Releasing HD compendiums of classic videogames is very much in vogue at the moment, and it’s going to be very interesting to see how much longer this trend endures. The foundations of solid game design (particularly in action titles) are so endlessly built upon that classics feel antiquated in almost no time at all, and aside from voluntary gaming historians and the perennially nostalgic, it’s hard to envisage a massive target audience for many of these retrospective sets. But as the great QT once wrote, personality goes a long way; and the one thing that always inspires people to return to old favourites (in any medium) is personality. And love it or hate it, Konami’s Metal Gear Solid series has always had more personality in its pause menu screen than most games have full stop.
Although seeing two classics looking as crisp as Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater do here is a major selling point, it’s the unsung (and way under-played) Peace Walker that’s going to be the real draw for most. The series’ enigmatic creator may have taken a well publicised back seat on all of the PSP’s other Metal Gear releases (Portable Ops and the Metal Gear Acid duo) but Peace Walker is full-pelt Kojima, and it feels every inch the “proper” sequel to Snake Eater that the great man always said it was. Visuals aside, the comparably trim mission structure is the only real indication that you’re playing a port of a PSP game, and the original’s brilliant multiplayer mode – which was inexplicably only ever playable locally – is now fully online. You can even transfer save data between your PSP and your PS3 enabling you to continue your adventure on the move, though this obviously isn’t advisable if you’re chasing Trophies because sadly they aren’t synchronised.
Peace Walker may look far better than you’d ever expect a PSP port to look, but conversely Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater both look absolutely tremendous. There are a few scarce (and brief) moments of texture pop-in here and there, but the amount of hard work that has gone into making these games look as slick and current-gen as they possibly can is constantly evident. Retro enthusiasts are going to adore the dedicated instruction manual that’s tucked into each title’s main menu screen (they’re exhaustive, PDF-style approximations of physical, old-school paper manuals) and the bevy of easter eggs and trinkets is sure to be similarly well received. There are a few curious omissions – no Secret Theatre, no Boss Survival Mode, no mental Evolution Skateboarding tie-in mini-game – but the MSX ports of the first two Metal Gear games both hold up about as well as any other 20+ year old 8-bitters you could mention.
There’s still zero doubt – in this dojo at the very least – that Snake Eater remains the pinnacle of the series, and a stealth gaming benchmark that still hasn’t been touched… but it’s remarkable to observe just how well each game is complimented by the presence of the other two. If you plan on tackling the games out of sequence in order to bring out the best in the (beyond bonkers) narrative, the only minor hiccup will arrive when you take on Sons of Liberty last, and have to contend with easily the most antiquated and eccentric control scheme of the three. But it’s well worth taking that quibble on the chin, because Hideo Kojima’s barmy approach to storytelling is what has primarily made this series so thoroughly enslaving. Kojima may sometimes craft these lunatic parables with all the finesse and discretion of a hormonal 14-year old with a head injury, but in tandem with the delectable gameplay, these truly are experiences that are unlike anything else you’ve ever played, and they’ve never looked or felt better. Essential, as ever.
Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection Limited Edition is currently due for release on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on Friday, February 3rd 2012; to find out what’s in it, click here. A standard edition is also available, and will launch on the same date.
Watch the Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection launch trailer below: