Sons of Liberty, Snake Eater, Peace Walker - these three Metal Gear Solid games represent everything the franchise is about. By this point, you've probably already figured out whether you enjoy these games and are just looking for a good collection that is playable on your favorite console. Honestly, I feel kind of spoiled just looking at this set: it's like I asked for a pony and got a flying unicorn instead. Granted, this set isn't quite perfect, but it's still superior to almost anything I could have imagined, and as a MGS fan I couldn't be happier.
As a Metal Gear Solid fan, I couldn't be happier.
Let's start by looking at the games themselves. Sons of Liberty is a very divisive entry, and that has a lot to do with its protagonist. I'll admit it; I'm a huge Raiden fan, posters of him on my walls and everything. He brings not only a fresh perspective but he's also easier to relate to. While calling him an ordinary guy would be the greatest lie imaginable, he's at least a little believable in his quest to figure out what's going on. He's just as lost as we are for much of the game, and for a storyline that centers on using information to control others it works really well. Yeah, I like Raiden and the story to this game. I get called "that guy" at parties a lot.
For those out there who live under rock motels: Metal Gear Solid games tend to be about 80% cut scenes and 20% actual playing time. Sons of Liberty keeps things well-paced by switching up the between exploration, combat, and other activities such as swimming and sniping. This game is very claustrophobic; it relies on effective camera angles and linear areas to keep the player focused and on his guard at all times. The stealth is very arcade-style in its implementation, so you're not going to be sitting around for minutes at a time observing behavior patterns of the guards just to sneak by. On subsequent play-throughs, you'll probably be running past guards like they weren't even there.
This edition of the game is based on the more recent version known as "Substance." That means the 300 VR missions and other optional modes such as Snake Tales are included. These are excellent additions as they require the player to master the somewhat confusing control scheme to win. Just getting through this content will require a lot of time and effort. Originally Substance also included a mode where Snake or Raiden skateboard around the Big Shell to perform stunts. It's much less fun than it sounds, so I don't mind that this extra didn't make its way into this collection.
Snake Eater is one of the most beloved games in the series. Sure, it helps that the story is several times easier to follow, but the characters are what really bring this entry together. They're all memorable, interesting, and the ones that are barely developed at least make for some very entertaining boss battles. I also really like how this game is styled after James Bond films, with its heavily stylized credits sequence, Cold War attitudes, and the nods to various other tropes of the franchise like the gadgets and the girls. Also this game is probably the last time I ever had an appreciation for the parallelism that has become synonymous with Metal Gear Solid storylines.
Unlike the prior game, which took place in corridors and other tightly enclosed areas, Snake Eater is comprised of forests, canyons, bases, and doesn't create a claustrophobic atmosphere like the Tanker or Big Shell. There is also never a straight path to the objective and how to go about reaching destinations is left entirely to the player. Using camouflage and the right equipment can be a big part of survival. Furthermore, Snake has to eat to keep his stamina up and use medical tools to treat any wounds that are inflicted upon him. While it is a nuisance at first, it does teach the player to use his time more effectively and to play the game better so he's not constantly digging through menus because he can't keep bullets from getting inside his body.
While this version of Snake Eater is based on "Subsistence," only a handful of its changes and additions made the jump to current-generation consoles. The most important, of course, is the revamped camera system. The hard overhead camera might work for Sons of Liberty, but Snake Eater is a very different game and a decent view of the action at all times is very necessary. Both of the early Metal Gear games are included as well, making this a five-game set. Unfortunately, fans of Snake vs. Monkey, the boss rush, multiplayer, and other bonuses like secret theater are out of luck. Still, as it stands Snake Eater is a required play and there are numerous extras and ways to challenge yourself to keep each play-through fresh.
Peace Walker is a very interesting entry. It was released after Metal Gear Solid 4 and when Monster Hunter became one of the biggest reasons to own a PSP. Unlike the ten-hour story-driven affairs that the series is typically known for, Peace Walker is comprised of many missions that allow the player to build his "Mother Base" and outfit his soldiers with a variety of weaponry and equipment. The story is one that I think is absolutely boring and I'm glad that it's so easy to forget about so that my attention can be diverted by more important matters like upgrading my guns or reorganizing the staff at my base. Also who got the bright idea to include quick-time events in the cut scenes? That's the last thing I want to see in any game.
Anyway, the bulk of Peace Walker is going to be spent doing missions, recruiting soldiers, putting them to work in whatever they specialize in, and hopefully enjoying the fruits of their labor. In a way, it is sort of like Monster Hunter, where you attain stronger equipment to deal with more powerful foes. For the most part, this is still a stealth game and your success depends heavily on your ability to evade detection, although having sweet gear for when things inevitably go south is really nice. The controls are far more intuitive than in the previous games, and, thanks to the additional functions available to console controllers, superior to the PSP version as well. Expect the bulk of your time to be spent on this game alone. It's especially addictive when you consider that after every mission you have something to look forward to. Your troops are constantly developing new equipment and you can send them to take out enemy installations in the hopes that they'll come back with more rewards. This makes for a game that's nearly impossible to put down.
Aside from the uninteresting story, my only real problem with this entry is that the boss battles lack the ingenuity and personality of the Cobra Unit in Metal Gear Solid 3. Fighting mobile armors, tanks, and other vehicles is fun, but it's not quite the same as stalking The End or leaving poison out for The Fear to eat. Altogether, I'd say this game really makes this collection worth owning, even if you normally can't stand Metal Gear Solid. The different controls, structure, and cooperative play make Peace Walker an all-around great game that includes the stealth action you're looking for, but in a way that doesn't require finger aerobics to get around or a tolerance for pain to sit through forty-five-minute cut scenes.
The main thing to point out with all three of the games in this compilation is that they have never looked this good before. Aside from the noticeable jump in image quality, all three games run at a rock-solid sixty frames per second. Metal Gear Solid 3 benefits the most from these frame-rate and resolution improvements - it's really astounding when compared to the PlayStation 2 version. Though it's like a high quality movie transfer, expect some of the graphics to stick out poorly, such as the bitmap hornets seen during the fight with The Pain. Also, I've heard that some cut scenes are missing effects and objects, like rain in Metal Gear Solid 3. I didn't notice anything, but I guess that's because I wasn't actually looking for them. Sound-wise, I've also noticed differences in voice acting during tutorial segments, which I suppose is expected since the Xbox 360 version has to be accounted for. It sounds a little off, but all things considered, I don't see a problem.
In short, the only qualm I have about this set is that it makes me wonder if Konami will ever give some attention to the rest of its massive library. While a more definitive set that included an updated Metal Gear Solid 1 would be appreciated, I can't help but be a little more concerned about Castlevania, Contra, Gradius, and a host of other franchises that Konami has sired over years. Sure, in some cases there have been collections, but nothing quite as respectable as what has been accomplished here. Then again, I guess the same could be said for Sega, Namco, and other prolific developers who have decades of quality content that deserves to be revisited. I suppose I should just let it go. I've already gotten three great games at a superb value, that'll do for now right?