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ISSUE 121 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/18/2008

'Metal Gear' collection worth $30 pricetag

By Matt Everhart
Staff Writer

Friday, April 18, 2008

The "Metal Gear Solid" (MGS) series is one of the most critically acclaimed gamed series of all time. With the upcoming Playstation 3 killer app, "Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots" quickly approaching, developer Konami re-released the first three MGS games in one collection for the Playstation 2. "Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection" features the stealth-action Playstation One hit "Metal Gear Solid," along with "Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance" and the first disc of "Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence" for PS2 for $30.

The collection itself does everything you would want out of a three-game pack & almost. Each game is packaged separately inside a classy box set with new cover art from series character designer Yoji Shinkawa. "Metal Gear Solid" is still broken into two discs and is on the original Playstation discs; this is a pure, faithful transfer of the original game. "Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance" retains all of the special features included in the PS2 and Xbox re-release, including "Snake Tales" and the bizarre skateboarding mini-game, along with the original game.

"Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence," however, contains only the first disc of the MGS3 re-release, meaning all the bonus content on disc two is missing. This is a real shame, considering that there was an excellent amount of bonus content found on that disc, including the original "Metal Gear 1" and "Metal Gear 2" for NES and a hilarious bonus theatre featuring self-mocking spoofs like "Metal Gear Sigint" and "Snake Eraser."

The games themselves still pass the test of time, mostly. Playing through "Metal Gear Solid" again for the first time since 2004, I was impressed at just how ahead of its time the writing and voice acting were. Sure, the circa 1998 visuals are extremely dated, especially when playing on an HDTV, where the pixels pop worse than ever, but it's easy to overlook this flaw when the story and characters are so engaging. The gameplay and controls feel dated when compared to modern games, but still provide a tremendous sense of reward and satisfaction when players successfully sneak past a guard or complete one of the series' epic boss fights. I realized while watching an excellently-directed cutscene with stellar voice work that most games today still pale in comparison when it comes to story content and acting, even though it has been 10 years since the original release of MGS. Does any other game so deftly discuss the serious, complex topics of fate, war and genetic manipulation? It's easy to see why this game belongs in the canon of greatest games ever made.

"Metal Gear Solid 2" is the most controversial of the three games in the collection. Released a year after the launch of the PS2, MGS2 confounded fans with its obnoxious and androgynous new main character, Raiden. Today, most fans agree that its graphical and combat improvements over MGS1 are worth heavy praise; the ability to aim weapons in first-person was a revelation after the stiff aiming of MGS1, but reception of its story and direction are mixed.

MGS2's direction feels like a big-budget movie, with massive set pieces, an over-the-top musical score from Harry Gregson-Williams (of the "Shrek" and "Narnia" films), and even more fantastic villains than MGS1. This conscious effort to feel more like a movie has its pros and cons within the game, but ultimately it makes the game feel like it's trying too hard to be serious and culturally relevant. To say that the story is complex is a huge understatement; layers of political intrigue, philosophy on everything from information control to existentialism, and numerous betrayals and twists leave most players bewildered or uninterested. While this is a flaw, the good news is that the game only gets better on successive playthroughs, as players discover subtle bits of foreshadowing and understand the complex character interactions better -- think "The Prestige."

"Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence" represents series mastermind Hideo Kojima's most complete work to date. A prequel to the other two games, MGS3's jungle setting and Cold War themes combine with the innovative camouflage system to be the best Metal Gear Solid game to date. Better yet, this is the "Subsistence" version of MGS3, where the game finally makes the transition to a fully 3-D, behind-the-back, rotatable camera rather than the traditional top-down camera style of the previous games. This camera style, which will be featured in the upcoming MGS4, makes the sneaking and combat sections far more user-friendly. In terms of directorial style, this game features more tongue-in-cheek moments than the other two games, and in many ways feels like a Bond movie (the busomy EVA, the brass-heavy theme song "Snake Eater," the '60s setting). Like a good Bond movie, the silly parts somehow find a way to mesh well with the serious parts, all while subtly exploring the mysterious main character, series protagonist Solid Snake's father Big Boss. Add some of the best boss fights in gaming history, and we have a winner. Be warned of another complex story, however; there are more betrayals and double-crossings (and even a triple-crossing!) than any work of fiction I've read, seen or played.

If you've already played these games and don't own them anymore, you would be well advised to pick this up, especially considering the absurdly low $30 price tag and the difficulty to find new or used copies of the original "Metal Gear Solid." If you haven't played these games, well & like I said about how MGS1 belongs in the canon of great video games: If you consider yourself a well-versed gamer, you need to play these games. If you have a PS3 and are looking forward to MGS4, you need to play these games first. And again, at $30, there's no excuse not to own three of the most important games of the last 10 years.

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