on 3 February 2012
This is something I've been waiting a long, long time for. Honestly, the delay for the UK version was like a knife twisting in my gut. The PS2 era was my era for gaming, so the series of 'HD Collections' of PS2 era games for the PS3, updated to be played in HD with higher frame rates, have been a godsend for me.
In this HD Collection, we get Metal Gear Solid 2, 3 and, for the first time on a 'big' console, MGS Peace Walker - a PSP title updated for the big screen. Some fans have bemoaned the lack of MGS1, the first game in the 'Solid' era that really brought the series to the attention of the Western world, but I consider this a wise decision. Apparently they explored the possibility of including it but found that a PSX era game could not be upconverted to anything vaguely resembling high definition. Rumour has it that Hideo Kojima has designs on bringing a completely remade version of MGS1 to us at a later date, likely coinciding with an anniversary of some kind. This will be far better in my opinion. In the meantime, for those yet to experience it, the original MGS1 title is available to purchase on PSN for a tiny fee, and for those with an old PSX copy of the game knocking around, you can play it on your PS3 (it was only PS2 backwards compatibility that was sacrificed in later PS3 hardware revisions, so all PS3's play PSX games)
As regards the updated graphics, well they can certainly hold their own now on a modern HD display. I played MGS2 a couple of years ago on my PS2 and it really did suffer on a modern HD display, but now in pure 720p both PS2 games can really hold their heads high. Of course they cannot rival a game such as Uncharted, that was only ever conceived with HD in mind, but for an upconversion job you will be hugely impressed. HD displays tend to fudge the graphics of PS2 games, and I often found it difficult to spot animals and items in the jungle and other shadowy parts of the MGS3 levels. Not so now, the increase in clarity gives you a much better command of your environment. Another great feature is that the games now play in 16:9 widescreen instead of full screen 4:3, and I mean REAL widescreen, not just zoomed and cropped, so we have more side of screen information than we saw in the PS2 versions. For those with the equipment to decode it, audio is full surround sound now, too. Not just in the cut scenes like the originals, but while you're actually playing the levels. This adds a welcome element of reality, as you can hear the direction the enemies are approaching you from.
Words cannot describe how happy I am that they gave us the fully controllable 3rd person camera from MGS3 Subsistence. I always believed that Subsistence turned the vanilla 'Snake Eater' version of the game from merely a good, to a brilliant game. Obviously the technology given to the player has to reflect the period in history concerned, so MGS3 being set in the cold war era 1960's could not have had the state of the art radar system of MGS 1 and 2. All fair and well, until you realise that keeping the overhead camera of the previous games while taking away the radar never made for fluid game-play. The gamer often found himself running into the field of vision of guards and soldiers that you could not yet see in your own field of vision. This led to many tiresome instances of you hiding behind a bush or a rock until the guards had stopped looking for you and your alert level had come down. The only way to avoid this in the vanilla Snake Eater is to stop every few paces and scout the area for enemies with use of the first person perspective button, which takes a lot of fluidity out of the game. Thankfully, this was something that Kojima and team were willing to address for Subsistence. The result is a fully controllable camera, that sits behind the character in a more traditional position, akin to a modern 3rd person game, and can be panned a full 360 degrees to better survey the surrounding territory. It isn't that it makes the game easier, just more fluid. Had they not given us the Subsistence version of MGS3 in this collection, it would definitely have been a deal breaker for me. Of course fans more familiar with the vanilla Snake Eater camera can click a button and play it the old way instead. MGS2 plays as it ever did, which for me is great because if it isn't broke, you don't fix it. Peace Walker plays differently of course, owing to the controls being adapted for the PS3 pad. By most accounts this has improved the game, as we now have a second analogue stick to control the camera, which makes for a more modern feel, or so I'm told.
I have only dipped my toes into Peace Walker as of yet, so I'm far from an authority. Especially so as I never owned a PSP. However, I am pleased with what I see. On the graphics side of things, it doesn't quite shine as much as its two older brothers, but this is of course understandable as it was made for a smaller screen. Anti-aliasing has been applied in spades with the upconversion and, while it does have the higher definition textures, AND gets rid of the jaggies from the PSP version, the anti-aliasing blends and obscures some of the more intricate details I see in screenshots of the original PSP title. However, playing the game in HD on a big screen with a proper control pad is more than worth that sacrifice. I hear that this game is absolutely HUGE, with more hours game play than any incarnation of the series yet. Which is kind of odd considering it was originally made for the smallest system. The comrade system used in the previous PSP title 'Portable Ops' is dropped this time, in favour of a more traditional Co-operative mode, and this forms a BIG part of the game by all accounts. I believe at several points, many gamers feel it is almost mandatory that they receive the help of another player. Of course for this you will need to be connected to the internet. From what I can tell so far, the story is far less bizarre and more straightforward than usual, and is helped along by beautifully rendered graphic novel style cut scenes.
You will also be pleased to hear that they have given us the best of the extra features from the 'Substance' and 'Subsistence' versions of MGS 2 & 3. Most of the immediately noticeable omissions, from memory, seem to be from Subsistence, so there's no Metal Gear Online, as that has been superseded with the online game from MGS4. The Duel Mode and Snake vs Monkey mode also appear to be missing. The skateboarding game from MGS2 Substance isn't here either. But yes, we DO get the most important and anticipated features - the original two 'Metal Gear' era titles that were previously only available on the Japanese MSX home computer system. These are pixel perfect, English language ports and are really good games for their era. They will prove FAR more than a novelty to hardcore fans of the series. We also get the 'Alternative Missions', 'VR Missions' and 'Snake Tales', that all came with MGS2 Subsistence. 'Casting Theater' and 'Boss Survival' modes also become available after completing MGS2 on any difficulty setting.
All in all there is enough Metal Gear Solid here for fans to bathe in for months, and I for one will be putting the Do Not Disturb sign on the door a good many times in the foreseeable future. If you are unfamiliar with the PS2 and PSP eras of the franchise and have only come to the series by way of PS3's MGS4, you really do owe it to yourself to experience these unmissable slices of MGS history. And at this price point, the games have never been cheaper.
*EDIT*: It has come to my attention that to play the game with DTS audio instead of Dolby Digital, you have to untick the Dolby Digital option in the sound settings of your PS3's XMB. This was obviously an oversight on the developer's part, and if you have both the Dolby Digital and DTS options ticked in the PS3's settings, the game will default to Dolby Digital instead of the far superior DTS format. I will inform Konami of this and hopefully they can patch it. Just don't forget to re-tick the Dolby setting afterwards, as it will mess you about with other games, DVD's and Blu-rays if you forget. Another [MAJOR] annoyance I found was that owing to the difference in ratio between the PSP's screen and our 16:9 HDTV's, the default display settings on Peace Walker have a fair bit of text and edge of screen icons seemingly cut off. The in-game pause menu settings have no way to overcome this, and many players have simply put up with the annoyance. However, there is an initial title menu screen in Peace Walker where you start/load your game that is very easy to overlook or skip past (use up and down to select). It has several categories; ranging from deleting save files, changing the in-game language, 'Transfarring' (the ability to use PSP save files on PS3 and visa versa), and finally, hidden away under the 'Extras' category, the ability to adjust the screen to your display. I found that adjusting it so the arrows in the corner barely fit your screen, meaning a tiny amount of black to give you a buffer, is by far the best compromise... but you might want to have a good old tinker with this setting and see what suits your TV best.