Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Review: Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Metal Gear is one of the most revered series in the action game genre, mainly due to all but perfecting the concept of stealth action. Despite the MSX and NES [and almost 3DO] Metal Gear games before it, Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 was the one that got everyone's attention, and marked a new milestone in gaming in which just Chuck Norris-ing your way through an action game was not the only option. You no longer had to worry about winning, you had to survive; a major accomplishment in and of itself. Thus, players were forced to think outside of the box [no pun intended] and figure out the best and safest way to go about a mission. But, I'll get to all that once I start the review. Most people remember Metal Gear Solid as just a PS1 game, but few know of the Gamecube remake, which featured countless enhancements to the original. Does the remake expand on the already superb Metal Gear Solid, or is there a reason that it has been neglected?
Continuing from my comments in the first paragraph, the Metal Gear games featured a radically new gameplay style, in which the player must sneak around and avoid combat as much as possible, in stark contrast to other action games. If you tried to complete the game by rushing in and shooting everything that moves, you would be quickly outnumbered, overwhelmed, and dead. After all, Solid Snake is still Human, he can only take so many bullets. That's not to say that it is hopeless. Throughout the game, you get access to some pretty cool weapons to mess around with. But, strangely enough, I found myself using the weakest weapon, the SOCOM pistol w/Silencer for most non-boss fight portions of the game, because it was the quietest weapon in my disposal. That's saying a lot about the effectiveness of a game's intended mindset when you don't want to use the Rocket Launcher(s), Machine Gun, or Sniper Rifle that you have, instead choosing the most sensible option. Speaking of weapons, the Gamecube version includes the First-Person aiming system from Metal Gear Solid 2, making aiming weapons and and looking around a lot easier, not to mention a lot more fun when making precise shots. That is the most notable gameplay mechanic change in the remake, but dozens of other tweaks and fixes were added to make the game more enjoyable. The "Very Easy" difficulty setting was also added. One thing I must note are the controls. Aiming in first-person mode is generally simple and straightforward, but sometimes, it can be very difficult to accurately aim your weapon in time if you need to shoot quickly. You can obviously still use the 3rd person perspective from the original, but shooting in first person is so much easier that it is hard to go back to the old way. Also, pausing in the game is weird; there is no real "pause" button. Instead, you have to either press A+Start to bring up the codec screen, or B+Start to bring up the map. Pressing Start alone It's a minor thing, but someone who doesn't know this when playing may find out the hard way, if you know what I mean. Despite some annoying cheap tricks that the game sometimes uses, and a few illogical segments in which you almost NEED a guide to progress, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes has incredibly solid gameplay and will provide a good challenge, no matter which difficulty setting you may choose.
Gamers have always praised MGS' story, saying it is more like a good action movie than an action game. After playing through it myself, I have to say that you can believe the hype. Written by Konami's mad genius, Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid's storyline is powerful, gripping, and confusing. The game starts out simplistic enough; covert operations soldier Solid Snake is sent in to get information on the new war machine known as Metal Gear Rex. That's where the simplicity ends, though, as things start to fall apart soon after, resulting in a perplexing and compelling mystery that doesn't really make sense until the end. Many people complained about the game leaving you in the dark for so long, but in my opinion, it adds tension and motivation to keep playing.
As I have said, Snake himself is a relatively vulnerable character when considering how quickly he can die in the game, and how the player is actually afraid of even common enemies in the game, because you are heavily outnumbered and outgunned. This is a very interesting storytelling mechanic known as Disempowerment. In other words, in most action games, you are more than capable of dealing with enemies, and in large numbers. The only thing limiting you is your own skill, because the character is naturally stronger than the enemies in the game. That's empowerment, where for the most part, you don't have to worry about the enemies, because you know you are stronger than them. Conversely, disempowerment is when the character is not stronger than the enemies. When the player knows that he can be quickly defeated by enemies which have more powerful weapons and/or more people to help them, tension and even fear are created, giving the player a healthy dose of respect for the situation the game has put them in. They must use everything that both the character and the player has at their disposals to overcome the challenge, despite being in a disadvantageous situation. This establishes somewhat of a bond between the player and the character, and draws them into the story. Metal Gear Solid masterfully utilizes disempowerment, and it shows.
