Metal Gear Solid is one of those franchises that can never end, no matter how much Hideo Kojima may seem to want it to. The man can state he’s finished working on the series and tie up each and every plot point in a nice MGS4-sized package, but the series can still find a way to produce more prequels, midquels and sequels than seems possible. At the moment, we’re in a spate of re-releases, with Metal Gear Solid 3 finding a new lease on life on the 3DS recently, and Metal Gear Solid HD Collection hitting the PS3 and 360, containing MGS2, MGS3 and Peace Walker, the previously PSP-exclusive game. Now we have the Vita release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which loses Peace Walker, but otherwise contains a whole heap of Metal Gear goodness.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty features one of the best opening segments of all time, as Solid Snake infiltrates a tanker captured by Russian terrorists, showcasing a bevvy of awesome and (at the time) revolutionary stealth abilities. This lasts about an hour or two before he’s replaced in one of those most galling switcheroos ever performed, as pretty boy Raiden becomes the player character, sneaking into an offshore oil clean-up facility on a mission to rescue the president. Many (quite rightly) describe the plot going right off the rails as the game continues, but strangely enough I’ve always been a supporter of the game’s bizarre narrative. Incorporating what I think are fairly provocative themes of control, identity and the nature of human legacy, it means well even though the long and detailed exposition dumps (they call them ‘cutscenes’) can get tiring and aren’t well suited for a mobile platform.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater learned from its predecessors perceived mistakes, and while still extremely loony, tells a relatively straightforward story about Solid’s daddy, Naked Snake. Set in the 60′s with plenty of low-tech gadgets, spy music and Bond-references, Snake Eater has plenty of cheese and wacky moments, but is the more emotionally affecting of the two games, with one of the most heartbreaking endings in video game history.
Both games are classics of the PS2-era, and both have aged extremely well. The cat-and-mouse gameplay in both games is still tense and exciting, as you tentatively crawl around the environment, monitoring the movements of guards and dreading the moment when they suss you out. I’m not sure ‘arcadey’ is the right term, but compared to its sequel, MGS2 feels faster and a little more unrealistic – as you cartwheel around and freeze time bombs with liquid nitrogen. MGS3 incorporates survival elements, which require you to hunt animals and gather food to regain stamina, as well as treat and bandage any wounds you receive if the action doesn’t go your way. This is all done through selections on the pause menu, which isn’t quite so intuitive. What works better is the camouflage system introduced in MGS3, which allows you to change your outfit to suit your environment, and gives you a real-time rating on how invisible you are to the enemy.
With the power of the Vita behind the collection, the frame-rate of both games holds up considerably better than the originals, and they survive the transition into the higher-resolution world with aplomb. That said, there are some problems with this mobile release. For one, you may have noticed that the Vita is missing several buttons the PS2 controller had, namely L2, R2, L3 and R3. This means that several functions have to be reassigned to the touch-screen, and the Vita handles some of these better than others. Items and Weapons can now be accessed by sliding your fingers over their icons on-screen while the action pauses – this actually works pretty intuitively. However, actions like peering around corners, standing on your toes, leaning into lockers or cutting throats with your survival knife are all a bit harder to achieve with the front and back touch-screen, and often I had to perform the same swipes over and over to get the desired effect.
Also, I did encounter some problems getting the games to run, to the point where MGS3 actually crashed on my Vita, something which I’ve never experienced on the system before. Also, despite my best efforts to test the new system which allows you to transfer saves between your PS3 copy of Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and your Vita copy, I was met with errors at every attempt.
I should also mention that the versions of each game present in Metal Gear Solid HD Collection are the special editions (Substance and Subsistance as they are known), which means there’s a tonne of content on top of the main single player games. MGS2 gets a boatload of extra missions in the form of VR Missions, Alternative Missions and ‘Snake Tales’, which provide a glimpse into what the game may have been like if Snake had remained the protagonist throughout. MGS3 instead has full versions of the original MSX games Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, alongside a better camera. There are some notable omissions, however. The skateboarding level from MGS2: Substance is missing, as is the Ape Escape bonus game, secret theatre, boss survival mode and nightmare swordfighting level from MGS3: Subsistance. Metal Gear Online, a big part of Subsistance, isn’t included either.
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection on the Vita seems like a no-brainer purchase for anyone looking to pick up a quality portable Metal Gear Solid title. I mean, here’s two of the best, right here. There’s not a lot to say about these games that hasn’t already been said, and you’ll most likely know if you’re into this series’ particular brand of oddball espionage by now anyway, but this Vita collection is largely really well done. I do have some issues with the touch controls, and did encounter some technical hiccups in my playthroughs, but I still found the collection enjoyable enough to go on a complete dog-tag run-through of Metal Gear Solid 2 and a no-kill run of Metal Gear Solid 3. I do believe these games work better on a big screen at home, with a proper controller, but if you must play these games on the move, then Metal Gear Solid HD Collection will do you fine.