclusion is a nice gesture. The only feature missing from this version of Metal Gear Solid 3 is Metal Gear Online, but Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker’s online mode thankfully makes up for this omission.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is arguably the biggest draw of this package. Many Metal Gear fans missed out on the PSP exclusive game (originally in development as “Metal Gear Solid 5”), and its new availability on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 makes it feel more than deserving of its original numbered sequel status. More similar to Metal Gear Solid 4 than the other games on the collection, Peace Walker is also the most intuitive to play, benefitting greatly from the implementation of the second analogue stick. It may look the worst of the three main games offered, but as it was originally a PSP game, so this is more than understandable.
Aside from the game’s main story, which is a direct sequel to the events of Metal Gear Solid 3, Peace Walker also includes a plethora of side-missions that can eat up most of your time playing the game. Two-player online co-op is available for most of the story missions, as well as four-player co-op for boss missions, bringing a whole new dynamic to the gameplay. A versus mode is also available, bringing in standard team-deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes, but it's nowhere near as captivating as the brilliantly executed co-op. Plus, if your heart so desires, you can even partake in side missions straight from the Monster Hunter franchise, teaming up with your friends to take out the series’ giant monsters.
The sound quality maintains a high degree of excellence across the whole package. David Hayter’s legendary performance as Snake remains as recognizable as ever, and Harry-Gregson Williams’ soundtracks for Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 are breathtaking. The highlight of the collection’s soundtrack is Metal Gear Solid 3’s “Bond”-esque “Snake Eater”, which perfectly captures the 60s setting and the tone of the game. The original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2’s 8-bit soundtrack holds up rather well, and extended periods of time with either game will probably leave you humming the infectious melodies for the rest of the day.
The only complaint about the collection as a whole is the lack of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, making it the only main Metal Gear game not available on a home console. Of course, it's hard to complain, considering the collection already offers five games for $50, which is more than worth the price of admission. Granted, Portable Ops is also the only main Metal Gear game that was neither written nor directed by series creator Hideo Kojima, so its absence isn’t missed all that much.
Both Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 can take anywhere from 8-12 hours the first time through, and a playthrough for Peace Walker can easily last up to 50 hours. Coupled with the insane amount of side-missions, mini-games and online play that this package offers, the amount of game time you get for your buck this year is rivaled only by Skyrim.
The best thing about the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, and the Metal Gear series as a whole, is how wildly different each game included is. Each of the three games perfectly sums up each era of the franchise. There’s a bit of discontinuity from the lack of Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 4, integral aspects to the narratives of this collection’s games, but the value of this package cannot be denied. Many gamers today may be skeptical of the rising trend of HD remasters of old games, but if even just a fraction of them are handled as well as the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, then I’m all for it.