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In Other News – 22 July 2014

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Metal Gear Solid HD Review – “Headband? Check! Mullet? Check! Cardboard box? Ready!

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Excuse me for a second, while I try to wrap my mind around all of this. Did I just play near flawless versions of both Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater on my Playstation Vita? If you had told me (a decade ago) that I would be able to play both Playstation 2 classics on a handheld, I would have probably scoffed at you, and returned to sipping my tea.

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It might seem like a simple matter to some of you, but this is Metal Gear Solid. I was practically raised on Hideo Kojima’s creations. 14 years ago, when the Earth was still young, and an adolescent and impressionable Jim Lenoir was given a now antiquated PSOne (Playstation) for being an “exemplary little boy”, the original Metal Gear Solid literally blew my mind. It sparked a life-long love affair, that has managed to brave one seemingly nonsensical sequel, to the eventual redemption of a franchise and the harsh reality of an industry constantly in creative flux.
In the past year, I’ve been fortunate to revisit one of my favourite gaming franchises on two very different platforms. Earlier this year, I played the remastered versions of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and the previously PSP exclusive, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. All three games were crammed on 2 disks for the Xbox 360 as part of the Metal Gear Solid HD collection.  Recently, I was yet again tasked to dust off my Solid Snake headband, regrow my mullet and revisit the games for the handheld version of the collection for the Sony PlayStation Vita.

“But what about Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes?”
One of the most baffling omissions of the console version of Metal Gear Solid HD collection was undoubtedly the first Metal Gear Solid game. It seemed fairly reasonable that a PSOne game would need more than just an HD spit-shine to grace our PS3s or Xbox360s. However, the PSOne version had received a last-gen update in the form of Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes for the Nintendo GameCube. Nonetheless, the lack of the first game left me “misty eyed” and saddened. If you’re wondering why I’m mentioning this during the PSVita review, it’s because Twin Snakes is also absent from the handheld version. But, that’s not the only thing that’s missing. The previously PSP exclusive, Peace Walker is AWOL as well.

“Wait what there’s no Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker?”
Sadly, not.
MGS Peace Walker has been unceremoniously excised from the PSVita’s Metal Gear Solid HD collection. And with it any chance of maintaining parity between the console and handheld versions or the possibility of clandestine ad hoc multiplayer action on the PSVita. I considered the lack of the first PSOne game to be a grave oversight by Konami, especially considering its importance to understanding Metal Gear Solid 2′s labyrinthine plotline. For the PSVita version, my sentiments remain the same, but the additional lack of MGS: Peace Walker certainly stings.

“Stop your whining and review this game, fool”
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The Vita version of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection contains two full games. The only real choice is deciding between 2001′s nonsensical -at times- postmodern tale of naked cartwheeling agents, terrorist-plots, government conspiracies and kidnapped presidents (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty) or 2005′s Cold War-era prequel of love, betrayal and ideological differences (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater). Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter which order you play the two games in, since each award-winning title acts as an independent episode in the Metal Gear universe. However, if you need to be chronologically correct, it would probably be a good idea to start off with Snake Eater and then move onto Sons of Liberty.

Even as a fan, I have to admit that Sons of Liberty can be a taxing ordeal. This is not only because it constantly references characters and events from the Shadow Moses incident (as featured in the original 1998 PSOne classic), but it left many a former Metal Gear Solid fan a casualty to its unwieldy plot. At the time of its release, Sons of Liberty was considered a technical marvel. Some of the set pieces and character interactions are still as original as they were a decade ago, but its overemphasis on cutscenes and the decision to throw in a new main character (Raiden) left many deflated. Narratively, it’s also the strangest and weakest of the Metal Gear Solid games. Fortunately, Metal Gear Solid’s creator, Hideo Kojima redeemed himself through Snake Eater, and in my humble opinion, created one of the most competent and exciting stealth-based games ever created.

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Where Sons of Liberty was stifled by an attempt to create the definitive “video game that could be a movie”, Snake Eater remembered that it was a game. It’s a game that benefited from a non-stationary camera, and the introduction of survival aspects to its already impressive stealth arsenal meant smiling faces from all the fans. Snake (in this case, the future Big Boss) could hunt animals for food (to replenish his stamina bar) and a comprehensive medical mini-game existed for when he injured himself. But, what set Snake Eater apart from all the other MGS games was the thought-provoking story, that covered aspects of loyalty, friendship and patriotism. The game was set during the height of the Cold War, before Big Boss became a villain. Just as Solid Snake would be forced to confront his mentor (Big Boss) decades later, Big Boss had to tackle his former mentor and friend, The Boss. Let’s not even mention that there hasn’t been a game since that can beat Snake Eater at the quality of its boss fights. You have to experience it to believe it.

