Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (PS3)

The Metal Gear Solid HD collection is freaking good value. Each game on its own is alone is still almost worth full retail price. Throw the three of them together, and you have a package that is essential.

That said, of the three games that are in the HD collection (Metal Gear Solid 2, 3 and Peace Walker), only 3 ‘works’ in HD on the PS3. MGS 2 is blocky and the environments are comparatively bland. Peace Walker looks like a PSP game blown up to full screen. Only 3 has a lush vibrancy and artistry that looks like a modern HD game should.

And while that might sound like a minor criticism to the people who insist that gameplay can be separated from a games “graphics,” the reality is that the aged visual style of these games does hold them back somewhat. It’s that much more difficult to engage with a game that is essentially a blockbuster experience when it doesn’t look the part.

And indeed, this is a criticism I also have for the Tom Clancy Splinter Cell HD games that hit the market not that long ago. When developers simply upscale and up the polygon counts, a lot of the detail that marks out a genuine HD game is left out of these packages. Backgrounds remain simple, environments remain empty of the kind of detail that we’re now used to.

Visuals aside, these games still play really, really well, and are a breath of fresh air in an era when action games lack subtlety. Where Call of Duty, Gears of War and even Resident Evil eschew puzzle solving and comprehensive plotting to focus on the blowing up of objects and people (or zombies), Metal Gear Solid puts genuine emphasis on stealth. Going toe to toe with anyone can and will get Snake killed. Instead he needs to watch enemy patrol patterns, hide in foliage or behind buildings, and most of the time he needs to make use of a silenced tranquilizer gun rather than conventional weaponry.

This also means Metal Gear’s levels are more open, affording players a degree of freedom in how they tackle objectives. Gamers bred on the aforementioned action games might feel a little disconcerted by the lack of hand holding and direction pointers. It's a refreshing change of pace, to say the least.

Finally, the Metal Gear games all feature famously extensive cut scenes. Kojima is a director that doesn’t shy away from making people put the controller down and simply watch. Ten minutes of dialogue here, a 15 minute animated movie there there, the Metal Gear games have stories to tell and they’re confident about it. That’s going to frustrate people that just want to get into the action, but people who appreciate the idea that games can be narrative devices will be able to appreciate the games.

For those few who haven't experienced any of these games before, there’s enough variation between each game in the collection to have reason to play all three. Peace Walker, like Monster Hunter and other classic PSP games does a good job of narrowing the basic Metal Gear gameplay into bite sized chunks for short play time.

Metal Gear Solid 2 offers the classic stealth action, while 3 pushes the boundaries. There’s no need to play the games in order, though there is a degree of consistency in the plots. All three games feature perfectly tight controls and superb level design.

Importantly, though, Kojima never allowed the series to become too serious either. When I was younger, the first time Snake hid himself under a box and snuck past a guard was amusing. The first time the guard figured out the deception, and Snake’s reaction as the box was removed from over him was outright funny.

It’s that attention to the small details, and the understanding that ultimately even the most serious of games should have a firm grasp of what is fun that ultimately marks these games out, and give them a timeless quality that makes them worth playing again. The “HD” bit of this release might not do much to improve the experience, but that’s simply because these games were already such a fine experience.

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