Xbox 360 review: Metal Gear Solid HD Collection

Back in 2008, Konami released the Metal Gear Solid Essentials Collection shortly before the long-anticipated Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. The Essentials Collection was comprised of the first three Metal Gear Solid titles, and served as a refresher for veterans of the series as well as an inexpensive means for newcomers to get acquainted with Solid Snake and Big Boss. Now Konami is at it again with the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, and gamers can revisit three games from the series on the current gen consoles. Included in the HD Collection are Metal Gear Solid 2, 3, and Peace Walker. For those not so familiar with the chronology of the series, Metal Gear Solid 2 is a direct sequel to the PS1 Metal Gear Solid, while 3 and Peace Walker act as prequels to the original MSX Metal Gear games.

Metal Gear Solid 2 is divided into two chapters. The first puts you in control of Solid Snake as he sneaks aboard a US Marine corps tanker making its way down the Hudson River. Otacon has uncovered information that the Marine corps has been developing a new type of Metal Gear, and Snake's mission is to locate it and snap some photographs that they can leak online and expose the military's unethical decision to construct such a machine. The situation quickly escalates as Russian soldiers board the tanker and take out the guards, and Snake barely manages to send Otacon the photos before Revolver Ocelot shows up, steals the new Metal Gear RAY, and sinks the ship into the river. The first section lasts an hour at the longest, and serves primarily as a tutorial section, allowing you to familiarize yourself with the controls, sneaking tactics, and a brief boss battle.

Two years later, Raiden is sent into a water decontamination facility known as Big Shell, in order to rescue hostages from the terrorist organization known as Dead Cell. This second chapter, known as the Plant Chapter, has Raiden sneaking around guards, disarming explosives, swimming through flooded areas of Big Shell, and going toe-to-toe with the four members of Dead Cell. The Plant Chapter has a greater variety of gameplay, and also lasts significantly longer. Many of the areas in Big Shell look similar, and it can be easy to get lost early on.

Raiden can be whiny at times, but he's nowhere near as unlikable as his girlfriend/radio support Rosemary, who can't seem to remember that Raiden is on an important mission and should not have time to chat about her feelings. Meanwhile, the odd behavior and unique abilities that each member of Dead Cell exhibits makes them quite interesting. The story may be slow-going at first, but the darker tone and multiple plot twists that unfold during the last few hours make it all worth the trouble. Metal Gear Solid 2 may not control as smoothly as the other two titles, and there are moments that prove rather frustrating. But the boss fights are epic and the story has a downright brilliant conclusion.

Easily the best of the bunch, Metal Gear Solid 3 follows Naked Snake as he is sent into Russia to stop a separatist group known as GRU and their leader the sadistic Colonel Volgin from usurping Khrushchev and developing the Shagohod, an all-terrain tank armed with nuclear missiles, in order to start a war with the US. Snake must make his way through the jungle and use various camouflage and face paints to blend in with his surrounding and avoid detection by the enemy. The rate at which Snake recovers health is determined by two factors - how hungry he is, and if he is injured in any way. Snake has a limited number of rations and medical supplies at the outset of Operation: Snake Eater, though wild animals can be killed and eaten, while bandages and splints can sometimes be found in warehouses and supply rooms.

Snake's mission is two-fold. While he maintains his focus on stopping Volgin and destroying the Shagohod, he is constantly reminded of the fact that he must face down the elite members of the Cobra Unit and The Boss - their leader and his former mentor. Snake also becomes romantically linked to one of his contacts, a blonde code breaker named EVA, and shares a rivalry with a young Revolver Ocelot. All of this culminates to one of the greatest stories ever told in a video game. What Hideo Kojima has accomplished with Metal Gear Solid 3 is unrivaled by many a novel, film, or television series.

Finally, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker sees perhaps the boldest undertaking by Konami, as it was originally released for the Playstation Portable and has been ported over to consoles. Peace Walker takes place ten years after Metal Gear Solid 3 as Naked Snake (now known as Big Boss) is in the process of training his own private army after having left the United States behind. He is asked to intervene in Costa Rica, where a series of AI-controlled mechs are being developed.

Peace Walker's level design is similar to that of Metal Gear Solid 3, with small areas connecting to one another, though Peace Walker shrinks these down and sets up barriers in order to make gameplay more linear. The game adopts an RPG element of recruiting troops and developing weapons, the results of which are mixed. On the one hand, putting the time and effort to experiment with this can unlock different weapons and make your experience different from anyone else's. On the other hand, it can prove annoying when a certain weapon or item is required to progress to the next mission and you must grind through the optional missions so that the research can progress.

Peace Walker's visuals don't quite hold up to the other two, but for a handheld game it looks pretty darn impressive. There's a great attention to detail, and colors pop nicely against the backdrops of different environments. Traditional cutscenes are thrown out in favor of a gritty motion comic style. Some of these sequences involve quick time events, and all of it plays out well - it's a great artistic direction for the game and provides an extra level of immersion. While the Metal Gear series has a long history of great soundtracks, Peace Walker's might be the best yet.

Not all HD collections are made equal. There have been some in the past couple of years that left players disappointed due to a lack of content or aesthetic alterations. With the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, it's a completely opposite scenario. Despite the fact that the first Metal Gear Solid is not included, the bonuses of MGS2's VR missions, Peace Walker's online multiplayer, and the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake provide plenty of replay value after the main three games have been completed. When other companies look into releasing HD collections of classic games, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection should be their primary reference.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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