Metal Gear Solid HD Collection is the definitive version for both Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3. For some of you, that sentence is all you need; you’ll rush to the store, pop in the disc, and relive your fantastic memories involving Big Shell and the Virtuous Mission in glorious 1080p. However, there are many of you who have never had the opportunity to sneak through Shadow Moses, chow down on a snake or battle a walking tank capable of shooting nuclear missiles. For the newcomers, these two magnificent gems (and one less-than-perfect spin-off) are still worth experiencing, but be prepared to grapple with a few elements that game development left behind years ago.
Despite the numerical order, players new to the franchise should start with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It’s set at the very beginning of the timeline, and eases players into the various mechanics and techniques used throughout the series. It also happens to be the best game in the package, with a gripping story, an unforgettable cast of characters, and a gorgeous jungle to traipse through.
It doesn’t hurt that Snake Eater also receives the biggest boost from its HD makeover. Anyone who played its PS2 predecessor will remember the staggeringly-awful frame rate that plagued the game’s biggest action set pieces and cutscenes. In this modern iteration, the game’s most grievous issue has been solved; Snake Eater consistently runs at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second, allowing each climatic chase and staggering boss battle to finally be rendered with the care they deserve. The improvement is so substantial that it practically devalues the original title, and makes it an overwhelmingly easy recommendation to anyone who fell in love with the game seven years ago.
Other than the changes made to the frame rate and anti-aliasing, both Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 are the exact same games from 2001 and 2004, respectively. You’ll crawl through the same corridors, run through the same codec conversations, and occasionally struggle to make the controls do their thing. Additionally, some of the bonus material from both titles has been removed; while almost no one will miss Metal Gear Solid 2’s dumb skateboard mode, Metal Gear Solid 3’s online mode is a notable omission, especially since the 360 version has no Metal Gear Solid 4 to replace it.
The third game in the package, Peace Walker, is certainly the weakest. The developers have done an amicable job trying to make the game look decent for modern consoles, sharpening textures and completely reworking the controls, but the poor characters and lack of compelling narrative ultimately make it an inferior title. In addition, certain elements like the motion comics are simply resized to fit the larger screen, creating an ugly blur effect that severely impacts the experience.
Peace Walker also includes Xbox Live support for co-operative and competitive play. Unfortunately, I was unable to connect to a single opponent over a two week period, attempting to join and host games on different days and at different times. There were several other high-profile titles released in the same week, so it’s uncertain if the lack of online players revolves around interest or network code.
On the Xbox 360, Metal Gear Solid carries a few quirks over, specifically with the combat. Both the PlayStation 2 and 3 have pressure-sensitive buttons, which the series famously used to deepen its combat. By letting off of the square button slowly, you could lower your weapon without firing it. However, the controller for the 360 lacks the same sensitivity, so the player must hit a separate button to avoid firing. This extra step isn’t a deal breaker, but it’s a noticeable change that may throw some longtime fans for a loop when they first experience it.
To supplement the rather sparse instruction booklet, Konami have included an in-game manual for Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to check it once you are actually playing the game, as it only sits on the game selection screen. To reference the controls, you have to exit to the main menu of that particular game, and then exit again to the MGS HD menu. Placing the manual on the pause menus or even setting up a website would’ve been preferred to this cumbersome implementation.
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection is an easily-recommended package. Despite its age and a few niggling issues, Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 are still some of the finest games ever made, and are presented here at their very best. Newcomers and veterans alike would do well to pick this one up. Though there is plenty of fierce competition in the market today, there’s still a lot of fight left in this soldier.
Originally published for Press X or Die on November 25, 2011.