This collection is made up of three games: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. But don't think you're in for a narrative that spans across three games where you get to follow the evolution of Snake. Snake Eater takes place 30 years after Peace Walker and Sons of Liberty jumps back 40 years in order to give us the story of Snake's father and his relationship to his mentor, The Boss, who defected. Sons of Liberty and Snake Eater and updated and improved versions of the games that were originally released on Playstation 2, while Peace Walker is an updated version of the PSP release.
Now that the formalities are out of the way, let's dig in to the many hours of entertainment on offer.
Sons of Liberty
First game in the collection starts off with Snake trying to get hold of a prototype of a new Metal Gear. He finds himself on a boat in heavy weather on Hudson River, New York. Later events takes place on shore, and several scenes in the original game were changed or cut as a result of 9/11.
When compared to today's standard the controls feel very limited and stiff. The camera is a constant source of frustration as it simply doesn't allow a good overview of the surroundings. Thankfully, Snake's radar and the not too intelligent host of enemies that the frustration is manageable.
And while the graphics have been polished, it doesn't hide the fact that the game was made for the last generation of consoles. The impressive opening we remember just doesn't feel that authentic anymore, and Snake and his foes have been drawn without the many details this generation of consoles have treated us to.
What we are left with is the a brilliant experience that captures the essence of the stealth genre. Using a gun is pretty much equivalent to suicide. A dart gun may work, but this game is all about avoiding detection.
Snake Eater takes place during the 60's during the aftermath of the Cuba crisis. The US have agreed to send back a Soviet defector, unaware of the fact that the defector is a key person in the development of a nuclear powered armoured vehicle, that would threaten the fragile peace. It's your mission to make sure this weapon is never completed.
The gallery of villains in Snake Eater are some of the most exciting ones in the Metal Gear Solid universe. And they make for an atmosphere that walks the fine line between graphical novels, and more authentic agent action, or to put it in another way, somewhere in between James Bond and Tom Clancy.
It is now possible to control the camera with the right analogue stick. It makes for a smoother experience where it is easier to get an overview of your surroundings without risking detection. In one way it makes the gameplay easier, but on the other hand it does away with a lot of the frustration from the previous game.
This HD edition of Snake Eater offers some of the best stealth challenges the gaming world has ever seen. This also help us overcome the overly stiff animations, and the relatively flat colours and textures. It should also be noted that the hard to access jungle environments are something of a quantum leap in terms of design from the previous games.
This game was originally released on PSP. As such it's not strange that this PS3 edition of the game illustrates some of the weaknesses and limitation compared to this more powerful home consoles.
The controls are simpler than in the two other games. For instance you cannot drop to a prone position, but the environments have been designed in a manner so that there are hiding places where you don't need to be prone. One new element introduced is the ability to shoot while moving, and this actually works better in the updated version compared to the original on PSP.
The gameplay has been spiced up with a number of RPG and strategy components. Among these you take the role of Naked Snake recruiting soldiers - as well as building and administrating a camp. All of this to carry out the objective of preventing a communist takeover in Costa Rica on the one hand, and on the other hand finding out why the US are increasing their nuclear presence in the region.
From a visual perspective Peace Walker is the weakest link thanks to its PSP origins. The strategy components also distract from the atmosphere of a stealth game and just doesn't have the same appeal.
What the three games have in common is that the player is being fed small bits of the greater puzzle at a time, and if you're new to the universe you should not skip over any of the cutscenes. And while the dialogue falls flat at times and comes across as primitive, you're given nuggets of information that contribute to the larger scheme of things. And ultimately three games with seemingly separate stories have points where they connect somewhat.
What is also true for all three games, if only to a lesser degree with Peace Walker, is that you're given the chance to revisit updated version of games that helped define a genre.
It's captivating, challenging, and exciting entertainment, with a healthy dose of humour and kitsch. Personally, I was happy to relive these moments, and it was still a very powerful experience.