Something that people seem to forget about Metal Gear Solid is that it actually has a good sense of humor at times, even with its serious story. Everyone of course knows about Psycho Mantis' memory card-reading trick [which was updated in The Twin Snakes to recognize saves from some of Nintendo's games], which is probably kind of freaky if you didn't know about it until playing it. Early in the game, I was told that I needed to call a frequency on my codec, but the game didn't tell me what it was. All that was said was that it was "On the back of the package". I remember looking forever for that code in the game, until I realized that I was actually supposed to look on the back of the game's box, where the code is shown in a screenshot! Brilliant! At another point, I had to press the A button as fast as I could to stay alive, so I went to the other room to get my turbo controller, to make it easier. Just as I was about to switch controllers, one of the characters faced the screen, and said, "And don't even think about using a turbo controller, because I'll know!" I was positively shocked, but I laughed my ass off about it the entire rest of the day! One more thing, in the original MGS, in a certain part of the game, you are in an office, and you could find a PS1 connected to a TV in one of the cubicles. In The Twin Snakes, it is replaced by a Gamecube and Wavebird controller, on the Gamecube system menu. There are also now Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi dolls in another cubicle. Little things like that give the game charm and personality. Other than that, the story in the remake went mostly unchanged, save for a few minute differences.
The entire soundtrack of Metal Gear Solid was recomposed and re-recorded for the Gamecube version, to take advantage of the extra storage space, and the superior audio capabilities of the 'Cube. Most of the tunes are just higher-fidelity versions of the originals, with slight alterations, but Konami added a few new tracks, as well. For example, the music that plays when escaping from enemy sight, and waiting for the caution meter to go down is now replaced with the opening theme from Metal Gear Solid 2/3 [I always liked that song]. The game also supports Dolby Pro Logic II, so if you have a good audio setup, and if you're really bold, a modified Gamecube with optical audio output, then the game will sound heavenly. The audio for this game alone is practically a tech demo. All the voices were re-recorded as well, with almost all of the original voice actors. They sound as good as ever, though, and capture the essence of each character very well.
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes looks spectacular. There's no denying it, the game is a technical masterpiece. Running in 480p progressive scan, at a steady 60 frames per second, and sporting some of the best graphics the Gamecube has to offer, even outclassing the other Metal Gear Solid games on the PS2. The 3D models are exquisite, the textures are detailed, and countless new effects and details were added from the PS1 version. For example, in the portions when Snake is outside, the snow effect is much more realistic, and the snow even sticks to and piles up on Snake if you stand still! All the graphics got completely overhauled from the original, and it is apparent that Silicon Knights and Konami really went over the top to push the limits of the Gamecube. The original Metal Gear Solid may have been a very graphically impressive PS1 game, but The Twin Snakes makes it look like it was running on a 32X! I barely recognize the original after seeing the remake. The cutscenes were redone, as well, with new camera angles, and much more action than the relatively static originals. One area in particular that I want to point out is the weapons. The weapons in The Twin Snakes are so meticulously detailed that you would think they were meant for a very early 360 game! You don't believe me? Take a good look at the image above, then see what you think. Thought so. Moving on, the character models are a major improvement, as their mouths actually move when they talk, and you can clearly see their faces. You have no idea how much nicer this is. Now, with the power of the Nintendo Gamecube, Metal Gear Solid is a true cinematic game.
One glaring omission from the remake that I must address is the lack of VR missions. The original game had them as a sort of warm-up before the actual game, and they became so popular that a separate PS1 game was released only containing VR missions. Silicon Knights intended to include them in the Gamecube version, but ran out of time. They were actually going to add a few more things to the game, but didn't want to delay it any further, so it was released without those extras. It's a shame; the VR missions were pretty fun. Oh, well. Also, as was the case with Tales of Symphonia, a special-edition Gamecube was released in a special edition of the game, and is now a collector's item.
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes is one of the more sought-after Gamecube titles, and because of this, it is more expensive than your average Gamecube game, and is currently being sold at Gamestop for $23. Unless you played the original a lot and you're comfortable with the original as it is, then I would definitely recommend buying The Twin Snakes. It is essential to a Gamecube collection, and is just a great game for everyone else. However, I can understand if you are a devoted MGS fan, that you would want the original only... kind of. You might be crazy, and you should probably get yourself checked out.
Metal Gear has rightfully earned its place as one of the cornerstone franchises of action games, and maybe one of the most revered series of all time. The remake of the landmark third game in the series, Metal Gear Solid, proves that the best can get even better when you don't have to deal with hardware restrictions. The Twin Snakes showed how a remake should be done, and gave Gamecube owners something to brag about to jealous PS2 owners. With superior graphics, sound, and gameplay, Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes was an absolute triumph, and should be remembered as the game Metal gear Solid should have been all along.
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