“He hid in a box for two weeks, and survived on a diet of nuts, snakes and frogs”
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The Vita version of Metal Gear Solid HD manages to maintain the general feel of Metal Gear Solid. It’s a game series that has always been about the art of sneaking and silent takedowns. Direct confrontations (or even run-and-gunning) are discouraged. Much like James Bond, Snake (be it Solid Snake or Naked Snake – the Big Boss incarnation) has to depend on his meagre supplies and collection of gadgetry.

If you’re a novice to Metal Gear Solid, a typical game involves making your way through an area undetected. If you’re discovered an alarm is triggered, and the game becomes a frantic cat and mouse chase. It becomes crucial for Snake to hide from his enemies. However, Snake can defend himself by taking on his pursuers with either close quarters combat (CQC) techniques or exchanging gun fire, but the real test is remaining undetected. The AI on the other hand will search every nook and cranny, and on higher difficulties will even throw hand grenades into areas they “think” you might be hiding. For two fairly old games, the experience can be as tense and nerve-wrecking as ever.

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For the Vita version, the classic control scheme makes a welcomed return, albeit with the obligatory touchpad modifications. The inventory is controlled using the front touchscreen, while certain actions like the CQC techniques are controlled with the rear touchpad. It’s works reasonably well for managing your inventory, but it takes some getting used to for the advanced CQC actions. This is especially true for Snake Eater, where the touchpad functionality becomes increasingly annoying during Metal Gear Solid’s excellent boss battles.

Scoring:

Design and Presentation: 9/10

While the console versions of Metal Gear Solid HD breathed new life into the games. It was always evident that they are from a very different gaming generation (even with the HD spit shine). Scaled down to fit the smaller PSVita screen; the two Metal Gear Solid titles look even more impressive. As they always say, “size sometimes matters”.

Value: 6/10
If you’re a typical gamer with just enough money to buy one or two games a month, the PSVita version of Metal Gear Solid HD collection would definitely be a tough sell. Price is an issue here, and if you’re a Solid Snake fan, the decision to get this version over the meatier console versions will depend on how much gaming you’re squeezing out of your PSVita. Yet, beyond the issue of version disparity, there is plenty of gaming to be squeezed out of this collection. The campaigns are lenghthy and after the closing credits have rolled there are still a huge selection of virtual missions to complete. If you also own the PlayStation 3 copy of the collection, you’re also given the nifty option to sync and share games across the two Sony versions. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to unlock trophies with transferred game saves, but at least you can always have a Snake in your pocket.
If you’re really a retro gamer, you can even give the original 1987, Metal Gear and its 1990 sequel Metal Gear: Solid Snake a go, provided you can find them in the menu system of MGS 3: Snake Eater.

Gameplay: 8/10
It’s always good to remember that these are not games from the current-generation. This sobering fact is reflected in the controls. What might have been groundbreaking a decade ago, feels decidedly archaic and awkward in our dual-stick conditioned hands. While, the PSVita version attempts to mix it up a bit, with the addition of a respectable slither of touchscreen functionality to the in-game menu, in all honesty, it’s a fairly superfluous addition. However, “this is Snake, dammit“ and a portable version of my childhood classics to boot.
My fellow readers, you may scream “Jim this is your Skyrim moment… you’ve lost all credibility”. But, I do not care, my bandanna is firmly wrapped around my head and a proto-mullet is blowing majestically in the wind. This spacious box will hide me from your taunts.

Overall: 8/10
While, it’s inexcusable for Konami to omit the first game and the PSP’s MGS: Peace Walker, there’s very little to find fault with the PSVita’s version of the Metal Gear Solid HD collection. This is as close as you can get to a definitive PORTABLE version of Hideo Kojima’s award winning magnum opus. If you already own the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the collection, I have to be honest, there’s not much here to recommend. However, if you’re a fan of one of gaming’s finest franchises (who for some reason managed to miss out on the console versions or who would rather want to take Snake on the road), the consistent quality and excellent conversion will ensure pleasant mobile gaming. This is highly recommended for PSVita owners who have yet to experience Metal Gear Solid.

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